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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 1:51PM
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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.