Developments in the MOG Market

Frequent poster and Online Alchemy CEO Mike Sellers sends this report on recent developments in the multiplayer online game (mog) market:

"Last week, Blizzard announced WoW now has over 2 million subscribers.  And this doesn't count China, where they've just opened up.  They report having over 500,000 concurrent users in China during their open beta.
(http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=5696)

On the same day, rumors (later confirmed) abounded that Monolith had sold The Matrix Online to SOE.  Twenty-six people on the team were given offers to go to San Diego, the rest were out of jobs.  The future of Monolith in the wake of this, not to mention the entire market,  appears uncertain. "

Mike continues:
"Moreover, SOE also obtained the exclusive rights to create a MMOG based on DC Comics properties.  This of course sets them up to go head-to-head with their biggest US rival, NCSoft.
(http://www.sonyonline.com/corp/press_releases/061705_warnerbros.html)

And today, CNN noted in a story about Atari that '"The Matrix Online," published by Sega, has only sold 43,100 copies since its launch in late March, according to The NPD Group.'
http://money.cnn.com/2005/06/16/commentary/game_over/column_gaming/index.htm?cnn=yes
It's worth noting that this is about half of The Sims Online's abysmal sales in about the same amount of time. 

WoW is pulling in probably close to $200 million annually in *profits* (on almost $400M gross revenue), while MXO may never see profitability -- and yet the latter was still valuable enough to SOE to purchase it.

All of which goes to show that while not as hit-driven as the offline game market, the MMOG market continues to be high risk/high reward.  Further, the long-predicted market consolidation appears to be taking place.  What this will mean for future MMOGs isn't yet clear, but it's a safe bet that this isn't particularly good for those hoping for the open-ended innovative atmosphere that some players wish would appear. "


Comments on Developments in the MOG Market:

Jeff says:

The risks are higher only because word of mouth is more powerful than advertising in MMOGs. Word of mouth, especially from beta testers, is extremely important for the success of a MMO game. MMOGs are social games: if your friends don't play odds are neither will you.

Blizzard is reaping the rewards of delivering a good game ontop of an good license (the Warcraft series).

Monolith reaped the penalties of delivering a poor game ontop of a milked-out license (the Matrix series).

Posted Jun 21, 2005 11:40:46 AM | link

Thabor says:


SOE is playing directly towards the social gamer. It seems to be based directly off their all access pass.
With a large stable of games they can charge a little more, lower the entry barrier for playing some of the less appealing games, and increase the barrier preveting people from going to other games.

Posted Jun 21, 2005 12:28:26 PM | link

Lee Delarm says:

Jeff has it right, Blizzard delivered a highly playable, well tested and well liked licensed game while Monolith appeared to be giddy as a schoolgirl but entirely clueless as to what they needed or what the community needed to survive. The Matrix is also a game from a movie. Would you like me to count the number of games made from movies (movie first anotherwords) that turned out to get a good rating? Overall? From the first dawn of video game movies?

One.

Chronicles of Riddick.

And that's only because Vin Diesel was interested enough in games beforehand to have the knowledge and foresight of what a gamer might want in a video game and what a game needed.

Anyway, I'd hardly call SOE buying out a painfully mishappen game title (hopefully to turn it around) a consolidation of MMOs in any sense of the word. We've been seeing companies shut down their games for some time now, all the way back to Neverwinter Nights on AOL and Meridian 59 (bad moves only realized too late). I'm honestly surprised Matrix made it to market considering their poorly done marketting strategy and the fact their game didn't "feel" halfway finished even at the day before release.

Anyway, call me up when you see Blizzard gobbling up SOE or NCSoft doing a hostile takeover of Korea :P

Posted Jun 21, 2005 12:52:07 PM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Lee Delarm>One.
>Chronicles of Riddick.

I think you have to include Goldeneye too, but that still only makes two.

Richard

Posted Jun 21, 2005 1:44:19 PM | link

Samantha LeCraft says:

Monolith lays off 80 employees. Roughly 25 people from that group have been offered positions at Sony, and over 100 employees remain at Monolith. Monolith is leaving the MMOG business, but is continuing work on F.E.A.R. and Condemned: Criminal Origins, shooters for the PC and XBox, respectively.

Posted Jun 21, 2005 1:46:09 PM | link

Galrahn says:

Marketting MMOGs is an engima, I don't think there is a science or an art that makes sense, and I don't think anyone really knows how to do it well.

My wife had two of her friends over for drinks the other night. I was watching Spike TV when a commercial for SWG came on the tube. I turned around, was very interested to see it, but it ended with three women calling me a MMO nerd asking who would want to play star wars?

All 3 have watched me play Lineage 2, WoW, UO, and other titles in the past without the sarcasim...

So my question is, which is more effective, me playing the games on my flatpanal widescreen in front of others or a commercial with a bunch of testimonials about how neat it is to role-play a bounty hunter on a star wars world?

It has to be cheaper to do booth displays at Best Buy at Malls across America on Saturday afternoons than advertise nationally on Spike TV right? Probably more exposure too.

Whatever the best way to market a game is, someone tell NCSoft. Lineage 2 is the most incredible PvP game on the MMOG market, with all of the dynamics this community often cites as required to be a good game, but because the initial reviews at the 3 key MMOG websites were critical of the level grind (which has been improved) and because castle sieges didn't come until 2 months after the review almost all of the best parts of the game were completley overlooked.

Heck most reviewers of Lineage2 were more focused on the braw size of the Dark Elf females than they were of the incredible graphics everywhere else in the game, which tells me if Online reviews and word of mouth is the best way to market MMO games, then the future of any MMO game relies on the gaming enjoyment during beta of a middle aged, horny anime fan focused on the first 20 days of the gaming experience, than the last 200+ which would include high level content.

Posted Jun 21, 2005 1:49:26 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

In terms of consolidation in the US, I do think this is significant. SOE bought the struggling MXO, sure, but they also bought the rights to do a game based on DC Comics, a move that seems set to compete directly with City of Heroes. The "big boys" of the US sector are emerging as NCSoft, SOE, and Blizzard -- others such as EA (as UO goes to life-support-only), Microsoft (unless/until something happens on X360), and now Warner/Monolith being conspicuously absent. I suspect strong players like Mythic, Turbine, and others are likely targets for acquistion in the next few years. And then there are all the startups and smaller companies (like mine :) ) vying for their share of the market.

Posted Jun 21, 2005 1:53:06 PM | link

splok says:

Jeff> The risks are higher only because word of mouth is more powerful than advertising in MMOGs.

The risks are higher because the development costs are higher, the development cycles are longer, and not only do they have to make the initial sale, they have to be able to keep people playing FAR longer and provide sufficient content to do so.

Lee> Would you like me to count the number of games made from movies (movie first anotherwords) that turned out to get a good rating?

Personally, I really enjoyed the old Batman for the NES. Also, what about all of the Star Wars games? or the LoTR games? Spiderman? Kingdon Hearts(and probably a few others made from kids movies)?

Lee> Anyway, call me up when you see Blizzard gobbling up SOE or NCSoft doing a hostile takeover of Korea :P

I don't think the implication is that the huge players in the industry will consume each other. The problem arises when those few huge players continually take over the smaller companies. Is the Matrix incident indicative of this? I'm not sure, but both SOE and NCSoft appear to want to develop a considerable library of titles. This probably makes perfect sence from a business point of view since their profits could be benefit significantly from reduced cost due to shared resources. This makes competition even more difficult for the smaller company trying to break into the market.

As a gamer, the thought of 80% of the mmo market being firmly in the hands of SOE, NCSoft, and Bliz is a bit disconcerting. They could certainly push that number much closer to 100% if they wanted, and that makes my skin crawl from a creative standpoint.

Posted Jun 21, 2005 2:04:43 PM | link

Cory Ondrejka says:

Ted> MXO may never see profitability -- and yet the latter was still valuable enough to SOE to purchase it.

Ted> Mike continues: Moreover, SOE also obtained the exclusive rights to create a MMOG based on DC Comics properties.

Who says MXO has to be profitable for this to work for SOE?

Posted Jun 21, 2005 2:09:59 PM | link

Lee Delarm says:

I did tenderly ignore some of the larger releases such as Goldeneye (my memory fades more every passing day) but I still believe that even out of the Star Wars series and LoTR there are many games that failed to see the light and rein in the sizable profits the marketers were hoping to see after considerable investments (I'd imagine licensing is an expensive process just in itself).

There are also many independant (and growing) game companies that do well enough on their own that I don't think we'll see the end of independant imagination as we know it. EVE Online takes a good standpoint on that one, many Korean games are quite succesful (many unsuccesful) and even NCSoft at one time was not a major player. I think it will be much more likely that we will see more major players step into the market than minor to medium ones handing over the reins to the giants.

In this same instance though, I think we might finally see the "millions" of tiny MMO companies just give up completely realizing that making an MMO isn't for everyone...

Posted Jun 21, 2005 2:14:59 PM | link

Samantha LeCraft says:

...the thought of 80% of the mmo market being firmly in the hands of SOE, NCSoft, and Bliz is a bit disconcerting.

Why are we including Blizzard in talks of consolidation? Blizzard has one MMOG, whereas Sony and NCSoft each have growing libraries of MMOGs. Turbine may be in a similar situation in a few years, and EA tried for this a few years ago. Until Blizzard starts buying up smaller MMOG developers, I hardly think they should be included when discussing the downsides of 80% of the major MMOGs being owned by a few companies.

It seems to me that the major danger of consolidation is that it increases the barrier of entry for small developers. NCSoft can afford to fund non fantasy MMOGs because they have so many successful MMOGs under their control. Sony can afford to buy MxO and fund development for a DC Comics game because of the success of their other games. If Sony and NCSoft (and maybe some day Turbine) are the only ones who have enough money to fund a somewhat risky MMOG concept, that means that small developers looking for a publisher and/or funding have only two (possibly three) places to go.

There will always be small development houses who self publish, like Three Rings. But the more consolidation we see, the fewer chances the next Cryptic will have to pitch their out of the box but ingenious idea. Consolidation means that either you're funded by Sony or NCSoft, or you're a boutique game, and in my book that's a bad thing.

But let's leave Blizzard out of the equation, shall we? If anything they're proving that you don't have to be funded by Sony or NCSoft to make it big in MMOGs.

Posted Jun 21, 2005 2:46:27 PM | link

splok says:

Samantha> Why are we including Blizzard in talks of consolidation?

Bliz might only have one game, but that one game currently accounts for almost a quarter of the entire market (and that will increase significantly with its release in China). They may not be currently working to acquire or develop other titles, but that still puts a huge portion of the total playerbase in the hands on one company.

Samantha> But let's leave Blizzard out of the equation, shall we? If anything they're proving that you don't have to be funded by Sony or NCSoft to make it big in MMOGs.

I don't really know what that's supposed to prove. Bliz has numerous tremendously successful titles under its belt and is owned by a multi-billion dollar corporation. It clearly has had more successful titles, more history and far more marketing clout that SOE, and probably far deeper pockets with WoW's success.

Posted Jun 21, 2005 3:27:23 PM | link

Galrahn says:

Samantha>But let's leave Blizzard out of the equation, shall we? If anything they're proving that you don't have to be funded by Sony or NCSoft to make it big in MMOGs.

Isn't that exactly why you can't leave them out of the equation?

Blizzard is most definately a player, in fact they have a totally new and seperate way of achieving success in the MMO market. As a game company, Blizzard is borderline infamous with gamers. After all, despite WoW being their first MMO game, the term "zerg" has been in MMO gaming for years, and that originates with Blizzard.

Which is why I can't figure out wtf is happening with EA, they make amazing games but can't seem to put it all together in the MMO market, although keep in mind, in todays market, gamers in general would have more hype or more hope for a UO2K9 than we ever saw with WoW, and that's saying something.

Posted Jun 21, 2005 3:30:07 PM | link

Samantha LeCraft says:

I'm not saying that we should discount Blizzard, or put our heads in the sand and ignore WoW's screaming success. WoW is huge, Blizzard is one of the best known name brands in games, and players have responded to that -- and I think they'll continue to, as well. I'm one of the most ardent supporters for Blizzard you're likely to find around these parts, and I'll admit that I'm generally biased in their favor.

But when we say "All of the major MMOGs are being bought up by two or three companies," Blizzard cannot be included in that, despite the fact that they own one of the most successful MMOGs ever. They have not bought up anyone else. They do not sport a library of six or seven MMOGs. They are not one of the two companies in the business of buying up and/or funding risky MMOG projects.

Consolidation has some benefits (sharing of base technology between projects; more stability for the company and its employees; the ability to fund an MMOG you know will not be #1 or #2 in the US), but it has definite down sides as well. The more consolidation we see, the fewer chances mid-sized developers (Cryptic or Arena.net size) will have to create a break-out hit. At this point, if Sony turns you down and NCSoft turns you down, you're pretty much SOL. There are still other options for funding and publishing, but those options shrink in proportion to growing consolidation.

If Blizzard (or Vivendi, for that matter) wants to get into the business of funding or publishing outside MMOGs, then wonderful. That would give developers looking for a publisher one more option, but at this point I think it's unlikely. Until Blizzard/Vivendi move in this direction, they cannot be lumped in with NCSoft and Sony as a force for consolidation. Blizzard is an excellent counter point to NCSoft and Sony, proving that if you build a brand first and focus on quality, you can release a smash hit MMOG without help from a company with multiple MMOGs on the market already.

NCSoft and Sony are working towards making fewer options for publishing and funding. Blizzard is not. That is why Blizzard should not be lumped in with NCSoft and Sony when decrying the evils of consolidation.

Posted Jun 21, 2005 4:05:27 PM | link

Mike Rozak says:

Speaking as someone who know doesn't know much about marketing:

One of the ways that virtual worlds might be sold is "Neopolitan" style... with strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla all in one box. Except it's a fantasy, science-fiction, and an "other" all in one box, and for one monthly fee.

SOE already has station access which includes the one fee for 3(?) MMORPGs, but they don't bundle all their games in one box yet. (I suspect they're not sure if it's more profitable selling the razors (boxes) or the razor blades (subscriptions), or both.)

SOE, NCSoft, and Mythic (with DAOC and Imperator) and positioned to produce a Neopolitan package. Turbine is not because it has all fantasy titles; although with $30M funding and/or a merger, it could find a sci-fi and other title.

By the way, this same scenario was played out 15+ years ago when Microsoft and Lotus bundled office applications (word processor, spreadsheet, etc.) into one package. The number of independent word processors and spreadsheets on the market plummeted because a stand-alone word processor (or spreadsheet) was no longer salable.

Alternatively, you could view "Neopolitan" like a subscription to a cable service... pay one monthly fee any get 50 channels, or 5 virtual worlds.

Posted Jun 21, 2005 5:51:05 PM | link

monkeysan says:

Edward said:but it's a safe bet that this isn't particularly good for those hoping for the open-ended innovative atmosphere that some players wish would appear.

Not in the short term, but I'm a firm believer that the decline in technology costs and the rise of affordable world building tools will do for virtual worlds what technology is already doing for print and film.

Posted Jun 21, 2005 6:35:20 PM | link

Aryoch says:

> Mike Rozak wrote:
>
> By the way, this same scenario was played
> out 15+ years ago when Microsoft and Lotus
> bundled office applications (word processor,
> spreadsheet, etc.) into one package. The number
> of independent word processors and spreadsheets
> on the market plummeted because a stand-alone
> word processor (or spreadsheet) was no longer salable.

I don't think you can compare these two types of software at all.

I don't get "bored" with MS Word and decide I need to try a new word processor. In fact, with office productivity software, being "bored" with the "same old same old" is what I want. I want to be so familiar with the software that I really don't expect to face anything new when using it.

For entertainment/games, people DO get bored and therefore they seek out new things. For this reason, it is very unlikely that you will see the same kind of winnowing down to 1 or 2 companies.

In fact, contrary to what most people think, I believe that 5+ years from now we will see more companies and more games. As with pretty much every other aspect of MMO evolution, I think MMOs will mimic the way MUDs evolved.

There will come a time soon when people or companies start releasing tools, engines, etc. that make it much easier for smaller companies or groups of people to make an MMO with acceptable, though not ground breaking, sound and audio. When that happens, you'll see a lot more MMOs and tons of them will actually be good.

Yes, the biggest ones will be those made by companies like Blizzard, SOE, etc., but there will still be hundreds of other options that will provide the kind of variety most MMO gamers eventually wish for after a few years of playing the same-old MMOs.

Posted Jun 21, 2005 6:41:12 PM | link

Flatfingers says:

Aryoch> contrary to what most people think, I believe that 5+ years from now we will see more companies and more games.

I agree.

The fact that Blizzard hasn't yet established a track record of buying smaller MMOGs doesn't mean they aren't going to -- it just means they haven't started yet. (Suddenly acquiring great gobs of cash does funny things to people.)

But this process doesn't imply consolidation. Consolidation actually requires two simultaneous effects:
* a few big companies buy all existing smaller companies
* no new small companies get created

We may be seeing the former effect, but where's the evidence that everyone's given up on making new MMOGs? The acquisition binge that may be beginning to occur could actually spur more people to create a MMOG in the hopes of being given lots of cash for it by one of the major players.

An additional point: competition is tough now because access to consumers is still bottlenecked by the current distribution model -- the store shelf. But it's already possible to see that we're moving to a world where software is purchased and downloaded over the net (because of unique processor IDs and widely available broadband service). If anything, access to clients is about to pop wide open.

The one thing we'll need to watch out for is someone (maybe Microsoft, maybe Intel, maybe somebody else) trying to control this new access point. As long as that doesn't happen (or happens without effect), the small developer will suddenly be able to bypass the shelf -- and the Big Players -- and go directly to the consumer.

I think life's going to get better for the little guy, not worse.

Dang. I'm an optimist.

--Flatfingers

Posted Jun 21, 2005 7:20:33 PM | link

Mike Rozak says:

Aryoch wrote - I don't get "bored" with MS Word and decide I need to try a new word processor. In fact, with office productivity software, being "bored" with the "same old same old" is what I want. I want to be so familiar with the software that I really don't expect to face anything new when using it.

For entertainment/games, people DO get bored and therefore they seek out new things. For this reason, it is very unlikely that you will see the same kind of winnowing down to 1 or 2 companies.

I both agree and disagree.

You'll get bored with a VW. But, that doesn't mean that the Neopolitan flavors will always be the same. The 2-4 large companies than can use this marketing strategy could also put out a new VW in a timely fashion. They will certainly be able to leverage their knowledge, engine, tools, process, etc. to produce a new world relatively quickly.

If the Neopolitan scenario happens, there will still be lots of small worlds around, like there are now. However, most (or all) of the top 10-15 worlds will be owned by the top 2-4 companies, which means they'll have 80%-90% of the market.

As far as your hopes for bypassing the shelf... I'm not too excited about that. EQII uses 2 DVDs (I think) for all its artwork. This is too much for most people to download with today's internet speed. In 2 years, the average internet speed might double (IF Jessica Mulligan's comments about limitations of cable-modems proves to be false), but so will the amount of data required for a top-of-the-line MMORPG. Small MMORPGS will bypass the shelf.

Then again, my predictions tend to be a bit glum.

Posted Jun 21, 2005 8:07:26 PM | link

magicback says:

the modern entertainment monolith, resulting in a bifurcation of the industry in few large and many small players.

Key fact: for the exclusive license to and support for WoW for China, Blizzard got $3m up front and will get a minimum of $50m in fees for the next four years.

These numbers are big enough for media moguls to take notice, so there will be a bit of “dog & pony shows” (E3), “horse trading” (recent deals) until they are happy with their “stables” (product offering).

Media giants are now perusing an all-media blitz strategy. For example, the effort put into the integrated push for Steve Jackson’s King Kong. Do expect video games and MMOs to be part of this franchise. Do expect HD to the next must-include technology.

Strategy-wise, it’s about converting the MTV crowd and minimizing churn on existing player base. A “Chinese menu” or “Neapolitan” strategy is one way to keep current subscribers in your “restaurant” or “bakery”. Taking advantage of the Comic Book brand awareness is one way to draw in more subscribers.

Hey, sparked by the new Batman movie, I would love to play in that world for a bit. Probably will lose interest in a month, so SOE/WBI better give me Smallville or Aquaman world. The DC universe got lots of “loot” to “farm”.

Frank

Posted Jun 21, 2005 11:00:12 PM | link

Jessica Mulligan says:

Does anybody disagree that, pure and simple, SOE bought out MxO to get access to the DC license? This is more like TV syndication than anything else; "OK, kiddo, you want four seasons of 'Friends'? No problem, but you gotta take two seasons of 'Gilligan's Island,' too."

I seriously doubt either party expects SOE to revive MxO; this was all about the DC license and WBIE digging itself out of a hole. More likely, the game will go on life support, CS and other functions will be picked up by the pools in SOE in a scale-of-efficiency move and most of those 25 developers will eventually find themeselves doing pick-up code on other SOE projects or doing the initial prototyping of the DC game.

And there isn't anything wrong with that. The alternative for WBIE was to shut it down and play Nine Pins with a couple of prominent heads. And since SOE had nothing in the pipeline, it fills a need for them, too.

As for consolidation by NCSoft, SOE, et al: Maybe in the West, where it is now very expensive to develop and manage a game, thus raising the barriers to entry, but not in Asia and particularly not in China, where regulators will prevent it and labor is pretty cheap. The trend in the West for most industries is for a few companies to eventually end up controlling the majority of the market; it may well happen here with MMOs, too. There will always be niche products, Shastas to the Cokes and Pepsis, but the guys with the money and expertise will own most of the subscribers.

I really don't see anything to get excited about here. Nothing substantial has changed, there has been no paradigm shift: all that has happened is that one failed MMO that will likely never make back it's development and launch costs has been relegated to a virtual remainder bin in exchange for another, more valuable license.

Posted Jun 22, 2005 2:00:30 AM | link

Bruce Woodcock says:

According to what various sources have told me:

1. MxO has ~40,000 subscribers currently. Monolith is losing ~$1 million/month on it. Now, assuming Monolith gets all of that money, they're grossing $600K/month. Now, while I think it's okay to have a business plan that plans on 100,000 subscribers at launch to break-even, you have to be prepared when you only get 40,000. They either weren't, or decided that SOE's offer was a better bet. Also, if they had 80 employees working on the game, that means their costs are $240K/year per employee for MxO. I dunno about where you work, but that seems a bit steep to me.

2. SOE operates 2 other games in the same subscriber range; PlanetSide and EverQuest: Online Adventures. Given that they'll have economies of scale, I expect they'll have no trouble keeping MxO operating for now, but the issue on the horizon may be what to do in a year or so if the game falls to, say, 20,000 subscribers.

3. With SOE seemingly planning to have every game in its Pantheon as part of the all-access pass, I would expect to see Turbine and NCSoft roll out similar programs before the end of the year.

4. I hear the Marvel superhero MMOG is now in the hands of Sigil.

Bruce

Posted Jun 22, 2005 2:36:05 AM | link

WorldMaker says:

May I just say RIP for Monolith's MMO division. From some of the comments here they were obviously underappreciated. Sure they were using the "over-milked" Matrix license, but they were trying much more original things, IMNSHO, than Blizzard was (another Fantasy MMO, blah, how original). I think it just further goes to show that original right now isn't garaunteeing players (or playability, for that matter), and I think that effect will continue to have dire consequences for future originality...

Posted Jun 22, 2005 6:26:13 AM | link

Mark Wallace says:

monkeysan > I'm a firm believer that the decline in technology costs and the rise of affordable world building tools will do for virtual worlds what technology is already doing for print and film.

Yes. This is the key here, it seems to me, tools, not corporate money. As soon as you can create a workable, decent-looking MMO for some 5-figure sum that you can fit on your fistful of credit cards, it's going to be a different industry. And that point's going to come probably within the next five years, ten at the most, judging from some of the open-source tools that are already starting to appear.

It's not that huge corporations will no longer have any power. But as soon as an "indie" MMO hits it big, they will be forced to put their ears to the ground in a way that they don't need to do now. And you don't even have to draw the Hollywood parallel on this, it's already happening in gaming: the FPS market was altered (not radically, but significantly) by Counter-Strike, a player mod that has become the most popular online action game in the world. There's no reason the same thing shouldn't happen with MMOs.

Posted Jun 22, 2005 7:25:33 AM | link

Bruce Woodcock says:

While it is true MxO certainly had its share of buggy gameplay, I can't say it was any worse than, say, Star Wars Galaxies at launch. I don't think there can be any doubt that the franchise was hurt by the 2nd and 3rd movies, and the 1st bad Enter the Matrix video game. If MxO had come out before the 2nd movie, I think it would have gotten a lot more interest.

Bruce

Posted Jun 22, 2005 7:31:47 AM | link

splok says:

Jessica> Does anybody disagree that, pure and simple, SOE bought out MxO to get access to the DC license?

While it may have been a substantial factor (maybe even the only factor, /shrug), I think that it could have been a good move for SOE regardless, depending on how much it cost them. The press release gave me the impression Warner Bros. actually initiated the transfer because of Monolith's poor performance, making me think that SOE didn't exactly have to pay top dollar. Getting 40k+ subscribers on the cheap beats the hell out of doing it the old fashioned way.

Posted Jun 22, 2005 10:36:36 AM | link

splok says:

Actually, I think that we'll be seeing both the scale of the high end games increase dramatically and the scale at which these games can be developed profitably reduced dramatically. I can imagine there being a great number of games competing for a very small percentage of the market while the big players take more and more of it. Of course, the big players in the industry will also serve to grow the market, actually feeding the smaller developers to some extent. However, I think that it won't be long before developers are dropping hundreds of millions of dollars on single titles, and in that type of environment, it's going to be exceedingly difficult for indie developers to "hit it big."

Posted Jun 22, 2005 10:52:26 AM | link

Flatfingers says:

Jessica> since SOE had nothing in the pipeline

I saw recently that SOE President John Smedley gave an interview to CNN Money in which he mentioned that SOE is developing a new action-based online game to debut at E3 '06. (He also makes some brief but interesting comments on licensing and in-game cross-marketing.)

If you just meant games specific to the comics genre, then this doesn't apply.

> it won't be long before developers are dropping hundreds of millions of dollars on single titles, and in that type of environment, it's going to be exceedingly difficult for indie developers to "hit it big."

This is why I keep harping on the importance of access to the client.

It doesn't matter how great your indie game is if you can't get individual people to play it. That requires two things:

1. Delivery -- people have to be able to get to the content easily
2. Visibility -- people have to know the game exists

Once the former of these is happening, the latter will be addressed in the form of clearinghouse web sites.

If either of these doesn't happen, or if the other necessary condition -- simple/powerful/inexpensive game creation systems -- never appears, then choice in games will continue to be dictated by the large established players.

(There's also the question of whether indie games that hit it big will be capable of scaling up to meet demand. Frequent problems of this type could sour the public on trying out "hot" new games.)

--Flatfingers

Posted Jun 22, 2005 11:29:40 AM | link

Samantha LeCraft says:

Mike said, And today, CNN noted in a story about Atari that '"The Matrix Online," published by Sega, has only sold 43,100 copies since its launch in late March, according to The NPD Group.'

And Bruce said, According to what various sources have told me... MxO has ~40,000 subscribers currently.

Really? So 92.8% of the people who bought MxO still have active subscriptions? That's quite the acceptance rate! A game that turns 92.8% of people who buy the box into subscribers must have pretty good gameplay. I guess everyone I know who bought the box but have since cancelled their accounts are in the 7.2% minority. Weird.

Seriously though, with 43,100 copies sold, and from what friends tell me about it and what I've read online, I would guess that they had 25,000 to 30,000 subscribers at the most, before the Sony announcement, and even that's being a bit generous, I think. I can't imagine that the Sony announcement has been good for their subscription numbers (at least not yet; I do think it will help in the long run though, especially if Sony adds MxO to the Station Pass), since I know the Live Events team over at Monolith was what kept a lot of people playing.

Of course, MxO was still in those first terrible six months, when your subscriber numbers are inflated, you haven't yet hit the break even point, and everything is breaking. It's difficult to say how it would have done in the long run in Monolith's hands, but it sounds like Warner Brothers may have stepped in and made that decision for them.

Posted Jun 22, 2005 11:42:28 AM | link

Jessica Mulligan says:

>>
Jessica> since SOE had nothing in the pipeline

I saw recently that SOE President John Smedley gave an interview to CNN Money in which he mentioned that SOE is developing a new action-based online game to debut at E3 '06. (He also makes some brief but interesting comments on licensing and in-game cross-marketing.)
>>

I missed that one, thanks.

I have no doubt they are exploring one, but this sounds as much like keeping analysts happy as an actual, working project. I have plenty of friends at SOE and haven't heard a mention of it. Then again, I didn't ask, :D. They could well be working on such a design.

Assuming they have started on such a game, a debut is not a launch. If they planned to launch in '06, they'd be making plans to do open testing right now and would already be hyping it.

To me, this looks more like happy-happy PR ("Yes, we are still developing! Honest!") than something that is real enough to be talking about, much less showing. Mid-'07 at the earliest, is my guess. That's a long pipeline, in this industry.

Posted Jun 22, 2005 1:06:44 PM | link

Scott says:

I suspect we're still seeing the effects of companies dancing around the smoking craters that are Blizzard's 2 million subscribers stomping holes into the marketplace. We definitely live in interesting times. I feel for anyone wanting to try to get financing for an MMG in the next two years. "What do you mean, you only plan to get 50,000 subscribers? World of Warcraft has 4 billion!"

Posted Jun 22, 2005 5:00:27 PM | link

Aryoch says:

> Mike Rozak wrote:
>
> As far as your hopes for bypassing the shelf...
> I'm not too excited about that. EQII uses 2 DVDs
> (I think) for all its artwork. This is too much
> for most people to download with today's internet
> speed. In 2 years, the average internet speed might
> double (IF Jessica Mulligan's comments about
> limitations of cable-modems proves to be false),
> but so will the amount of data required for a top-
> of-the-line MMORPG. Small MMORPGS will bypass the shelf.
>
> Then again, my predictions tend to be a bit glum.

Considering the fact that the majority of WoW's 2 million customers are willing to endure the 1-2 (or more) day download for PATCHES over Blizzard's unforgivable, disgusting, lazy, pathetic "torrent" system indicates to me that gamers have no qualms about a long download.

Bypassing the store is vital to the entire PC platform, not just MMOs.

Gamespot just bought Electronics Boutique which effectively narrows down the number of major brick and mortal game retailers to 1.

That's crap.

Furthermore, have you been to a Gamespot or an EB lately? Most likely the PC section is tucked into a tiny corner. I start to wonder how long it will be before you have to go into a back room to see PC games- as if they were porn in a video store.

The brick and mortar stores are NOT supporting the PC platform. PC gaming needs to exploit its strength (vastly superior online connectivity) to distribute games. This will lower costs, increase competitiveness against console games, and provide enormous benefits to the smaller game companies. Not coincidentally, it would be a huge boon to the customer as well.

Posted Jun 22, 2005 5:10:22 PM | link

Aryoch says:

ugh. brick and MORTAR

To TerraNova Gods: edit function please!!!!! :)

Posted Jun 22, 2005 5:11:29 PM | link

Aryoch says:

> WorldMaker wrote:
>
> they were trying much more original things,
> IMNSHO, than Blizzard was (another Fantasy MMO,
> blah, how original).

I want to start taking issue with comments like the above before they go unchecked so long they suddenly become accepted as dogma.

There is absolutely nothing unoriginal about making a fantasy MMO. Period.

The incredible over-emphasis on genre when deciding if a game is original or not is dangerous and unhealthy for the evolution of this market.

What good does it really do a customer to swap longswords for energy swords, bows for laser rifles, and elves for Klingons? Nothing. That is at best a momentary glimmer of difference that fades out QUICKLY once the player gets into the actual game.

Originality comes from gameplay, features, story (if it is a game that has one), and other far more substantive game elements.

The genre is the backdrop. It is important, but do not give it more importance than it deserves.

Is it unoriginal when someone writes a mystery novel? Or a fantasy novel? Or a sci-fi novel? Does the mere fact that someone wrote a book or made a movie of a certain genre instantly make that book unoriginal?

Of course not.

So please, let us stop instantly labeling something "unoriginal" just because of the genre.

If it is Yet Another Everquest Clone for more important reasons (pure hack-slash-gather loot-repeat gameplay) then fine, label it as such.

A game set in the year 47,962 where all the races breathe sulfur and live on a planet of molten rock is not original if the whole point of the game is still kill mobs, gain levels, improve your loot.

The genre itself is never what makes a game original or unoriginal. It is the gameplay that determines originality.

Posted Jun 22, 2005 5:17:24 PM | link

Mike Rozak says:

Aryoch wrote - Furthermore, have you been to a Gamespot or an EB lately? Most likely the PC section is tucked into a tiny corner. I start to wonder how long it will be before you have to go into a back room to see PC games- as if they were porn in a video store.

The brick and mortar stores are NOT supporting the PC platform. PC gaming needs to exploit its strength (vastly superior online connectivity) to distribute games. This will lower costs, increase competitiveness against console games, and provide enormous benefits to the smaller game companies. Not coincidentally, it would be a huge boon to the customer as well.

Some thoughts:

1) XBox and XBox 360 are PCs, just in a different guise... With a bit of work, the same game can be compiled for either the PC or the XBox, as Oblivion is doing. The biggest problems being the lack of keyboard, smaller HD than a PC, the low resolution (fixed by the 360), and the fact that Microsoft is the only ISP. Impotantly, player demographics are different.

I suspect the XBox development kit is fairly pricey too, so small companies are unlikely to develop for XBox. This doesn't matter much since XBox is solely for retail distribution (not download), and small companies won't be able to get into the retail channel anyway.


2) Out of the small amount of shelf space that EB allocates for PC games, only 3-4 titles are given to MMORPGs. I agree about utilizing internet downloads, although many MMORPGs will be too large to download (too long a download for the players and/or the download bandwidth costs to high for the company); they may provide a demo download (< 1 GB), followed by a DVD in the mail.

Posted Jun 22, 2005 7:06:00 PM | link

Mike Rozak says:

Mark Wallace wrote - Yes. This is the key here, it seems to me, tools, not corporate money. As soon as you can create a workable, decent-looking MMO for some 5-figure sum that you can fit on your fistful of credit cards, it's going to be a different industry.

Thought experiment time...

Poof! You have all of Turbine's tools. (Or SOE's tools if you wish.)

You still can't produce a decent looking MMORPG for a fistful of credit cards; or rather, you can, but it will only take players about an hour to get through all your content. Programming (tools, client, server code) is only a fraction of a MMORPG's cost. Most of it is the content (such as 3D models, textures, animations, sounds, voice recordings, NPCs, and quests). Don't forget about marketing (also sizable), money to buy hundreds of servers, pay for product support, etc.

The text-vs-graphics debate (in a previous topic) is important because a text virtual world can be produced with a fistful of credit cards. Unforuntately, a text VW has about 1/1000th the players a graphical VW does. (The big text VWs have around 500-1000 simultaneous players. A big graphical VW has 500K-1M simultaneous players.)

Posted Jun 22, 2005 7:21:35 PM | link

Indy says:

Best Buy seems to have a reasonable PC game selection - I was in there the other day to take advantage of a mailed coupon, and I recall seeing not just WoW, EQ (probably new and old, don't recall specifically), SWG; but also a preorder for an Asheron's call expansion (I think it was), City of Heroes (which I bought, why I was there), and even boxes for Matrix Online; might have been more MMO's that didn't catch my eye, but that still sounds better than your EB, Mike.

But yes, I agree downloads are likely to become important. A demo download/mailed box would be pretty successful, I think. Certainly I've bought single-player games because of playing a d/l'd demo.

Posted Jun 22, 2005 7:39:52 PM | link

Bruce Woodcock says:

>Really? So 92.8% of the people who bought MxO
>still have active subscriptions? That's quite
>the acceptance rate! A game that turns 92.8% of
>people who buy the box into subscribers must
>have pretty good gameplay. I guess everyone I
>know who bought the box but have since cancelled
>their accounts are in the 7.2% minority. Weird.

Form what I was also told, subscriptions peaked at about 48K. You have to remember that people with pre-order beta keys could still play until mid-April at least, and you have thousands of other free or comped accounts. So the actual number of paid accounts is less than 40K; still, even if it's 30K that's still a pretty good conversion rate for what was perceived to be a so-so MMOG. Anyway, you'd have to factor that into my previous math, so perhaps they were actually only targeting 90K or so paying subscribers. I can't really account for the discrepancy beyond that except that perhaps NPD's figures were simply not up-to-date.

Bruce

Posted Jun 22, 2005 8:23:08 PM | link

Aryoch says:

> Mike Rozak wrote
>
> The big text VWs have around 500-1000
> simultaneous players. A big graphical VW has
> 500K-1M simultaneous players.)

I think this is off by a great deal, a big graphical MMO has 200k+ total players and about 20,000-30,000 simultaneous players.

WoW is the juggernaut, not the average.

Also, WoW has about 100,000 simultaneous users, not 500,000-1M. If WoW had 1M simultaneous players you'd NEVER be able to get anything out of your mailbox (you barely can now as it is!).

> Poof! You have all of Turbine's tools.
> (Or SOE's tools if you wish.)
>
> You still can't produce a decent looking MMORPG
> for a fistful of credit cards; or rather, you can,
> but it will only take players about an hour to get
> through all your content. Programming (tools, client,
> server code) is only a fraction of a MMORPG's cost.
> Most of it is the content (such as 3D models,
> textures, animations, sounds, voice recordings,
> NPCs, and quests). Don't forget about marketing (also
> sizable), money to buy hundreds of servers, pay for
> product support, etc.

I don't agree. From what I have seen in most MMOs, there really is not much variety in content as far as models, animation, sound, etc. What I actually see is an enormous amount of resizing, color palette shifting, and other recycling of content.

For example, if you run around WoW, you will actually notice that a lot of the huge vegetation is nothing more than liferoot, briarthorn, and other herb types dramatically sized up.

You only need as many servers, as much bandwidth, and as much support as you have players. Thus, the more you need, the more players you must have, and thus the more income you have to support it.

Advertising is really the only other huge expense beyond all the base engine and programming and management tools. You can certainly get very far with only a few thousand dollars invested into advertising (by a few I mean $10-20 or so). That is certainly possible via the credit cards (or small investors, or saved profits from a smaller project) being suggested.

The biggest barrier to entry for smaller companies right now is the engine and the programming tools needed to create content and manage the game (and to manage accounts/billing).

When those become more widely available, and I think they will in the next 5 years, it will be a lot easier for smaller companies to make successful graphical MMOs.

Until then, the smaller companies will stick with text games. Believe it or not, there are actually a decent handful of very successful companies who make commercial text games. They may not make $200 million a year, but they have a fraction of the overhead, far less employees, and huge portions of their profits are not siphoned off to investors, stockholders, and executives in other parts of parent companies. The actual PEOPLE who make thoes games often make as much or more than many of the people working on and making graphical MMOs. It is also quite easy for these companies to sock away funds for later projects.

Posted Jun 22, 2005 8:34:57 PM | link

Jessica Mulligan says:

Aryoch wrote:

>>I don't agree. From what I have seen in most MMOs, there really is not much variety in content as far as models, animation, sound, etc. What I actually see is an enormous amount of resizing, color palette shifting, and other recycling of content.>>

Allow me to disagree with the concept, :D.

What is missing from your objection is the time element and skill set side of the equation. Most MMOs reuse art, especially for terrain. Still, the total number of art pieces required for what you may perceive as "an enormous amount of resizing, color palette shifting..." et al, can be and usually is massive. Even moderately-sized games will have thousands of textures and thousands of models. That all takes time. Just creating and animating one avatar model of one race can take a man-year. Taking a pre-made avatar model and playing around with it can easily take man-weeks or months. This doesn't count the time to lay out the world, populate it, construct, test, balance and retest missions and quests and classes...

When you add it all up, a graphic MMO is a huge endeavor and sweat equity only goes so far. The differences between text and graphics games make them different markets with different needs. The creative element alone is a huge divide; as someone who who has developed both text and graphic online games, I can testify to that. Finding a person who can write and implement an interesting text description for opening a door in about a minute is far easier to manage than finding the modeller, texture artist, animator and world-builder/designer needed to implement the same task in a tool set and which will probably take at least three days, assuming most of the pieces were pre-built.

Even given the proper tools at low cost, I rather suspect we'll see fewer niche graphical MMOs than we have with the primogenative text ones, for the reasons explained above (and more, but this is getting too long). And this assumes we'll ever see such tools at low cost. We certainly won't see that soon; the lowest cost for the proper tools that I have seen is $500,000 plus a royalty. That'll probably come down in the next 5 or 10 years, but what we'll see offered is out-of-date tools that have already run their course.

I wish things were different, because I believe the evidence supports that innovation begins at small shops working with passion and sweat equity. The MMO sector is so different than the one that bred us id Software and Blizzard, however, that I don't see it happening here, certainly not to the extent of text MMOs, which are a relative handful and arguably aren't innovating.

Posted Jun 23, 2005 1:34:47 AM | link

magicback says:

Given what Jessica has commented, I think we need to focus more on open source, or at least affordable, middleware; something that can be taught in universities, used in research and education, and utilized for commercial MMOs.

I think we’ll start seeing usable tools from the likes of China and Eastern Europe in the next 3 years. Look, operators can license whole MMOs for $500k + royalties already. They’re not cutting edge, but will perform as well as WoW.

As for game assets, we can expand on Will Wright’s development on procedural programming of objects and AI. A kit could be developed to provide rapid development of game assets. We’ll get kits like Speed Tree that we can use genetic algorithmic processes to generate vast variety of assets.

So, yeah, I do believe we can field a mid-level offering that doesn’t cost a lot to develop and get steady 50k player base. Hey, look at Neopets or even Eve-Online.

Frank

Posted Jun 23, 2005 3:43:41 AM | link

Aryoch says:

> Jessica Mulligan wrote:
>
> When you add it all up, a graphic MMO is a
> huge endeavor and sweat equity only goes so
> far. The differences between text and graphics
> games make them different markets with
> different needs. The creative element alone
> is a huge divide; as someone who who has
> developed both text and graphic online games,
> I can testify to that. Finding a person who can
> write and implement an interesting text
> description for opening a door in about a minute
> is far easier to manage than finding the modeller,
> texture artist, animator and world-builder/designer
> needed to implement the same task in a tool set and
> which will probably take at least three days, assuming
> most of the pieces were pre-built.

This cuts both ways. In a graphical game, people don't freak out if the entire length of a road looks the same. The road looks as it should. If they are in a pine forest, they do not mind if most of the pine trees look pretty similar. In real life this is even the case.

But in a text game, even if someone walks through 20 rooms of a major road, they want a different description in each room. When they wander around a forest, they want a different description each time.

The models take longer to make, but they are incredibly more reuseable. In a text game, recycled descriptions are far less tolerated.

Also, I was not trying to make light of the amount of time and effort that goes into creating the models, textures, animations, etc. in a graphical MMO. I just wanted to make sure people understand that there is an ENORMOUS amount of recycling going on in a graphical game.

Part of why I think smaller company MMOs will be more feasible in 5+ years is not just because there will be affordable (or open source) graphics engines and tools for programming. There will also be better tools for creating these same animations, textures, etc. Just look how far we've come in the last 5-10 years in that regard.

Once there are enough free or cheap tools available, small companies will be able to make graphical MMOs that are commercially viable.


> Even given the proper tools at low cost, I rather
> suspect we'll see fewer niche graphical MMOs than
> we have with the primogenative text ones, for the
> reasons explained above.

It always seems this way when you are in the middle of the time period where there are no tools or resources available.

10 years ago getting 10-100 megs of server space on a university computer somewhere was great for hosting a text game. The idea of owning your own server was practically a pipe dream. Now having your own server can run you as little as $25-50 a month.

What seems impossible and outrageous now will become trivial in 5-10 years.

> And this assumes we'll ever see such tools at low
> cost. We certainly won't see that soon; the lowest
> cost for the proper tools that I have seen is $500,000
> plus a royalty. That'll probably come down in the next
> 5 or 10 years, but what we'll see offered is out-of-date
> tools that have already run their course.

I think many of those tools will eventually be duplicated by open source tools or something of that nature.

There are a number of very promising open source projects already that are working on tools for animation, texture modeling, and other graphical rendering tasks. In 5-10 years those will be excellent.

I am not an open source zealot, but tools and core applications seem to be the types of things open source software is best suited towards.


> The MMO sector is so different than the one that
> bred us id Software and Blizzard, however, that I
> don't see it happening here, certainly not to the
> extent of text MMOs, which are a relative handful
> and arguably aren't innovating.

It is different, but many of those differences make it EASIER for a small company to succeed.

So many of the costs of an MMO scale based on the number of users that it really helps a smaller company design for a smaller userbase.

When you make a non-MMO, you are almost completely stuck with brick and mortar stores if you want to sell enough units to turn a profit. Also, after release, you really only have a few weeks (months at most) where your game could be realistically available for purchase. Smaller companies depend more on word of mouth, and by the time word of mouth starts to spread, your game is off the shelves or considered "old."

It is far easier and more logical to distribute an MMO totally online. All you need right off the bat are enough customers to move towards breaking even, then you start paying off the investment, then you move into profit. If you don't have stockholders breathing down your neck about the next quarterly report, you have time to be patient. Again, post-release, your costs scale with the number of users, so you don't need 100,000 users in the first month to stay alive.

Furthermore, MMOs have shown that communities build up around them much more easily. In the months before release, it is a lot easier to build up a community of fans and early adopters for an MMO than for a traditional PC game. This is an important way that even small developers can ensure a decent sized group of initial adopters who also get their friends to play.

I have rambled a bit (it is 5:32 am and I should have been in bed long ago), but the overall point I am making is this:

The evolution of graphical MMOs is very similar to the way text MUDs evolved. Remember that the first big text MUDs were commercial too (running on Genie and such).

At first, the costs were outrageously prohibitive for smaller groups of people to make such games. On top of that, infrastructure costs were astronomnical. A T1 was thousands of dollars per month and a switch was tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Then things like DIKU and LP came along and suddenly anyone could make a game. Most of them sucked, but many of them were excellent. Some moved on to make their own games using the things they learned from these code bases. Now, many of the text engine creators made the terrible mistake of not open sourcing their stuff, which really crippled the evolution of text games, but that is another issue entirely. Open source wasn't really a movement then like it is now.

So all that is needed are a set of cheap or free engines and tools that are similar to the appearance of DIKU and LP. Once that happens, the possibilities are enormous for smaller operations to make excellent graphical MMOs.

Posted Jun 23, 2005 4:37:33 AM | link

Scott says:

> So all that is needed are a set of cheap or free
> engines and tools that are similar to the appearance
> of DIKU and LP. Once that happens, the possibilities
> are enormous for smaller operations to make excellent
> graphical MMOs.

Until they try to run without enough network capacity and with little to no customer support. Whoops!

MMOs are far more than just "stuff".

Posted Jun 23, 2005 8:08:46 AM | link

Bruce Woodcock says:

Still, Jessica, Mike, etc. are all right when they say there's a lot of cost involved in making a AAA MMOG. And a lot of that isn't spent on fancy design work; design takes time, and can't really be improved by throwing more designers at the problem. But content generation, artwork, etc. that can all be increased by throwing more money and more artists/content people at it. Why do you think one of Will Wright's motivations on Spore was to explore procedural content? It's not just because it's cool, but because it could save a lot of money in production costs.

Still, it's interesting to see what you can do these days on a budget. Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates, A Tale in the Desert, and Irth Online were all developed for less than $1 million each. So it can be done, if your expectations are sized apropriately.

I think where botique-style MMOGs come in isn't some much that you have studios with limited budgets, but that there will be market genre niches that simply aren't going to be very popular. Are there 100,000 people who would subscribe to a train-simulator MMOG? Probably not. But you could still spend $20 million to try to develop it, with awesome graphics and loads of content, and yet it would still not get 2 million subscribers like WoW. So these are the types of games that will have to have limited budgets, because their potential market audience is much smaller.

Bruce

Posted Jun 23, 2005 9:08:05 AM | link

Glazius says:

>Really? So 92.8% of the people who bought MxO
>still have active subscriptions? That's quite
>the acceptance rate! A game that turns 92.8% of
>people who buy the box into subscribers must
>have pretty good gameplay.

Or it could make you spend five bucks on an international phone call to cancel your subscription.

--GF

Posted Jun 23, 2005 9:41:10 AM | link

Jeff S says:

> Mike Rozak wrote
>
> The big text VWs have around 500-1000
> simultaneous players. A big graphical VW has
> 500K-1M simultaneous players.)
>
>I think this is off by a great deal, a big >graphical MMO has 200k+ total players and about >20,000-30,000 simultaneous players.
>
>WoW is the juggernaut, not the average.
>
>Also, WoW has about 100,000 simultaneous users, >not 500,000-1M. If WoW had 1M simultaneous >players you'd NEVER be able to get anything out >of your mailbox (you barely can now as it is!).

I'm sure Mike was referring to peak concurrency, as WoW has seen 500k-1mil concurrent users worldwide (combining peak user totals for each market, during each markets prime time)

Posted Jun 23, 2005 10:58:34 AM | link

galiel says:

> And this assumes we'll ever see such tools at low
> cost. We certainly won't see that soon; the lowest
> cost for the proper tools that I have seen is $500,000
> plus a royalty. That'll probably come down in the next
> 5 or 10 years, but what we'll see offered is out-of-date
> tools that have already run their course.

I think many of those tools will eventually be duplicated by open source tools or something of that nature.

There are a number of very promising open source projects already that are working on tools for animation, texture modeling, and other graphical rendering tasks. In 5-10 years those will be excellent.

In fact, within 5 years, most of the non-human cost barriers to entry into VW -building will have gone away.

At the moment, it is as if you had to reinvent the camera, build your own projector, and kludge together your own editing tools every time you wanted to make a movie (Or pay a usurous licensing fee for someone else's custom-made camera, which only works with their custom film, which only plays in their custom projector, etc).

With the recent release of Sony's pro-level 3-CCD 1080i VHD videocam, the Z1U, which retails for under $4,000(!), along with online promotion and distribution (including such new developments as bittorrent-based distributed video-delivery tools that don't require massive publisher bandwidth, like the open-source Broadcast Machine from the Participatory Culture Foundation), and a television in every home (increasingly with "home-theater" features such as surround-sound and large-screen HD and net connectivity allowing direct download), the barriers to making commercial-grade independent movies and getting them to an audience are no longer equipment, capital and top-down infrastructure--they are creativity and talent and human resources. Even before the latest developments, movie-creation had already expanded from the realm of Hollywood-studios-only to the realm of independent, venture-funded movies with a hundreth of the budget. Now, it is moving to the realm of a thousandth-of-a-budget, brilliant-artiste-in-a-garage--just as music composition, recording, editing and distributing already has.

(Having lived through the digital music transition as a composer and performer, I remember the days not long ago when the idea that a single, talented individual with a PC would be able to cut a professional-grade album (let alone find an audience and distribute the music internationally) seemed hopelessly naive. We have already migrated into the thousandth of a budget range compared to 15 years ago, and costs keep dropping precipitously).

Anyone who still thinks VWs will, in the forseeable future, only be made by big studio-publishers with multi-million-dollar budgets and multi-million-dollar annual support costs is just ignoring history.

Of course, making and supporting VWs will not be a pocket-change endeavor any time soon, and the cost of creative talent is not (and should not be) replaced by free tools. Independent films are not free to make well, either, but there is a hell of a big difference between a $100k budget and a $100mil budget--and some decent ones starting to be made for $10-15k...

There is no inherent reason why world-building-and-supporting costs could not be reduced by an order of magnitude fairly quickly, by developing free or nearly-free, professional-grade, largely open source tools, to replace all the expensive, custom, proprietary, corporate-hoarded world-development and -management ones, and by replacing expensive (machine and bandwidth-wise) server-farms with serverless distributed network architecture.

(Not to mention clever community design and social architecture designed to incorporate players as collaborative content creators and community supporters, rather than as antagonists and "the untrusted enemy", thus dramatically lowering both creative and administrative costs, which is possible today, requiring "merely" a shift in mindset and intention).

All of which may allow creators to focus on the content and the meaning, rather than on grinding new camera lenses every time.

Posted Jun 23, 2005 11:32:36 AM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Aryoch wrote:

As with pretty much every other aspect of MMO evolution, I think MMOs will mimic the way MUDs evolved.

God I hope not! That would mean exactly two companies with any real level of commercial success (ie the ability to do more than just fund a lifestyle for 1 or 2 developers), which is the current state of things in text MMOs.

--matt

Posted Jun 23, 2005 11:33:16 AM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Bruce Woodcock wrote:

Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates, A Tale in the Desert, and Irth Online were all developed for less than $1 million each.

Definitely, and it doesn't take a million either. We developed our latest MMO, Lusternia (which does better than ATitD) for under $100k.

--matt

Posted Jun 23, 2005 11:34:52 AM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Meant to add this into my last post. While our MMOs, Puzzle Pirates, etc are all successful for their size, you're missing the real success stories for MMOs developed on small budgets: Habbo Hotel (started by 2 kids in a basement) and Runescape (started by 3 guys). Habbo will do nearly $40 million in revenue this year and Runescape will do nearly $20 million.

--matt

Posted Jun 23, 2005 11:38:35 AM | link

galiel says:

Just to clarify---big-studios will still crank out big-budget productions, for a while at least (until they can no longer cover the costs of fifty clunkers with one big-budget hit). But there will soon be the possibility of small independents creating small-budget gems. That is what technology will afford.

For every expensive, bombastic Michael Bay piece of crap, there can be an intimate, Stanley Tucci Big Night masterpiece. That's what is missing in the VW arena, and that is what affordable, accessible open source tools will make possible.

And, incidentally, that is what will open up the markets to the 90% who could technically run these worlds, but who wouldn't be caught dead in the current crop of them.

Posted Jun 23, 2005 11:50:41 AM | link

Samantha LeCraft says:

A bit more WoW related news:

Shane Dabiri, Lead Producer for WoW, reports on the WoW message boards that they currently have 450 realms worldwide and 550 GMs worldwide. Additionally, the recent press release (linked at the top of this topic, and also found here) noted:

Anticipation for World of Warcraft was already at an all-time high in China, with peak concurrency during the open beta test topping 500,000 players, nearly equal to World of Warcraft's peak concurrency in all three current markets combined.
From that, it sounds like WoW has had at least 1 million players peak concurrency across the world (500k in China plus at least 500k in the established markets). And that was during the China open beta, so those numbers may grow over the next few months. Of course, with 450 servers, if the population was evenly distributed (which I'm sure it's not, since some servers are newer than others), that would only be ~2220 players peak concurrency per server.

Posted Jun 23, 2005 1:11:07 PM | link

Aryoch says:

> Scott wrote:
>
> Until they try to run without enough network
> capacity and with little to no customer support. Whoops!
>
> MMOs are far more than just "stuff".

Scott, please follow the discussion or get out of the game.

Network capacity is cheap and getting cheaper. Further, just as with customer support, your needs (and costs) scale up directly with the number of users. The more you need, the more money you must have coming in.

Furthermore, considering how utterly terrible support is in all the current graphical MMOs, I actually hope and believe the smaller MMOs will provide BETTER support. That will be one of the ways they differentiate themselves.

> Bruce Woodcock wrote:
>
> Why do you think one of Will Wright's motivations
> on Spore was to explore procedural content? It's not
> just because it's cool, but because it could save a
> lot of money in production costs.

Excellent point. There is already a lot more public domain sound effects and other multimedia "drop ins" than there have ever been. This will increase at the same time more tools become available.

> Bruce Woodcock wrote:
>
> I think where botique-style MMOGs come in isn't
> some much that you have studios with limited budgets,
> but that there will be market genre niches that
> simply aren't going to be very popular.

Another great point, and this is one of the big reasons small companies WILL be able to thrive. They will produce a lot of games that the huge guys aren't interested in.

Things like politics, role playing, an actively policed game world, etc. are all things that are VERY valuable to large chunks of people (though not as large chunks as WoW's 2 million). These people will happily pay for a game that gives them what they want- even if that game only has 10,000 - 100,000 subscribers.


> galiel wrote:
>
> In fact, within 5 years, most of the non-human cost
> barriers to entry into VW -building will have gone away.

I usually estimate 5-10 years for fear that 5 years is too optimistic.

> galiel wrote:
>
> Anyone who still thinks VWs will, in the forseeable
> future, only be made by big studio-publishers with
> multi-million-dollar budgets and multi-million-dollar
> annual support costs is just ignoring history.

Precisely.


>>> Aryoch wrote:
>>>
>>> As with pretty much every other aspect of MMO evolution,
>>> I think MMOs will mimic the way MUDs evolved.
>
> Matt wrote:
>
> God I hope not! That would mean exactly two companies
> with any real level of commercial success (ie the ability
> to do more than just fund a lifestyle for 1 or 2 developers),
> which is the current state of things in text MMOs.

Well, I think there are a few more companies than that which are bigger than that.

The fatal flaw in commercial MUD evolution was the fact that it pre-dated the open source movement, and therefore engines and mudlibs had foolishly restrictive licenses. This prevented MUDs from having the commercial revolution they could easily have had.

But the rest of the pattern is something that I believe WILL happen. Publicly available engines and design tools will reduce the cost to create a graphical MMO a hundred fold (or more).

> Samantha LeCraft wrote:
>
> Shane Dabiri, Lead Producer for WoW, reports on the
> WoW message boards that they currently have 450 realms
> worldwide and 550 GMs worldwide.

Good lord. 1.2 GMs per server? No wonder their support is atrocious.

And people actually try to use "support" as an example of something small companies won't be able to match from the big boys?

That is a model to mock, not emulate.

Posted Jun 23, 2005 1:58:44 PM | link

Aradune Mithara says:

I think the MMOG market will relatively quickly evolve into one such that there are 'enough' choices in both style/them and then also game play to satisfy gamers. Not enough choices, and mmog fans are virtually forced to play the game they hate the least, as opposed to like the most. Too many tiny niche games, however, and the average MMOG gamer doesn't get the quality, polish, and amount of compelling content he needs.

So while I don't know what 'enough' is, I think it will naturally normalize. And then how popular MMOGs are in terms of subscribers will vary less so, and to the degree one choice amonst the many just happens to be a little more appealing. But that number will also grow as the gamespace grows everyday, plus we'll also see massive growth at times when a sigificiant new group is suddenly made aware of MMOGs or somehow convinced an MMOG might be for them, where in the past they stayed away from online games. (A good example of this is what WoW is doing using not only a great game, but also the rep behind their company, an IP which as had RTS games made for it that sold millions, as well as previous knowhow in terms of getting their game throughout the world.

The budgets will normalize some too, and be what the market in general expects... certain expectations as to the quality and quantity of content are already being established (and raised), which then raises the bar, and MMOGs in general cost more to build.

I also don't see one or two big leaders, but also not a bunch of tiny companies either... sure, there will be small compaines with limited budgets trying to make these games, because they're passionate to do so. But still, to reach what most are looking for, they'll again have to have a degree of quality and quantity.

I don't have any real fear of there being only one or two uber games with millions of subscribers, leaving everyone else to eat scraps at the side of the table. And that's because there are enough differences in taste both for how the game plays and the setting or theme of the game such that one or two big ones, designed to be more 'mass market' will have to compromise and water down things to a point the market will find unacceptable. Entertainment in general, and games specifically, are simply that way.

Lastly, we're likely to see a continued mixture of both new IP combined with attempts to use existing and popular in other forms of entertainment IP. You'll keep seeing the first because it costs less up front and leaves the developer that much more freedom. You'll see the latter as companies try to cash in on successful IPs every way they can, including MMOGs. The problem, though, is not every great IP makes a great MMOG gameworld (though others most certainly do).

And I think we should hope for solid growth, not just in the market, but also within the genre and games. Some want paradigm shifts and despise MMOGs built on proven foundations, while others advocate evolution, not revolution. I think there will be opportunities for both, and as long as enough new crazy ideas actually work and turn into profitable MMOGs, then both can continue. Conversely, a few costly failures and experiments, and those who fund these ventures will insist on less risk and more building on what's worked before.

Personally, and I'll end with this... I was pretty conservative and advocating caution up until WoW hit 2 million and blew everyone's mind. Now, heck, Will Wright or Raph or someone,do something crazy! :)

Posted Jun 23, 2005 2:08:40 PM | link

Samantha LeCraft says:

Aryoch said, Good lord. 1.2 GMs per server? No wonder their support is atrocious.

Or roughly one GM per 3600 players (assuming 2M players at this point -- obviously it's higher now that they've launched in China), which actually isn't that bad. They're probably working on bringing more online, especially in China, to keep up with the growing player base and to keep call wait times low. I'm not the type that calls GMs all that often (having been one myself, it takes quite a lot for me to think it's worth bothering them), but in my experience, the WoW GM wait times aren't all that bad. It took a couple of hours for them to get back to me about my harassment call, and even though I'd logged out they sent me an email about the situation. Contrast that with my experience with SOE's GMs a few years back, when I paged on a Friday evening and got a message saying that all GM support had gone home for the weekend, but that they'd be back in on Monday morning. Three hours on a Saturday verses "We don't work during peak traffic times" is not what I'd call "atrocious". Not that I aspire to WoW's wait times, but let's try to keep it in perspective with other current MMOG standards.


Aradune Mithara said, Conversely, a few costly failures and experiments, and those who fund these ventures will insist on less risk and more building on what's worked before.

Between The Sims Online (Will Wright's attempt at doing something "crazy" in the MMOG space?) and the recent MxO news, I think we've already had some very public failures, which have led those who fund MMOG development to become more cautious. I have a hard time believing it's going to get easier to find funding in the next few years. Easier to build a lower cost MMOG, sure, but not easier to find the tens of millions in funding that will be needed, until we have better tools, to build a competitive MMOG. Throw in the consolidation we discussed earlier, and the odds of getting a non-Sony, non-NCSoft revolutionary MMOG off the ground get slimmer and slimmer.

Posted Jun 23, 2005 2:41:23 PM | link

Aryoch says:

> Samantha LeCraft wrote:
>
> Not that I aspire to WoW's wait times,
> but let's try to keep it in perspective > with other current MMOG standards.

The existence of even GREATER suckitude does not excuse still great suckitude.

I have had tickets in WoW go days or weeks before being answered, and the majority of tickets never get a response of any kind.

Sorry, 1 GM per 3600 customers and 1.2 per server is utterly outrageous. 3600 customers is $648,000 annually. They can't do better than 1 person to support that much income?!?!?!

When you're pulling down over $30 million a month you can and should do better than that.

Of course, we're talking about a game that cannot even get their mail system to work 8 months after release, and has about 8-12 hours of SCHEDULED downtime per week.

Before I pull us too far off topic, the point is this:

Current MMO support is absolutely horrendous. Thus, using "support" as an example of something the big boys provide that the little guys couldn't match is absolutely absurd. Support is one of the main areas where the big boys are at their worst.

Posted Jun 23, 2005 5:21:57 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Sorry, 1 GM per 3600 customers and 1.2 per server is utterly outrageous.

I wonder on what basis you say that. Do you have experience with running an online customer support organization? Do you know what the ratios of GMs to players is on other games?

Now, I do agree that MMOGs in general have a long way to go in terms of their customer service and ensuring a quality player experience. But ranting about (reasonable, IMO) customer service ratios is just kind of silly.

IMO, ensuring a solid player experience begins at design-time and continues through production. Addressing this issue by calling for more GMs for an already-released game is attacking only one symptom, not the underlying causes.

Posted Jun 23, 2005 5:36:20 PM | link

Aryoch says:

> I wonder on what basis you say that. Do
> you have experience with running an
> online customer support organization?

Over 10 years of experience.

> Addressing this issue by calling for
> more GMs for an already-released game
> is attacking only one symptom, not the
> underlying causes.

Very true, but remember the larger issue of this discussion. It was pointed out that "support", as provided by the current Big Graphical MMOs, was supposedly something small companies will not be able to match.

That's a crazy assertion. Current graphical MMO support is truly inexcuseable.

Posted Jun 23, 2005 6:14:38 PM | link

Karnov says:

Aryoch, which games have you provided customer support for? Outside of that, what game development experience do you have? I'm really curious, given your arguments.

Posted Jun 23, 2005 8:05:17 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

I'm interested as well, since your opinions are at variance with others', and, frankly, since you're posting from behind an anonymous handle.

The only organization that I know of that has been running commercial MMOGs (of the textual type) for over ten years is Simutronics. The next oldest is Meridian 59 -- I know who ran that CS organization, and it has changed hands and been offline in the past ten years.

Posted Jun 23, 2005 9:20:52 PM | link

Bruce Woodcock says:

I broke the story back in March that in China, The9 Interactive is contractually obligated to Blizzard to provide at least one game master for every 2000 concurrent users at all times. No one really cared, though. :)

http://forums.f13.net/index.php?topic=2524.0

Bruce

Posted Jun 23, 2005 10:55:02 PM | link

Aryoch says:

Karnov and Mike Sellers: I only started using a handle here about two months ago. There was a problem with some distasteful miscreants who run web searches constantly on my real name who found this site and were misusing my posts here. Also, I feared if they continued to visit this site looking for my posts, they might eventually annoy everyone with their juvenile spew.

These marvellous individuals have done things in the past like find my neighborhood's web site, hack its crappy web server, and proceed to cuss out my neighbors while pretending to be me. Pleasant, eh?

I think most of us who have run games online long enough have had our share of annoying net stalkers.

There are a few people here who I am sure know who I am (matt probably more than anyone else). I'm not trying to be mysterious, I'm just trying to avoid the harassment.

> since your opinions are at variance with
> others'

Do you really think so? It appears that there are a lot of people who think that small companies have a lot to look forward to in the entire MMO marketplace. A lot of others seem to agree than in 5-10 years the available engines and tools for content creation that are free or cheap will make things much easier on the smaller guys.

I see a parallel between this and the way MUDs evolved. The difference is that when MUD technology became widely available, the internet itself wasn't very far along. Bandwidth and server space were outrageously expensive. Also, because there had not been an open source movement yet, most of the early MUD engine/driver/mudlib teams put restrictive licenses on their work.

But now, servers and bandwidth are cheap. Now we HAVE had an open source movement, and people are commonly developing tools and engines that are freely available.

Thus, when you look at the way MUDs evolved and compare that with the advancements in the internet and open source technology, things look pretty good for the next 5-10 years.


Posted Jun 23, 2005 11:26:17 PM | link

Jessica Mulligan says:

Aryoch wrote:

>>Thus, when you look at the way MUDs evolved and compare that with the advancements in the internet and open source technology, things look pretty good for the next 5-10 years.>>

I understand your passion; I just don't think you're thinking this through all the way.

If we use MUDs as the guideline, then in 5-10 years, such games (open source or not) are more likely to be irrelevant, because the industry will have moved so far past them that they'll be a foot-note to a history exam, as MUDs are today.

Bandwidth and server space haven't been 'outrageously expensive' for twelve years. In fact, you could run a commercial MUD at the credit card level in 1993; I know, because I was involved with a group that did so that year. On top of that, there was more than one game available for small license fees (original Tradewars, anyone? Swords and Sorcery?); you didn't even have to roll your own. The tools were there; you didn't have to use Pavel's work or other restricted licenses. Heck, Richard's MUD I code was floating around the Net for years and that was modifiable to a new game.

The plain fact of the matter is, if it were that easy to actually make and run one of these things, you'd have had hundreds or thousands of commercial, niche-level MUDs able to support themselves in the mid-1990s, before the launch of M59 in '96 and the kick-off of the third generation of online gaming.

We didn't; what we saw were merely iterations of the same few games hosted on the same few site platforms. There was the occasional flash of originality or financial success (Avalon, BatMUD, Legends -which Raph participated in)) but, for the most part, that period was decidedly unoriginal and didn't participate as a sector in the growth or evolution of the industry.

If you project that into the future, then, that is almost certainly what we'll see with tools you imagine: The same few graphic, open-source games running on multiple sites, with little originality or profitability. There will be one or two momentary success stories, but that will be about the extent of it.

On the good side of the equation, we will likely see a few people who train themselves on those tools and go on to become original thinkers and innovators in our industry. Richard (who helped start it all; you stole my youth, you bastard!) and Raph come to mind.

That might almost make it worth it.

Posted Jun 24, 2005 2:11:14 AM | link

Mike Rozak says:

Aryoch wrote - Now we HAVE had an open source movement, and people are commonly developing tools and engines that are freely available.

I am working on an amateur VW authoring toolkit. It will have 3D graphics, but it will present static images like Myst III's 360-degree surround images. (Combined with text-to-speech.) I'm not doing open source because (a) I'd like to make some money back, and (b) most open source projects never seem to get done. (Linux being the exception.) The price of a my server license will be very affordable.

I am all for procedural models and textures, and probably have more procedural-ness than any other graphical VW being constructed. However, procedural models/content only goes so far. (I started my procedural designs long before Spore made them trendy. I'm also into non-photorealistic rendering, which is just starting to become trendy.)

However, as soon as I add animation to my toolkit, the complexity/work for the author increases by a factor of 10. That's why I'm not including animation. I may add it in the future, but the animation code isn't the difficult part. It's all the work the author needs to do. (Open-source character models may alleviate the work somewhat, but not enough.)

I hope what you're talking about comes to pass in the next 5-10 years, but I don't see it. I can imagine EQ-II quality graphics in open-source projects at that point, just as UO graphics are commonly available in shareware CRPGs today. However, 5-10 years from now, EQ-V will still be far ahead in the visual arms-race. By that point, people will look at EQII-style graphics and say "Yuck!", just like they look at UO or Ogre Island and complain about the outdated graphics.

PS - I originally had written more details about why animation makes so much work, but took it out since it would put most people to sleep. I can post a long list if anyone wants it.

Posted Jun 24, 2005 2:24:01 AM | link

lewy says:

Mike Rozak wrote:

"I hope what you're talking about comes to pass in the next 5-10 years, but I don't see it. I can imagine EQ-II quality graphics in open-source projects at that point, just as UO graphics are commonly available in shareware CRPGs today. However, 5-10 years from now, EQ-V will still be far ahead in the visual arms-race. By that point, people will look at EQII-style graphics and say "Yuck!", just like they look at UO or Ogre Island and complain about the outdated graphics."

Exactly. It seems to me that it will be more likely that more small companies will license MMOG engines and drop in their own content/models than will try to make a go of it with open source tools.

One other thing: a bunch of part timers are never going to be able to create a game with the polish and craft that a bunch of full time professionals can.

Still, I'm somewhat optimistic about the prospect of MMOG's coming out of small companies. $40 million in revenue for the makers of Habbo Hotel? Outstanding.

Posted Jun 24, 2005 3:42:16 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Jessica Mulligan>if it were that easy to actually make and run one of these things, you'd have had hundreds or thousands of commercial, niche-level MUDs able to support themselves in the mid-1990s.

There were certainly thousands of MUDs, but very few were commercial. Cost of entry was so low that they could be run as hobbyist enterprises (which is probably just as well, given the lack of commercial skills possessed by most developers of these virtual worlds!).

>what we saw were merely iterations of the same few games hosted on the same few site platforms.

Elaborating on your theme, this is the "Stock MUD" phenomenon. If people have a choice between writing their own games and modding a ready-made game, many of them will take the latter approach. Indeed, they may effectively do that even if they write a codebase from scratch (all those EQ clones were written from scratch and they still follow the basic DikuMUD model). The result is, as you say, that we end up with a myriad of virtual worlds that all looks the same.

There's a secondary problem in that if it's so easy to set up such a virtual world that anyone can do it, anyone will. Then they find they have to do unfun things like work to get players, so they lose interest and the game withers and dies. There are probably ghost MUDs running today that probably haven't seen a player in months but no-one has got around to shutting down the auto-boot yet.

>If you project that into the future, then, that is almost certainly what we'll see with tools you imagine: The same few graphic, open-source games running on multiple sites, with little originality or profitability.

I agree that this is a big danger. It depends on how extensive the tools are, but the way I see it, the more integrated a system you can pick up for next to nothing, the less likely people are to do anything original with it. It's possible, just less likely.

>Richard (who helped start it all; you stole my youth, you bastard!)

If it's any consolation, I've lost 25 years to these things (and counting!).

>That might almost make it worth it.

Keep the faith, Jess!

Richard

Posted Jun 24, 2005 4:37:31 AM | link

Jessica Mulligan says:

Richard Bartle wrote:

>>>
>Richard (who helped start it all; you stole my youth, you bastard!)

If it's any consolation, I've lost 25 years to these things (and counting!).
>>>

Now I have this picture of you and I hanging around the porch of the Old MMO Folks Home, whinging about the good ol' days.

>That might almost make it worth it.

Keep the faith, Jess!
>>>

Oh, I do. Hope springs eternal and all that,

Posted Jun 24, 2005 7:56:29 AM | link

Lee Delarm says:

Richard>There's a secondary problem in that if it's so easy to set up such a virtual world that anyone can do it, anyone will. Then they find they have to do unfun things like work to get players, so they lose interest and the game withers and dies. There are probably ghost MUDs running today that probably haven't seen a player in months but no-one has got around to shutting down the auto-boot yet.

These do exist even today. A rather large number (my guess is upwards of 40%) of MUDs today are uninhabited with about half of those already dead, nobody is home but the lights are still on.

I think with the next generation of games we will see quite a bit more "out of game" actions available. Things such as being able to trade items while on the bus to work or bartering with someone on a special made out of game IM program. We'll also probably see some type of meta games built out of the original game but playable on a variety of platforms such as a web browser or mobile devices that allow players to continue to "play" the game all of their waking hours, even during...work! (not that some addicted players don't already try to do this :P)

Posted Jun 24, 2005 11:14:27 AM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Aryoch wrote:

> Matt wrote:
>
> God I hope not! That would mean exactly two companies
> with any real level of commercial success (ie the ability
> to do more than just fund a lifestyle for 1 or 2 developers),
> which is the current state of things in text MMOs.

Well, I think there are a few more companies than that which are bigger than that.

Ok. So name them.

I will tell you right now that there are two: Us (Iron Realms) and Simutronics. That's it. Skotos failed with its text products, and all the other commercial text MMOs are essentially run as lifestyle products that support the founder(s) and that's it. (Medievia, Materia Magica, Retromud, Nodeka, Avalon, Threshold, etc).

If you happen to have some knowledge here that I don't, great, but I doubt it.
--matt

Posted Jun 24, 2005 12:26:50 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:


Grr. Forgot to close the italics.

--matt

Posted Jun 24, 2005 12:27:13 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

And I guess that doesn't work.

Mike Sellers wrote:

The only organization that I know of that has been running commercial MMOGs (of the textual type) for over ten years is Simutronics. The next oldest is Meridian 59 -- I know who ran that CS organization, and it has changed hands and been offline in the past ten years.

What about Mythic?

--matt

Posted Jun 24, 2005 12:27:58 PM | link

Ragnar-GD says:

RB> There's a secondary problem in that if it's so easy to set up such a virtual world that anyone can do it, anyone will. Then they find they have to do unfun things like work to get players, so they lose interest and the game withers and dies. There are probably ghost MUDs running today that probably haven't seen a player in months but no-one has got around to shutting down the auto-boot yet.

??>> If you project that into the future, then, that is almost certainly what we'll see with tools you imagine: The same few graphic, open-source games running on multiple sites, with little originality or profitability.

RB> I agree that this is a big danger. It depends on how extensive the tools are, but the way I see it, the more integrated a system you can pick up for next to nothing, the less likely people are to do anything original with it. It's possible, just less likely.

This reminds me of the times p&p-RPGs were at their all-time-high (early '90s). Everyone was unsure if there would be consolidation, and variety was at risk. But the bubble went *sput*, and there was MagicTheGathering(tm). Mostly, only D&D as a trademark survived (not the company TSR), and some small niche-players. Nearly every other medium-sized p&p-RPG-company went out of buisness.
MMO may see the arrival of a massively-multiplayer MtG as well (that is, a small, simple, addictive non-RPG, that has its foundation on some core-elements of RPG, as MtG did), and then, well, perhaps only WoW and some VERY few brands may survive.
Unlikely?

Ragnar-GD

Posted Jun 24, 2005 1:40:25 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Matt "I love italics" wrote:

What about Mythic?

Yeah I knew I was going to forget someone, and of course it had to be them! Mythic ran Darkness Falls I believe, back in their earlier incarnation.

Posted Jun 24, 2005 6:44:10 PM | link

Jessica Mulligan says:

Mike Sellers wrote:

>>
Yeah I knew I was going to forget someone, and of course it had to be them! Mythic ran Darkness Falls I believe, back in their earlier incarnation.
>>

Actually, they ran Galaxy II and Dragons Gate on GEnie, starting in 1989 and 1990 respectively, as AUSI. They also did a version of Diplomacy Online with Eric Raymond for GEnie, around 1990-91.

Posted Jun 25, 2005 6:31:33 AM | link

chris klaus says:

Since there has been alot of discussion on an MMO platform for independant developers, I thought I'd let you know that is what we are striving to do at Kaneva.com.

We are making a MMO engine that is open to anyone at no cost upfront. It's downloadable now, and we have it fully documented along with videoguides on how to use it.

We are currently working on one MMO FPS game, called Gorilla Paintball, that is in beta. We also provide the back-end services, such as buying servers, hosting, billig, security, etc.

We also provide a marketplace for 3d art assets, so hopefully the art assets can be repurposed between games.

We are currently in beta test and looking for beta testers.

Any feedback on the business model, technology, game, etc, would be appreciated.

Posted Jun 25, 2005 9:51:36 AM | link

Aryoch says:

> Jessica Mulligan wrote:
> I understand your passion; I just don't
> think you're thinking this through all the way.

I'm not sure what passion has to do with it. It is an observation that is playing out right before our eyes, and the next 5-10 years will probably continue to play out along the trend it is already following.

> Jessica Mulligan wrote:
> If we use MUDs as the guideline, then in 5-10
> years, such games (open source or not) are more
> likely to be irrelevant, because the industry
> will have moved so far past them that they'll
> be a foot-note to a history exam, as MUDs are today.

So graphical MMOs are going to be irrelevant in 5-10 years? Is that what you want to go on record saying? :)

I doubt it.

Furthermore, text games are not even irrelevant now.

> Jessica Mulligan wrote:
> Bandwidth and server space haven't been
> 'outrageously expensive' for twelve years.

Yes they have. 10 years ago a T1 was many thousands of dollars. Now you can get one from UUnet for $300-500. 10 years ago a decent switch was tens of thousands of dollars. Now you can get one for a couple hundred bucks.

We are talking at least 2 orders of magnitude in the last decade just for bandwidth and basic networking equipment.


> Jessica Mulligan wrote:
> In fact, you could run a commercial MUD at
> the credit card level in 1993

Really? What open source MUD engines and MUD programming tools were available that you could use for commercial purposes? There weren't any.

I am not talking about making games from scratch. I am talking about a time that is coming where there are enough open source/free tools available for small companies to make high quality graphical MMOs to successfully satisfy a wide variety of niches.

I have never said they will use these tools and engines to compete with World of Warcraft. But they will be able to provide excellent games that cater to a much wider variety of gameplay interests than EQ, WoW, etc. which are really nothing but kill monster, gain level, collect loot.

Once you had stuff like DIKU and LPMUD, suddenly anyone could make a MUD. Tons sucked, but some were EXCELLENT. If the open source movement had happened then, instead of now, those engines would not have had restrictive licenses on them, and there would have been a lot more excellent commercial games produced from them.

> Jessica Mulligan wrote:
> The plain fact of the matter is, if it
> were that easy to actually make and run
> one of these things, you'd have had hundreds
> or thousands of commercial, niche-level MUDs
> able to support themselves in the mid-1990s,
> before the launch of M59 in '96 and the kick-
> off of the third generation of online gaming.

No you wouldn't have. None of the available engines in the 90s had a license that allowed commercial use. That ended it right then and there.

Once again....... there had been no open source movement yet. At that time, people were slapping "NO COMMERCIAL USE!" licenses on everything. They didn't know yet that putting a license like that on your work was the best way to severely limit its utility. People know that now, and that is why so many things are open source or GPL.

And I have never said you will see hundreds or thousands of small company graphical MMOs that are successful once open source engines and tools are available.

I'd say tens. But those tens will contribute a helluva lot more originality to the MMO market than Everquest 6 or World of Warcraft 3.


> Jessica Mulligan wrote:
> what we saw were merely iterations of the
> same few games hosted on the same few site
> platforms. There was the occasional flash of
> originality or financial success (Avalon, BatMUD,
> Legends -which Raph participated in)) but, for
> the most part, that period was decidedly
> unoriginal and didn't participate as a sector
> in the growth or evolution of the industry.

Ok, now I am starting to wonder if you ever really played any MUDs.

The funny thing is though, you just listed more originality than we have seen from the entirety of graphical MMO development.

I would easily add more to that list but I'm not sure there is any point. Anyone who actually played MUDs in the 1990s know that while there were plenty of derivative piles of crap (if the game had Midgard, you knew you were in trouble), there was also an enormous amount of creativity and originality.

> Jessica Mulligan wrote:
> If you project that into the future, then,
> that is almost certainly what we'll see with
> tools you imagine: The same few graphic, open-
> source games running on multiple sites, with
> little originality or profitability. There will
> be one or two momentary success stories, but
> that will be about the extent of it.

Care to place a wager?

When good open source or cheap graphical engines and development tools are available, smaller companies will put them to incredibly use to forge interesting, original games that will satisfy large, but not humongous, niche elements of the overall MMO market.

Since I know of at least 15 excellent, successful commercial text games, I feel very confident there will be at least that many small company MMOs.


> lewy wrote:
> One other thing: a bunch of part timers are
> never going to be able to create a game with
> the polish and craft that a bunch of full
> time professionals can.

*cough* counterstrike.

I think I need to restate what I have been claiming because many people seem to be hearing what they think they are reading instead of what I am saying.

The evolution of graphical MMOs has followed a lot of the same trends and development cycles that MUDs followed.

The next trend that I think graphical MMOs will reach is one where engines and tools become more readily available, making it easier for smaller companies to produce niche targeted games.

These engines/tools will be a combination of open source or relatively cheap (compared to know).

The investment required to make a successful, small company, niche graphical MMO will still be in the tens of thousands of dollars. It will still take an enormous amount of work. But you won't need $50 million to make a successful graphical MMO that attracts tens of thousands of customers.

Part of the evolution of this MMO genre is that a lot of people who like this TYPE of game, are getting really, really, really sick of "kill mob, gain level, get loot."

But that type of game gets the most users, so that style of gameplay will remain in the hands of the Blizzard, SOE, Mythic type companies.

But other game play types that the huge companies can't be bothered with will be created by smaller companies.

Things like role playing required games, games that focus on politics, games that focus on economics, games for people 18+ (I don't mean adult/XXX games, just games where you don't have to play with children), etc. These are niches where smaller companies will be able to thrive when there are some engines and tools available for less than a King's Ransom.

Posted Jun 26, 2005 4:01:02 AM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Aryoch wrote:

No you wouldn't have. None of the available engines in the 90s had a license that allowed commercial use. That ended it right then and there.

What are you talking about? There were plenty of commercial text MUD engines available in the 90s.

Some of them were: Hourglass (which I used at one point). Vortex (which we used and then purchased outright, though kept available for commercial license), Valhalla, Genesis, Cold, etc.

--matt

Posted Jun 26, 2005 11:46:45 AM | link

Lee Sheldon says:

Jessica,

SOE does have an action MMO in the works, although I don't know how much they'll have to show by E3 next year. I wouldn't expect it before 2007. It is being produced out of house by a developer with a popular solo action game that will be turned into an MMO or at least a semi-MMO. The platform will not be the PC.

Even though I asked about an NDA, I wasn't required to sign one when I was told the specifics, but I still don't feel comfortable about going into any more detail.

Lee

Posted Jun 26, 2005 10:40:03 PM | link

Aryoch says:

Matt:

Hourglass & Vortex: I can't even find anything about these on google. Were either of these truly good quality, freely available, available in the early 90s, and permitted commercial use? If you can provide me some more information about them, I'd certainly enjoy filling in my historical knowledge. I've never heard of or played any game that used either one. They certainly did not have widespread use (probably for a reason).

Valhalla: This was a Pay to Play LPMUD that was able to do so because they got Lars' permission. I have never heard of them making their engine/mudlib available to the public for commercial use.

Genesis was Lars' mud. It was not a freely available engine/lib that could be used for commercial purposes.

Cold/Genesis (they had to rename it due to naming conflict with the above) was not released until 1997, and it was in an extremely simple form at that point. It has really never been much more than a language. I remember looking at it once for a project about 2-3 years ago and realizing it would be easier to just do everything from scratch.

What made text games take off was DIKU and LP. They were the first engines/libs that made it relatively easy for an aspiring game creator to get a game off the ground. To make a good game, an enormous amount of work was still required. None of these engines/libs were open source or GPL, which killed the possibility of their commercial use.

Everything else varied in difficulty of use, poor compatibility, bugginess, incompleteness, etc.

Finally, as I have noted previously, the costs of bandwidth, networking hardware, servers, etc. were enormously higher then.

The two main things that prevented more commercial text games from being created were:

1) Lack of good quality, sufficiently comprehensive open source or GPL engines/tools/etc. that permitted commercial use.

2) High cost and complexity of the hardware and network connectivity.

#2 is already resolved even for graphical MMOs. If #1 is resolved, it will be a lot easier for smaller companies to create niche graphical games as described in previous posts.

Posted Jun 27, 2005 4:08:24 AM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Aryoch-the-anonymous said: High cost and complexity of the hardware and network connectivity... [are] already resolved even for graphical MMOs.

Not really. It'd be nice if it was true -- and aspects of this are closer to commoditization than they were five or ten years ago. But if you plan on running more than perhaps a thousand people concurrently, these are still significant aspects of MMOG development.

Several companies are working on comprehensive toolsets for creating MMOs. Whether any of these are sufficient to create low-cost commercial-grade MMOs remains to be seen. I'd say it's extremely doubtful given the development risks and costs on the one hand and the difficulty of monetization of low-cost MMOGs on the other hand..

There have also been several open source MMO toolset projects since the late 1990s. To my knowledge, none has made significant progress or come anywhere close to providing an actual solution. There are multiple areas in which MMO development is as different from text-based development as it is from offline/boxed game development. These differences are often underestimated until a project grinds to a halt in the face of these difficulties.

Posted Jun 27, 2005 7:24:54 AM | link

magicback says:

Hi everyone,

The current discussion about open source toolset is essentially about reducing one component of a successful/profitable MMO operation.

Bandwidth did get cheaper over the last 10 years, but so did usage per user.

The ratio of customer support personnel to average concurrent user could be relatively constant (I don't know as I haven't experience any "satisfactory" customer service operation), but I agree with Aryoch that 1 per 2,000 for current MMOs is insufficient. But hey, somebody many come up with something that require zero customer service personnel one day.

On area that hasn't be discussed too much is distribution. If Mike Sellers partners with say Yahoo and other indie developers, there might be a distribution channel call Yahoo! MMO that allow single avatar to traverse different MMOs built on the platform. This distribution collective could be a strategy that benefit the indie developers and consumers.

Frank

Posted Jun 27, 2005 10:05:43 AM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Such 'metaverse' ideas have been around for a long time, Frank. It's a cool idea, but one fraught with enormous technical and gameplay difficulties. Creating the ability to take an avatar from one game to another is probably as complex a task as creating an MMO itself -- and one that could potentially run afoul of CCG/world-transfer patents like the one maintained by Trip Hawkins (originally created at 3DO, now owned by Digital Chocolate I suspect).

It's also not clear to me that this is a huge win: as a player, do I really care if I have different avatars in different games?

Now if I could keep my identity and friends list the same across games (something Xfire has begun to address with their cross-game IM/chat capability -- though they too have run into legal difficulties), that could be a significant bridge between games.

Posted Jun 27, 2005 10:37:29 AM | link

Aryoch says:


> Mike Sellers wrote:
>
> Several companies are working on comprehensive
> toolsets for creating MMOs. Whether any of these
> are sufficient to create low-cost commercial-grade
> MMOs remains to be seen. I'd say it's extremely
> doubtful given the development risks and costs on
> the one hand and the difficulty of monetization of
> low-cost MMOGs on the other hand.

And 640k is all the RAM anyone will ever need.

And "Everything that can be invented, has been invented."

Honestly, betting against technology is a loser's bet.

As for monetizing a low-cost MMOG, that is a lot easier than you think. If you ever have the time, visit some of the smaller commercial games out there and look at how creative they are in their payment systems. $15 a month is pretty simple, and it certainly works for the big boys. By comparison, the smaller companies I am familiar with average a lot more than $15/month per customer. Customers are willing to pay more for a game that caters specifically to their needs and that provides a more personal experience. That is precisely what the smaller games from smaller companies can deliver.


> There are multiple areas in which MMO development is as
> different from text-based development as it is from
> offline/boxed game development. These differences are
> often underestimated until a project grinds to a halt in
> the face of these difficulties.

Actually, in everything that matters most, big MMO, graphical MMO, and text MMO are not very different. There *are* differences, but in all the most important areas, the challenges are incredibly similar. Further, the greatest difficulties are not caused by a move from text to graphics, but from a userbase of 10,000 to 100,000. Finally, the reason why I place such an importance on the emergence of free/cheap engines and tools is to simplify many of these challenges.

In fact, making and running a successful game is not that different than running ANY business that interacts directly with its customers. From my own experience, I often marvel at how little it differs even from running a law firm and dealing with legal clients.

When it comes to making games, the most three important traits are work ethic, creativity, and accountability (possibly in that order). This is universal no matter what kind of games you are making. Unfortunately for most people, these traits are surprisingly uncommon.

I think *some* big/graphical MMO developers like to perpetuate the myth that there is something so incredibly different about what they do so as to: 1) Scare people away from competing with them and 2) Exaggerate their own worth as developers (I am not saying they aren't valuable, just that this line of argument seeks to exaggerate that already significant value).

It reminds me exactly of the way lawyers perpetuate their own utility. They ensure that laws written for things that could easily be simple (like real estate transactions or wills) are instead very complex and filled with terms of art.

Before DIKU and LP came along for the text world, the prevailing wisdom was that making an online game was prodigiously difficult. While it is true that it takes a lot of work, the degree of complexity diminishes enormously once available tools/engines are good enough to get you off the ground.

All the graphical MMO market needs is their own DIKU and/or LP. The open source movement as well as significant developments in technology generally will be the key differences that will not only make such things free or cheap, but also make them useable commercially and hopefully of a higher quality than their text iterations.


> Aryoch-the-anonymous said:

I already explained why I regrettably use a handle. I think the reason was quite reasonable. I see no reason for you to mock me with things like "Aryoch-the-anonymous." I believe this forum if of high enough quality that such cheap shots are beneath us all, don't you agree?

Posted Jun 27, 2005 4:53:06 PM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Aryoch, I am frankly not comfortable engaging with you. No, I don't think your anonymity is reasonable. From long experience I believe that "real names only" adds immeasurably to the quality of a discussion forum such as this. Anonymity only allows people to take potshots and post authoritatively without the benefit of actual experience or knowledge.

You said, "As for monetizing a low-cost MMOG, that is a lot easier than you think. "

And "Actually, in everything that matters most, big MMO, graphical MMO, and text MMO are not very different. There *are* differences, but in all the most important areas, the challenges are incredibly similar."

As before, I wonder on what basis you say this. Which low-cost MMOGs or graphical MMOGs have you developed, launched or operated?

Your comments about MMOG development and operation lead me to believe you're speaking without the benefit of experience. If that's not the case, that makes your comments more interesting as your opinions diverge from the opinions of those whom I know who have actually made MMOGs, including myself. But your anonymity and the quality of your opinions leads me to believe that you do not in fact have such experience.

Oh and FWIW, normally I'd put a post like this into private email, but your anonymity prevents me from doing that.

Posted Jun 27, 2005 8:32:48 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Aryoch wrote:

Hourglass & Vortex: I can't even find anything about these on google. Were either of these truly good quality, freely available, available in the early 90s, and permitted commercial use? If you can provide me some more information about them, I'd certainly enjoy filling in my historical knowledge. I've never heard of or played any game that used either one. They certainly did not have widespread use (probably for a reason).

Hourglass is the engine that runs Avalon and the First Age. Vortex is the engine that used to run Achaea. No, they weren't free. Of course, if you can't come up with a measly few thousand dollars, your chances of making a decent graphical product are nil. In any case, you didn't specify that they had to cost nothing.


Valhalla: This was a Pay to Play LPMUD that was able to do so because they got Lars' permission. I have never heard of them making their engine/mudlib available to the public for commercial use.

www.valhalla.com. Right there, available to the public for commercial use. Is it free? No. But again, nobody is going to be making any great strides in graphical MMOs if they can't even manage a few thousand dollars.


What made text games take off was DIKU and LP. They were the first engines/libs that made it relatively easy for an aspiring game creator to get a game off the ground. To make a good game, an enormous amount of work was still required. None of these engines/libs were open source or GPL, which killed the possibility of their commercial use.

The DIKU license does not prohibit commercial use. It only prohibits 'profit' and as Hollywood has long shown, it is easy to simply never show a profit.


The two main things that prevented more commercial text games from being created were:

1) Lack of good quality, sufficiently comprehensive open source or GPL engines/tools/etc. that permitted commercial use.

2) High cost and complexity of the hardware and network connectivity.

Naah. The reason more -successful- commercial text games weren't created is that creating something people will pay for is hard. The technology was never an issue to anyone who was even semi-serious. Text MUD technology is not at all complicated, especially given the low number of players it has to host.


#2 is already resolved even for graphical MMOs. If #1 is resolved, it will be a lot easier for smaller companies to create niche graphical games as described in previous posts.

No one is arguing that this kind of thing won't make it -easier-. You appear to be arguing that all it takes is tools and people will magically be able to pull off a graphical MMO, and one doesn't follow from the other. For whatever reason, artists appear to be reluctant to donate their work to projects the way programmers, writers, and designers are, and art is a huge expense with a graphical project. Whether the engine is free or costs 20 grand is a bit irrelevant when you need a hundred grand+ in art.

--matt

Posted Jun 27, 2005 8:38:08 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:


Sigh, I appear to have done it again. Terribly sorry about that. Whoever wrote this technology needs an old-fashioned beating.

--matt

Posted Jun 27, 2005 8:39:09 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Mike Sellers wrote:

From long experience I believe that "real names only" adds immeasurably to the quality of a discussion forum such as this.

I couldn't agree more. I don't mind people posting here anonymously if they're just doing it as "some random person throwing out an opinion." It becomes quite annoying and instills nothing but a sense of distrust when someone claims experience but then proceeds to refuse to discuss that experience in any verifiable way.

--matt

Posted Jun 27, 2005 8:43:30 PM | link

Monkeysan says:

matt wrote: For whatever reason, artists appear to be reluctant to donate their work to projects the way programmers, writers, and designers are, and art is a huge expense with a graphical project. Whether the engine is free or costs 20 grand is a bit irrelevant when you need a hundred grand+ in art.

I'm curious, is that mostly texture art work or what? Is it the modeling? The animations? Is it the sheer volume of art needed? Can you offer a sense of how it breaks down for someone who claims no knowledge of MMORPG budgeting?

Aaron

Posted Jun 27, 2005 9:21:17 PM | link

Mike Rozak says:

Aaron wrote - I'm curious, is that mostly texture art work or what? Is it the modeling? The animations? Is it the sheer volume of art needed? Can you offer a sense of how it breaks down for someone who claims no knowledge of MMORPG budgeting?

I don't know MMORPG budgeting, but I know a bit about the character generation process.

First of all, remember that anything I describe here is multiplied by the number of models in the world. That means 10 races x 2 genders = x20. 200 monsters = x200, etc.

To make a character in today's technology, which is not the same as making one 10 years from now. (I can make some good guessing at modelling 10 years from now too.)

- Create a polygon mesh of the character as it will appear close up. There are 1000-5000 polygons. At least 1000 are hand placed. A 5000-poly model will use smoothing algorithms to generate the rest.

- Create a polygon mesh for a distant character (with 500-1000 polys), and one for a very distant character (with 100-500 polys). Algorithms can automagically generate this, but the results will probably need hand tweaking.

- Add a texture map (of color) to the polygon mesh. A good toolset makes this as "easy" as painting on a virtual 3D object. A poor toolset requires you to go out to Adobe Photoshop and paint on a stretched out image.

- Paint the bump texture map, wrinkles and stuff.

- Paint the specularity texture map.

- Design a shader algorithm that makes skin look decent. (This can be shared amonst most of the races, but is an issue when trying to make a gold helment actually look gold.)

- Multiply by 10x-50x for all the different faces and whatnot you'll provide for players.

- Create a set of major bones in the model. Upper arm, lower arm, etc. Anything that's bendable. I think most MMORPGs are doing around 30-50 bones, but they don't have fingers, rotating eyeballs, etc.

- Associate each bone with the polygons (1000 of them) that it affects. Algorithms will do most of the work, but there's hand tweaking.

- I forgot, for faces you need to create alternate version, called "morphs" that let characters smile, and do lip sync. I'd be suprised if any current MMORPG does more than 8 of these, but a 3D movie will have hundreds.

- Different hair styles are also small models. Add 10(?) small models for hair styles.

- What about all the clothes and armor a character will wear? Basically repeat the above process, multiplying by the number of outfits, 100x(?). Don't forget, each race and each gender may need different versions of the same "shirt".

- What happens if character with poofy hair wears a helmet? Does the hair go through the helmet? You need to do checks and not draw the hair.

- Now, you need to create short animations for walking (called a walk cycle), swinging a 1-handed weapon, parrying with a shield, etc. A MMORPG monster typically has 5-10 of these animations. A MMORPG PC will have many more, especially since emotes (like breakdancing) must also be included. I wouldnt be surprised if a top-end MMORPG had 100-200 such animations.

You can create the animations by hand, which is very time consuming. (The latest pixar film had about 100 animators for about 100 minutes of film, working 2 years => 1-2 man years per minute. Of course, pixar quality animation is much better than MMORPG animation.)

You can use motion capture to collect the animation. Motion capture is expensive, and it still needs to be hand-tweaked by an animator. Motion capture doesn't work on dragons; they tend not to like having ping pong balls glued to them.

- That's a list I can think of off the top of my head. The biggest problem is that everything needs to be multiplied by 10x - 100x since there are so many bits to model.

- Of course, I haven't even mentioned all the world scenery.

Posted Jun 27, 2005 10:11:32 PM | link

Aryoch says:

> Mike Sellers wrote:
>
> Aryoch, I am frankly not comfortable engaging
> with you. No, I don't think your anonymity is
> reasonable.

Have you ever been stalked? Have you ever experienced the things I listed in the prior post? Perhaps you'd change your tune if you had.


> As before, I wonder on what basis you say this.
> Which low-cost MMOGs or graphical MMOGs have you
> developed, launched or operated?

Why is this all you can say?

It speaks poorly of you that you care more about the authority from which someone speaks than the arguments they are making.


> Your comments about MMOG development and operation
> lead me to believe you're speaking without the
> benefit of experience.

Uh huh. Since I disagree with you, then of course I lack experience.

In your entire post, you did nothing but attack me. You didn't spend a SINGLE word on the actual substantive discussion.

> I'd put a post like this into private email,
> but your anonymity prevents me from doing that.

That's funny. I went to your web site to try and find your email so I could
contact you, and it was not readily available- not even in the COMPANY/TEAM
section. Don't want to give out your email address? I certainly understand
why. It is a shame you cannot understand the same desire from me.

I think it is a shame that someone disagreeing with you makes you so incredibly uncomfortable and threatened that you stoop to 100% personal attacks and become totally unable to discuss the actual issues any longer.

Fortunately, most people here do not act in such an regrettable manner.


> Matt wrote:
>
> No one is arguing that this kind of thing
> won't make it -easier-. You appear to be arguing
> that all it takes is tools and people will
> magically be able to pull off a graphical MMO,
> and one doesn't follow from the other.

I am sorry it appears that is what I am arguing. That was not my intention.

It is my belief that when these free/cheap engines and tools are available, you will see smaller companies become able to create a lot of niche targeted MMOs that will be very successful. Most will be in the 10,000 - 100,000 userbase range.

In an earlier post, I said I think these types of games would number in the tens, not in the hundreds.

The connection to text MUDs is that things build and build and build until someone, or some group of someones, release good enough tools/engines to clear that first few hurdles out of the way.

Obviously, it still takes talented and hard working people to succeed from that point forward. We have yet to see any set of engines/tools for graphical MMOs that provide this "boost." I believe we WILL see such things in the next 5-10 years.

Posted Jun 28, 2005 12:33:58 AM | link

Aryoch says:


Someone's italics are still out of control. :)


Posted Jun 28, 2005 12:36:04 AM | link

magicback says:

To: Mike Sellers
Re: metaverse concept

Haven't considered the patent issue, but the idea is that smaller niche worlds have smaller audience. So one, but perhaps not the best, solution is to aggregate to gain economy of scale. Skotos model, if you like :)

The selling point is for interested but uncommited players to try different games until they find the community and game they like. It streamlines billing and account creation and reduces churn among other benefits.

Raph has a good description of the browse & sample cognitive process, and this model also addresses this tendency.

As for social software, I'm all for it. Cross-platform IM is here, so IM clients are going to be the next web browser in significance. After this, I think the MMO client will be the next killer-app communication client.

So in summary: Yes metaverse is cool, but currently not compelling. Can be made compelling, so there is room for innovation in this area. Social tools can be the killer app in this area, but I think the MMO client is the future killer app.

Frank


Posted Jun 28, 2005 5:40:38 AM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Aryoch asked: "Have you ever been stalked?"

Yes I have. As a result of being highly visible as a developer/operator in a MMOG, I've had to deal with several situations like this. To give you some idea, the worst involved credible threats against me and my family, and involved federal marshals and prison time for the offender. So -- like most others here who have developed or operated a MMOG -- I know what this is like. One of my first pieces of advice to someone going on a live team is, if you haven't done so already, change your phone number and make sure it's unlisted.

But to me, this is no excuse for anonymity in a forum such as this.

As you've made several arguments hinging on experience rather than substance, I've asked you a couple of times, as have others, what your experience is.

Rather than discussing your experience in the areas you've talked about, you asked in return, "Why is this all you can say?

It speaks poorly of you that you care more about the authority from which someone speaks than the arguments they are making."

When you make a substantive argument I'll respond to it if others don't. Thus far, much of what you've said has been things like:

1 GM per 3600 customers and 1.2 per server is utterly outrageous.

So many of the costs of an MMO scale based on the number of users that it really helps a smaller company design for a smaller userbase. … It is far easier and more logical to distribute an MMO totally online.

[Said to Jessica Mulligan:] I am starting to wonder if you ever really played any MUDs.

As for monetizing a low-cost MMOG, that is a lot easier than you think.

And Actually, in everything that matters most, big MMO, graphical MMO, and text MMO are not very different. There *are* differences, but in all the most important areas, the challenges are incredibly similar.

Statements such as these implicitly rely on you having had experience in developing and operating MMOGs for their validity. You've made a few other factual claims (e.g., there were no commercial-use tools for text MUDs until a few years ago), but Matt and others have spoken to them. I'm more concerned here with the combination of your anonymity and your based-on-experience claims that appear, so far as I can tell, to not be based on experience after all.

FWIW, it's not that I wouldn't want those without experience posting here. We each have varying levels of experience in different areas, and have different outlooks -- not the least of which are academic vs. commercial, or large vs. small projects. But posting assertions as if you have experience in some area when you don't really have that experience doesn't do anything for the discussion -- or, frankly, for you.

Posted Jun 28, 2005 8:22:31 AM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Frank, on metaverse concepts: "The selling point is for interested but uncommited players to try different games until they find the community and game they like. It streamlines billing and account creation and reduces churn among other benefits."

More likely, I suspect, is that you'd get people who are committed to one game exploring others and thus lenghtening their entire subscription. For those who are interested but committed, I'd be concerned that the draw of multiple games might actually raise their caution level.

It's a question of the player's outlook: is that sort of player the kind who says, "cool, five different games, one of them has to be right for me" or "hmm, five different games -- even greater chance I'm going to get ganked in one of them... but since I don't know which one, I'll stay away from all of them."

That said, the idea that cross-platform IM is to gaming as the browser is to the web is a solid concept. People are more likely to 'browse' online games based on who they know who's playing there than on the genre.

Posted Jun 28, 2005 8:34:12 AM | link

Flatfingers says:

Aryoch> It speaks poorly of you that you care more about the authority from which someone speaks than the arguments they are making.

Hmm.

Let's go back to the A Shot Across the Bow discussion:

Aryoch> You didn't play DAoC, did you?
Aryoch> when you post the things you do, that so clearly demonstrate a woeful lack of actual experience with the types of games being discussed, one MUST point that out.
Aryoch> Come on man, play these games.

Aryoch, you yourself (as noted above) have on more than one occasion tried to dismiss viewpoints with which you disagreed by questioning the authority of the speaker. So your criticism of others for the logical fallacy of appealing to authority is not very persuasive.

Still, it's good that you seem to be coming around to the position that arguments ought to be assessed on their own merits. I hope that's a standard we can all meet (and I have to try to meet it, too).

--Flatfingers

Posted Jun 28, 2005 12:43:46 PM | link

Aryoch says:

Flatfingers: apples and oranges. You made a claim about RvR and DAoC without having played DAoC. You never even claimed you had played DAoC. What Mike did here is tantamount to you saying you played DAoC extensively (or any other game), and me saying "prove it" instead of trusting you when you said you had played it extensively. Also, I still replied to the substance of your post (at great length). I didn't say "You didn't play DAoC, so I won't even discuss this with you." I noted your obvious inexperience with DAoC because it was relevant to the discussion, but I still discussed the substantive issues.

You wrote:

> To state that I must not have played Game X is
> to make an assumption about me that you have no
> way of knowing to be true. Not only is that
> unhelpful in discussing a subject (because it
> sheds no light on the subject), deliberately
> personalizing what can and should be a friendly
> discussion in this way is simply rude.

and:

> It doesn't particularly offend me, since your
> opinions about me are uninformed and therefore
> worthless. Mostly it's just not an effective debate
> mechanism

Now, if you really think that, you should be defending me here. But you
aren't. Thus, it is clear this is just a personal axe you are grinding. The fact that you dredged up a 2 month old discussion to do so does not reflect well on you.

I have emailed my credentials to Mike Sellers so further discussions don't have to get derailed like this.

I still think it is a real shame that this was necessary simply because he disagreed with something I had to say.

Posted Jun 29, 2005 1:23:45 AM | link

Aryoch says:

You know something especially unfortunate about Mr. Seller's argumentum ad verecundiam? In the other hot topic currently being discussed here (Ce n'est pas un monde virtuel), he wrote:

> That is, millions of people play graphical
> games. Perhaps thousands -- maybe tens of
> thousands if we're being generous -- play
> text-based games.

Since there are *single* text games with more than 10,000 players, this is a totally ridiculous statement that indicates a complete and utter lack of knowledge about text games.

So Mr. Sellers has no qualms about discussing text MMOs, even though he has made it very clear he doesn't really know anything about them (as a player, developer, or even observer). But when he disagrees with someone about MMOs in general, he declares them unfit to even discuss the issue unless he can see, and approve of, their credentials.

At first I thought it was simply elitism. Upon noticing the above quote while reading that other thread, I am now aware that it is also hypocrisy.

Neither elitism nor hypocrisy should have a place here.

Posted Jun 29, 2005 3:32:59 AM | link

Mike Sellers says:

Aryoch did send me email. Below is my reply, slightly edited to preserve his privacy. As I state below, this is my last message to Aryoch on any non-substantive topic.

--

Thank you for your mail.

I understand your desire for privacy in the face of harassment. Though your desire for anonymity on TN makes little sense to me when your name and email address are prominent on your own website.

Moreover, this anonymity has little effect on the core of my argument to you: that on multiple occasions you have tried to speak authoritatively in areas where you have no experience. Your anonymity merely casts this into bold relief, since it further draws into question the veracity of your otherwise unsupported claims.

This is not an appeal to false authority, nor a suggestion that only those with actual development or operational experience should speak up on TN. It is, however, my suggestion that speaking authoritatively on a subject requires actual experience in it.

Reading your email and "credentials," it appears that you have had experience developing several small games twenty years ago, saw one MUD project flame out a decade ago, and operate a small commercial text MUD today. I am not disparaging this in the least; developing and operating almost any online game is a significant accomplishment in itself.

But the fact remains that such experience leaves you completely unfamiliar with the realities of developing truly large commercial projects, including graphical MMOGs. This situation is roughly equivalent to someone who has built an addition onto their house criticizing the practices of those who build office buildings: there are issues far beyond changes in materials and height that the homeowner simply has no way of understanding, and thus is left without a basis on which to judge. That you disagree with this view is obvious. That this view corresponds to reality is equally obvious to anyone who has in fact designed, developed, managed, deployed, and/or operated large commercial-grade projects (MMO or otherwise). Your protestations of this fact simply serve to make the point painfully obvious.

Ultimately, speaking to what you know, and listening and asking questions about what you do not know, is in your best interest. There is a lot you could no doubt say to inform others about the realities of running a small, commercial, RP-centric text MUD. But coming off as if you know more than you do, or assuming that your experience generalizes to the intricacies of projects orders of magnitude more complex, only reduces the utility of the overall discussion, and minimizes the weight which others give to your comments.

As for my comments on TN, I will let them stand on their own. I try to speak only to what I have some knowledge of or experience with, or what I have researched as best I can (e.g., the actual rather than hoped-for number of players of text MUDs). You may disagree, and that's fine; I'm certainly not saying I'm always right. But do so by outlining your experience, data, or knowledge beyond vague generalities or unsupported assertions. That's the heart of discussion in fora such as TN.

Finally, this will be my last communication with you so long as you continue to speak to areas you do not know in such a broad manner. I do not wish to bring down the signal-to-noise ratio on TN any further, and so will focus on making and responding to substantive posts. I encourage you to do the same.

Best of luck,
Mike Sellers

Posted Jun 29, 2005 10:06:59 AM | link

Jimpy says:

No more responses? Really? Don't you want to rebut that one post where he called you a "poopy head?" No?

/puts down popcorn

Damn.

Posted Jun 29, 2005 1:03:57 PM | link

Aryoch says:

Wow Mike. Thanks for not only lying about my credentials (leaving about half of them out and somehow interpreting 1992-1994 as 20 years ago), but revealing them publicly when it was clearly my desire to keep them private. That is pretty despicable. Also, how much more condescending could you be. You actually put the word credentials in quotes when referring to me, in order to imply they were bogus (despite the ease with which you actually verified them). You really should be ashamed of yourself. What a mistake I made trusting you with private information.

You take quite an air of superiority for someone who has released ONE virtual world in your entire career (and every online history of Meridian 59, including the official M59 site, says it was the creation Andrew and Christopher Kirmse, not Mike Sellers). One which lasted less than 4 years. Of course, as you said, "I am not disparaging this in the least; developing and operating almost any online game is a significant accomplishment in itself." If you really believe that, as I do, would it really hurt you to act like it?

Since you actually have LESS experience than me in the area of virtual worlds, perhaps I should tell you that you have no business discussing the topic of virtual worlds? I would never say that, however, because I am not an elitist, arrogant, hypocrite. There are many people here with no experience making virtual worlds, and others who might but I would never know who they are. I read their posts just as thoughtfully, as they could very well have an excellent point to make.

For example, Edward Castranova has made ZERO graphical games. Is he not allowed to share his opinions and analysis now? You wouldn't dare say that, although implicitly that is what you have already said.

Just stop and ****THINK**** about how ridiculous your arguments are. It is completely absurd for you to act like the arbiter of what credentials are sufficient before someone is allowed to post on an internet blog.

Let us also not forget that the actual issue I raised involved a COMPARISON between text and graphical online game evolution. Do you really think the only people who can draw parallels between text and graphical MMO evolution are people who make graphical games?

When the subject is comparing two things, is it only people with experience in the latter who should comment? People with expertise in the former should not?

Imagine two classics professors- one specializing in Latin literature and the other specializing in Greek literature. If they were discussing and comparing Ovid and Homer, would only the Latin professor be allowed to speak? After all, Latin came later. In a nutshell, that is what you've been arguing and it is totally absurd.

I sincerely hope you will make good on your promise to ignore me in the future.

Posted Jun 30, 2005 1:32:29 AM | link