The truth about MMO's
Hello everyone, this time around I didn't wait as long to post my next article. Now this one is going to hurt considering the high amount of MMO projects that are currently looking for members here on the forums but it's just something I have to talk about. In short an MMO is not an obtainable goal for a first time team, and in this article I am hoping to point out some of the reasons I say just that. As with all of my articles the contents here in are my personal opinions formed from my experiences, observations and research, and with that said lets get to it.
My MMO is different, it will be a hit!
That's great, the market needs some fresh new ideas. We are currently stuck in a bit of a rut with the same old thing over and over again in the MMO world. I personally have not seen much of anything different come out since the inception of World Of Warcraft. This statement may not be entirely true, but I have yet to be lead into anything different. It seems as if every other MMO that currently is on the market is nothing more then a clone of WOW. With this in mind I understand the urge that so many people have to create their ideas and publish their MMO but wait, there's a little research that everyone should do before jumping in.
Graphics are one of the largest things to note about an MMO. Quite simply you need thousands if not tens or even hundreds of thousands of graphical assets to build any kind of decent world for your players to interact with. This is because of the audience you are targeting, simply put casual gamer's don't play MMO's. It's worth taking that into consideration at the very onset of your idea. With that statement alone you have to immediately think about how you can cater to and spark the interest of the hardcore gamer. Graphics are one of the top most important things that a hardcore gamer is looking for. Yes game play is very important and all but you need to keep their eyes happy to get them to play long enough to even see what your game is about.
Continuing on this idea I've seen many teams that fall under the impression that you actually need less characters to make a successful MMO then you would to make a regular stand alone game. It's believed that simply skinning the characters, changing the color schemes and slapping some different clothes on them will go a long long way. In some cases this is true, and we have seen that done successfully in many of the traditional MMO's that are out there, however, there's only so far one goblin can go.
This concept by itself is already diminishing your uniqueness to the MMO community. They have seen clothable and skinnable models done over and over again, they are used to it. This is not making your MMO stand out and at this point you have an MMO, you have standard character practices, your targeting the hardcore gaming community and your competition is way better then you are. Your facing WOW, Rift and other games that where developed and backed by huge companies with seemingly endless wallets!
That's ok, I have a better story:
This point I won't argue much about. With the exception of WOW having a story that is 17+ years in the making (yes Warcraft one came out in 1994) we don't see very compelling or unique story ideas within the MMO market. So yes this may be an area where your game can dominate and where your idea holds great potential. The story line and plot progression you design may be gold, maybe even platinum BUT you must also have the goods to support it. The only real arguing point about the story being what is going to make your MMO the best ever is that you have to get the hardcore gamer to actually pay attention to it. (Hope you got some good graphics...)
Well my game play is better:
This will vary based on what your particular game play design is. But in many cases you are competing against possibly dozens of complex battle, professions and statistical systems that are modeled after WOW. We come back to the audience and what they are going to be expecting from you here, only the best! It's not quite as easy as you think it's going to be to provider better game play then these big boys that are already on the market. The best way to see what your up against here is to play as many MMO's as you can find, and play them in their entirety.
Well my PVP idea is totally different!
This is another one of those things that I see many people taking a bit to lightly. PVP is a great selling point and can attract millions of players to your game, but it comes at the cost of thousands of hours worth of statistical and skill balancing. Having even one over powered race or class of character can lead to disaster for you. PVP in most cases is pretty cut and dry to it's players. Either it's a fair competition or it's not, and when it's not (due to lack of balancing) they don't care to try. When they don't care to try they are going to look for what else there is to do, and if your game is built with it's entire focus on unbalanced PVP... Well you see where that's going.
So I've heard the argument "That's not going to matter I only have one race and theirs no classes, players can build their stats however they want!". This doesn't mean you don't have to balance those potential skill buildings, and also make reasons for players to spec themselves differently. If it's fairly easy to just max everything out you will have all of your players rushing to said max, playing a few battles, getting bored and going back to WOW where they can choose more options and build up their specs differently along side millions of other players.
Well my MMO has a much better PVE system!
This one I just have to be rude about, no you don't. You may have an idea or two that are not yet implemented by the big names just yet, but they have WAY more then you do. They have epic stories and long well written quest lines leading to instanced dungeons and raids that challenge the players and test their strategies and teamwork. All of this has been designed by teams of dozens if not hundreds of designers, developers and writers, something a small team of only a couple designers does not have the time and or money to mimic and or surpass.
Hosting the games servers:
Here's the real kick in the teeth. Say you do get enough graphics to get your game started, maybe you do have a well balanced and interesting PVP system, maybe you have a great story line and amazing PVE, now where are you going to host this game? The most common answers I get are "We'll just lease a small server to start and when the money starts coming in we'll upgrade as needed" and "We'll get investors!" Lets go ahead and break down the plausibility of both of those answers.
Small Server Now, upgrade as needed:
Many people are unaware of how expensive it truly is to power something with the magnitude of an MMO. Through my calculations that I wont go into here as they would take many pages to define out basically a package that provides you 10TB per month of transfer is breaking down to 92 hours of play per month per player (assuming 100 players). I say 100 players because the speed of the gigabit Ethernet your server is plugged into the network with is limited and the amount of traffic generated per connection is a lot higher then you would imagine. This may sound like it's a fairly high amount but we come back to the fact that your audience is hardcore, a lot of them will be playing say 4 hours a day, 7 days a week, (28 hours a week) and they will get cut off before the end of the month, or your going to be paying out the wazoo.
Next the processing and memory power, granted your not rendering graphics on the server and it won't require as much per connection but you need to be aware your still doing all your collision testing, positioning, rotations and many other calculations there. The cheap servers will not be able to keep up, you will need top of the line to support your 100 players. At this point I urge you to look into it your looking at around $375 per month to get a server that can handle some players. Keep in mind your going to have to offer your players free time to get hooked and it is going to take a LONG time before you actually get even 10 registered players. Now what are you charging them to play? Is it going to cover the $375 a month your paying and reimburse you for the past 12 months it took to get 10 people to register?
I'll get funding:
This is yet another common answer that is not well researched. Have you contacted any advertising, marketing, or other funding prospects yet? I have, and let me give you a taste of what your in for when you call these people and try to pitch your idea. "We're not interested in MMO's but we wish you the best of luck". This is what 9/10 of them will say to you the second you mention it's an MMO. This is if you even get that far, many people prior to even talking to you want your demo. Which means you have to have the game in a stable running alpha test and it needs to be live so they can log in and try it out. Granted you won't need the super machine to power just 5 - 10 connections to allow your team to test and leave room for the investor testing, but you will still be spending at least $100 - $150 per month for a cheap host.
Now you got your demo up, your lucky it only took 3 months worth of live testing to get it to a playable demo stage and you found a cheap server so your only out $300. Now you start contacting investors and looking for funding to proceed, your on a good track. Here comes the heart break, the response you get from the investors that you got to this point "You have potential but I don't see anything that can rival WOW or Rift or any of the other large scale games. How is this going to promise me a return on my investment?" No problem, you don't fall into any of the categories I have spoken about in this article, you have 20+ modelers, you have 3 dozen writers, you have 5 or 6 professional composers and a swarm of programmers. You can actually write better stories, you can provide more and better graphics, your PVP system is so well balanced that it's always a 50/50 chance for one on one, your PVE is epic! "Ok, well contact us again when you have all of that stuff built in". Hope your pockets are deep enough to keep paying for your server for the next 2 years while you get it all done.
Ok, I get it the world is against me!
Unfortunately this is the cold hard truth about MMO's, the entire world is against you and it's not only an uphill battle but you are working against the wind while standing on ice trying to climb straight up a 90 degree incline. So what do you do? Do you give up on it all, just scrap your idea and cry in the corner because your bound to fail? No not at all. I realize that this entire article speaks against you making an MMO and that is the intent of it, you should not jump into game development under the impression that you will grab up a couple volunteers and make an MMO, it's not going to happen and none of your arguments really hold any weight in the grand scheme of things. However that doesn't mean that you will never make it happen, it simply means you need to approach the entire concept logically and work your way up to it. WOW didn't start up over night and wasn't created in a month. It started with a VERY VERY popular series of games that built up the story, built a fan base and most importantly generated the income needed to pay people to build it, make commercials and other assorted advertisement and also gave them a cushion of money that could be used to launch the game and support the massive server costs required to get it all started.
At this point I'm sure many people want to argue and show me all of those free MMO's that are out there. Before doing such please research who made them, find out how much money went into making it and how much it costs to support that game. Find out how much money they are producing from in game ad space or premium purchased products and such. Research the actual team members, find out what other games they had worked on prior to building that MMO. Find out how many years of game development experience the team had as a whole before they even tried it. This is the point when I feel you will start to see things from my perspective. There is not a single MMO on the market today that was built as a first project by a group of volunteer developers with no experience. Also you will start to find some MMO's that where created by a small army of talented and experienced developers, you'll start to play it and you'll hate it. Poor graphics, horrible response, lag spikes from hell, not enough players and so on. So your going to build a rag tag team with no experience and do what these professionals couldn't even do?
I'm sure this one is going to spark a lot of controversy and many people will try to point out contradictions to what I'm saying. I hope everyone does, I welcome it and I hope that someone does completely belittle this article. If nothing else simply reading through this article, doing some research and attempting to prove me wrong will get you to ask the questions you should ask before trying such a project. I'm sure this will not stop the countless projects that are going right now, nor will they pay any heed to what is being said here and that's not what I want to do. I don't want to crush your dreams I don't want to make you feel stupid or any of that. As with all of the articles I post I simply wish for everyone to do their research and make educated decisions that can lead to the betterment of themselves, their teams and their projects. What I truly want is I want you to succeed, I want you to finish your project and make a billion dollars. I want you to come show me that shiny new Ferrari or Rolls Royce some day and tell me I was wrong. However for that to truly happen you have to know what your doing, it all starts with asking questions of yourself and looking beyond the glitz and glamour. You need to know what really goes into making an MMO, the costs, the armies of developers, the hundreds of thousands of hours it takes just to get a simple beta test started. If and when you see the ugly truth that lies in the answers to these hurdles consider cutting back and starting a bit simpler, maybe even contact me and we can do something together, but when all is said and done make yourself and your game successful by doing it right.