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Responses to the MMO Post

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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.

David Neubelt
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.

Final Thoughts
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.

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I simply said you shamed your company for being in a bubble box. You seem to generalize everyone into the same category, and you know little to none about what you were babbling on about. If you think I attacked you I'll restate what I said. "You insult ArenaNet for being so narrow minded." And yes, truth be told you You seem to think all indies simply suck and are " half brained", but if you can READ my comment you erased, you'll understand my point of view and where I came from. If I'm any example, its simply that I'm a business investor and not simply a indie game designer. I know how to make capital aka money and where to hit up advertisements to generate unique visitors and players. In simple terms, I know how to get people, where to get em, and how to make money when I get the people. If you still are confused or find it insulting, then reread a bit, and then read some more. I stand by my comments.

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I agree completely with everything you said. I think there are different categories of course. I didn't mean to throw everyone who is trying to create a MMO on one big pile. I am mostly annoyed by the people who want someone else to create the MMO for them and then ditch the project two months in. On the other hand no real harm is done here, there are just so many inexperienced people trying to do this, it sometimes completely floods out the higher potential projects.

I think I also need to clarify my opinion a bit.

People like Dragonfly3 are of course different from them, they are genuinly trying to make it work and put a lot of time, effort and money in their MMO. I can completely understand and respect their motivation, and I also understand that they don't want to be compared to the category above. But it remains hard for me to not worry about their projects.

Most of the subscription MMOs don't compete on their innovation, but mostly on the quality and quantity of their content. The quantity-quality balance is one of those areas where every indie, or in fact every game company struggles. This is the main reason why most of the "next gen" games are much shorter than their predecessors, or are filled with repetitive tasks to stretch the experience. For indies and small teams this is even more true.

The MMO genre to me looks like a bad indie match because it will require an indie to lag behind in either quality or quantity and I don't think there is a lot of innovation in the genre (but I hope I am wrong). Once you start dropping on quality in one area (like graphics for example), it requires you to do so much better in another area (giving the game away for free, have the best storytelling ever, etc.). To me it looks like it becomes a gamble at this point because you don't have innovation at your side. If a game plays great, sounds great, and looks great, then most people will come to the conclusion that this game must be great. If a game plays great, but looks and sounds awful, well then you never really know what will happen on release. I think this makes it a risky endeavour.

I don't mind if people take a risk, or are fine with weak spots in their MMO. I just hope that everyone is aware that let's call it a AAA MMO like WoW, Guildwars, Rift, Age of Conan is not possible for a small team. You will increase your chances if you find some unique selling points for your MMO, maybe it caters an entirely different demographic, or whatever.

Last, I just want to show a short example of how much time creating content for a 3D RPG actually costs, I think my times are pretty close to reality, because they are based on the indie game I am working on now.

Say you have 5 classes in your game, each class has 3 talent trees ( think mage with fire, water, lightning), each tech tree has on average 10 spells. This means you have 150 spells in your game. Each spell requires:
Draw spell icon: 20 mins average
Design spell effect: 4 hours average
Write spell descriptions: 10 mins average

For 150 spells in your game, you will need to invest 675 hours.

Now you need weapons, and armors, again, we have 5 classes, let's say each class gets 10 different armors sets. In total you need 50 armor sets.
Each armor set requires:
5 Armor set icons (helmet, shoes, chest, legs, gloves): 100 mins average
Model armor: 8 hours average
Unwrap and texture armor: 16 hours average
Write armor descriptions: 20 mins average

For 50 armors in your game, you will need to invest 1300 hours.

Last one, let's consider weapons. Let's say you want one handed axes, swords, two handed axes, swords, bows, daggers, staves, wands. And you want 15 model variations of each. So about 120 weapons.
Weapon icon: 20 mins
Model weapon: 30 mins average
Unwrap and texture weapon: 90 mins average
Write weapon description: 10 mins average

For 120 weapons, single texture variation, you need to invest about 300 hours.

I know this post is getting pretty long, so let me get to it. Modeling and texturing a NPC will usually also take about two days per NPC, single texture variation, then you need monsters, boss battles, buildings, plants, fx, and one that takes a lot of time; rigging and animation. It all stacks up really fast and this is without "next gen" stuff like normal mapping. With normal mapping I think the times at least triple because high detailed modeling takes a lot of time. And the figures I am giving don't take into account animation, concept art, rigging, etc.

So I hope this gives some insight, I can give more figures if people are interested if they want to plan the assets and time needed for their game. I could make a blog post about it or whatever.

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[quote name='RedPin' timestamp='1307693471']
I simply said you shamed your company for being in a bubble box. You seem to generalize everyone into the same category, and you know little to none about what you were babbling on about. If you think I attacked you I'll restate what I said. "You insult ArenaNet for being so narrow minded." And yes, truth be told you You seem to think all indies simply suck and are " half brained", but if you can READ my comment you erased, you'll understand my point of view and where I came from. If I'm any example, its simply that I'm a business investor and not simply a indie game designer. I know how to make capital aka money and where to hit up advertisements to generate unique visitors and players. In simple terms, I know how to get people, where to get em, and how to make money when I get the people. If you still are confused or find it insulting, then reread a bit, and then read some more. I stand by my comments.

I genuinely don't understand where you're coming from here.

I've gone to great lengths in this follow-up to specifically argue [i]against[/i] what you accuse me of thinking. As I said before, strawman arguments waste everyone's time.

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Just thought I'd chip in and say that, as someone who has worked on a released MMO, I totally agree with your posts on the topic.

Sure it *is* possible for indies to create MMOs. Happens a lot actually, but often as not people come in with completely unrealistic hopes/dreams/expectations about what they as individuals or small groups can achieve. They always forget about the asset creation overheads, hosting etc.

I think a lot of this comes from inexperience in the MMO area itself and with game development in general.

Anyway just wanted to say that I think RedPin is completely off-base with his comments and that you certainly didn't sound like you were putting indies down in any way.

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[quote name='RedPin' timestamp='1307693471']I simply said you shamed your company for being in a bubble box. You seem to generalize everyone into the same category, and you know little to none about what you were babbling on about. If you think I attacked you I'll restate what I said. "You insult ArenaNet for being so narrow minded." And yes, truth be told you You seem to think all indies simply suck and are " half brained", but if you can READ my comment you erased, you'll understand my point of view and where I came from. If I'm any example, its simply that I'm a business investor and not simply a indie game designer. I know how to make capital aka money and where to hit up advertisements to generate unique visitors and players. In simple terms, I know how to get people, where to get em, and how to make money when I get the people. If you still are confused or find it insulting, then reread a bit, and then read some more. I stand by my comments.[/quote]

Your confidence in your own abilities does not change the reality of how difficult a certain job is. I remember when I was more stupid (Which was not long ago!) and I would become about this defensive against Apoch's points, but he knows a great deal about his discipline and approaches topics like these carefully. The sheer length of his posts should be an indicator of his concern over a subject.

Anyway, what experienced programmers will tell you is that there are so many things involved with the development of an MMO, you are not going to be able to look at independent factors like money or graphics. A more holistic view of the entire system is needed, and each independent actor needs enough experience to serve their role well and be able to collaborate effectively with others. Remove effective communication, and you get [i]Dilbert.[/i]

Knowing how to be a good salesman is great, but if you ignore the demands that come with maintaining a massive server farm and the continued entertainment of every last person logged on to the thing, you will quickly realize how much effort is really needed to continue operations.

It has been mentioned so many times before, but we get a lot of inspired novice game developers who want to make it big, and we appreciate their enthusiasm. However, we also know when we see someone about to make a decision that takes them too far out of their league.

I worked on an MMORTS produced by two people, I worked with them pro bono, and I was [i]miserable[/i]. The game was slow, poorly designed and boring. I respect the people who worked on it, but without going into too much detail, I did not benefit much from the experience. I just learned that what I did was not smart, and I had no obligation to work on things that likely will not go anywhere. This post and the one before it tried to keep people from making mistakes like the one I made.

EDIT: Looks like the game is [url="http://www.crellan.com/"]down[/url], even. If that link takes you to a test page for another 72 hours, I'd say it may be down for good.

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