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Dev Journal #2

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Dawid "Zolthar" Makowski Discusses This Most Precarious of Balancing Acts

Editor's Note: Today we bring you the second developer journal from Sigonyth Project Lead Dawid Makowski. In this article he discusses the perils of being an independent developer and how they've held things together.

Hello again, once again l’ll try to answer a question asked by mmorpg.com.

This time I will explain how we manage to make an MMORPG without external funding.

The market is growing extremely fast, new games are being released almost every single day. Most of them pass unnoticed, only few of them manage to gain player attention for a significant time. Competition among developers, boosted with enormous amount of money as well as better and better hardware, results in higher game standards - every few of months the performance of published games is doubled.

In the past, you were able to produce a blockbuster, working alone or in a small group. All you needed was a good idea. Now, having the idea is simply not enough – production process, especially concerning MMOG market, requires a great deal of effort. What is more, players’ expectations are constantly growing bigger, and meeting their needs is a matter of flexibility and taking into concern every issue that comes along.

As a matter of fact, MMORPG projects are now being triggered by more and more game designers. We know that at least ten other projects are now being made just in our country (Poland). Unfortunately, they are certain to fail from the start. Lack of proper documentation, no coordination, shortage of good programmers, and, last but not least, lack of commitment are only few of the reasons.

As far as the world is concerned, there are hundreds of different groups that dream of making their desired game. On every forum dedicated to gamedev you can find links to new projects. Some people have quite fair websites, detailed history of their world, and ambitious assumptions that they will create a game distant to others. Well, most of them are young teenagers, often beginners in this field, who think that after a few weeks of script writing they can make something Big. As they soon realize, without practical background in game design it’s literally impossible to meet the standards they dreamed of.

I experienced this while building our team. Most disappointments concerned youngbloods, even the gifted ones. It turned out quickly that gathering inexperienced people is quite useless. Work management is also crucial – a new team can break up very quickly without effective personnel administration. What is more, even professional groups tend to fail. In my opinion, there are two basic reasons: lack of experience and lack of money

We (New Desert) had the very same start. Luckily, we are still in the game. But is it only a matter of luck? I will try to explain.

The team was built about five years ago. MMORPGs were not our aim at that time (we started Sigonyth about one and a half years ago). First, we were making a text game (MUD - like), then, we made a game engine for a 2D role playing game. The whole fun was about completing quests, shooting a monster or changing equipment. The next stage was the engine for a 3D game. Meanwhile, the number of people who joined and left our group reached hundred. We filtered out the essence – those who proved to be valuable, with practical experience in game industry or graphics. And now, Sigonyth is their child.

As time passed, we have developed our own tools for team management. Currently, our group consists of a so-called Core Team – people absolutely devoted to the project, and Freelancers – volunteers working for us in their free time. Together, there are about 50 of us, with Core Team counting about a dozen of people.

As I mentioned, I carefully chose the members. We have a game designer who has already worked on commercial MMORPGs, we have talented programmers who have written complete 3D engines before. Finally, we have a fair pack of gifted artists, most of them with practical background. I, as a team manager, have in the past been with two companies that dealed with programming, therefore, I have a practical experience in both programming and managing big projects.

On our website you can find the early screenshots from our engine. Recently we have gone through the stage of alpha tests on our net engine. For the time being, we are finishing a technical demo version for potential investors. To be frank, without their support maintaining the highest game standards is impossible. Of course, all of us are MMORPG players. It gave us the opportunity to track all pros and cons of contemporary games and allowed us to gather our thoughts on their innovations and improving most of their disadvantages.

In order to organize the production process, we have introduced coordinators who are taking care of certain parts of the project. We found our internal discussion forum and task management program (containing task system with timeline and gantta diagrams) to be very useful tools as well. I have also tried to implement metodics similar to MSF(Microsoft Solution Framework), which defines ahead particular stages of work. In my opinion, it’s very efficient.

As far as organization issues are concerned, there is no total democracy in the team (what is similar to other groups). All attempts of general discussion and collective decisions proved to be wrong. Precisely constructed gameplay cannot be a sum of all our ideas and images. We try to run New Desert as a company i.e. general direction is always set by the management. Yet, good ideas of our members (and not only them) are always welcome. Some of them have been already brought into the game with a great outcome.

The last issue is probably the most important thing. Despite overall experience we suffer shortage of personnel in certain departments, what is the result of lack of any outside funding. We are forced to treat our enterprise as a side job and pay for any investments (our website, purchasing software) by ourselves. Most of our earnings are spent this way. What is more, working remotely at our homes slows the whole production greatly. Nevertheless, we have created our own world, we are not limited by any clichés, we are hanging 24/7 on discussion forums listening to thousands of players opinions and expectations, filtering the most valuable ones. Finally, we still have the same passion!

I guess that’s all. For the taste of things to come, I’d like to announce that we plan to introduce a clever idea how to cater to both rich players and those who cannot afford to pay for playing. We are convinced that this solution will be a great attraction for potential investors. Of course, we cannot afford to reveal anything, at least for now. Competitors are everywhere!

Many thanks to Dawid and the team at New Desert for taking the time to write these articles. Check back next month for developer journal #3.

We encourage you to leave your comments in this discussion thread.


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