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Studios: Big vs. Small

Editorials By  on June 24, 2006

Studios: Big vs. Small

Do you want the company behind your next MMO to be big or small?

Editor's Introduction: Every Saturday, we feature a debate between two writers here. If you have any ideas for future debates, please do not hesitate to post them in the comment thread linked at the end.

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Dan Mann: A lot has been made of the MMO industry being given over to the big time, ultra-rich, power hungry studios that care more for the almighty dollar then daring to stray from the mold of its predecessors and providing a game that provides more than a level treadmill. Can small companies compete with giants like EA and Sony who can throw dozens of devs and millions of dollars at a project?

Of course they can and have been doing so for quite some time. Sure the road is not as hazardous for an established company who doesn’t have to stare bankruptcy in face every waking moment, but many small studios with a vision and skill have come from humble beginnings to create some world class products. The margin for error is much smaller but of course it can be done. Using small budgets as an excuse for shoddy work is laughable at best.


Garrett Fuller: The problem with small studios is one thing, money. Games cost money and no matter how much passion or time you put into them there is always the dollar to contend with. There are many games about to launch onto the market right now that do not have the huge financial backing. It seems like the video game industry is moving in the same direction as movies. You have a bunch of people out there trying to make games in the hopes that one of the major publishers will pick up the game and run with it. The problem is, once a publisher gets their hands on a game, they can change it and tweak it the way they want.

It is the design studios that should really push to keep their games in tact and true to whatever vision the studio had when it started making the game. MMOs are a tricky balance because you have endless hours of play time. You have to develop the game based around someone who plays 24 hours a day to someone who logs in for 30 minutes on a weekend. There is a huge range there. These smaller companies just don't have the resources to consider game play of that magnitude


Dan Mann: The flaw in that logic is that they chose to make an MMO and knew going in what the financial responsibility was from the get-go. No one put a gun to their head and said “Make a great MMO on a shoestring budget. Or else” right? They could have done what Mythic did and get their feet wet with basic multi-player games (Magestorm, ID4 online) and gain some reputation, skill and money before throwing all your eggs in one basket with a MMO of epic proportions.

To fully gain the trust of your customers you need to ’under promise, over deliver’, but it seems some small companies have got in backwards in vain attempt to get noticed. In the end it backfires as you spread yourself to thin, instead of just getting the basics of a fun game right. If you are straight up with your customers they will be much more willing to help you grow your project into something great.


Garrett Fuller: I am all for smaller game companies making an effort to build a great game, the problem is that MMOs are very complex and you need the resources to cover such a wide area. That is why companies like Alchemic Dream are stepping in to provide game support for MMOs.

At the same time many players blame Sony for a lot of issues with big title MMOs. They have the money to promote their products and continue to develop new games. I think the question boils down to the quality. Is there quality in a game whether it comes from a small studio or a large publisher? I think you approach dangerous territory with gamers when you under-deliver on a game. Expectations are always very high, maybe too high for our own good. With all these new titles coming out next year, what can we expect? Quality? Or will the market be flooded with quick business models to make a lot of money for the devs and publishers? I just hope that despite the influence of the top game companies, we never see the smaller studios disappear.


Dan Mann: Well as to the question of quality, I’d say that it’s much easier to get things wrong if you have a huge staff. So many people and egos pulling the design in different directions really require competent leadership and direction to keep the game design on track. Marketing can only take you so far and eventually you will actually have to show people a working and entertaining product to get their hard earned cash. Smaller companies have to resort to word of mouth alone in most cases, but grass roots campaigns can be the most powerful of all depending on who is doing the talking.

Only time will tell if the new games will deliver the goods and learn from the mistakes of those who came before. We can only hope the bait-and-switch tactics employed in the past will stay in the past. MMOs are about development and no matter how much cash is thrown at a product, it’s the people in it that truly define its worth and what direction it will take. Both small and large devs would do will to remember that.

Well that’s it for us, now it’s your turn to have your say on the matter. Tell us what you think!


You can comment on this debate here.