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Ber Zerk

Building an online virtual world - How much? How long? How difficult?

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Hello,

For a specific application (not really a game, but looking like one), we would like to create a multiplayer online virtual world.
We would like our users to be able to:
- visit the world
- see, meet and chat with other users
- get information (coming from external sources)
- pay for things purchased in the world

We think about 2.5D graphic, and we will work with a studio or freelance graphic designers.
We want the system to be modular and scalable, to add more features (including user-generated content) and accept more users in the future.

I'm writing the business plan and I would like expert advice on the big questions:
- how long would it take to develop?
- can we reuse existing stuff? (I've browsed through dozens of game engines trying to understand what they do, and if they can match our needs, but it's very hard for a noob like me!)
- how many people to do the job?
- which kind of people (skills, experience) do we need to hire?
- alternately, would it be a good idea to work with a game design company? What would then be the best candidates?

Thank you very much for your help!
Best regards,

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we would like to create a multiplayer online virtual world.
We would like our users to be able to:
- visit the world
- see, meet and chat with other users
- get information (coming from external sources)
- pay for things purchased in the world
2.5D
I'm writing the business plan and I would like expert advice on the big questions:
1- how long would it take to develop?
2- can we reuse existing stuff? (I've browsed through dozens of game engines trying to understand what they do, and if they can match our needs, but it's very hard for a noob like me!)
3- how many people to do the job?
4- which kind of people (skills, experience) do we need to hire?
5- alternately, would it be a good idea to work with a game design company?
6- What would then be the best candidates?


1. A minimum of two years to get a minimum acceptable virtual world - and then everybody continues working forever, as long as your virtual world runs.
2. Only what you buy. All games involve creating new code, even if someone else has done a similar feature. The engine is never solely sufficient.
3. More than 30.
4. All kinds: especially programmers. You need designers, artists, producers, testers - and since it's a virtual world, they'll be constantly working even after the 2 years.
5. You mean a game developer? Absolutely, you want to hire a company that already has experience, rather than trying to create a new company as a novice to the field.
6. You have to do research.

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Dear Tom,

Thank you very much for your answer.
Indeed I had million(s) in mind for the cost (and our company never thought to develop it alone!), but time is more critical for us: we need to deliver quickly.
Our business model is very specific (I can't disclose it for confidentiality reasons), and my message was a bit misleading: visiting the world will not be the initial motivation for people so if the world is very small at the beginning that is not a problem.

Knowing that it would take 2 years and 30 people to complete a full-featured world, what would be a reasonable cost, minimal team size and timing for the first version for a "playable" world, i.e. :
- a very small village
- chat & info
- payment implemented
- users not yet able to expand the world

BTW, it's not a game, so no killing/monsters/... no complex interactions between users of the game (except chat).
I'd like to get an understanding of the timeline, and evolution of the roles of people in the team: e.g. if I need someone to do something only once, then it's better to take a freelance than hire.

Thank you very much for your valuable inputs.
Best regards,

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I've seen a lot prices vary for freelancers.

You can also search for inexpensive programs that may end up becoming a permanent part of your development pipeline. A lot of good programs are out there. For developing a small village or city you shouldn't have to get too complicated in it's design, especially if it's to test implemented features. Anyways, here is my suggestion as far a terrain goes. http://www.world-machine.com/

World Machine uses height map data, which can be exported to various game engines, and 3D applications that accept height map data. If you're building a game engine from the ground up you should consider including support for height maps. World Machine is probably my favorite, and it isn't expensive at all for a single professional license. Browse their gallery. You may find creating terrain not to be a problem unless terrain modification is included in your game design.

There's certainly a lot of content you can create yourself. You should also take a look at Speed Tree: http://www.speedtree.com/ Implementing this type of content should be easier with these two programs. If you're able to secure funding after having completed a playable model you can switch these programs. Edited by Aerin

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Dear Aerin,

These tools seem to produce gorgeous results! Much more than what we need (our idea is to get something like fixed isometric view, not full 3D), but definitely worth knowing. Anyway, they address only one part of the solution (landscape design).

I would like to have enough understanding of the development process to know the relative amount of work/time that goes into:
- graphics charter
- scenario (in our case it will be very light, since it's not a game)
- landscape/elements design
- game engine -> especially what we can gain by using existing engines
- server -> idem
- testing
- management tools

After hours of reading/searching on the Web, the amount/kind of work to perform when building on top of an engine is still not clear to me.
I don't understand either the tradeoffs that would allow us to go faster to a first release (simplified graphics? less movement? isometric view: 2D engine vs 3D engine?... etc...).

Thanks for your feedback.
Best regards, Edited by Ber_zerk

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I apologize for not having read that you're aiming for a 2.5D graphics. My understanding there is limited in that I understand it as either a fixed perspective in a 3D gameworld, or a game that uses a fixed isometric view to allow 2D tile sets to mimic a 3D environment. Similar to the original Fallout.

Here I'd agree that landscape design may not be an issue at all if you'd like to use World Machine, and even Speed Tree. Simplified graphics wouldn't be necessary here because you can easily make a 2D tile set or sprite out of a 3D model with textures. It would simply have to be rendered at different angles, and poses that correspond to whatever fixed camera angle you use if you're making a sprite sheet. The same can be said for World Machine. Since they won't actually be 3D objects but rather 2D images.

If you are unable to make these things yourselves then someone else can. Prices will vary if you hire a freelancer.

I can make examples of what I'm talking about with 2D rendered 3D models. Graphics should not be an issue if you go the rout I'm thinking. The only issue would be time and compensation to the artists.

I am unable to contribute any advice concerning your other questions.

Edit:

fu1jtc.png
This is an example of what I'm talking about. It's a 3D render but can be rendered from any angle. It allows for endless customization, especially if you have a 3D character already made. It's very easy to make adjustments, and add new content quickly. Edited by Aerin

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Thanks. I understand that isometric can save us a lot of time/effort.
Indeed graphics design will be extremely important, and we will work with the best possible artists.

For now, I have to first answer my other questions (see above) to build my business plan... ;-)

Anyone with a producer experience that could answer me?

Best regards, Edited by Ber_zerk

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1. but time is more critical for us: we need to deliver quickly.
2. visiting the world will not be the initial motivation for people so if the world is very small at the beginning that is not a problem.
3. Knowing that it would take 2 years and 30 people to complete a full-featured world,
4. I'd like to get an understanding of the timeline, and evolution of the roles of people in the team:

1. Then it is doomed to fail. If you try to rush this, it will turn out badly.

2. Perhaps so, but you want (as you said before) a "virtual world" that's scalable and involves a payment system or in-game money or some such. Whether this is the central experience or not, it's not a small task. You have to build the entire infrastructure now, with all the scalability hooks now, with the payment/money system now, the analytics system now, the chat system now, the servers, backups, and migration system now. You're building one finished room, but that room doesn't float in the air. It has to exist within a full framework, underneath a finished roof, with all the outside walls and windows and doors, plumbing, electrical, gas, cable, sidewalk, porch, and hallways/stairways leading to that finished room. When you get into that finished room, you won't care that the living room, dining room, and kitchen aren't ready yet, but you will find that you can't live in that room without also having a bathroom that's finished too.

3. You don't know that it will take 2 years and 30 people. Some stranger on the internet, who knows nothing about your project, gave you those numbers out of his hat after you asked a question on a public forum. You need to do your own research, consulting with NDA'd professionals with whom you share full details of what you're trying to do, and what constitutes a minimally releasable user experience. It might take less than 2 years, but to do that might mean it will need more people. It might not. These numbers (2 years, 30 people) are worth what you paid for them: nothing.

4. Then you need to start spending time and money to find that out. Asking for free answers on the internet is not the way to go about it. Get professional.

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