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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

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 ( - [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.