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Zouflain

A few (abstract) questions about MMOG design

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Zouflain    548
This isn't a "how do I make an MMOG" request, so please don't worry. 1) What does this community in general mean by an MMOG? (Ie, a game with ten concurrent users? One hundred? One thousand? Ten thousand?) When does an MOG qualify as an MMOG? 2) There is great opposition to those seeking out to create WoW killers by asking novice questions on public forums, but really, how hard is it to make a game that can handle 200 concurrent users? 3) Why is it considered so unfeasible to make a MMOG? Server hardware, maintenance, and bandwidth aside, so long as one is not shooting for state of the art graphics running off the unreal-engine, and able to support some ungodly ammount of players, why would it cost $50,000,000 dollars (an estimate I just read for WoW's upfront cost)? Ragnarok online is a MMORPG, but plenty of people run them from home - granted they didn't do the design... but sprites and sounds aren't that expensive are they? Programmings free, if you've got time and software. 4) Why doesn't anyone reference the open source GNU GPL MMOG games when speaking of MMOGs and MMOG design? It's not impossible for an indie designer to make them - the aforementioned ones exist, and they didn't cost millions to make. Some of those indie games (Infinity comes to mind) actually are <insert commercial MMOG> killers. 5) A lot of people mention massive teams that go into development on these games. While I'm sure that many people means a large influx of ideas, but at the same time their major contribution is man-hours of labor. So, realistically, how many man-hours of labor would it take to make a MMOG/MOG? I dunno, honestly this sounds a little too novice (ie appears on the first page of a well phrased search) even to me now that I think about it, but I feel these are fair questions. Sadly a search for any of the terms I'm using will give me hundreds of posts that have nothing to do with these (apparently) unasked questions. If you find one in an FAQ, though, I do deserve a slap, and will promptly take one from any who can link me to the proper FAQ/previous topic.

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ToohrVyk    1595
Quote:
Original post by Zouflain
1) What does this community in general mean by an MMOG? (Ie, a game with ten concurrent users? One hundred? One thousand? Ten thousand?) When does an MOG qualify as an MMOG?


To me, a MOG qualifies as a MMOG when it is scalable—if your server cluster and userbase allow it, you can run the game with as many users as you want and it will still be playable and fun. By contrast, a non-massive game is limited either because of maximum load constraints in software or because the game stops being fun once there are too many players.

Quote:
2) There is great opposition to those seeking out to create WoW killers by asking novice questions on public forums, but really, how hard is it to make a game that can handle 200 concurrent users?


Writing a game that can handle 200 concurrent users is as simple as writing an IRC bot. The trouble with most "MMORPG-newbies" is that they don't just want a 200-user game, they want one with complex gameplay (sometimes known as the "let the user do anything they want" design document).

Quote:
3) Why is it considered so unfeasible to make a MMOG? Server hardware, maintenance, and bandwidth aside, so long as one is not shooting for state of the art graphics running off the unreal-engine, and able to support some ungodly ammount of players, why would it cost $50,000,000 dollars (an estimate I just read for WoW's upfront cost)? Ragnarok online is a MMORPG, but plenty of people run them from home - granted they didn't do the design... but sprites and sounds aren't that expensive are they? Programmings free, if you've got time and software.


Two reasons. The first is that time is money—even if programming is free, developing a serious MMORPG still represents an ungodly amount of man-hours (it combines all the asset management of RPG development with complex networking and persistence). The second is that MMORPGs need GMs, and while a handful of part-time free GMs may be able to keep a server clean, they won't be able to do all the daily content/quest addition work that professional MMORPGs offer.

Quote:
5) A lot of people mention massive teams that go into development on these games. While I'm sure that many people means a large influx of ideas, but at the same time their major contribution is man-hours of labor. So, realistically, how many man-hours of labor would it take to make a MMOG/MOG?


Well, programming in itself is not that complex—although the levels of planning and architecture are just too complex to learn as you go if you're a beginner—and developing a reasonably polished MMORPG is on the same difficulty scale as developing a reasonably polished RTS with singleplayer and multiplayer support, from the programmer's point of view.

From the artist's point of view, things are different. You need locations, items, characters, and so on. You actually need more than a (non-MMO) RPG, because more players means repetitiveness sets in more easily as far as characters and items go. One simply needs much more artists (or a larger base of free art) to get an MMORPG done.

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WorldPlanter    266
Not being a programmer I can't comment on how many man hours an MMO would require on the engineering side of development, but MMO's definitely place a huge burden on the art team.

The content required for most MMO's far exceeds the content found in a typical RTS, RPG, or even FPS game.

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Sandman    2210
The feasibility depends greatly on who is attempting to develop it.

For an experienced, intelligent, hard working team with a good understanding of the development process and the self motivation and discipline to learn whatever they need to fill in the blanks, truly amazing things can be achieved. Look at Ysaneya's project for example (when it's finished of course [grin])

For a beginner who knows next to nothing about anything relating to development of any kind, and posts Yet Another "how do i maek mormpg" thread because he's too lazy to do any of his own research, it's completely off the feasibility map. So far off in fact, that they don't even realise how hopelessly lost they are.

These people shouldn't even be thinking about making WoW beating MMORPGs, not for a while at least. Maybe a text MUD.

[Edited by - Sandman on August 3, 2007 1:44:37 PM]

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H4L    169
Quote:
Original post by Zouflain
2) There is great opposition to those seeking out to create WoW killers by asking novice questions on public forums, but really, how hard is it to make a game that can handle 200 concurrent users?

3) Why is it considered so unfeasible to make a MMOG? Server hardware, maintenance, and bandwidth aside, so long as one is not shooting for state of the art graphics running off the unreal-engine, and able to support some ungodly ammount of players, why would it cost $50,000,000 dollars (an estimate I just read for WoW's upfront cost)? Ragnarok online is a MMORPG, but plenty of people run them from home - granted they didn't do the design... but sprites and sounds aren't that expensive are they? Programmings free, if you've got time and software.


There is a distinct difference between indie attempts and well funded commercial games like WoW, and the number of users isn't actually the most important thing to consider (though it's still crucial obviously). The real issue is with client override. It is perfectly believable that an indie developer can create a fully working MMO with an enormous number of users provided they let the clients handle some of the calculations. When you allow client override you can effectively cheat at the game by modifying your own game file. To cheat at a game like WoW or LotRO you need to hack into the servers. Modern commercial MMOs are specifically designed with the assumption that players will try and cheat wherever it is possible, and this creates a massive extra requirement on server technology. When you allow the clients to handle calculations themselves it's a completely different kettle of fish, and you may as well consider it a different genre. When it is said that an MMO is unfeasable for an amateur developer, they mean an MMO with minimal or no client override like the commercial titles.

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Fastidious    126
Quote:
Original post by Zouflain
1) What does this community in general mean by an MMOG? (Ie, a game with ten concurrent users? One hundred? One thousand? Ten thousand?) When does an MOG qualify as an MMOG?


www.wikipedia.com

When you can have 100+ or more users on a single instance is massive yes? 10-20 users on a whole FPS server is not so massive yes? Yes common sense 4tw?

Quote:

2) There is great opposition to those seeking out to create WoW killers by asking novice questions on public forums, but really, how hard is it to make a game that can handle 200 concurrent users?


So many factors in this ugh. Just to toss out one example though. You take 200 users running around in a virtual world. You take about 80% of them actually killing things and looting things off the ground. Lets say 1-3 objects per bag of loot being spawned, picked up, saved, and hitting the database. Now multiply that by 200. That's not even scratching the tip.

Quote:

3) Why is it considered so unfeasible to make a MMOG? Server hardware, maintenance, and bandwidth aside, so long as one is not shooting for state of the art graphics running off the unreal-engine, and able to support some ungodly ammount of players, why would it cost $50,000,000 dollars (an estimate I just read for WoW's upfront cost)? Ragnarok online is a MMORPG, but plenty of people run them from home - granted they didn't do the design... but sprites and sounds aren't that expensive are they? Programmings free, if you've got time and software.


1 thing here. Wow is not the avg MMOG that you should even remotely compare when factoring in costs of a project. MMOG's have been maid much cheaper and with small amounts of teams. Even without licensing a engine or even having support for ungodly amounts of players from launch.

I think the second part of your question should be a clue that it's not unfeasible.

Quote:

5) A lot of people mention massive teams that go into development on these games. While I'm sure that many people means a large influx of ideas, but at the same time their major contribution is man-hours of labor. So, realistically, how many man-hours of labor would it take to make a MMOG/MOG?


Epic Games (someone correct me if I'm wrong) has a small team. They built a great game and engine that has been the backbone to many games including MMOG's. When they set out to make GoW, im sure they got more people to make another team. No doubt in mind that time of the size of the picture could also make a game in the genre of the MMOG

http://www.epicgames.com/images/company_photo.jpg

Quote:

I dunno, honestly this sounds a little too novice (ie appears on the first page of a well phrased search) even to me now that I think about it, but I feel these are fair questions. Sadly a search for any of the terms I'm using will give me hundreds of posts that have nothing to do with these (apparently) unasked questions.


Questions are good but you're coming to a place where you have inexperienced posters answering questions based on assumptions. Even as ironic as my answers to that statement to.

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Jerky    277
Most of the main points have been hit, but let me throw in a couple more. The cost for development includes a lot of things.

Licensing is the first major thing in a budget. Most teams, especially ones who want to make an MMO in a reasonable amount of time, turn to middleware solutions to help out. This means they are paying for technology and support to help them get off the ground faster. This is very common with commercial games today. Anything from Tree Rendering, to FaceGen, to complete MMO engines are licensed. None of these are cheap.

Next on the budget for most teams is tools. If its a startup, all the tools must be bought, although some may bring their own with them. This is also going to include your Code and Asset Repository. Alienbrain (just to name 1) costs around $800 per user, iirc. These costs start to add up. Things like this are important to have for a real company. 3DSMax costs around 3k per user, and Maya is a little cheaper. Then throw in your MudBox, or ZBrush or Modo, and you are starting to get expensive. An argument can be made for free software, but the simple truth has to do with how long it takes to make a quality asset. You can get the same results in the end, but after more time and effort. So, this adds to your timeline. 3 years development turns to 5 with tools that aren't powerful enough. Then your target audience has changed and no longer wants to look at your game.

Now, lets not forget hardware. Each employee is going to need a computer to work on, and lots of peripherals. Then throw in your rent, and power bills. Not to mention Servers, backup devices, networking, management.

Oh, and your employees need to get paid. Say you are hoping for a game in 3 years. Your team is 25 people who average 75k/year in salary. Add on the standard 20% for their gear, benefits, overhead, etc. and you are already talking about 6.75 million dollars, just to pay 25 employees for 3 years. Most teams now have more than 25 artists, not even counting the rest, and Blizzard is certainly no exception to the rule.

Ok, so lets say you have the budget (or you are planning on using free labor as a hobby project), you still have some high hurdles to jump. One of the largest hurdles for an MMO is content. You may think a thousand objects will do, but for an MMO, we're talking many (if not 10's) of thousands of modeled objects, all with UV maps, animations, etc. Then you need to have your tools created (an MMO will not be made without custom tools), so this content can be placed in your world. If you aren't going to have this done by your team, then you negotiate with an outsourcing group. Again, this will not be cheap. You wont be able to buy all your models off TurboSquid ;).

Say you have all this, then you have to consider the upkeep costs. I have linked this in a couple other MMO thread, but it can't hurt to mention it here:
IGDA's Whitepaper on developing Persistent Worlds
They mention your bandwidth costs, your support costs, etc. Supporting many players (who will have problems and want to call in for support) costs money.

Now, all this is a problem for commercial teams with budgets. It only gets hard for small-budgeted Indies, and even moreso for no-budgeted dreamers (I am inluded in the latter).

Now, I haven't even begun to mention the difficulties of Software development on this scale. Getting a server that will scale enough to do what you need it to. Getting it to be stable enough to keep players playing. All this adds to the difficulties.

Now to address more specifically some of your questions. When the letters MMO are mentioned, WoW is thought of. WoW and the smaller games you mentioned (Ragnarok or OS ones) both claim that title (of MMO). So, you could just want to measure up against the smaller ones, but the problem is that when you use the letters, you are then grouped with the big boys. So, making a smaller game is a lot more feasible, but most people do not think thats what you are wanting to make when you say MMO.

@Fastidious: Epic *had* a small team back when they were working on Unreal 1. Ever since they started licensing their engine, they have been steadily getting bigger (along with Mark Rein's ego). Oh, and Epic never made their engine ready for MMO's. Lineage2 (the first that did, iirc) took it and modified it to do their bidding. I am sure Epic had nothing to do with them making it work as am MMO client. All the networking etc would have been done on their own.

As with most of my posts, I will cut if off here before I lose people. I have more I can add, should people be desirous.

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PaulCesar    524
There is nothing outrageously difficult about creating an MMORPG aside from taking a steeper tole on the art department. In fact, there are at least a few people on this site that have created one BY THEMSELVES (rad is one of them). The problem lies, as others have stated more elaborately, in creating a solid commercial quality competitive MMORPG that would have earnings comparable to WoW, Ragnarök, Lineage, Ultima, etc.

MMORPG ideas are bashed continuously on account of two things. 1) generally the people posting recruitment for these teams have no experience, and goals that most of us KNOW are impossible for a team of that size. 2) wish to compete with the big boys, and use WoW as an example. 3) have a very faulty design document as mentioned above "lets do anything"

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Fastidious    126
Quote:
Original post by Jerky

@Fastidious: Epic *had* a small team back when they were working on Unreal 1. Ever since they started licensing their engine, they have been steadily getting bigger (along with Mark Rein's ego). Oh, and Epic never made their engine ready for MMO's. Lineage2 (the first that did, iirc) took it and modified it to do their bidding. I am sure Epic had nothing to do with them making it work as am MMO client. All the networking etc would have been done on their own.

As with most of my posts, I will cut if off here before I lose people. I have more I can add, should people be desirous.


I double checked, they still have a rather small team as before. Small compared to say majority of starting development teams for a common MMO. Majority have upwards around 100+ working on core development (IE: Sigil with Vanguard). Epic has 2 teams maybe even 3 working on Engine, UT, and GoW. If you want to combine them sure but you really shouldn't.

After release it's common people leave or contracts are up. You don't need 100+ developers working on a released product in the MMO genre. The main point of having so many developers to begin with is because, it's a massive multiplayer game. You got a lot to do and push for during release. Maintaining it and forming a team for expansions and updates is really less I'm sure.

@Budget stuff

Below is a quote from an developer who left a studio to form his own indy studio.

Quote:

Even if we had been allowed to finish, we would have had to sell multiple hundreds of thousands of copies in order to see anything on the back-end. A typical PC project that costs one and a half million dollars to make, and half a million dollars to market, has to sell in excess of three hundred thousand units before it generates royalty. Surprisingly few games attain such success.

There are additional costs beyond development and marketing that further reduce the chances of royalty. For instance, publishers typically deduct the money paid to retailer to secure shelf-space. Publishers also hold back a percentage to cover returns and price reductions. This money may or may not find its way to the developer's pocket later on.

If your game is one of the select few to sell enough units, there can still be problems in bookkeeping. Payments might get inadvertently allocated to other projects, fail to get recorded, or be deferred due to extended credit terms. These errors are difficult to detect, and can reduce or altogether eliminate developer royalty.


Publishers and investors are where majority of your costs will come from.

http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20000918/morton_pfv.htm

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Jerky    277
Actually, no. Your quote is referring to royalties, which is, money made after the game is out and on shelves. That is money made after the cost of development. This money has nothing to do with what it costs to make a game, it is the icing on the cake, so to speak. The publisher does "front" money, as per their agreement, and as the game sells, takes the profit made to pay them back. Publishers see this as a loan, of sorts. Now, every team has to negotiate their deal with the publisher, but that quote mentions nothing of costs that they would have to put up from their own budget.

Also, the topic at hand was regarding teams making an MMO. The only reason why I addressed your Epic example was because you used it. Epic is not a fair example for this discussion. They are not making an MMO, so the size of their team doesn't apply here. I mentioned the girth of all their teams because that is a more even comparison. Yes a team that size could make an MMO, but it would not have the content that, say, a WoW has. If you want to bring in good numbers, go scare up some numbers from Sigil, Blizzard, or even NCSoft.

While the quote from that paper doesn't necessarily apply here (with upfront costs), the rest of the paper is full of great information. Thanks for sharing.

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Fastidious    126
The quote was to hint how much a typical game project *could* cost. That cost of course would more than likely come from A) investors or B) publisher. I wouldn't go as far as saying you shouldn't worry about how much anything should cost but it highlights the point that majority of your projects funding is not coming from your pocket so trying to estimate how much X will cost isn't something that should be on your mind first. Estimates of office space, tools, supplies, and so on before any type of publishing deal should be to hard to calculate before hand.


Although WoW is a powerhouse now, it really shouldn't used for any example being they obviously had unlimited resources and of course content that was developed many years before WoW was even announced. Not having the exact same content age and detail or even the same budget as Blizzard does not mean the next gen MMO's will fail. A good game will always be a good game...

[Edited by - Fastidious on August 5, 2007 10:22:51 PM]

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Jerky    277
Indeed. That article did spell out many things which should be thought of when approaching your business plan.

While WoW is now a powerhouse, I don't see how that makes it an invalid example. I think all that shows us is that it is important to keep things under wraps until the time is ripe. The interesting thing about WoW is that they did not follow the tradition Art Pipeline. I would wager that they can churn out content at twice the speed of other teams (say a team like Age of Conan). Even so, it still took them as long as it did, and as much money as it did. That only shows that Blizzard made another smart decision and went to play the game smarter, not harder, but still didn't save any money.

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Fastidious    126
Quote:
Original post by Jerky
While WoW is now a powerhouse, I don't see how that makes it an invalid example.


WoW is the only powerhouse. There isn't other MMO's with 5-6 million customers to compete with them. In short, they are rare and not the average MMO. So using them as the example in something in dealing with costs and production wouldn't be correct. That's because WoW is generally new on the market compared to what is out there now. No matter how old their content is, other MMO's have been here longer and they are the prime examples of how much a MMO could cost under the avg plans.

UO, EQ, DAOC, and EVE would make better examples.

You wouldn't say that having X amount of money isn't enough because Blizzard needed had more. When clearly the MMO's before them cost much less to develop compared to WoW.

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Jerky    277
I think you would be suprised to find out how large their team was and how much money they used. I bet its smaller/less than you would expect. I won't argue with you about their popularity, but they never planned on being that large( read popular), which means they didn't develop with that scale in mind.

I am sure the trend of the team shrinking after release was broken by them, but we are discussing pre-release development. You are correct that they had previous success to help their budgeting problems, but that doesn't mean that they threw their money away just because they could. Like I said, it wasn't until after release that they saw that they needed to scale larger, not smaller. Again, not in the scope of this discussion.

Anyone else have anything to say on this topic? We're starting to hog this thread. ;)

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