The Big Scary Industry

If I have a brilliant idea for a way to make a MMORPG that isn’t tedious what can I do with it? It doesn’t seem like there are a lot of companies interested in making a different MMORPG, more like the same guys churning out the same game with new graphics every couple years.

I realize that everyone and his faithful canine companion has an idea better than mine, but I’d like to know what the landscape is like. Is there even a way to pitch it to anyone without losing ownership of it? Not that I think I’m going to get rich off it, but I’d like to make it, not pitch it and then see the unique bits tossed out in development and the whole thing be another EQ clone.

Mike, good luck!

sell out to someone who actually has the infrastructure in place. best case, you’ll get 5% of the profits and the right to make some creative suggestions. if that got you into the industry, then might get lucky enough to make your own game your own way one day.

you can’t start at the top unless your parents are already there and willing to give you an unmerited VP position ;D

I think what DrDel is trying to say is that you’d have a slightly better chance of flying to the moon on a hang glider. Sadly, that’s just the way it is. Developers generally have far more of their own game ideas than they could ever afford to (or have time to) produce. This means that you don’t have to worry about anyone stealing your ideas, but it also means that your only real hope of seeing them made into a game is to form your own studio and make it yourself. Of course, finding a publisher for a massively multiplayer game these days is as tough as finding a developer that wants to use your ideas. MMORPGs are expensive to make and expensive to maintain, and the market is pretty near saturated with them already. If you can find a publisher willing to to fund a new MMORPG from a first-time developer… well, I don’t want to get your hopes up, because you probably won’t.

If you are interested in game design, your best bet is to get in on the ground level with an existing developer. You probably won’t land a job doing anything even remotely related to game design right off the street; but if you have other skills (art, programming, etc.) you can get a foot in the door. And if you really do have good ideas and (more importantly) know how to implement them, you’ll get where you want to be eventually.

Yeah, I can do that code monkey thing, I’ve even pitched the idea to a few coder buddies from school to do it with me, but the infrastructure scares me, there’s little point in reproducing all the effort that goes into figuring out how to build a program like that. Are there any game studios with MMO experience that are going under and could be had for (relatively) cheap? I could always run frantically about Palo Alto trying to finance a resucitation. I’ve thought about getting a coder job at a studio, but I think the moment to make the game is now, I’d hate to miss it. I suppose there isn’t much hope, though.

And Ben, you may be right about what DrDrel is saying, but I choose to interpret it as heartfelt encouragement. I might as well, right?

I’m actually working on an mmorpg right now with a staff of 1 (me + contractors).

It’s not necessarily that bad if you’re good at games. The trick is to develop incrementally, don’t try to do everything at once. Maybe start by making a simple single-player game that you sell online for like $10 and make negligible money off total, but this gives you a good way to test out the 3D engine, object system, sound, etc. Then, augment it into an online game with a not-so-persistent world, which you again don’t charge that much money for. This lets you nail down the networking and maybe a little database stuff. Then go full MMO.

I am actually skipping the first step of this, since I am good at networking and it’s one of the areas I wanted to work actively on earlier.

Also if you haven’t played Puzzle Pirates, try it out. That’s an MMO, being done by a VERY small team. Yeah, it’s not 3D and the world isn’t that full, but they show signs of being pretty successful so far. (A lot more successful than 98% of corporate MMO attempts).

You and a few million others.

I have at least two brilliant ideas! Does that make me somewhat more of a unique snowflake?!

I think he acknowledged this phenomenon in his original post… but, it does bring up an issue. He mentioned the idea of “can I pitch it to anyone?” and the answer to that is simply “no”.

Ideas in the game industry are worth diddly squat. The ability to execute on an idea is everything.

Everyone with the ability to execute already knows what they are going to be doing. The only way to get your idea made is to somehow become one of those people/teams who can execute, and then use your idea. This is not easy, but hey, games aren’t easy.

Not unless your faithful canine companion has one. If he doesn’t your second idea counts as his and you are in the group that starts the second paragraph. To even begin to stand out you must have three, sorry about that.

MMORPGs are at a dead end anyway. The great MMO crash of 2005 is just around the corner. If you want to make an MMO, sit on that idea until the rebirth hits.

Edit: And I’d just like to add that the crash is looking to be very early in 2005. It might even make the end of 2004 at this rate.

All people who would like to make commercial games: read this.

All of the comments here contain pearls of wisdom.

I would only add that it seems that for MMOs, right now the main limitation is the belief, firmly entrenched in the offices of the bean counters and perhaps even valid, is that to be commercially viable (i.e., make money not lose it) an MMO has to replicate the level grind, flypaper approach exemplified by EQ. Sell the box, compel them to pay every month to get that extra level, that new item, a few more platinum, and keep the carrot dangling in front of them with the stick of falling behind their contemporaries whacking them in the rear.

Games that eschew this formula tend to have commercial problems. That kinda limits what you can do.

It’s also one reason why I’m very interested in how PlanetSide develops. On the one hand it has very little of the level grind of most MMOs, yet they charge $13/month. The server pops have been nosediving and I want to see if it will stabilize or even grow. If it does, then you can look for more innovative MMO approaches at full price. If it doesn’t, look for either a good outcome (lower priced, maybe $5/month, alternative MMO structures) or a bad outcome (nothing but EQ clones).

But as Charles notes, the crash, she be a’comin’. Naturally I’ve been saying this for years :D so take it for what it’s worth.

Thanks for the site, looks good so far. I actually already have started writing a design document, but I could definitely use some guidelines, thanks again.

GDC was interesting in that regard. There were about a dozen seminars, all with varying degrees of “Make Money Fast!! (with an MMO)” and they were as informative as you might expect - i. e. no one had any experience actually working on one, but they all thought it was a rilly keen idea, fer shure. My co-worker and I finally quit going to any of them because we could literally hear our brains leaking away.

If you want an idea of some of the infrastructure pitfalls you’ll run into, Jessica Mulligan’s book is essential (plus she posts here, so you can heckle her about it).

My own tips – contemplate these on the Tree of Woe!

  1. You will be running an ISP, only with a game attached. People will expect far better service from your servers than they ever would for, say, a web server.

  2. Your customers will be – well, check the thread here on “Whiniest Gamer Communities” and reflect on how 85-90% of the ones listed are MMO related.

  3. It is physically impossible for you to create enough content to keep your players happy. And if you just throw up your hands and say “feh, I’ll put in PvP and let the players fight amongst themselves instead”, they’ll figure that out quickly, too. Note that the reason most often given for World of Warcraft not being out yet is that they’re working on content. For the past three years.

  4. You’ll need a customer service department. It won’t be enough.

  5. Unless you are a genius, someone will figure out an exploit that has the capacity to completely destroy your game. Depending on how good a coder you are, it may be discovered a year after release, or a few weeks.

  6. Unless you’re a completely cheap monkey, bandwidth won’t be your limiting factor creating lag for your players, server capacity will be. If your servers get overloaded, your players will experience lag. They will remind you of how no other MMO in the industry besides yours has lag (note: they are lying) and that you should fix this yesterday.

I say this not to dishearten, but…

If your idea truly is unique and brilliant, then it’s not going to get made in today’s videogame industry. Unique and brilliant spell one thing to suits: risky. Even people with impressive ludographies like Will Wright, Molyneux and Miyamoto have trouble pushing an unconventional idea through the system.

Adapting your unique and brilliant idea to the lowest common denominator so as to pass the marketing sniff test will be incredibly disheartening and you’ll wonder why you even bothered.

The advice that guy on sloperama.com gave about DIY game creation is what I’d recommend. It’s what I’m doing right now in fact. It’s a lonely road to hoe, but if nothing about your idea requires multi-million dollar production values, it is possible.

If your idea is for a MMOG, I don’t see how that couldn’t require millions to execute. Good luck.

Ideas are easy to come by. People throw game ideas at me all the time when they find out what I do. Having the fortitude to put them into action is what makes the difference. Also, remember that market is pretty saturated.

And yet it is silly to see how many cookie cutter type games come out. I think ideas should be encouraged and nurtured, not squashed. Creativity and originality should be what propels everything forward.

That’s true :(

Wright is stuck with The Sims, Molyneux with its Populous wannabies, and Miyamoto does not deliver on the promises of Ocarina of Time…

While there’s no question that EA is milking the property (and who could blame them?), I’d point out that the Sims was a highly unconventional game when it debuted.

“Good” and “different” aren’t necessarily synonymous. I like to see new ideas as much as the next guy, but there’s nothing wrong with revisiting old ideas that work.