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Hamilton-WDS: Force of Arms Dev Blog

Personal Developer Blog for Force of Arms. Per Vis Nos Planto Nostrum Forensis - Through Force We Make Our Legacy

Author: Hamilton-NEO

Thanks and a Comment about Indie Innovation

Posted by Hamilton-NEO Thursday September 27 2007 at 2:13PM
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Well I would first like to thank the staff at MMORPG.Com for providing our interview at the top ten news items and with a banner image, it was unexpected, and we're thankful for it.  That is definitely a big moral boost.

So along with that, I though to supply this comment by a user with the handle of "FrequencyPattern" on the Multiverse forums.  His post I find to be very motivational for independent teams to keep going.  The strength lies in Innovation



Design is cheap but time-consuming. Production is expensive but fast, and reviewers love it! Most projects emphasize one or the other.

If your game needs three years in beta, the path you have chosen is obvious. 30 million is indeed low-ball for another me-too production ride.

Independent development has always relied on the power of good design. We don't win by using gobs of cash, we win by having better ideas. We have better ideas because we are many and we're outside the direct influence of the industry. I currently work for a software company that started out indie and has slowly carved a (now multi-million dollar) chunk out of a series of big budget, big business products that are simply not as well thought out.

No matter how much cash you have you can't say: "give me a killer app by tuesday". That's why we have a chance.

Business execs know this, magazine editors know this, and the guy giving that presentation knows this. On the other hand they can make money by acting as if it's some big mystery! Remember: money-making advice and good advice are different.

Now go build a killer app.

Making Your MMO: From Idea to Gold – Finding The Niche Market

Posted by Hamilton-NEO Tuesday September 25 2007 at 1:44PM
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Making Your MMO: From Idea to Gold – Finding The Niche Market
Table of Contents (Source of other entries)

Intro
I have heard and read information that the MMO Market is saturated, that the Golden Age has long gone and now the times are tough for developing a MMO.  This is just not true.  The Golden Age and saturation has yet to occur.  How is this so?  Saturation of a market occurs when there are no more niches available.  For a saturation of the MMO market to occur, all of the possible genres and game play styles will need to already been released.

For example:
Is there a Western MMO available for play?
Or a 3D MMO based entirely on the Holy Bible?
A Sci-Fi MMO without any Combat? *
The age of Pax Britannica?
A MMO based on the Dune series?

Currently the market is heavily sided with Fantasy based MMO’s.  While there is still room to release a Fantasy based MMO, I would recommend against it, at least for your first title.  The goal is to provide a game into a genre that does not exist or is starved for titles.  Then when you are established and have a community, go ahead and develop a fantasy based MMO.  By developing a fantasy based MMO, you are facing competition from Blizzard all of the way to the other numerous Indie projects as well.  You title will have to have something different in terms of innovation to beat out the giants.  Now perhaps your fantasy title is on the realistic side or of the dark ages in Germany; but will that be enough to have a player want to buy your title over the others.  I believe so, but there is going to be an extensive amount of marketing to be done to inform and persuade users to buy your title.

Path of Least Resistance and Competition
So what I am trying to provide is, follow the path of least resistance and competition for your first title.  Do not give up or abandon you fantasy title (if you have one) just yet.  Use what you can from it, for example the game mechanics could be transferred over.  Suppose a sci-fi title was to be developed, well then use the game mechanics from your fantasy game, with some modifications (such as removing spell casting, or reworking it as psionic energy).  If all you have is a fantasy based story, then you may either want to hold off on it, or use elements from the story, such as the races, or change the quests to missions, etc.  Who says that multiple games you own have to be completely different from another?  You are entitled to making clones with different skins of your own games if you so choose.  That is how pencil and dice RPG’s systems work, why notyou’re your own MMO’s?

Find a niche in the market is not a bad thing, contrary as to how some people make their feelings known in postings.  Eve-Online is an example of this, it is not for the mass-market, but it does have a following and there are few other titles that can directly compete with it.  If your title is the first in a niche market and is successful, you will have a market lead on any other who attempts to develop a similar game to yours.  Time will be on your side and is best to add in additional content or innovative ideas to stay ahead of your competition.  Eve-Online has done this, since they were the first successful title of their niche, they have a solid market lead over the others and the income to help stay ahead.

So for your title, you will need to figure out which niche your game can fit into and dominate.  This will require researching on your competition, both of the large publishers and of other Indie teams.  If you find out that a large publisher is creating a game similar to yours, don’t give up hope.  Chances are good that even the large publisher will cancel their product or fail to deliver as it was intended.  If however, the large company looks like it will carry the title through, then plan on making your game different enough so that users will buy yours; for example your title is more detailed and sophisticated, while the large publisher’s game is more simplified or “dumb-down” for the mass-market.

Indie teams though competitors are kind of a different story.  They are in the same boat as you and their chances of success are low.  You may look at forming partnerships or merges, helping each other out, or find a way to compliment one another.  Their title is a twitch-based game and yours is a traditional RPG style of game is one method.  Unfortunately you cannot ignore them and do have to compete with them; even when it comes to recruiting people to your project.

SWOT
A good reference for writing up a SWOT is at the Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swot_analysis  (Opens a new window)

When researching your competitors, write up a SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) of each competitor.  The more information or details you can acquire of each competitor will make your business plan even better.  For formatting, I just use bullets:
- Company Name
- Mission Statement
- Size of Company
- Estimated Budget
- Geographical Location
- Targeted Market
- Game Titles that are related
- Their Objectives
- Historical performance and news

From there a SWOT is created, though I keep it short.  I generally summarize mine after listing those bullets; but you can list bullets for each of the four elements of the SWOT.  Strength is the company’s power and abilities that will help it succeed; for example, prior experience with a few big hit titles.  Weaknesses are the opposite, aspects of the company that make it suffer; poor customer service or reputation.  Opportunities are outside influences that are beneficial to the company, such as domination of a certain market or the ability to compete unfairly with you.  Threats are items which you can take advantage of the company; such as the large company is slow to respond to making changes to a new niche market.

Also do not forget to write up a SWOT about your project.

Analyzing the MMO Market and the Niche
By researching your potential competitors, you should be able to figure out a niche that you can exploit.  You project may need some modifications for it to fit in, but that should not be difficult.  For example, you decided to that your fantasy game would be best done as a Cyberpunk type of game, such as with Shadow Run.  The only competitor you see so far in the large companies is The Matrix Online, while there are some potential Indies out there.  From your analysis of those companies and teams, you conclude that your title has a shot.  Now you need to figure out, will there be people willing to pay to play for your game or can you generate revenue from the users out there.  There is no real simply process for this, other than to conduct informal surveys, postings in forums and getting the general vibes from the user community.  Any existing information from similar IP’s will help out as well.  For example, how many games (computer and books) of Shadow Run were bought?  Are there fan sites of the genre that exist and desperately want to play such a MMO?  If you were to release such a title, how many costumers could you predict would come in?  Is there any possible chance that Microsoft will develop a Shadow Run MMO?

But be warned, do not fall into the trap of assuming that by using a great engine, adding cool models and using some simple game mechanics, that people in the tens to hundred thousands will flood right in.  That was one of the failures of the Dot Com companies early in this decade; ASSUMING that with an available product and an Internet connection, sales would skyrocket. 

If you lack the money or access for consulting services, these two popular sites will help to provide some information for you.  Although you cannot accept the information for face value, there should be enough to give you a ball park figure to work with.  The information here will validate the lopsidedness of the MMO market with fantasy based titles and show trends of the existing games, as well as a growing market.  In those games, I would recommend to study the titles that have had slow, but steady growth in accounts against those with the sharp spikes at launch.  Sharp increases indicate marketing power and reputation, with steep decreases being an indication of poor game design or implementation.  And of course, study the history of those titles that comes closest to yours.
Links:
http://mmogdata.voig.com/ (contains information from MMOG Chart’s below)
http://www.mmogchart.com/ (no longer updated)

The Target Audience
You will need to figure out, if given the choice to describe the average user in specifics, no use of ranges, who would that game be?  For example, what is the specific age in years of the average user (32), not a range of years (from 15 to 38)?  This can be tough because there is going to be exceptions.  We’re not looking for exceptions at this time.  Once the specifics of the user have been decided upon, then you can use ranges; but even then keep the ranges short.
Examples of what to consider as your target audience (the more detail, the better):
- Amount of income
- Gender
- Age
- Career
- Level of Education
- Owns credit cards
- Game play style
- Level of complexity
- Types of preferred games
- Machine Specifications
- Bandwidth

This is the person you are targeting for your title.  There will be of course more people who are different than that of your target, but this is for you to focus on the business planning of things.  By being focus, you do have the potential to make a title with depth for that target audience, rather than trying for the mass-market and attempting to please everyone, thus having width, but no depth. 

With the target audience defined, are there enough such people who will pay or play your title (not including the exceptions of the other people in the range)?  Does there seem to be enough interests with that demographic?  If not, then you will need to either change your target audience, and thus the key points of your game design, reduce the cost or fees, or try another niche market.  For example, how well would a MMO based on dancing bunnies fare with the male adult demographic?  Poor, most likely.  But how about young girls?  Maybe some good potential there…  But you want the game to be played by adults as young people don’t own credit cards; well then maybe changing the dancing bunnies to humans with 5% body fat dancing to the pop 40’s may do the trick… 

Summary
By conducting research of the MMO market you can find the niche for your title to succeed.  You will need to figure out, which genre or sector of the MMO market is being ignored or has little attention; but has the opportunity to be exploited for a great success.  Look at where the big companies are going, and basically go in another direction; don’t follow them.  Yes, there is some aspects worth copying and taking note of, but don’t follow in their footsteps. 

Research the least competitive areas/genres and see how you title can fit in.  Observe and study your competitors in detail.  The more you know about them, the better you can make changes to your designs and keep your niche.  Determine if the niche appears to offer a potential profit and know who your target audience is.  With the data that you compile into information, you will be able to ascertain if your title has the potential to be successful.  And by how much of a market lead you can maintain once live.

Remember, a niche marketed game is a not a bad game.  By being a niche marketed title, you will have less competitors to deal with and thus more potential customers.  And the bonus is, those potential users are likely to be more loyal to your title than with other titles.

Questions or Comments:
Please post them in this entry and I’ll see if I can answer them.


* Referring to SEED, but I think there is still no such similar game in the live

Just progress note and advice

Posted by Hamilton-NEO Monday September 24 2007 at 4:03PM
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The project of last was completed and now out of our hands.  Hopefully some news will be provided in early November…  but dang, do I hate to convert videos to Quicktime on a PC.

Also completed another task on Sunday and that should be made available on this site on Wednesday.  All I can say or type about that one is just to look at the home page here on Wednesday.

And I’ll just drop a note here while typing up the next segment; I was able to attend the Austin Game Developer Conference of about three weeks ago.  Pretty much stuck to the Exhibition Hall for both days (though only mid-day on Thursday).  Made some contacts and possible leads for funding.

Which brings me up to wanting to provide some short advice about funding.  Your project should be able to go live without relying on funding.  I know that sounds impossible, but that is the goal.  Funding should not be thought up of as reliance, but rather as an asset that will make your title better, and able to release quicker.  Keep plugging away at your work, making contingency plans based on the amount or lack of funding being received.  Do not get into a position or belief, that in order to go any farther, funding is required.  If you reach that point, chances are your project will collapse or grind to a stall and both your members and user base will loose interest.  There are some examples on this site that have reached this problem for review.

Every bit of work and effort on your project, improves the chances of when acquiring funding and for a greater amount.  Keep your people going and motivated, while pitching for funding.  Again, it is just a matter of time when you will get it.

And a side note:
Save your movie ticket stubs.  You can use those for tax deductions for research of your title.

Doing the Impossible

Posted by Hamilton-NEO Wednesday September 19 2007 at 4:15PM
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I would have made an entry about finding the Niche Market, but right now, my team has been tasked with a tough assignment that needs to be done by the end of the week.

Wish I could talk about this openly, but won't be able to until the month of November.  Which I'll title an entry appropriately as, "Being a Pup in a Big Dogs World."

Some readers may be thinking, because I would, that with talk of delays and being busy, this good advice of a blog will soon come to end with no further updates.  Truthfully that happens, as proven on this website and other places.  I have several reasons for keeping this blog active; one of which is to gain some recognition (isn't that the purpose of open blogging?).  And should I not keep active with this, well, then I doubt many of you readers will want to look at my title that is at work.

"If you don't keep up with you blog, then why would I expect you to stay active on your title's forums?" Is the question I think would be brought up.  And so I will keep blogging away, even if the entries are not helpful as with this one.


What I will say for this entry is this, sometimes your team is going to be asked to do or presented with a very tough, if not impossible assignment due to a number of factors: such as the time, budget, and people.  Never think that such an assignment is impossible; but rather an opportunity with a higher level of difficulty. 

Hey we're gamers here, and we do like to play on harder difficulty levels; so apply the same thought when leading a team and developing an MMO.

"We have done the impossible, and that makes us mighty." Mal from Firefly

Making Your MMO: From Idea to Gold – Intro

Posted by Hamilton-NEO Monday September 17 2007 at 1:47PM
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Making Your MMO: From Idea to Gold – Intro
Table of Contents (Source of other entries)

Originally I was intending this blog to be exclusively about my experiences of developing Force of Arms; but that could have been boring to you, the reader and me, the writer.  I have posted some entries about game development in general and there appears to be of interest, so to keep things alive and interesting; I will be typing away at both, with some other random topics at times…  kind of like talk radio you could say.

If you are solely interested with the topic of “Making Your MMO: From Idea to Gold”, I have provided an entry that is used as a Table of Contents with the listing of each entry (with links) for your reading.  The Table of Contents will be at the top (as shown above) so that reviewing of previous entries can be done in an easy manner; rather than searching the entire blog…

The purpose of this series is to help you (yes you) in developing your own MMO or for your own information as you see fit.  From what other columns and sources of “How To’s,” I have read, I think you will find mine to be different.  For example, most sources will say you will need to begin with either a through Design Document or go through school and learn the skills before doing anything else.  The better sources will begin differently, such as with the business side of things.

And that is where I intend to begin.
The Business Side of Developing an MMO.

I will be assuming that you are one person, with very little skills in game development, know very little about the industry; but have one great idea of a game.  If you have the skills, the background, or a team; then you are ahead of the curve and so some of the information you will not find useful.

Surely, if someone has no skills with game development, then how can that person make an MMO?
It is possible and will be explained.  The simplest way, surround yourself with people who have the skills and lead them to glory.  Leaders do not need the technical skills to lead, though it does help by having an experienced background.


You are one person with one idea of a game.
You will be asked, “How will you succeed where others have failed?” and “What makes your game different and better than the others?
You do not need to answer those questions now, but you will need to in the future.
Keep those questions in the back of your mind and makes notes of possible answers for them as time goes on.

The first action to do with your idea, is to write two short documents; well, outlines really.
- A single page paper explaining your game briefly, with the first two paragraphs providing the “hook” of the game.  That is, what makes your game exciting and different from the others, which will make people want to play your game?  Do not go into details, just a general description.
- Write up a high-level outline that is no longer than 10 pages.  This is not a Design Document; but a short condense version of it; explained in high-level details.  If you are stuck in certain areas, such as; “What is the Combat System?”  You can just put down, “the combat system is just like <insert name of game here>; but with the following differences:” with the differences being in bulleted format.  This is acceptable for now as it is only you (or some trusted friends) that are drafting this.

And that is it, no need to go any further into drafting a 500 page or so Design Document (if you have one, that’s great!  If not, don’t sweat it; it will get done later on).


The reason to not go any further with the design document is that you must know whether or not your MMO is financially feasible and worthwhile of your effort.  This means making a Business Plan.  I have found out that a Business Plan is more important than a Design Document.  A Design Document helps to provide a roadmap for your title and bring on people to your project; but a Business Plan, is the document that will get you the funding and dictate the direction of the Design Document, as well as, tell you how many people you can have on your team.

MMO’s are entertainment services and they require money to develop and operate; even as a hobby.  A Business Plan is required when money is involved; for example, the cost of bandwidth, a website, online storage, and server expenses.  The money has to come from somewhere, and the Business Plan will answer that.

How big of a Business Plan do you need?  The typical answers are about 30 to 35 pages; but some can be bigger.  If you plan becomes large, then provide most of the information in Appendixes.  Don’t worry if you business plan is under 10 pages, your title may be simple in nature and therefore not require a large plan.

But you know nothing of Business Planning or Plans…  then this is where you will need to read on and learn.  I will provide some advice, and the direction of getting one done; as well as provide links for sources.  If you have questions, please do ask in the comment section.

The next entry will go over Finding a Niche Marketed Title.  To improve your chances of success greatly depends on the competition you will be facing.  If you are to make a Fantasy based MMO, who are your competitors?  Many and they are Big Dogs compared to you, the Puppy.  But if you were to make a Sci-Fi Cyberpunk type of MMO, you will see that there are few competitors to deal with; and thus better chances of success.

But what if my idea is a Fantasy type MMO?  Well, I’ll go over that as there is still room to work with in such a genre, but keep in mind, that there are many competitors to fight against.

Making Your MMO: From Idea to Gold: Table of Contents

Posted by Hamilton-NEO Monday September 17 2007 at 1:43PM
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Making Your MMO: From Idea to Gold
Table of Contents

The Table of Contents is to provide a useful source for all of the entries within this blog for reviews or reading.  The Link of the Table of Contents will always be inserted in the beginning of each entry.

Got to Start Somewhere
Making Your MMO: From Idea to Gold – Intro
Making Your MMO: From Idea to Gold – Finding The Niche Market
Making Your MMO: From Idea to Gold - Which Engine is Best for You? Part 1
.
.
.

FASA Studios Follow-Up

Posted by Hamilton-NEO Friday September 14 2007 at 7:13PM
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Where to start…

Well back in March’07, a poster by the name of Boomstick (a disgruntled employee) posted on the official Shadow Run forums about the company closing its doors.  According to Boomstick, the supporting reasons were due to:

- Substandard Management

- Bad Hiring Decisions

- High Turn Over Rate (Leaving of good employees)

- Shadow Run was a sub-par game and best to buy Halo 3.

- "Seeing management let bad things happen to good talented people"

FASA Management countered that Shadow Run would ship soon and that it was normal for people to leave after a title was finished.
 

So, skip to September and FASA has closed its doors.  So what was true and what was not, do not know for certain.  However, I would agree that bad management decisions were made.  Here is what can be provided about FASA and Shadow Run:
 

Lesson One: Never Burn The Community

Shadow Run is a tabletop RPG, which has a large player base.  So there was some confusion by the fans of Shadow Run as they were expecting a sort of RPG, not a shooter type of game.  Additionally the game was for online use with no single player ability (except for training purposes).

Stick to the spirit of the IP (in this case, role-playing).  The majority of players for Shadow Run are role-players, not action shooters.  Basically going against everything that the player base wanted.  Thus the community was burned…  (Have we seen this before? Are you seeing this with other companies?)

Lesson Two: Limited Platforms

Limited Platforms; XBOX and Vista OS.  While competing in the console market may be a potential rewarding success; providing the title to work for only the latest Operating System was not a smart move.  The majority of the PC’s in the world use older operating systems, such as XP, 2000 and Win98 (I have excluded other OS’s since Microsoft was the publisher).  So by going with Vista for the PC market, the potential market share was reduced significantly.  And the records indicate it; 12,000 copies sold in one month for the PC, while 150,000 sold for the XBOX.

Do not agree to going with a specific Operating System (in terms of version, not of Windows, Linux or such); especially of the latest and greatest one.  Only a small percentage of the user population will have the latest operating system.

 

Now what happens to the rest of the games FASA produced?

Well Microsoft has made an announcement of “No comment.”  As for the future of FASA titles for the computer environment is questionable, perhaps the end; unless some company makes Microsoft an offer.

As for the Mech Warrior series…  I’m guessing it is out of action.  Microsoft did team up with Electronic Arts to produce BattleTech 3025, the MMO version back in 2001.  However, the title was canceled, even during Beta Testing.  I think the reason was due to legal issues between Microsoft and EA.  Since that time, Microsoft and FASA released Mech Assault for the XBOX.

So I’m guessing that all of the FASA titles will be developed for the XBOX series, with any possible future chances of MMO’s out of the picture (unless it is exclusive for the XBOX).

End of the Line: FASA Studios

Posted by Hamilton-NEO Thursday September 13 2007 at 4:56PM
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After a long run, FASA Studios closes.
Link (new window):
forums.shadowrun.com/forums/thread/126659.aspx

Dear Friends,

It is my sad duty to announce that FASA Studio has officially closed its doors. Today was the official last day of employment for those of us who had not moved on to other positions within Microsoft Game Studios. While the rumors have been circulating forever, we chose to wait on an official announcement because we didn’t want people’s attention distracted from our last product, Shadowrun, a game we love.

As a testament to the team's commitment to Shadowrun, we released three title updates to improve the product even after the team learned we were losing our studio. We have kept our Community Manager and Technical Support Manager on the job to aid and support you and will continue to do so while people continue to play our game. I am pleased that about half of us have found great positions elsewhere in MGS and Microsoft where they can share their experience and passion with the great people there.

But now, as the last of us say our goodbyes to each other, I’m saying goodbye to you on behalf of a group of talented and dedicated professionals who busted their humps for the love of the game. I am proud to have worked with and represented them to you and know that wherever they go, they will continue to kick ass.

Mitch


The company that brought out Battle Tech / Mech Warrior and Shadow Run, as well as others is out of the running; with Microsoft absorbing most of the assets.

So with that, much of the titles that FASA had worked on becomes questionable if there will be any future releases.  I do remember the so-called rumors of FASA closing, some six months ago, and even from a friend of an insider…  Well apparently those rumors were true.  Shadow Run was apparently the last HURAH to turn things around, but failed to deliver.

Now is the time to review of what went wrong, build a case study and see what lessons can be learned and hopefully will prevent such a future problem for your team.  Also this is where the business side of things comes into play and determine what new opportunities exist.

MMOs do not need Big Teams and Big Budgets to be Successful, Part 3

Posted by Hamilton-NEO Tuesday September 11 2007 at 1:51PM
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So after badgering the previous article by an experienced developer of an AAA title, I need to provide something to justify my opinion.  So here is this article from The Escapist called, “Boutique MMOGs” by Allen Varney.
www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/issues/issue_75/431-Boutique-MMOGs
[Creates a new window]

High-end developers might deride the boutiques as "not getting serious audience numbers" - until they learn about the games with more players than EverQuest. Onlookers, too, may sneer at these little games as "not serious money." But there are different ways to define "serious" - for example, how much money a given developer personally earns as take-home pay. A rank-and-file animator or designer at Blizzard earns basically the same salary whether World of Warcraft has 2,000 subscribers, or 200,000, or 20 million. Revenue from a successful boutique MMOG would be a rounding error for Blizzard, but it all goes straight to the game's small development team. With a player base in the low five figures, a single boutique developer can, over the medium to long term, earn personal income that dwarfs the Blizzard employee's - and yours.” – Mr. Varney

This follows along with the lines of working for yourself or working for someone else.  When you work for yourself, you will earn most of the revenue, however, it does require more effort on your part, as you have more to loose.  Even if developing a game or games is a hobby for you, you might as well get paid for it, reward yourself.

"A team of three, investing sweat equity for a year and getting 10,000 subs for five years, will clear over $1M each, over paying themselves reasonable salaries and hiring a few CSRs [customer service representatives]. Smaller teams have less overhead, fewer managers, less inefficiency in communication, less effort wasted on office politics. 10K is only a tiny, minuscule piece of the market." – Dave Ricky

10,000 users… doesn’t sound like a lot and would be viewed as a game that failed, that is if you were running a large company.  The above example was also keeping the same number of people (10,000 assuming, losses and gains of course) for five years.  I would think that during those five years, that it would be possible to grow the community, by taking some of those earning and putting it into the game to make it better.

“In October 2005, onetime game developer Dan Cook wrote a widely noted post on his Lost Garden blog called "A Game Business Model: Learning from Touring Bands." Dubbing these niche MMOGs "village games" - "quirky, isolated communities much like a traditional village or small town" - Cook drew parallels to evergreen bands like the Grateful Dead:

"They provide a service, not a packaged good. They sell to a dedicated fan base that, despite being small, provides enough additional revenue per user to make the venture profitable. The result is a self-contained community served by a small team of dedicated independent developers. ... A typical customer will spend an average of $60 a year and stays on for an average of 18 months, with some players staying for years. The developer generally keeps all $60 in revenue. Making money is a matter of maintaining your current customer base and incrementally increasing that base over time. The viewpoint is almost always long-term and focuses on maintaining and extending customer relationships."

Cook estimated the cost of developing a typical village game at $250,000; with 6,000-9,000 users, such a game reaches break-even 18 months after launch.”

So, is $250,000 possible to obtain, even for cash strapped want-to-be developers?  If in the United States, yes, if in another country, I don’t know, it depends on the government and how businesses are started.  Worst case, if there is no support of the government or of other business organizations, then partner up with someone in the U.S.  With the Internet and VoIP communications, this is possible, but do take the time to build up a good relationship first.

Getting $250,000 or more or less, is not easy, but it is easier than when first starting out trying to get others to join your team.  If you can get a team together (even if small) and stay together for more than a few months, you have pulled a great feat.

I’ll explain in another entry of how to raise money, since this entry is getting very long.
(I know it’s a cop-out)

The next step, is it possible to 6,000 to 9,000 users to play your game?  From the world-wide gamer population that is in the multi-millions?  I think so, could you get even more than 6,000 to 9,000; most likely with good planning.  But just aiming for the worst case, you can create a game, have a community and enough money to work with to grow the game, grow the community and pay yourself off.  By being successful with your title here, raising additional money becomes easier.

Review the game listing here at MMORP.COM and pay attention to those titles with independent teams.  Watch what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong.  You may even ask, “Why is this game still around if it sucks so bad?”  Apparently there are people who do like it, enough to keep paying for it and therefore keep it going.


Well this is a long series, so I’ll end it here:
But bring cash – lot's of it – and make sure that you are working with people on the business side who are willing to let you make the best game you can make, because there are no successful B-titles in the MMO industry.” – Mr. Strain

Runescape is a perfect example of a B-Title game.  Sub-par graphics.  But it has over 800,000 users paying $5 a month, and millions of free accounts that contribute some revenue due to advertisements. 

Never be fooled into thinking that in order to succeed with a game, it must be AAA quality, have a large team, take years to develop, and require millions of dollars to fund.

MMO’s are in a young market and there is still room available to get into it.

MMOs do not need Big Teams and Big Budgets to be Successful, Part 2

Posted by Hamilton-NEO Tuesday September 11 2007 at 1:49PM
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PaulO at the Multiverse forums provided an article by Jeff Strain of ArenaNet explaining “How to create a successful MMO” at the recent Leipzig Game Convention.  His article can be found here (www.guildwars.com/events/tradeshows/gc2007/gcspeech.php) - [creates a new window]

If you, reader, have read the explanations of other developers, then this one by Mr. Strain is not likely to provide anything new to you.  It is the same rehash of, “this is what it takes to make a successful game, where many others have failed, and of course, only those with large teams, dedication and lots of money can do.”  There is some good information such as how to treat players/customers; but overall if you do not have a large team, or are new, or have little money, then you shouldn’t be reading this article.

For example:
Developing a new MMO requires a lot of money and a lot of time. If you are starting today and don't have at least three years and $30 million dollars, consider developing in another genre. Also be prepared to attract and manage a large development team. We have 140 full-time developers working on Guild Wars…” – Mr. Strain

This is simply not true.  While it helps and improves the chances of success of having the time, manpower and capital; it is no guarantee.  Vanguard by Sigil, now Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) is an example of even with the best people, with enough time and with more than $30 million dollars, essentially failed.  Well, Sigil failed and went bankrupt, with SOE picking up Vanguard.  Where as with Jagex, the company of Runescape; started with I think $250,000 dollars and two people.  Now it has 100 employees and is valued at $65 million.  And the graphics of Runescape are sub-par to today’s MMO’s.


If you happen to be new to computer gaming, then take note here; and for those of you with years of experience, I believe you will agree.  I have heard from developers of years ago to now, say the similar thing as Mr. Strain does here:
Don't be fooled by the much-hyped success of the top MMOs on the market. The game industry is littered with the carnage of MMOs that have failed over the past few years. Due largely to the social nature of MMOs, gamers rarely commit to more than one or two MMOs at a time. This is in contrast to the traditional game market, in which there is room for many games to be successful, even within the same genre. You may play ten different action games this year, but you are very unlikely to play more than one or two MMOs. This means that it is not enough to make a great game – instead you must make a game that is so overwhelmingly superior that it can actively break apart an established community and bring that community to your game. In today's market, that is a tall order.” – Mr. Strain

Think about it, have you read of this before, but of different styles of games?  Why I remember reading such words in magazines about the “home computer” gaming market in the early 80’s.  “More games fail than those which are published.”  Or “Gone are the days when one person with a shoestring budget could program a game.”  Or “No one plays text based games, colored graphics are the mainstay and you need a big team and budget, and the market is very competitive.”  That last line is how I compare Mr. Strain’s quote with the past; substitute MMO with colored graphic games, and traditional games with text-based games.

Truth is, the MMO market is less competitive than as compared to traditional games.  Why?  There are far less MMO’s than there are of stand-alone and other online games.  Sure, a person will play far less MMO’s than of other types of games; but think about it, how many MMO’s can you list and then make a list of the traditional games.  I think you would end up with a hundred MMO’s, but thousands of other games.

Which brings me to this, Niche Games.
Niche Games are not a bad thing, what creates some negativity about “Niche Titles” is that not everyone will like them; in fact only a selected group will like them.  Eve-Online is an example of a Niche Marketed Game.
In business, small companies seek niche markets in order to compete with large companies.  Take a look at some of the online companies and services out there, a fair number of them are of niche markets.  So the same thought should be applied to MMO’s.


Regardless of the business model, the primary factor that determines whether an MMO lives or dies is the size of its active player base. There appears to be a tipping point at around 150,000 players. MMOs that reach this critical mass within a few months of release tend to continue to grow and thrive, and those that do not tend to shrink and ultimately die. The majority of MMOs that are released into the market never reach this threshold.” – Mr. Strain

This may be true for the AAA published games, but not for the entire market.  This is an example of entrenched thinking of conventional practices.  Make a MMO Title that is similar to another, but is better, enough to steal other customers from the other titles.  If this does not happen, then the game falls apart as there is no large community to support the title.  While true that the majority of MMO’s never do break 150,000 users, that does not mean that those MMO’s are considered failures or unsuccessful.  For a large publisher, yes that can be seen as a failure; but for small teams or companies, having 50,000 users can be seen as a resounding success.

Eve-Online by CCP is an example that does not fit the above statement.  Started with about 15,000 users and would take about one year to reach 100,000 users.  Now it is at about 200,000 users from what I recall recently.  A failure?  Hardly.  Eve-Online is an exception, but it was done right with good graphics and mechanics and targeted at a niche market.

And that is the goal, find the niche market that the big gorillas are ignoring.  CCP did it with Eve-Online, Flying Labs is going to do it with Pirates of the Burning Seas; you can do the same.

MMOs do not need Big Teams and Big Budgets to be Successful, Part 1

Posted by Hamilton-NEO Tuesday September 11 2007 at 1:45PM
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So let’s just say, you are starting on your first MMO, with either yourself or a few others, not much money to work with, but the will to develop an MMO.  Articles you have read state to the effect that, “Only we the professionals can do such things, as we have the large teams and the financial backing to do so,” which gets you down.  This also serves as a secondary purpose, to prevent others (such as yourself) from breaking into the market to make it even more competitive.  

I know that I touched on about this before, but with a recent discussion going on at the Multiverse forums, I decided to make an informative opinion of it for others to read.  

Again, Big Teams and Big Budgets are not the requirements of developing an MMO.  Sure it helps, but never believe that this is how it must be done.  

This is a long entry and so I have broken it up to three segments; this introduction, and one for each article.  I will provide two articles, one from Jeff Strain of ArenaNet and the other from The Escapist about Boutiques MMOGs by Allen Varney.  Jeff Strain’s article will get you down as it is intended to do so.  The article by Allen Varney should give you confidence.  Therefore I have saved his for the end, to have you, reader, finish this series with the belief that you can do it.  

Have Faith Fellow Adventurous Developers.

 

Delays... My Dog is Sick

Posted by Hamilton-NEO Wednesday September 5 2007 at 6:30PM
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Almost of all of the excuses there is to say why I cannot attend or being delayed... my dog is sick.

Delayed in getting to the AGDC due to Samwise The Faithful Companion, or called as Sam or Sammy, my wardog has either a sickness or bone injury.  Can't tell for certain due to the pain he has along the back.  A big vet bill later and on pain killers and meds, he is acting decent, but not at full energy levels.

 

And unfortunately this has delayed my trip to the AGDC a bit.  So Thursday I'll finally get to be there.

I was going to post his picture, but understood that he didn't want his picture of his current state of being shown to everyone on the net.

 

Oh the reality life of a developer...

Austin Game Developer Conference (AGDC)

Posted by Hamilton-NEO Monday September 3 2007 at 7:39PM
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Well this is the week of the AGDC and my time is sure pressed, so this entry will be short.

A comment was made from Soulwynd on the previous blog entry and got me thinking, and that is about what I have come to believe (which I'm certain many of you have already known about).

Graphics sell the game, Game Mechanics provide replay value and New Content maintains user interests.

Those are the three factors, with each one being important for the success of an online game system.  Ignore graphics and people are less likely to want to buy or join in with the game; but skimp out on the game mechanics, and people are then less likely wanting to keep playing.  Repetition is the quickest way to loose players.  And lastly, there is New Content.  Without New Content, the game world becomes like a Disney Themepark.  Standing in line for the same ride, is another way in which customers are not likely of coming back soon.

Of course, most teams and companies do not have the luxury of making all three top quality and have to figure out, which one has the highest priority.  Of the three, I think Graphics is what most business entities push, hence quick sells; while measuring play value in a mater of hours.

Online MMORPG's are different, in which they are living game systems, able to evolve over time.  So while one factor may be weak, it can be improved upon.

 

Now I know with the title I'm working on, lacks great graphics at this time.  But it is improving and should be competitive when it goes live.  As it is, we wouldn't want to release the game.  May be decent and some people will look past the graphics, but overall the graphics will not aid in selling the game.  We though like to show what we have and this is intentional to show others of signs of improvement.  If improvements can be seen before releash, then hopefully the message that improvements will continue (hence New Content) will be understood by people. 

Also new graphic artists have joined the team and bringing on board experience from the MMO industry.  So over the next few months, the graphics will become better and actually become a strength.

 

Now that leaves Game Mechanics and New Content to talk about next time.

Enjoy and hope to meet some of you at the AGDC in the Expo Hall.