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Completely random ideas and thoughts about MMO games, design, theory, and the industry itself.

Author: Coldren

The MMO Industry: Coding, Ideas, and Reality

Posted by Coldren Tuesday January 13 2009 at 2:56PM
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Greetings, everyone, and welcome to my first blog post.

As someone who has played MMO’s for almost the entirety of my adult life, it is a hobby and topic that I and many others are passionate about. I do what I can to keep up with the latest trends, ideas, and news from the MMO community at large. What follows is no doubt commonplace, but hopefully, answers I couldn’t find before, someone who knows more can help me find.

Like many others for whom this hobby is a passion, I have “an idea” for an MMO, or at least certain systems that make up an MMO. I know, I know, hundreds of thousands of others do, and few if none of them have ever been adopted, considered, or even looked at by professionals - Especially if they can’t provide proof-of-concept code. In my limited view, I find this rather odd, and peculiar about the MMO industry.

As an anecdotal example, I remember reading an article about someone who developed a cheap water purification system for third-world countries in an arid or desert climate. The design was very simple. It consisted of two pieces. The first was a clear, plastic cone with a curved base and a stopper or plug at the top. This plastic cone sat on top of a wider, black plastic curved base. What they would do is pour the dirty water into the black base, and set the clear, plastic cone on top with the plug in it, and let it sit. As the sun evaporated the water that was placed in the black base, the condensation would then drip down the side of the clear plastic cone, collecting in the curves at the base. When enough condensation had collected, they simply pick up the cone, flip it over, undo the plug, and out came the cleaner water that had condensed at its base.

It was a simple idea, but it was well thought-out. I doubt the man had any knowledge of plastics, or the machinery needed to mold the plastic, or the expertise to determine the costs involved. These aspects were all likely followed through by the people who adopted the design idea.

So why is it that in the MMO industry, an industry which faces constant accusations from its own user base of stagnation, is it commonly accepted that no matter how good your idea is, no one will ever adopt it unless you yourself can code it?

Some of these reasons seem rather intuitive, of course. Clearly someone who has NO knowledge of the complexity of an MMO, from the implementation and development of ideas, to the extreme complexity of its code and technology, to the infrastructure and resources and marketing efforts required to support it, may not understand why their ideas aren’t possible. But does this mean that all ideas from outside the industry, from someone who is just merely an end-user, are fundamentally unadoptable? That no one should ever even bother to try to think of them unless they are already in the industry, or have the vast technical knowledge required to demonstrate it?

Another example, take FedEx or UPS (I don’t recall which): Someone had the idea that they should try to schedule the delivery routes so that the trucks take as many right-turns as possible. The idea behind it was it would save them time, and therefore money, by reducing the need to cross lanes or traverse through apposing traffic. Did the person who came up with this idea have to have intimate knowledge of their navigation software, or GPS? Likely, the answer is no. They simply had the idea, and left it to professionals to make it possible.

So I ask this question, and hopefully people who are in the industry, professionals, or simply have a greater insight that I do not have, can provide some meaningful answers:

Is it possible, even if by the smallest chance of probability, that a really good idea that is well thought-out and documented with a strong logic behind it would ever get a second glance from a development studio that has the resources to make the idea a reality? That someone who can’t code software can still provide unique, creative ideas that can be harvested and brought to market?

I know it’s a general question, so I expect general answers. For some people, the thought and effort they put into their ideas isn’t for the money, or the notoriety - it’s in pursuit of their passion. It’s in the hopes that someone somewhere will see this idea, and say, “Hey, that’s a good idea. We should do that!”, and that an idea they thought up could be realized and enjoyed by others.

Is it all a pipe dream? Are we all just wasting our collective efforts?

Thank you for reading this far.


Quizzical writes:

There are some problems with game ideas from random players.  One is that many of the game ideas are nothing more than storyline and graphics.  Try to make a game out of that and you're just reskinning an existing game, which is about as close to a clone as it gets.

Another is that many players have no idea how hard it would be to code something.  Many players have thought it would be cool if the game world spontaneously changed as time passed.  Many players have thought it would be cool if rather than one linear storyline, the game had a zillion possible stories and which one you progress through depends on the choices you make at various points along the way.  Trying to code things like that and make them coherent is all but impossible; someone who takes a stab and does pretty well would probably end up with a chaotic mess that the players with the ideas thought wasn't even remotely close to what they had in mind.

Yet another problem is that many ideas simply aren't thought out.  This is most obvious when players try to design a new item for an existing game.  Often the players give it stats far and away superior to everything else in the game, so that everyone would have to have their particular item.  That would in one stroke make many other items completely obsolete.

Finally, there are too many different ideas from too many different players to make a game out of all of them.  If a hundred thousand players have ideas for a game and a hundred games are going to be made in a year, well then, most of those ideas didn't make the cut.

I'd expect that game developers do pick up ideas they like whereever they happen to find them.  There just isn't room for everything that someone thinks would be cool to make it into a game.

Tue Jan 13 2009 3:24PM Report
Coldren writes:

Thank you for commenting, Quizzical. You make some excellent points.

I can't help but wonder, though, just how much detail and thought is needed for an idea to be considered seriously? Do you think it requires the funding of a major corporation with market research? Could, say, a 500 page design doc, complete with information about story, various mechanics, and themes will do?

Do only the professionals have such answers? Would they ever give them?

Interesting questions all. I'd like to find the answers some day.

Tue Jan 13 2009 3:29PM Report
saraphimknig writes:

Well, I would not say only the professionals have such answers, as I am one. However, for an idea for a game (other than story or graphics) to be taken seriously, we often have a collective set of ideas we like, and often we iterate through them, giving votes to various different aspects of the idea.

First and foremost, we often vote on whether we think the idea will be fun for our players, based on the other ideas we have already chosen, etc. If the idea meshes well and it feels like it could improve the game, then we accept it and it gets moved to the next phase of feature voting.

The next phase we do is the difficulty voting. We follow a point system that all of our features, from graphics to coding to any other part of the design and implementation of the system must fall within (with a marginal bound of "extra points"). After voting on the points for every feature (which is exhaustive), we decide which features we really want, and which we don't, through a further iterative process.

Lastly, we budget each of the features to determine the final set of core features, a set of possible features, and a set of purely either impossible or not valuable features, given the current budget constraints.

To put things simply, the process used to find ideas is usually either A) You've had a team making ideas for a while; B) You read a really cool idea somewhere and bring it up; or C) It comes up during idea discussions or someone just has something they really want to bring up. For most industry professionals, they are gamers as well, with their own set of features and ideas they want to see in a game.

We take ideas from everywhere we can get, but these ideas have to hold up to several different constraints and rigorous voting and budgeting to make them work, often either leading to the features being scrapped or redesigned in some way as to make it a more feesible feature. While I can't speak for all game development studios or companies, this is often the kind of process you see.

Tue Jan 13 2009 3:52PM Report
Quizzical writes:

Why would a player need to give a complete description of a game at all?  Why not just, here's an interesting idea that could fit into some games?  Let developers pick a few scattered innovations that fit well together and combine them into a single game as they see fit.


Here's an odd thought:  today's super-rich sometimes buy professional sports franchises as their expensive toys.  The next generation's super-rich will sometimes pay to develop computer games that they think would be really cool as their expensive toys.  Apparently Curt Schilling is already doing exactly that.

Tue Jan 13 2009 3:56PM Report
tbiaslorin writes:

I think the easiest way to determine the truth is to put together a design document and submit it to every major (and minor) studio; wait 10 years and see if the idea is implemented. (only slightly tongue-in-cheek there)

I don't think there is a fundamental barrier to a studio accepting a good idea.  However, just like the publishing industry, and books in particular, is that there are so many it is very easy for even good ones to go unnoticed.  And the vast majority of ideas (like books), I hate to say, are probably bad.

Every one of us has an idea (or 100) for a game.  With 200,000,000 (guesstimate) gamers in the world, any particular coder or studio has no incentive to hire 10 folks to sift through a gajillion ideas for one that just might make them money.

I'd actually suggest that a good way to bring forth an idea is to create a professional website with blog, forum, and all the bells and whistles which lays out your idea.  Drive traffic, hold a long-term discussion with other gamers (and some non-gamers) to help them refine your idea to make it even better, and then try to get some developers to give 10 minutes to looking over your site.  If you have significant traffic, I submit that suggests the potential monetezation of your idea in a way a simple design brief won't.  And who knows, maybe an indie developer or garage coder might try to take a stab at what you're trying to do.

At rentacoder, one can have professional artwork done very inexpensively, and a well-designed website put together for under $500.   Also, see (Armageddon Empires) for an example of a game designer living the life many of us would be jealous of; designing and building the games he wants to play.

Tue Jan 13 2009 4:07PM Report
Ciano writes:

God no. We need less half baked MMO's not more. Part of the reason MMO's are failing before they even show promise is the market is glutted with cheap pay to play and other bad MMO's. If the super rich start funding personal MMO's then it's the end of the genre for good.

Tue Jan 13 2009 4:10PM Report
hanshotfirst writes:

I think your answer is two-fold:

1. No one likes a back-seat driver. The "industry" isn't a nameless, faceless entity. It's comprised of real people. Real people with pride, insecurities and everything else that goes along with human nature.

2. No one wants a lawsuit. You provide an idea. They adopt it. It turns out to be a huge success and profits follow. What's to stop you from hiring an attorney and demanding compensation?

Tue Jan 13 2009 4:55PM Report
dcostello writes:

 @ Coldren

  Look, I know that you have a good idea or think it's good, but time is not the issue.  Unless someone else has reason to come up with a game similar to yours, I suggest you wait.  Write it out in a note pad.  Don't even refine it right away.  Just carry on doing your average routine, but whenever you get an idea, big or small, write it down.  You will find yourself refining your ideas without even realizing it.  This is what I did and continue to do.  I've been writing for over a year, and I have over 100 pages of rough ideas, and a formal document of most of my major ideas.  To help you out about the submission process and anything else about this topic I advise you go here,  Read lesson 1, 11 and 21.  You can read other lessons if you want, but those talk most directly about what questions I am inferring  you may have. 

  Don't even bother whether your idea is good or not because it will always sound good to you, and there is no reason to create a perpetual, mental car chase for yourself.  Let your ideas come, don't force them.  Try to think why your game is different than others and stick to that philosophy.

  Oh, and don't make a website.  If you have good ideas, that is not a smart thing to do.  It's too risky.  Plus, if you're game did get published and you borrowed someone else's suggestion, then you could see a nice lawsuit...

Tue Jan 13 2009 5:08PM Report
Quizzical writes:

hanshotfirst said: "What's to stop you from hiring an attorney and demanding compensation?" 

That's why forums that you register for say that anything posted on that forum is the property of the company that runs the forum, and they can do whatever they want with it.

Tue Jan 13 2009 5:20PM Report
Coldren writes:

Thank you all for the feedback! I appreciate the ideas, comments and criticisms.

I had an idea to make the site, as my ideas are something that I've been developing ever since I started playing UO (So some ideas are.. close to 10 years old, and really haven't been implemented in anything yet, at least not what I've seen). If I were to do so, you'd see the "UO" influence, no doubt.

But all these comments were what I was looking for some feedback on: Is it worth it to get "Serious" about these ideas or not. Some think it might be a good idea, depending on if my ideas are good or not, of course.

Again, thank you all! I'm still here, but need some sleep before work tomorrow.

Tue Jan 13 2009 5:50PM Report
hanshotfirst writes:


Unless I'm mistaken, the OP never mentioned anything in particular about submitting his ideas via an official company forum.

But even with that said, I don't know of any online-forum indemnity clause that is effectively bullet-proof. For better or worse, we live in a fairly litigious world. Can you really fault *any* company/corporation for being a bit gun-shy when it comes to accepting unsolicited recommendations?

Tue Jan 13 2009 6:08PM Report
Quizzical writes:

You've got a blog here.  Post your ideas here.  That doesn't prevent you from posting them anywhere else. 

Tue Jan 13 2009 6:23PM Report
dcostello writes:

 Yeah, a website is really prone to other people stealing the website owner's ideas.  There are so many loop holes that the owner needs to be vigilant and must catch anyone who clearly stole his/her ideas, otherwise, with time, it's hard to prove an idea(s) really is the owner's... they aren't "bullet-proof," like hanshotfirst said.

Tue Jan 13 2009 6:37PM Report
Coldren writes:

As I said in my previous post, I honestly wouldn't care if every idea I ever have got plagerized.. I'd want to see it made real. That's all that matters to me in the end.

Tue Jan 13 2009 9:26PM Report
tbiaslorin writes:

Heh, I haven't seen many cases where studio's are stealing people's ideas off their blogs, and there are many, many sites discussing games and game ideas.

I designed a board game, and it is very similar to designing a video game. In looking at the 'universe' of board game design, it is much more important to recieve input on your design than to fear that someone might steal your ideas. Whether you do so on an email list, with friends, or in any other format, the risk remains that someone will take your idea nd run with it.

However, without input from somewhere, the odds of an idea being 'good enough' for a game developer to run wih is tiny, approaching zero. Additionally, unless you protect yourself legally, a game developer is just as likely to steal your idea directly from your submitted document, saying they thought it up and putting your proposal in the electronic circular file.  Thus, if you protect your ideas legally prior to submission, you can also do so during the development phase.

The indie video game community is the same way. There are many developers who discuss their 'in the works' projects to gather feedback, most of them without serious legal protection.  I think the steal-your-idea thing is a canard many folks use to not put their thoughts out in the open. 

Tue Jan 13 2009 9:32PM Report
biofellis writes:

You can't possible exactly 'see' a company steal an individuals ideas- because there are literally hundreds of people with ideas that you're not following/aware of. I'm not saying it happens or doesn't- I'm just saying 'like you would know'. And even when it is known- the bigger corporation wins (like maybe Disney?

Anyway- some ideas are 'complex & good' & can be 'talked about' because of the investment required. Other ideas are 'simple & good', and may be reasonably be expected to be used by someone with insight- and likely not compensation. Luckily, the industry doesn't have a ton of insight. So implementation of outside ideas is not worth nothering- their existing formula 'works'- who cares if people think it could be 'better'.

Tue Jan 26 2010 9:48PM Report
SupaMutant writes:

good post

Wed Jan 27 2010 11:57AM Report writes:
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