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cost of running and maintaining a mmo

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I know there are a ton of variables, but given the hypothetical situation, what would be the costs of creating and maintaining such a mmo? I'm working on a business plan for a loan app and I have a rough idea of what things cost but wanted to get a general consensus. -develop a high-end mmo using a licensed engine (assuming 1 yr dev) -sustain the game world for 1000 initial users with 500 monthly adds I have a good idea on the required headcount and salaries but not so sure on the tech and maintenance costs.

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Those costs are largely unpredictable and no bank in the world is going to give you a loan based on a fragile estimation. They don't like words such as 'hypothetical', you will need to specifiy exactly what the costs are and how you are going to earn it back. In fact, banks are totally not into the risky business of game development at all, except maybe if you have proven to be worth their money. Sorry, but that's just the way it is.

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:DISCLAIMER: This is a really, really rough estimate of costs I haven't researched, the base idea is there, but obviously if you don't have the resources to figure this out you won't have the resources to carry it through.

Cost of production = (head_count * (average_cost_of_tools)) + (head_count * (average_salery) * production_years) + (cost_of_office_space * production_years * 12) + cost_of_non_specific_tools + general_office_products + cost_of_living



And that's how much it costs to make hosting depends on the plan you get, but it's basically the cost of the computers and the cost of hiring people to maintain it and the cost of the hosting plan.

Let's say you have artists who need 3d Studio Max and Photoshop (we'll say it costs $1500 for both as you buy in bulk... this is a random number), programmers who need Visual Studio Enterprise, and visual X assist, and you need to purchase perforce to keep your shit together, everyone needs microsoft office and windows, and producers need a few extra tools. Figure the cost for each of these jobs per person (as you need to buy liscences of the software) and then perform this (head_count * (cost_of_workstation)) for each job.

Let's simplify and say that everyone's salery and workstation and tools all average out to the same (not ever true in large projects.) So, how about $70,000 salery and a $6,000 workstation per person (factor in all software and tools). Now you have to also pay for your office space, I don't really know the numbers, but how about we say you rent and it costs $2,000 monthly for space and utilities, that's $24,000 a year and I'm probably way off, it's a number for a number's sake.

Then you have to remember to eat and sleep, so you factor in your cost of living which should be around $17,000 per year.

Let's assume those fake numbers and a 40 man team.

$3,081,000 so a very modest three million for one year of development, and I've given you a very lowball estimate.

That's 61,620 copies you have to sell to make up for costs. Then you have to price your monthly to cover hosting and a bit to keep revenu flowing.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
You're assumptions are ridiculous:
"-develop a high-end mmo using a licensed engine (assuming 1 yr dev)"

There is nothing more to discuss. As a warning, if you are indeed serious about presenting a business plan, you will get laughed out the door at any serious money lending institution. I don't care if its a bank, VC, or angel investor. Instead of scheming for ways to get others to do the hard work for you try the novel idea of writing your own game.

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Yes, let me also say that a one year development cycle is not something that can be bought easily. You'll need about 4x as many people to get the same thing that would take two years done in one. That's like saying "I want a house built in a month" well, it can be done, but you know you need a lot more workers that are paid better.

Or you need to be Amish, but the Amish thing doesn't work for programming (they are incompatible... If for some reason they weren't, then sure, it could be done.) It's anticipated that recruiting the Amish in programming will be the next major breakthrough in the development cycle, but so far none of our most talented managment teams or scientific institutions have managed to do so.

There are three things you need to know about the Amish:
1. Amish are mammals
2. Amish work totally hard all the time
3. At any time an Amish family could totally flip out and build a house in a day.

You'll have a 100% better chance of getting a grant if you mention that you have recruited an Amish family to replace your programmers. Their work ethics are legendary.

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I appreciate everyone's frank words of encouragement. But let's try to stick to the topic. My mistake for not asking a more targeted question.

What's the cost of maintaining the backend technology infrastructure (servers and...)? Again, the reason I highlighted hypothetical is for you, the GameDev audience, to give me an idea on technology costs, assuming the grossly simplified situation (ie a highend server has the capacity to maintain such and such loads and will cost you this much, etc).

I am a business manager at an investment bank. I'm familiar with how banks and vcs work and i know a thing or two about writing business plans. So don't worry about how stupid I'm gonna sound when I start looking for money. Just play along and spread your knowledge...please. This is just research.

[Edited by - jungolaya on February 28, 2006 1:04:19 PM]

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Maybe you should work at how the game is going to be built rather than how the game is going to be funded. If you have somthing that's playable, you will get a much more serious response.

Good luck with your venture!

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Thanks Simian. If I had the know-how to write all the code on my own, you wouldn't see me in here...I'd be busy writing my code. I'm multitasking at the moment, working on my design plan, business plan, getting a better understanding of the gaming industry, looking for developers/individuals...basically getting all my ducks in a row to figure out what options I have. I personally cannot do the most important part of this venture, which is the actual coding. But I plan to make sure that everything else is taken care of for when that person or team comes aboard.

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Quote:
Original post by jungolaya
Thanks Simian. If I had the know-how to write all the code on my own, you wouldn't see me in here...

That wasn't what he meant. He meant that, to make an MMO you need to understand the process (or have someone on board who does) and that, if you had this knowledge you would be able to properly design you game and from that generate accurate figures for your business plan.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
"I am a business manager at an investment bank."

Something doesn't add up here. Your last post sounds like you are trying to startup a game company and yet you claim to be a business manager at a investment bank. I have a friend who works in that field and he has NO time to be thinking about games let alone making one. If by the 1/googol probability that you are indeed a business manager at an investment bank, I would hope you would have better tools for doing cost analysis then a pseudo-anonymous internet forum.

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I think the cost will be determined by how many servers you're going to need (which will be determined by the bandwidth you expect you'll need), how secure you want them, how reliable you want them, etc. A lot of this stuff will come from the game itself.. documentation of an existing engine will probably (that's an assumption) tell you how much bandwidth you will need per user, and how much hard drive space you'll need to store the game itself. I'm not sure it's possible to estimate that type of cost before you know exactly what you need. Once you DO know, you can probably just get quotes from people who actually rent servers.

Maintenance means you're going to have people working on the game all the time to keep it bug free and updated, so that's just a sallary and head count. The only other thing you'd have to worry about past that is how much it costs to rent those hardcore servers.

You can probably do some math to work out an optimal number of servers to start with based on how much bandwidth each user needs, and how long it will take you to reach your maximum capacity (given a starting # of 1000, and adding 500 a month).

But I have no idea how much it costs to rent a big fat game server like that (all I know is it isn't cheap :P).

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In all honesty, this is probably the worst place to ask such a question. For starters, most people here are just going to tell you that you're stupid for even trying an MMO in the first place. Second, very few people on this board understand the economics of maintaining a server, this is primarily a programming site after all. If I were you I would try to contact the people with the actual servers. Either contact a company about outsourcing their servers, or the companies that sell the servers you want. (Dell, Sun, IBM, ...)

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Thanks for the informative feedback folks. In hindsight, I admit that this was a rather foolish question. I guess my frustrations got the better of me...just looking for quick answers.

Sorry to have gotten your panties in a bunch, ap. I promise not to quote "some dude on the internet" in my bplan. I am a bm at an ibank though...not that I'm proud of it. It's just a way to save up cash for my startup. Wish me luck!

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Quote:
Original post by jungolaya
I know there are a ton of variables, but given the hypothetical situation, what would be the costs of creating and maintaining such a mmo? I'm working on a business plan for a loan app and I have a rough idea of what things cost but wanted to get a general consensus.

-develop a high-end mmo using a licensed engine (assuming 1 yr dev)
-sustain the game world for 1000 initial users with 500 monthly adds

I have a good idea on the required headcount and salaries but not so sure on the tech and maintenance costs.


The problem with this is, it all depends on what *exactly* you are trying to do and how the technical lead has designed the back-end. And wether you are outsourcing the actual server hosting, like virtually any MMO does that I know of, or attemping to keep all the hardware in-house. If it's a 3d game you'll need a bigger team, if it's a 2d game you can probably use a slightly smaller team.

If your design was similar to say, RunUO (or any other efficent UO emulator), you'd initially only have a couple high end servers since that particular design is meant for individual servers hosting ~2000 users concurrently without issues. However, that isn't a 'high end MMO' but a free emulator of a 7 year old MMO.

Long story short, if you have interest in making a MMO you are going to need a couple technical people to talk to which have done it before and a basic design for your back end to get even a ballpark-level amount for a buisness plan. At least that is what I think, I've never made a MMO so I could be wrong.

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Fun fact: these days lots of Amish work in technological fields, they have had to move with the times to make money and provide for their families. They just don't use any technology in their home lives is all.

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Quote:
Original post by M2tM
Yes, let me also say that a one year development cycle is not something that can be bought easily. [...]


Well, there is a very good reason why 9 women can't have a baby in 1 month.
More programmers isn't necessarily going to help you. A MMO can release in as little as 3-4 months, if you downgrade the requirements...

You should start with the design of the MMO because unless you nail your major decisions soon, the estimate is anywhere from 300 to 1000000 USD per month.

All you need is a colocated server and bandwith for the smallest of project types monthly. A good machine can probably handle 1000 users, if well written.

Key words, outsourcing, pay good money to architects/designers, especially if you are a coder or a guru ;).

About that report, isn't alarming you that style of "this market is going to be worth 100 zillions by 2012" ? I find that hard to believe if you are indeed who you say you are.

my 2 cents

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A critical factor nobody's mentioned yet are support costs:

Technical support (for hardware)
Customer support (for billing / enquiries)
Game support (for in-game assistance / bug-rescues)

Don't make the mistake of assuming your only company outgoings will be your hosting, rent and utility bills once development is finished.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
You might assume that you can just throw money at something (a MMORPG project) and get it done, but you would be wrong. It takes several key people (game designer, main programmer,network/cluster expert) who often have to have been doing the design for years ahead of the ramp up. A MMORPG is a fricken three ring circus and failure at any point (via misdesign) can sink it or delay it interminably. The design must be pretty much worked out ahead of time and planned to handle all the complicated problems inherant in an MMORPG. If you dont already have the key people lined up (and their design consolidated), dont expect to simply be able to buy them for this '1 year' project (it will take that long just for them to get their heads together to beat out the detailed design).

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Quote:
Original post by jungolaya
Quote:
Original post by idinkin
Read this: http://www.igda.org/online/IGDA_PSW_Whitepaper_2004.pdf.


Holy Crap! Thanks dude...that's exactly what I was looking for!


The reason everyone's panties are in a bunch is because you could have easily found that information yourself, had you done research. A "bank manager" usually knows to do that. IGDA is one of the first places I looked.

Now, why couldn't anyone answer your question? Because you said you want to make "a mmo". Not what kind of MMO, not whether you're creating your own engine and hosting in-house, or whether you're using Ogre3D and Blender. You said your dev time will take a year, which either means you have no clue what you're doing or that you're good friends with John Carmack.

All I can give you is what it's costing me, and we're doing niche small budget with everyone working for free.

$25,000 for development and launch, including lawyers and accountant costs.
It isn't certain what the live bandwidth costs will be, but it's estimated to be $1 per player per month.

That's more an answer than you should get, Mr. "Dude" Bank Manager. ;p


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Quote:
Original post by Anonymous Poster
You might assume that you can just throw money at something (a MMORPG project) and get it done, but you would be wrong. It takes several key people (game designer, main programmer,network/cluster expert) who often have to have been doing the design for years ahead of the ramp up. A MMORPG is a fricken three ring circus and failure at any point (via misdesign) can sink it or delay it interminably. The design must be pretty much worked out ahead of time and planned to handle all the complicated problems inherant in an MMORPG. If you dont already have the key people lined up (and their design consolidated), dont expect to simply be able to buy them for this '1 year' project (it will take that long just for them to get their heads together to beat out the detailed design).


Quoted for Truth.

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No one has mentioned some of the most expensive portions of making an MMO.

Media creation- producing source art, in game models, game world, etc is very expensive on an MMO project.
Advertisement- without this, how will people know about the MMO? adverts are very expensive.

You said:
-develop a high-end mmo using a licensed engine (assuming 1 yr dev)

Does a licensed engine mean a middleware solution as well? The solutions out there are not cheap, and you maybe be suprised at how much is actually does cost.

Development of an MMO off a basic codebase in a single? Very possible. It will just fit in with most the other MMOs floating around with half the population they bottomlined in their plans.

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The reason I didn't mention the art is because he hasn't mentioned what kind of MMO he's making. If he's decided to license the rights to Order of the Stick ( http://www.giantitp.com/cgi-bin/GiantITP/ootscript ), then his art costs will be minimal. ;)

Really, the cost of the thing depends on what it is you want to make.

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