Case Study: Roll20

"I didn’t have to spin up new servers, worry about additional capacity, or think about downtime. I just watched the number go up."  -Riley Dutton, Founder

Roll20 is an online virtual game with 100,000 users
  • Players see other player movement and actions in real-time
  • Firebase powers the Roll20 backend, allowing the team to focus on UI and gameplay
  • Chose Firebase so they wouldn’t need to worry about scaling

Roll20 Is On Fire

When I saw you guys I thought ‘YES! This is exactly what I need. This is perfect. I’ll use this and I won’t have to worry about all of this.’

- Riley Dutton, Roll20.net

Riley Dutton, Nolan T. Jones and Richard Zayas are three university friends who now live in different corners of the US. When Nolan told stories of a tabletop gaming club he had joined in Las Vegas, Riley wanted to participate. Flying from Kansas once a week was impractical, so Roll20.net was born.

With an injection of $40,000 from an 18-day Kickstarter campaign, the three friends began to build. Their creation is not a traditional video game, but a virtual “table” which you and your friends can gather around to play a number of role-playing games.

Firebase powers the Roll20 backend, letting them focus on the User Interface and the gameplay without worrying about scaling a distributed real-time system, managing servers, or maintaining a database.

None of the founders have degrees in computer science, though Riley, a Political Science major, had 2 years of professional development experience under his belt. After starting out with a custom backend, he wondered: “What are we going to do when it grows? I was dreading managing it myself. I’m not in the business of real-time server management. How do I shard this? Which servers do I spin-up and spin-down? We are trying to be in the business of creating a gaming platform.”

Firebase launched in private beta just as the Roll20 Kickstarter campaign was coming to a close. “When I saw you guys I thought ‘YES! This is exactly what I need. This is perfect. I’ll use this and I won’t have to worry about all of this.’”

As 2012 progressed the team built out the feature set for the platform, some of the features that they’ve built on top of Firebase include:

  • Moving Game Pieces
  • Adding Game Pieces
  • In-game Chat
  • Presence
  • Character Sheets
  • Jukebox
  • Handouts (e.g. Maps of Dungeons)

As the feature set grew and quality increased, so did Roll20’s audience, though this was never a burden for Riley and team. “When we grew from 100 to 1,300 concurrent users, I didn’t have to do anything differently. I didn’t have to spin up new servers, worry about additional capacity, or think about downtime. I just watched the number go up.”

Roll20 recently crossed the 100,000 user mark and continues to be successful because of the excellent and unique experience it delivers to its passionate users. The Roll20 user forum is overflowing with 1,500 threads containing feature requests and gameplay suggestions. Firebase lets Riley, Nolan and Richard cater to their community and focus on delivering an excellent gaming experience: “We're spending our time making features for gamers. That’s what we want to spend our time on, and that, to me, is the best part about Firebase,” said Riley, “I can definitely say that switching to Firebase was one of the best decisions that we made for Roll20 by far.”

If you also have old friends that you miss playing tabletop games with, head over to www.Roll20.net and give their platform a spin.