Early Days 1997-2003
Those of you old enough will remember that era for the Napster Revolution, playing Diablo online with dial-up, LAN-ing Counter Strike and having access to Walkthroughs & Cheats without buying magazines. Those of you that are not let’s just say that the Internet used to be something new and exciting and google was just a small company, AltaVista anyone?
The first PC game i ever played was Diablo, i bought a Voodoo graphics card just for that game. It was a brand new experience for me, while still being a video game, which i had already been burning myself out for years since the NES era, it brought something new to the table, RANDOMNESS. The randomness of playing online with different people changed my gaming perspective. After that playing on Playstation, even with friends, felt like a downgrade.
The Online Revolution 2003-2004
As a university student i needed to make some extra cash, what better place for someone like me to work other than an Internet Cafe. Back then the Internet started becoming something more than a new technology, it was slowly becoming a part of people’s lives, thus businesses like Internet Cafes were booming all over the place. People used to come to the Cafe to chat online or to game, due to the superior hardware and Internet access it provided.
One summer day of 2004 i saw a group of friends at the Cafe playing some kind of Diablo-like game in what seemed to be a local co-op. I asked them what game it was and they told me “Mu Online”. At first i didn’t really pay much attention but then i saw one of them teleporting to a main city hub and saw like 200 players with shops, chatting, dueling and trading. It immediately came to me, “this was an online community”. My experience as a gamer was well earned but that was something i had never seen before, it was completely different from any online experience in games i have ever had, the sheer concept of multi-playing with thousands of other players in a common environment was a technological wonder.
I immediately got hooked, so hooked in fact that i became the top ranked player in one of the most popular Mu Online servers back then, e-Global. Being an avid online community member, participating in forum discussions and contributing daily, i was approached by the Administration for a Game Master position in their Mu Online servers. Of course i accepted.
I was asked to make a new character and choose a nickname for my Game Master, since it is not always a good idea for people to know the actual ingame character you play for obvious reasons. After some brainstorming, seeing as how Mu Online had a medieval theme and my character class was a Dark Knight, i decided to choose the nickname DukeGr, Duke because i was a person of authority (a Game Master) and Gr because i was Greek and it indicated to players that i can also offer support in Greek.
After spending a few productive months, cleaning out the servers from cheaters, doing ingame events and in general improving the gaming experience of other players i asked the Administration if i could take it a step further by working on the server files themselves, improving the actual gameplay per popular requests. Since i was always kind of a “computer guy” and had knowledge of several programming languages this was a logical progression from my part and i was given the opportunity to prove it. It was then that i actually found out that Private Servers exist out of pirated official games. For example the company Webzen is the developer and publisher of the online game Mu Online, some hackers stole the server files from their servers and leaked them online, that is how private servers are born.
Of course back then piracy was booming out of proportions, fast Internet was starting to get available to most households and torrent websites had millions of users. It was natural to consider piracy a good thing and not even conceive it as doing something illegal, i mean who are you really hurting with piracy? You don’t have money to pay for the original thing, its a win-win situation. In the case of Mu Online, it used to be subscription based and required a credit card, for most countries that was a brick wall.
Since i started working with the e-Global Mu Online server files i became somewhat of an expert, there were people seeking out my advice on how to proceed with their private server plans. One day someone added me on Msn (Yeah no Skype back then), his name was Las3r and wanted help to open a Mu Online server. With a rather shitty budget but a lot of spunk i decided to work with him and try opening our own Mu Online servers. We made our first attempt with rather mediocre results, i wasn’t satisfied with the outcome, i wanted more.
Back then everyone used to run Vanilla Mu Online servers, there were no files for newer game updates out of the Korean Official server, so my goal was to bring something completely new to the table and to attract A LOT of players by doing that. I had some chinese contacts that advised me that there might be some files in a private Chinese community that were modded to add all the latest updates. After scavenging Chinese forums for days i came across what looked to be Mu Online server files. I tested them out and after a few fixes here and there, translating the Korean client to English, we had the first functioning English Mu Online of the version 0.99.
These updated files included a new playable class the Dark Lord. This was huge news for the Mu Online community back then. As soon as we launched the servers people flooded and crashed our website, trying to register and download our client. We had thousands of registrations per hour, servers were all full, as a result we decided to open 2 more servers to increase the online capacity. What we did not calculate back then was the fact that we did all this as a hobby, we invested some small amounts of money and what we could gather from community member donations but those were not enough to pay for server traffic of this magnitude.
After some brainstorming with Las3r we figured out something that was completely new in the field of online games, Microtransactions. Online games of that era were all pay to play and the few that weren’t relied on ads to pay for costs. There were no DLC’s, Microtransactions or anything of the sort. Slowly but with a steady pace we were making a small income, enough to pay for the servers and maybe buy a pack or two of cigs. Even tho we had thousands of players at this point, paying for digital game items was something completely new and slow for people to follow.
The Frienz Network is Born 2005-2006
With FrienzMu being a success and cash flowing, we couldn’t just stop there, we were like why not try Lineage II and World of Warcraft Servers and bring everything together into one huge online gaming community. Thus The Frienz Network was born.
Our first attempt at a game server besides Mu Online was with Lineage II. At first i tried adapting some free emulators but i soon discovered that the files were lacking integrity for a serious long-term project. My friend Demonas from e-Global Mu Online had one of the biggest Lineage II official file based servers back then so i decided to ask for help. After several discussions we couldn’t come to a deal, the files were just too valuable to share at this point. As a result the Lineage II project was put on hold.
After a few frustrating months trying to cook up something with Lineage II i decided it was time to focus on Mu Online. Through various underground contacts i found a Korean tech guy that worked in Webzen’s Datacenter. After paying him a decent amount of cash he leaked the latest Korean official server files to me. Even tho we had the server files, it was not a simple task to make them run. They had several protection layers that prevented them from operating outside certain approved servers by Webzen. We spent 4 months trying with various hackers to crack them but to no avail. After feeling defeated by Webzen’s protection i recalled an acquaintance i made during those years, a Greek programmer by the nickname Blurcode. I had nothing to lose asking him to take a look. Alas after 2 days he sent me a .dll file, told me to place it into the server root folder and run it. Reluctantly i executed the Gameserver.exe not believing anything will work and magically our server got somehow authenticated by Webzen and it was functioning 100%. What Blurcode had done was create an Emulator of Webzen’s authentication server whitelisting our own server box in the process. This was the big turning point for The Frienz Network and what established us back then as the biggest private community, we now had the only functioning official server files besides the retail publisher.
We launched our new Mu Online servers by what was the biggest online launch in the history of private servers, we had 8 different servers with rate variations and were all packed full. Boasting a custom microtransaction system on our website with automatic payment support and over half a million userbase for Mu Online we were here to stay.
The Frienz Network is Here to Stay 2006-2007
Having all this success with Mu Online let us craving for more, we decided it was time to venture again into the Lineage II project. I contacted again my e-Global friend with the official Lineage II files and this time i had something to offer him of equal value, the Mu Online server files. We made the file trade and now i had the raw materials i needed to build a proper Lineage II realm. After a few months of setting up and testing we launched our Lineage II servers, slowly but steadily we got more players resulting in the success of the project.
During that time we opened several more gameservers of notable success such as Knight Online, World of Warcraft, Ragnarok Online, Perfect World Online, Silkroad Online. FrienzKO and FrienzWoW remained a part of The Frienz Network for several years, especially FrienzKO had a huge community and was considered one of the best private Knight Online servers.
At this point our community boasted an average of over 1 million subscribers to our games and we had a team of 80 people, mostly game masters and community managers to handle all of that. Without any exaggeration we were officially the biggest private server network, and kept the title for several years to come.
Taking Things to the Next Level 2007-2008
If there is one thing that could describe me as a person is that i always want “better” and i’m never satisfied. The moment i finish one project i’m already thinking of the next one and how to improve the current one. Me and Las3r shared this way of thinking and was one of the reasons TFN became what it was. In the spirit of this we decided to go all out and invest all our incomes into making us even bigger.
We hired a team of coders from Argentina (Cheers Jorge!) as full-time employees developing updates for our Mu Online server files enabling us to always offer the latest versions to our players and not relying on official leaks. To further that we branded the new files as IAT (Indian Assembly Team) and then sold licenses of them to potential server owners that wanted the best for their player base.
On another note, through my contacts i found a guy who could leak me server files for Cabal Online, till then there were no private servers available for this game. I made the deal and TFN was the first to open Cabal Online Private Servers. The amount of players this reeked in was phenomenal, we had almost 20 realms all full and people begging for more online slots. In 1 week we had over 100.000 registrations for this game. One day a German guy added me on Msn which turned out to be the CEO of the company publishing Cabal Online in Europe. He told me we ruined their business and that they will use every means possible to shut us down and make us pay for their loses. Of course he also said that if we step down voluntarily he can offer us a permanent job at their company as consultants. Of course we said no and immediately arranged to transfer all our Cabal Online Servers to Russia. Let them try going through the russian legal system about “pirated game servers”.
Lastly there was one thing left i wanted to accomplish, and that was having a gigantic Lineage II server. Our TFN Lineage II servers had a lot of players but it never was packed full, just healthy populations to sustain the game world. Back then i met through some friends Catalin which was the Administrator of the biggest private Lineage II servers (L2DEX) and the most decent fellow i have ever met online. After talking for several months we came to a deal of combining our Lineage II resources and launching a new Low Rate and Mid-Rate PvP server. When the day came that our new low exp server launched it was simply an amazing experience, it was like nothing i had ever seen before. The starter area was so full of people that every digital square meter was occupied by someone. This was the image i had in mind when i first conceived the idea of online games, having thousands of different people from all over the world in your screen. The experience was mesmerizing to say the least.
At this point TFN was at it’s peak of glory and i couldn’t feel more proud for the accomplishments we had done, we managed from nothingness to create something unique that played a role in the history of online gaming. But as all good things come to an end it was slowly time for TFN to get down that dreaded path.
It’s been 5 years now since we first started this venture and the first signs of weariness appear day by day. Especially the past 2 years have been a logistical nightmare, no life, just work 24/7 and constantly being on standby for server problems, hackers, crashes, corrupted gm’s, ddosing, arguments, financial problems and so on. Of course we made a nice income but we took a lot of responsibilities to ourselves and in the long run that always creates problems. TFN had become too big for just me and Las3r to handle and that was a fact we could not ignore. We were too young back then to think of things in a more structured way, we just wanted more and more but when we got it we couldn’t keep up with the increasing demands. Big business requires constant adaptation and exploration. In our case for example our players required constant game updates and support. The minute we stop providing that the ship starts to sink, and that is what happened.
Unfortunately we were both too tired to continue at the paces required to keep TFN up and running, it took us one year to finally realize it but inevitably it would all come to an end, and we would be the cause of that.
The End of an Era 2009
The big decision came around March 2009. We decided TFN would shut down in approx 3-4 months. It was a heartbreaking moment when you realize that all that hard work during these past years will get lost and you will start your life again from scratch. Even tho we didn’t really had much in terms of money left due to investing most of it back to TFN i believe the lessons we learned and the experience we obtained was unique and a reward by itself. The experiences we provided to our online community will always remain with our players and the experiences we gained while doing it will always remind us that we made something truly worthwhile. At this point i would like to thank everyone that supported our ideas Staff & Players, the only reason TFN existed in the first place was because of you and i’m forever thankful that with your help we managed to accomplish the things we did.
The Frienz Network – Hall of Fame
These people with their outstanding personalities and personal effort, provided, without benefit, for the good of the TFN community during its years of service.
PaWg, Catalin, IncubuS, Bibi, Clockman, Ray, Morgana, Chico, AznWizard, Rocco, Shaoster, Faktor7, MsSlayer, KLauSS, xSharkx, Haloengel, Ithuriel, Xaar, WoWzA, Kenner, ThoR, karak, DaRe, Karnage, Keldarn, Kilandor, SiliconShadow, Leo, VipER, Arie, shadowwolfnz, Ananokki, BRYANT-GM, MasTeRRoguE, Omar1988, RuVeLiToN, Turbobox, Vyz, BlackVelvet, Denariel, Forsaken, Impulse, Tricker, CarlS, Delano, Guffy, Keo, misled, pinoy, Sagara, Aztec, Soul, -fedexer-, DarkSeeker, Jackson, GrofVlad, Linus, Aziz, iBimbo, NightCoder, ottdan, KyleX, Nahiara, blurcode, Myst, Zero2Fear, karo-gm, lancelot003, EJRaven, vesgar, Starfire, Saska, minideed, LethaL, Karnage, Idyna, Apollon, Arlain, Enya, GreenLyon, Le Bastardo, Mario, Omer, RuDoLpH, [MM]Sun][xXx][, Fluvius, Kirby, Raffo, HonesT, Noble-gm, Souls, MadLover, Funy, 4ReacTiv, Cofth, LiveStrange, Ovum, Darkozan26, Gundam, Moofin, Netto, nzrock, RagnaParadise, Zidanechoo, zidon, BlackGoddess, Sparda, Tony, Akis01, Giela, Cazino, GameKing, joe, Dajova, Ashyra, Bur4k, DjSoulz, eXtremeRogue, Fab, ManyLith, Menace, Ps1xa, TeaM, Demonas.
Please forgive me if i forgot someone, you can contact me anytime and i will add your name.
DUKEGR.COM, What the Hell?
Last year i decided to open a personal blog/news website and try somehow to bring back part of the TFN community. Part of this effort was also opening a retro Lineage II server so old friends can meet and play together. Unfortunately and due to lack of time i couldnt keep up with how the original DUKEGR.COM was set to operate. I prefer having a quality website with some personal articles and select news than having mediocre content served with issues. Being a gamer myself i like talking about games and tech thus this revamped website now exists. My goal with this website is to voice unbiased opinions about interesting things together with the help of my wife MsSlayer and a few friends that like to contribute. Lastly i want to keep in touch with everyone that still remembers TFN and would like to have some of it’s spark in their daily routine.