Elonka Dunin is a game developer who has twenty years of experience in the industry with her. She advocates for the online game genre and co-founded the International Game Developers Association’s Online Games Group. She shares her start in the game industry, reflections on a constantly changing industry, and her current work on Fantasy University for Facebook and other web portals such as Kongregate.
From Gamer to Developer
Elonka Dunin has been playing games since a time before PCs. Dunin’s father was involved with IBM computers in the 1960s and programmed mainframes to play games with her. As computers started moving into people’s households, Dunin was one of the early explorers of online fantasy worlds. She played every MUD she could get her hands on. When the game industry moved in the direction of Bulletin Board Systems, she played those too, until the industry and her along with it transitioned to online services such as GEnie and CompuServe in the 1980s.
In the 1990’s, Dunin went to GemCon in St. Louis, Missouri, where she got to meet some of the people involved in writing one of the games she played—GemStone ][ on GEnie. They hit it off, and a few months later she quit her non-game job in Los Angeles, California to make the leap to Simutronics in St. Louis. She has been there ever since.
Since taking a position at Simutronics, Dunin has been in the game industry for twenty years. Some of her most-loved games she worked on include popular MUDs such as one of the longest-running online games GemStone, Orb Wars, DragonRealms, and Modus Operandi. In 1993, CyberStrike won the first award for “Online Game of the Year.” It's hard for Dunin to pick a favorite: “I have a special fondness for each game in their own way."
Social Games Development
Dunin is currently most excited about Fantasy University for Facebook, which is Simutronics’ first game for the social networking market. The Open Beta launched in mid-October 2010. So far, thousands of players have poured in from all over the world. “It’s got such a great energy about it, with wonderful humor and writing, and I am very proud to be part of a team that is bringing such a high-quality game to the space,” says Dunin.
For Simutronics, the biggest challenge has been the way the industry keeps changing so rapidly. However, Dunin is equipped to tackle the shifts, because of her love for and growth alongside the game industry since its beginnings.
Dunin elaborates: “We couldn’t look to how other companies were doing things, because we were often the first! And the business model kept changing out from under us, so we had to be nimble. When we started, games were provided on major online services that charged an hourly rate, of which we got a percentage. Then the online services started changing their business models to go flatrate, so suddenly our number of users skyrocketed, but we could no longer rely on hourly fees. Then we moved our business to the web and had to come up with an entire billing system from scratch, as we re-worked everything to go with monthly subscriptions.” Now, the industry is changing again, so Fantasy University employs a microtransaction business model.
“It’s like we have to re-invent ourselves over and over again, which is fun at times, but definitely challenging!” exclaims Dunin.
Elonka Dunin also happens to be an internationally recognized expert on the ciphers of the CIA’s Kryptos sculpture and authored The Mammoth Book of Secret Codes and Cryptograms. Dan Brown named a character after her in his latest book, ‘The Lost Symbol’ called ’Nola Kaye’, an anagrammed form of ‘Elonka’.