Responses to the MMO Post
First of all, I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to slog through that massive journal entry, and especially everyone who offered your feedback in the comments.
I'm going to respond to each comment in turn, and hopefully explain some of my reasoning a bit better and expand on a few points that weren't all that well elucidated in round one. I'll be snipping the content of the comments for brevity, and just including the poster's name and timestamp; you can see the full comments (including ones that may have appeared after this post) here.
(Addendum: I switched to just bolding the commenter's name, because the forum software barfed on too many quote blocks.)
I know that many people will ignore this, and plenty have already publicly disagreed; but the point is just to make the information available to those who will listen. It is my honest (but perhaps incorrect) belief that the people who are going to go places in game development are the ones who know enough to heed advice when it's given to them. The people who shrug it off have, at the very least, a long and difficult road ahead of them, and if they do end up creating something great, it'll be a rarity for sure.
I agree that a lot of the "MMO wannabes" are just after someone to make their really cool idea and aren't really interested in doing any significant work. But that's hardly limited to the MMO space; that's true overall of software in general, and games in particular. It's probably also true of car design, writing, film, and any other number of endeavors that blend creativity and engineering with a hefty helping of hard work.
At the very least, I think it's useful to make the attempt to communicate to those people that they have to do some serious investing if they genuinely believe in their idea. My goal here isn't to scare off everyone who doesn't have a pile of money and time at their disposal; my goal is to filter down to the people who are motivated enough to put in that time. I'm not trying to discourage people from pursuing their dreams - I'm just trying to help people self-select their dreams and maybe try leaping at some smaller goals before shooting for the moon.
God knows it took decades (centuries perhaps) of people fooling with rockets before we got to a point where we could literally shoot for the moon; that time was indispensable to the development of rocketry and spaceflight as a whole. By analogy, individuals interested in accomplishing great stuff need to first prove themselves - and hone their skills - in smaller arenas. Some may not agree, which is fine, but harsh experience and observation of many successful people in the business (as well as many people who failed to go anywhere) has taught me that the only certain way to large-scale success is to master the small first. Yes, maybe some obscure genius did the big thing once without ever learning the basics, but those are exceptions, and rare ones at that - in my mind, it's a disservice to newcomers to any craft to tell them that they can be just like that, because in the majority of cases it simply isn't true.
Again, I didn't write this to say that absolutely nobody can be an exception to my general statements. I'm saying that it's not nice to tell people that they can be one of those exceptions when it probably isn't the case. Our culture of "everyone's a winner" is bullshit and I detest the attitude that says that anyone can be Michael Jordan without practicing their free throws and jump shots.
See, this is what I'm hoping more people will do - go make a game that handles a dozen people. Make a cool game. Make something awesome that doesn't expect or pretend to expect tens of thousands of players. Then you're in solid territory.
It's far more likely that a small and/or inexperienced team can do something amazing with limited resources if they scale the project correctly. And that's my main point here: not that people can't make awesome games by themselves, or without years of experience; my point is that people generally speaking can't do things on the scale of World of Warcraft or Everquest or Guild Wars.
One of the more common misconceptions about this post is that people seem to think I'm saying that small/inexperienced teams can't make multiplayer games at all. This is totally not what I'm driving at. My point, yet again, is dealing with "massive" - not "multiplayer", not "online", and not "game." Just the "massive" bit.
I'm also emphatically not saying that nobody should try it, or that people who are making progress in the direction of multiplayer games should stop. I'm saying that those people should simply be realistic about the scale they can accomplish.
You're right that many people aren't willing to commit, but that's a different issue entirely.
I think the important takeaway here is that the team in question has experience. They know what they're up against, and chances are they know how to limit their expectations to account for harsh reality. That's all I'm advocating.
The key here is that the game grew into what it is today - it wasn't that way from the beginning. I'd be willing to bet that a hefty amount of stuff was rewritten and expanded over time to accommodate growth.
I think it's funny that you mention the DAoC launch. According to your own words, they expected realistic numbers (5000 isn't that huge, frankly) and a larger number crashed their servers. This corroborates my point nicely: even the really good people out there can't always write code that scales to "massive" numbers on the first try.
As for how people outside industry positions are treated... I could write a lot on this subject alone, but I'll say this much: in my experience, you get what you put out. Call it karma, if you will. If you can prove you know what you're doing, and have a good attitude about it, you generally get treated pretty well (certain internet communities notwithstanding). Game developers are, by and large, a pretty friendly group and seem to me at least to be more than willing to patiently help people who they feel are worth investing in.
I don't mean that as a slight against you in any way; just a suggestion that you might examine your own demeanor and the way you present yourself and your project. For my own part, I think it's cool that you're trying to do what you're doing; I may have reservations about your chances of success, but that doesn't diminish my opinion of you in any way.
Can't speak for everyone, of course.
The "average" MMO (speaking mostly of the Asian market here) is not technically very robust, as you mention. I'd say that every time an MMO crashes or has to be taken offline for whatever reason, it diminishes the experience. Drop your servers often enough, and the game just isn't really all that good.
I'd argue that the "average" guys you mention aren't really "doing it right" in the sense of producing a really robust, truly "massive"-scale game. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that this is further evidence supporting my position - namely, that it's damned hard to "do it right" and get things running smoothly at large scales.
Interesting, but I note a couple of important points here: first, the project is nowhere near completion. Having a plan doesn't mean he's going to accomplish what he says he can do. Secondly, he's hardly an inexperienced, resourceless newbie - he goes back a long way in the industry and has worked on some truly large-scale games (Planetside qualifies as "massive" in my book). So again, this really just strengthens my own argument, which is that it takes some serious chops to make a game like this, no matter what size you aim for.
Minecraft is not massive, by a long shot. It's also notoriously buggy and has had major stability problems. It's certainly technically impressive, and it's an accomplishment to be proud of for sure - but it doesn't disprove my points at all.
Couple of good points here. Risk is definitely a big factor for a lot of people, and goes back to what other comments have said about people bailing or failing to commit to projects. The other thing is more noteworthy to me, though, and that is that you mention that teams/companies/projects generally start small and work their way up. This is absolutely true, and once again supports my points nicely: that you'd have to be a special kind of nuts to try and aim for "massive" scale on day one with no experience or background.
Money is certainly a factor, but it isn't everything. You can get money if you have a proven team, a proven project, and so on; it doesn't just bestow itself magically on a select few. I'm not at all saying that you have to have major cash to make a good game; but it does help. What I'm saying is that it's part of the "massive" equation that many people don't even think about.
Publishers have nothing to do with this, really.
I know there are "indie" attempts at massive games. Show me one that serves more than a million players, and I'll concede that indie teams can do MMOs. Until then, I think my point stands.
Once again, let me remind you that I never intended to argue that large multiplayer games were out of reach for all but the upper crust; my contention is that "massive" games are what is out of reach.
I strongly suspect that even as an "insider" I don't yet appreciate the full scale of the effort and genius that went into the Guild Wars infrastructure. It's a marvel of technology, no doubt.
Servant of the Lord
Spot on :-)
I never meant to say that art is the only reason people play games. I'm saying it's a major factor.
Guild Wars runs at very, very long stretches without maintenance. I don't have any solid numbers off the top of my head as I'm not on the GW1 maintenance team and I haven't played the game enough to know what the outage picture looks like from a player perspective.
Regardless, even for systems like WoW with regular downtime, there are components which will run unhindered for very long periods. Eight months of uptime is hardly unrealistic for real-world server applications; business systems have to do it all the time.
I'm not at all suggesting that people shouldn't learn. I'm saying they should take it slow. Don't expect to make WoW in a week, and you're much less likely to be disappointed. Similarly, I'm not saying that people shouldn't have large scale dreams. I'm just trying to illustrate why those dreams need to be tempered by reality, and why they may be bigger than people realize offhand. I too admire people who tackle major efforts; and I'm among them. I've taken on personal projects well beyond the scope of what one sane person should ever try alone (see the Epoch language initiative). But it took me a very long time to build the skills and resources to pull that off - and even know it's far from a sure bet that I will pull it off.
Yes, lots of places started small. That's precisely what I'm advocating! Start small and be realistic. Microsoft started out writing Apple programs and CP/M ports, for god's sake - it was a long time before Windows NT could be made. They not only started doing things well within their capacity, they were smart enough to grow over time as needed. That's all I'm saying is necessary.
The title of the post (and indeed a fair bit of the content) was hyperbolic, not literal. I'm not saying that nobody besides Blizzard should ever try to make an MMO. I'm just presenting a cautionary bit of advice.
It's certainly true that most small/inexperienced teams can't compete with AAA titles in any genre. But doing it in the MMO space is orders of magnitude harder than in, say, the FPS space. There are plenty of small-timers doing awesome FPS games, for instance.
I didn't ever claim that you needed 250 people to make a good game. Strawman arguments are a waste of everyone's time.
I also never claimed to be "all-knowing" or anything else.
I'm not sure if this comment was actually serious or not, in fact; I certainly don't feel "dumb" or "put in my place."
Maplestory does not disprove my arguments, by the way.
I will, however, be glad to buy you a beer next time you're in Bellevue.
I think it's very unfortunate that anyone interpreted this as me saying "you can't make a multiplayer game." That was not the point at all.
In fact, I think we actually agree - making multiplayer games is awesome! Do more of it! But please, for the love of god, be realistic about your expectations and goals. Aim for decent numbers of players, not massive numbers.
I'm familiar with Eternal Lands. But I hardly think it qualifies as "massive." Large, maybe, but not "massive." It's a great example of precisely what I was driving at with the original post: go do something cool, and be realistic with it. I doubt Radu ever really worried about breaking the million-player mark.
I always enjoy hearing about successful projects, in any space. It's cool that you've got a solid following. But it's equally important in my mind that you understand that it takes investment (either time, money, or both) to reach that scale, and even more investment to go larger.
"Expectation management" really hits the nail on the head.
I like the "graphical MUD" term, too, but I agree that (sadly) it'll probably never catch on.
I think you read into the choice of Pong a little too deeply.
I totally agree that starting slightly larger is fine (I started out on 2D platformers). But the larger scope one tackles on day one, the more likely one is to be disappointed when it turns out to be out of reach. The point here is expectation management, to steal a phrase from an earlier comment - not that Pong is all that newbies can do.
I also in no way meant to artificially limit anyone's creativity.
It's called hyperbole - I was writing for effect, not for deep truth.
I don't know what you're trying to say here, and I find it a little sad that you have to resort to attacking me and my employer over something like this.
If anything, you're a shining example of what I'm trying to illustrate here: that it takes experience like yours and a budget like yours to pull off something on a large scale. I don't at all understand why you think I'm "blind" to the possibility of your existence and success.
See, you've got experience and knowledge to draw on, though; so you're really not the target audience :-)
Best of luck on your project, I hope it turns out as rewarding and fun as you hope it will be.
Overall I think I may have overemphasized a few things and generally not been totally clear on my intentions. I hope this follow-up does something to address that and assuage some of the strong feelings that the original post stirred up.
In the meantime, best of luck to everyone in whatever dreams you are pursuing. If you think I'm telling you to quit, well, then just don't listen to me.