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Indie MMORPG

Creator of the MMOs www.starcorsairs.com and www.golemizer.com

Author: Over00

Dealing with the Good, Bad and Ugly as an indie MMO dev

Posted by Over00 Friday June 26 2009 at 6:04PM
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Usual disclaimer first. This is strictly based on my experience, what I saw when working on my MMO project, Golemizer. I'm not interested to go into complex theory as first I don't have the background for that and second it will bore most of you and that's not the point.

Remember, all I write is based on a single person deciding to build an MMO. Some things might applied to small indie teams but here the team is 1 person.

The Ugly

I want this to end this post on a positive note so let's start this way.

When you go to school, you discover that kids are cruel. When you start driving, you discover road rage. When you start posting on the Interweb, you discover trolls and such. That's life, no big news here.

When you make a game and offer it for free, you first expect that people will be grateful for it even if it's not a groundbreaking game. Then you discover hate. Not real hate of course, there's much more worse. Just pure random Internet hate.

The moment you decide to stand up, someone will come and tell you to sit down (most of the time because they're afraid to stand up themselves). Building a game is no different. Just take a look at forums of any games and you'll find people "hating the devs". Note here that I'm not talking about someone complaining about a bug or something like that. No, I'm talking about someone that really pretends to hate the game.

Just because you spent countless hours on a project alone is not enough to protect you from this. You will receive hate mails telling you that the world would be better if you had not built that game. Even if these people didn't spent a dime on it.

That's "normal". Don't get upset by this. Well, at least don't play their game. You're better than that. There's no winner at the "hate game". Remember, you are "selling" a product (even if it's free) so you can't afford to try to beat them at this game. They don't care, you do. You're sure to be on the loosing side. Take the hit and move on. Release the pressure with people around you but don't get into a fight on the Internet. There's no point to it.

However, as weird as it may sounds, don't be deaf to these people. Instead, try to figure out where they are coming from. Some will use hate just because they're simply unable to express themselves any other way. That doesn't mean that you have to stop to breath for them. That just means that maybe there's something behind this hate. What provoked that? Maybe it comes from a specific aspect of the game that you already know you have to fix. Of course, some are just using hate just for the fun of it so you need to learn to ignore that part.

Use what might serve you and don't bother with what will lead you to stop working. If you stop because you received some hate comments in a single day, no one is a winner here (not even the hatefuls because they don't care anyway). You might feel like telling them "well, show me your game if you're so much better" but don't. There's really no point to this and you'll make a fool of yourself. Learn to get over it as unfair as it may seems. That's the only way to "win".

Remember, I'm not talking about criticism here. If you can't take criticism you're at the wrong place. I'm really talking about "hate". For those that mistaken hate with criticism, you can stop reading this, you probably don't care anyway.


The Bad

What could be Bad after the Ugly? Indifference. Once you learned to get over hate, you need to learn to deal with indifference which can be much more difficult.

Indifference from possible players, from the press, from the "indie" press... Yeah, even those on your side might not be there to help you. But it's ok. Sad but ok. You just need to remember that they are also running a business and that your project might not be the best choice for them to get their pay check they are working hard to get.

Again, maybe you spent thousands of hours on your project, to most people that won't matter. What matters is the end result and that can be frustrating. Maybe your graphics are not great but you spent a lot of time on some interesting systems. Maybe there's some rough stuff in you game but you did it all alone and most people don't know that. Again, the trick is to deal with it. Blaming everyone won't get you anywhere. As unfair as it might be, that's how it is.

The good here is that you can have a second shot. Just because you are ignored today doesn't mean you'll be ignored tomorrow. The moment you'll get some success be sure that you'll be surrounded by people that want a piece of the cake. Just be patient and keep believing in your project.

Keep trying to interest people about your project but don't be annoying about it. Don't be afraid to show the good things about it but don't brag about it. Remember, you're just one guy working on his "good idea". People have been there before you so don't pretend nothing better has been done before your time.

Use every opportunity you get. Never think "bah, that's not worth it". The chances are that you don't know yet what's good for you and your project. You will learn while doing it. So do every single trick you read somewhere (well, as much as you can handle, don't burn yourself either).

Write on a blog, send press release, participate in forums (remember to put links to your games there), dig for emails of people that might talk about your game, get feedback from your players, do SEO work on your website (you would be surprised...), spot cheap ads spots that target possible players (don't do random advertising, you need a load of money for that and the results won't follow, a lot of visitors doesn't mean a lot of players), do as much as possible.

Don't be afraid to talk to people already in the industry. A lot won't have much interest or time for you but those that do will be very helpful.

To sum it up, you will be ignored, deal with it and keep trying. If it was easy, everybody would be doing it.


The Good

There's nothing that feels better than receiving a good comment about your game. You might get the feeling that it doesn't happen often but learn to appreciate it. We often focus on the negative side of things (human nature) but train yourself to get motivation boost from small things.

What's special about MMOs is that development is never over (and if you're really passionate about your project, you'll feel like a lifetime won't be enough). With time, you'll meet amazing people that for some reason want to help you. Crazy like that! But be somehow be careful about that as well. Learn to spot overenthusiastic people. At first they might sound like they will do everything for you but that often don't last. There's nothing worse than putting your trust in someone that will let you down.

For example, people often ask me how they can become a GM in Golemizer. My answer is always the same: GMs are already GMs before receiving that powerful accounts with cool commands. Someone that comes out of nowhere telling you they will help you might not be a good bet. The people you can trust are those that have been already doing amazing work without the need to ask them in the first place. Maybe they sent you free graphics to use, maybe you often see them helping noobs, maybe they are putting a lot of time in their post on your forums.

I have been working on Golemizer for about 2 years and the game is available since about 1 year and so far I have never made a mistake about the people I trust. I must admit that it takes me a lot of time to trust someone. But once you found 1 or 2 person to trust, ask their opinions. They will provide you much input. You are probably not often online playing your own game because there is so much to do so these people might know much better than you who is playing your game. Make these people your allies. You won't survive without them and be very grateful for it.

Don't make the mistake of promoting players as "rewards". Some players will consider that being promoted as a GM is a reward for something done. It's not and shouldn't be otherwise players will start to play the game "become a GM Online". People can help you without being GMs. In fact, most people asking you if they can become GMs probably wouldn't know what to do exactly as one and that's the point: You shouldn't have to tell them, they know already.

Just make sure to not burn these persons. It still remains your project so you can't ask them to put the same energy as you in this project. Appreciate everything they are offering you and share what you can with them. Some will leave with time but don't take this the wrong way. They have lives and you are not controlling them so accept when they are moving on. That's always sad but there's not much to do about it. Remember that relationship should not only be based on a game project. You should try to keep in touch even after they have moved on.


That's pretty much what I had to say about the Good, Bad and Ugly of being a single person working on an MMO. Hope it can be of some use to someone. If not, well, at least it's been of some use to me. Each day I'm learning to deal with these things and I'd be a fool to pretend I have mastered every single aspect of this kind of project. Each day Golemizer is leading me to new grounds so I still have much to learn.

Have fun!

10 things to consider before starting your own MMO project

Posted by Over00 Friday June 5 2009 at 10:23AM
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Here's 10 things I've learned, knew or wish someone else would have told me before starting to work on Golemizer.

This list could be longer but it cover the basics to get you started. This is no magical recipe, just some useful tips.


1- Why do you want to build an MMO?

If you come up with anything else than "Because I enjoy building things and I'm passionate about it", you might want to reconsider your project.

Forget things like money, fame and recognition. If you're not first passionate about what you do, you'll burn yourself before getting anything done. Note that the same apply to everything else in life. Creating games is no different.


2- Are you ready to commit to this project?

To build an MMO is no simple task (even when you're not going for AAA 3D graphics...). It requires time, patience and dedication. Don't expect to be done in 2 months. For example, the development of Golemizer took 1 year (me alone on nights and weekends).

Know how much work you're able to do before getting bored. If you never finished anything before, you might want to start a more simple project instead.

While developing, you'll come to points where you think "Ah! I'm almost done!". You're not. When this thought cross your mind know that you're only halfway.


3- What are your skills?

What are you good at? What programming languages do you know? Do you have any graphic skills? The best way to make sure you actually get something done is to keep to what you know. Saying things like "I don't know anything about Flash but I'll figure it while working on this project" is another good way for your project to fail.

That doesn't mean that you won't have to learn. You'll have to learn a lot of things to get your project done. Never assume that you have all the knowledge required from start.

For example, my background is web application development. So I have knowledge of things like html, css, javascript, ASP.NET, SQL Server, php, MySQL and such. If I would have decided to use Flash to build my game then I would have pretty much ignored what I'm good at.

I could learn Flash. Like I could learn how to build a space shuttle... With enough time and dedication the human mind is able to achieve incredible things. The question is will you still be interested to carry on your game project once you have the required knowledge.

Scale your project to your knowledge but keep an open mind that you'll still have to learn new things.


4- Don't expect any help

Posting on a forum "Hey, I'm starting this MMO project, who want to help?" will get you nowhere. It is YOUR project. Just because you think your idea is cool doesn't mean it is cool for others.

If you're lucky enough to have friends as dedicated as you to this project than great! Just never expect that people will beg you to offer their help.

With that said, if someone DO offer some kind of help, don't be afraid to accept it as well. The road to building your own game is a lonely one. From time to time you might need someone to get you back on track.

Some people know more than you do. Listen to them. Don't pretend you don't need any help because it's just not true.


5- Write down what you want to do before doing it!

Don't just sit down at your keyboard and start coding. This will get you nowhere. Even if it might seem obvious, a lot of people are doing this mistake.

What's the point of your game? What do you want in your game? What will the structure of your code look like? (very very very important to establish a framework that you will be able to scale later).

If you rush to the coding, you'll only end up with lines and lines of useless code that you will have to rewrite sooner or later.

Never do any design in front of your computer. A pen and paper is all you need. That doesn't mean that you should write a novel about it. Anyway, the end result will still be different from your initial design. But the more you think about it before starting, the better are the chances that you can spot problems before creating them.


6- Do you have a budget?

If you don't have any budget, you'll have to make choices. I started Golemizer with $0 because I knew I could handle the coding part. I have no graphic skills but I did research and found free graphic libraries to use. Of course, it doesn't look as nice as what I dreamed of but that's the reality of not having a budget or access to an artist that works for free.

Having no budget to start with isn't much of a problem. However know that at some point you WILL have to get into your pocket. May it be for servers, buying some third-party library or just to have minimal original graphics.

Quitting your day job also isn't a good idea. You need the money because right now you're not making any (and there's no guarantee you'll make some once your game is released either).

The less budget you have, to more tough choices you'll have to make. But in the end, spending money cannot be avoided. Just be careful where you are spending it. If you are spending tons of money on graphics while you're game is not yet finished, maybe you should revise your priorities.


7- Start a blog ...

But do it for yourself, not to brag about how great your MMO will be. At worst it will provide you a nice way to track your project in time. At best you might meet some very helpful people that will share some thoughts with you.

Just be aware that you'll also meet haters. Some people "do", some hate those that "do". That's the way it is. Learn to get over this (I'll write about that later).


8- ... but remember that you are building a game and not a blog!

Do then write about it. Not the other way around. If you have nothing to show or talk about then you should first concentrate on actually doing something.

There's already tons of people that write on blogs just for the sake of it. Your blog is a tool, not your project. Use this tool wisely and you might gain from it.


9- Learn how to work without burning yourself

There will be time you'll feel it's not worth it anymore. You will face problems that you think you can never overcome. Learn to take breaks. Sometimes it's better to stop for a day or two before getting back to work.

Since you're in it for probably quite a long time, you should fix specific working time for your project. Do a little bit each day but also keep some days to just relax and do something else.

For me it looks like: Day job from 8:45 to 17:15, work on the game from 20:00 to 23:00 on monday to thursday, friday and saturday are off and sunday I will usually work from 13:00 to 18:00. I've been doing that for about 2 years now. See what can fit you and commit to it.


10- Stop reading top 10 lists!

And start working! Like I said this is no magical recipe. It's just a bit of my experience. Surely not everything can be applied to everyone, that's just how it went for me. If you can use it then great!

A lot of people will tell you "do this", "don't do that". In the end, you're the only person that can tell if this can be applied to you. Don't be deaf when receiving some advices but also don't just follow them blindly.

Learn to spot the difference between someone that actually did something and someone that is just dreaming of it.

And again DO SOMETHING! START WORKING! Stop talking about it and do it. The Internet is filled with people that are telling others that they could be so much better than anyone else. That's not your goal. Your goal is to work on your project.

One day you'll also have something to share with others because you actually did it yourself.
 

Indie browser based MMO - Golemizer introduction

Posted by Over00 Wednesday June 3 2009 at 10:39AM
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First post so I guess some kind of intro is required.

My name is Dave Toulouse and I'm the owner and developer of an indie MMORPG: Golemizer (www.golemizer.com). Golemizer is a free browser based MMORPG where players are set in the role of mad scientists creating strange creatures in a steampunk universe.

The focus of the game is mostly set on crafters and many elements you will usually find in sandbox games (housing, cities, quests and dungeons created by players, ...). The client is running entirely in Javascript (with .NET and SQL for the server) so it doesn't required any download or plug-in. As you would expect from such technology, the game is in 2D and uses simple graphics.

So why start a blog here? Well I won't lie, the first reason is obviously to spread the word about Golemizer. Even big studios are doing it. There's no point making an MMO if you want to keep this a secret.

The other reason is that while I'm still new at game development (been working on this project for 2 years now), I did learned a thing or two that some people might be interested to read. Between writing your "perfect MMO wishlist" and building an actual game there's some differences. If it can be of any help to an indie game developer than great!

Of course, indie means that you can't expect to produce something similar to AAA titles. The point is not to appeal to everyone (which cannot be achieve, even a game as popular as WoW have to face harsh critics) but it's to appeal to players looking for something different. There's a place for such projects and games like Sherwood Dungeon, Kingdom of Loathing and Urban Dead are proofs that indie projects can be successful without AAA graphics and huge marketing budgets.

So if you're interested to learn a bit about the creation and maintenance of an indie MMO hang in there and I will get this started very soon.

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