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Panel: Running Your Own MMO

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AGC Panel: Running Your Own MMORPG

Independent companies making MMORPGs. It’s one of those things that we all talk about and we all want to see happen. For one, it’s always nice to feel like gamers are giving our money to a small company and not some giant faceless corporation, people also like the level of interaction you get from small-studio devs that you can’t always get from the big guys. The panel discussion I attended today focused on just that niche, small independent studios who make MMORPGs.

The aptly named “The Joy of Running Your Very Own MMO” panel consisted of moderator Bill Money of Iron Will Games (Ashen Empires), and panelists David Reese who is also a part of Iron Will, Brian Green of Near Death Studios (Meridian 59) and Adam Ghetti of Rapid Reality (The Chronicle, Africa). In the case of Near Death and Iron Will, very small teams run and maintain their respective games with small subscriberships, while Rapid Reality, with a development team of 45 was by far the largest although neither of their in-development games has hit store shelves.

Each panelist took some time to tell us a little bit about their backgrounds and what brought them to the point that they were running indy companies. Ghetti told us about a situation that his company found itself in when dealing with an outside technology provider and the pitfalls that led to the company deciding to do everything on their own, either acquiring or creating their own technology and content. Not a small task when looking to compete with the AAA titles that are currently bringing in hundreds of thousands, if not millions of subscribers.

Reese relayed some of his past development experience, noting that in his 11 years in the business, he has worked on five different games, two of which never shipped. While the average is pretty good (many developers are involved in a number of products that never make it to release), it was still enough to make him want to take his fate into his own hands. That was when he and his team got together to purchase Ashen Empires.

Green’s story is much the same. Having worked on Meridian 59, and feeling the pain and loss of having a game cancelled, he went on to form Near Death Studios and purchase the game for a re-launch in 2002. He also pointed out that Meridian 59 was the first MMORPG to have a box in stores that would be brought home and have a monthly fee.

The moderator went on to ask a number of questions. The first asked why each panelist chose to go into MMOs rather than a single-player game. All three began their answers by revealing their own love of MMORPGs and MUDs, a common factor amongst developers.

When asked what surprises have cropped up for the companies during development, Ghetti was quick to say that it’s “how much we can get done with a small number of people”. Reese relayed an interesting story about their biggest surprise after purchasing the game. After they took over control, they learned that nearly half of the game’s subscribers weren’t actually paying the monthly fee. Green was surprised by the “million things you need to do to run a business”. Not being from a business background, he wasn’t sure what exactly went into actually running a game and was taken aback by the amount of multi-tasking that was necessary.

All in all, it was interesting to hear the different perspective on something that almost every gamer has thought about from time to time, running their own MMORPG. Whether it’s creating large-scale games with stunning graphics like Rapid Reality, or running a smaller and older game like the others, independent game development takes a passion that gets you out of bed at 3am to fix a server, or forces you to plow through code that’s so old it’s a miracle it still performs. It also means taking on a personal risk and often going into debt, getting loans either from banks or family and friends, or even borrowing against a credit card. Whether or not you’re a fan of indy companies and their games, you have to admire the time sweat and dedication that goes into developing and maintaining these games both for themselves and for all of us.

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Jon Wood