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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 3

Posted by Hamilton-NEO Tuesday September 11 2007 at 12:51PM
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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.
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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.

BadSpock writes:

it is possible to make an MMORPG with only a few people, and without too much in investment cost.

but how do you spread the word? market it? host the servers? distribute the client?

all of these require money. yes, you can probably get the 250,000 you mention in loans, and maybe even pay back the loans in 18 month with 6-9,000 subscribers.

So yes, you can make a MMO that runs, that is self sustaining, and doesn't bankrupt you. If you are lucky. 6,000-9,000 subscribers, playing an indy game that has to be digitally purchased/downloaded to save distribution costs, and with support for many languages, play on servers capable of hosting that many players, etc etc.

The only question I have of your arguements is your definition of success.

Is breaking even financially what you consider success?

Some would consider having one stranger play the game they made and enjoy it "success."

To others, it's millions of dollars and global distribution.

So don't confuse people with unclear definitions of what a "successfull" MMO is.

Most MMO gamers won't TOUCH a game from an indy developer unless it's F2P, but then how do you break even and become a financial success?

I'm not saying you don't have good ideas, or at least a good ability to look up articles on the interweb, but Mr. Strain was right that in order to reach millions of people, in many languages, with worlwide release, and support for that many players, you will need a large team, millions of dollars, etc.

Don't trick people into thinking they can create a "village" game for 250,000$ and do anything but break even, maybe gain a small profit, in all but the best possible circumstances.

Tue Sep 11 2007 1:45PM Report
LeJohn writes:

Heerobya, I give you a succsful "village" game...... EVE


EVE is(was) an indy game

EVE is a Niche "village" game

EVE was developed by a small group of hardcore players(well PKers) for under $200,000

EVE has a small player base, if you count subs then between 100k and 200k, if you count individuals (multiple subs) then EVE has 30k to 60k individual players.

And EVE went from 3000 players/accounts during the release month to easly  pulling over 150k a month in subs, which by anyones standard is successful.


EVE proves that regardless of the gameplay, with enough niche players a small indy game maker can make a sucessful game.

Tue Sep 11 2007 2:41PM Report
Hamilton-NEO writes:

Thanks LeJohn with that example.



I do understand your viewpoint and let me see if I can explain it.  I will discuss about Marketing later on.  Marketing does cost money, but there are very effective low cost means to do so.  Being listed on MMORPG.COM is one example, it is free and has a very large user base providing a possible viral marketing campaign.

I'll make a note to also provide entries for hosting and the infrastructure.


Reviewing now, I should have given what "success means to me."  I originally left it out as success depends on each individual.  For me, success means, being able to work full time on game development, the title pays for itself and after a few years, I have earned a good income and savings; and able to host a bar party at a conference.

Breaking even is not success, but earning about a 10% to 20% profit after overhead expenses I think is a good benchmark.

Also keep this in mind, even if the first game is not a smash hit, breaking past 50,000; as long as it makes a profit, that means it is successful.  Successful enough to provide another round of funding to be used to either improve upon the existing game, another version of it, or a whole new game altogether.


Again, you do not need millions of dollars to reach the global market, Eve-Online (As provided above), along with Runescape and Ultima Online ($500,000) have done it and there are more as well. 

I think I should provide a listing of MMO titles that have started with less than $1 million USD and have become successful.

Tue Sep 11 2007 6:37PM Report
BadSpock writes:

well as long as you define success by those means, then yes, you and your articles are correct.

but remember, eve and UO came out in a totally different atmosphere and period of time in the life of the MMORPG genre.

I'd be really suprised to see another indy low(er) budget game have the kind of success they had/have.

MMO players (for the most part) have moved on to big budget titles and only the die-hard original veterans (for the most part) still play these indy games like Eve and UO.

That's not saying that another indy MMO will be a success and the next big "cult classic" game or whatever...

but I gaurantee more people are hyped for big budget games like TR, AoC, and WAR then games like Darkfall.

Wed Sep 12 2007 9:21AM Report
Hamilton-NEO writes:


I have heard and read to the effect of those statements time and time again for the last 20 years.  It is not late in the game for indies to get involved, actually more of the beginning.  What has kept Indies from becoming success is the lack of ability to obtain engines and distribution.  This is changing and will be explained.

Yes, there are people that are hyped about such big titles, and that will (and has) always been the case.  But there are people who are waiting for a game that is to their their liking. 

Wed Sep 12 2007 10:56AM Report
vajuras writes:

EVE is not an old game by any means so I wonder why someone would try to refer to it as so. Runescape is still successful and many other titles. Heck I was looking at a 2D side scroller casual MMO that earned the company millions and millions (was a recent article at Gamasutra).

Thu Sep 13 2007 4:12AM Report
vajuras writes:

you sure ignore anyone that says people are more excited about the EQ-Clones over an innovative title like Darkfall. Inspite of all the "vaporware" chants its currently ranked higher then mainstream titles on the hype meter here on this site (for instance heerobya claims Tabula Rasa is more hyped then Darkfall even though DF is currently ranked much higher on the hype meter lol)

Thu Sep 13 2007 1:48PM Report
badgerbadger writes:

I'm glad heerobya mentioned Indie as in indy movies.

Occaisionally; just like for example videos on you-tube; something will stand out and for whatever reason get noticed; and become MORE than niche - and then maybe become a game as he speaks of. Myself; I'd rather play a 'good'(to me) game than a popular one - or see a movie thats NOt dumbed down.

 it's really all the same principle; isn't it?


Thu Sep 13 2007 4:50PM Report writes:
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