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By the People for the People

Posted by grimfall Monday April 28 2008 at 6:40AM
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I’ve been thinking about game design and getting a MMORPG created. It seems that it is almost impossible to get funding for a title from a publisher if your game diverges widely from the WoW template. This causes an inherent conflict between creative control, which is crucial to make a top game and the publisher who wants the game released quickly and a ‘safe bet’ so that they can reach their expected ROE.
So, how do you get around that problem?
One way is the way Blizzard and Bioware (before they sold out) were going about it. Get rich making some single player or network games and use that money to fund your MMO. Unfortunately that takes about 15 years, and I don’t want to wait that long. 38 Studios start up capital (I’m assuming) has come mostly from Curt Schilling’s personal fortune, but even they are tying themselves to venture capitalists and maybe a publisher down the line, which I think they’ll come to regret.
Some of the lower profile titles in production, such as Fallen Earth and Age of Armor look like they’re mostly privately funded, so I guess it is possible to make a game without a big round of funding, but I suspect they’ve got some seed capital somewhere and honestly, neither of those games in my opinion is going to become a major player in the industry.
So here is my idea: A publically owned game company. In brief, after some start-up capital, the company would raise additional funds by selling preferred non-voting stock to the public, namely to MMORPG fans, but to anyone who wanted to invest. The incentive to invest in this stock would be you get the coolness cache of owning part of a game company, and a certain level of stock holding would guarantee to be a beta tester and receive a free copy of the game. In addition, some out-sourceable work would be ‘exchanged’ for these same shares in the company with private contractors. If someone wanted to write ‘lore’ for the game, that could be traded for stock. Or if they wanted to create some 3D objects or do some animation (assuming they had the tools) again, they could submit that work, which would be reviewed and then stock would be rewarded if it was used in the game. There are a lot of talented people making custom content and personal MUD’s around, who don’t want to leave their careers or homes to join a game studio in Austin, TX, and I think this would appeal to many of them.
So what do you think? Plausible or not? Leave aside the legal and technical issues, as I am aware that there would be many of both, but I don’t foresee any being insurmountable.
Lodeclaw writes:

It's an interesting idea... There's no way of telling how successful it would be until someone actually tried it. There's a good chance it could fail miserably. Worth investigating, though.

Mon Apr 28 2008 8:37AM Report
Daedren writes:

Hi grim,

I went through these ropes a year ago. People won't invest unless it's an already proven business model. The problem of an MMO is the development cost and the upkeep. While you can make a single player with a garage band of indy devs, MMO's require huge expenses in server and bandwidth. Anything on a big scale and we're talking upward 50$ Mil USD for a 3-4 year project, at a minimum.

I think a publicly owned company isn't a bad idea. I don't think you'd find many to invest without some serious market analysis and investor research. It's just hard to get that kind of dough. I found my best (and really only) way to get into the MMO company was to go with an already established company.

Will my creative ideas be muffled by Corporate? It's already happening. What can you do?

If only all of us were in the '93 World Series. ;)

Mon Apr 28 2008 9:23AM Report
JB47394 writes:

I would suggest that you read up on open source projects and how they tend to work out.  In general, you need a leader for the project that is willing to work his backside off.  He will have lieutenants that are willing to work with him and who share his goals.  After that, it's a matter of dealing with all comers.  Some will stay and do good work while others will have lots of enthusiasm at the start, then burn out.  The burnouts are a drag on open source projects.  Then there are the people who do 80% of a job and then leave.  Somebody else has to be willing to inherent that work and clean it up.

It's plausible, but not very probable.  For reasons of human nature.

I'm speaking from experience here as I served as the lead on a 5-year midnight project back in the late 80s.  That happened to be a multiplayer networked flight simulator that permitted custom aircraft/vehicles and environments.  So it was very similar in structure to an MMO.

If you'd like to see a bit of the byplay that happens on a collaborative MMO, take a look at Infinity.

They want to operate by a kind of revenue-sharing plan according to people's contributions.  It's got a particularly tough row to hoe because the MMO is based in competitive empire-building.  So the people attracted to the MMO tend to be competitive in the first place.

Mon Apr 28 2008 9:35AM Report
Daedren writes:

@JB47394: I've long thought about an Open Source MMO project. :)

You're right. Plausible, yes. Probable: no. It might work out until the "MM" part of the MMORPG started taking place. Someone would have to start springing for equipment, bandwidth, and people to support it. This costs money. A lot of money.

Another big obstacle in MMO creation is the engine. You pretty much have to use a commercial game engine if you want to have any sort of long-term success. Prices on these can be enormous, like 250K for the Unreal 3 engine. Ouch.


Mon Apr 28 2008 9:52AM Report
grimfall writes:

Thanks for the comments.  There's a pretty good open source MMO company, I forget the name but there was an article about them on MMORPG a few years back.

I'm not really interested in a game that has dated graphics, and I've done a little research into Unreal 2, Hero's Engine etc.  The two major drawbacks with those engines is neither has created a successful MMO (unless EQ2 is Unreal, but I don't think it is) and the licensing fee wants  a cut of revenues.  Not profits, but revenue, which is something I'm really not interested in getting into.... although this is interesting:

For the Unreal 2 engine they want $350K, plus 3% of  all revenue 'the royalty is also due on the additional forms of revenue including subscriptions and advertisements'.  When you add that to the fact that it doesn't seem to actually help you make better games...

Mon Apr 28 2008 10:57AM Report
JB47394 writes:

Torque is $150 per indie developer, and Torque Advanced is $295 per indie developer.  As you say, there are other engines that people are cranking out right and left.  It's a start.

Mon Apr 28 2008 12:07PM Report
JB47394 writes:

Oh, and note that the Ageia physics stuff is available for free.  It works just fine as a software-only package.  Who knows, maybe Nvidia will support the Ageia interface when they put physics capabilities into their hardware.

Here's hoping that they decide to create a better one.

Mon Apr 28 2008 12:12PM Report
Daedren writes:

@JB: The Torque engine isn't something you want to build an MMO on. Maybe an indy single player or something. However, the code is just dated. It also has a propietary scripting language that has a bit of a steep learning curve.

Sadly, to really get the most out of Torque, you have to get all of the "advanced" stuff which costs upward of 1-2K USD. Might be peanuts compared to the Unreal engine, but you're also dealing with a graphics engine that in 2-3 years is going to look pretty dated. It takes a lot - and I mean a lot - of work on it just to get it to look modern today.


Tue Apr 29 2008 3:43AM Report
Melf_Himself writes:

Don't think so large scale. The chances of you making the next "WoW-killer" are infinitesimal.

The chances of you making, say, a $5 per month game with 5,000 subs is a lot higher. If you aim for a niche market I'm sure you could get that, and turn a nice profit.

It's tough to say whether people would invest in your company. Without anything to show, it would sound too much like a scam imo. If you had some start up stuff to show, and a really mouth-watering list of features (ie Darkfall), you could get a zealous crowd following you.

Modern engines are clearly $$. But do you really want it to be that modern? The secret to a successful niche MMO, IMO (tee hee acronyms) is LOW system specs, SMALL download, HIGH playability/replayability.

See Crystal Space for an open source engine that is tailor-made for making games:

There's a package on there called CELstart that makes it super easy to script games, even if you don't know C++. As far as I can tell you don't have to pay them anything, but you do have to keep your code open source - which to me isn't an issue, as everyone will end up hacking your code anyway ^^

Do let us know how you get on :)

Tue Apr 29 2008 4:51AM Report
Melf_Himself writes:

Oh, also, if you're serious: don't stress too much about the graphics. It will probably take a couple of years to develop your MMO, and by that time, there will probably be more community open-source engines available, etc....

Concentrate on getting your gameplay mechanics, AI, etc all sorted, keep your code general, and it shouldn't be too much hassle to port it all to a better engine at the end...

Also, take a page out of WoW's book: keep the graphics cartoony looking and people won't care if they suck.

Tue Apr 29 2008 4:53AM Report
grimfall writes:

I appreciate all your suggestions and comments.

I've actually already taken a look at the 'budget' engines out there and yeah, they look pretty dated and will be ugly as sin in 5 years. 

Melf , that's pretty much the way I am envisioning it.

Tue Apr 29 2008 5:09AM Report
Eluwien writes:

I dont know how you can look at Torque GEA and say its dated and old. Specially as it comes as open source engine, and thus can be modded on the run to play what ever grafical implementation and quality you had in mind. Oh and for example Gears of War was made with it, yes the M$ hypehype game

Sun Aug 17 2008 10:47AM Report
grimfall writes:

Eluwien, you're confusing Torque with Unreal.

Mon Aug 18 2008 2:04PM Report writes:
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