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So you want to make your own MMORPG..

I'm saying you shouldn't. But wait - I'll explain why.

Maybe you read 'Snow Crash'.

Maybe you played MUDs.

Maybe you just thought about a cool magic system and started there.

Whichever the case, you love the idea. You write a design doc describing character classes and magic system. You design some items. You put up a web site with concept art and think that your game is just a year away, at most. You're simply bursting with new innovative ideas.

Lots of people get this idea nowadays. Back when I was the age lots of people got the idea of making their own text adventures, and even that was a bit too big project for most people. When you're struggling with getting text to screen text parsers and object trees are a bit out of your league.

MMORPGs are huge projects. You can drop 3-4 quakes into one MMORPG. And even a quake clone is too much for majority of people.

Realistically speaking you need a team of 10 or more developers for about four years, full time. And those 10 people had better know what they're doing to begin with. All those four years you will have to pay their salaries, hardware, office space, whatnot. That requires couple things: a company, and funding.

Okay, let's say you're not going for 'commercial quality' and you're doing it for fun. Also, you're spending some of your own money for a 3d game engine which should cut the development by a year.

Let's say you get your team together and you start happily working on it. You know about stuff like cvs repositories and you do everything by the book, everyone in the team is comfortable with the code base as they can look things up in the documentation you keep up, and nobody does any obscure 4am code. Let's say that you manage to get it together in two years.

Two years is a long time. And that's a very, very optimistic estimate. Stop and think what has happened to you in the past two years. Nothing? You're either still in school or then your life is just amazingly stable. People fall in love, get married, decide to change their lives, study different things, move, get ill, get injured, or even die. And remember, you're not paying these people, so they have no obligation in staying in your team.

So you manage to finish the project. 'Finish' as in, the game and all the content is complete. What next? Put up a server and let people leech the client. Sure. With what money? Oh, that doesn't matter, it's 2-3 years away, so you'll think of something. Right. Or you get a sponsor to run the server, and then you and five others will baby-sit the game 24/7 for the next couple of years because by then you'll find that your 'self regulating game' doesn't really regulate itself. Or even better, you're planning to sell the whole project to a big company. Good idea, but unlikely to happen. You're more likely better off starting your own business and hiring people to write that game, get a quick prototype together and look for publishers.

And remember, everyone and their sister is doing these projects these days.

Which begs a question, why do you need to have your own MMORPG? Why not join some other project, as there are plenty of MMORPG projects to go around.

Or better, start with something simpler, like a remake of arkanoid.

I'm not saying that to look down upon you, thinking that that's all that you can do. I'm saying that it's much more rewarding and downright fun to do something simple and actually finish the project. Once you've got a couple of small games under your belt, you have some kind of perspective on larger projects - AND you have much better chance of getting a job by using those as your portfolio material. People want to hire achievers, not dreamers.

References and resources:

Strayfire - writing a "simple" game by Kurt Miller, Flipcode

Kurt describes how even a rather simple game project ended up being surprisingly large.

Postmortem: Dark age of camelot (gamasutra.com)

25 full time workers, 5 contractors. $2.5 million. 18 months of development. Based on NetImmerse.

While generally successful, players have mentioned that the contents are not really finished; there's not much to do for high-level characters, plus one of the three worlds seems to be really rushed.

Postmortem: Multitude's Fireteam (gamasutra.com)

14 full time developers, 'some' contractors. $2.5 million. 30 months.

I never actually heard of this, but then, I had other things in mind at the time. Was released december'98.

WorldForge

Open source MMORPG project.

MMORPG.net

MMORPG fan site/news network

Agora

MUD development wiki.

MMORPG discussion on gamedev.net

Some good points for and against amateur MMORPGs.

Here's some of the myriad of MMORPG project sites out there

These links took about five minutes to find with google. I'm pretty sure there's hundreds out there.

And last but not least, the fun ones:

StatBuilder and Progress Quest

Comments are appreciated.

Addendum 4 march 2002:

It's been almost a month since I posted this rant and it has been read about 3100 times so far. Thanks for the interest. I've also received several interesting emails, including a hobbyist MMORPG developer with insightful ideas (but who still agreed with me on most points), a MUD developer, a commercial MMORPG developer (who would have never started the project had he known what kind of project it would be), and others who have been generally positive.

It's sort of funny that most of the negative posts on slashdot apparently did not get the point. Yes, the rant is negative in tone. It's called a rant for some reason. Yes, it's meant to demoralize. Yes, you could check the couple of links I posted on that slashdot news bit.

I don't have anything against people starting new operating system projects as their first real programming project. That's 100% experience from beginning to the end. But what really pisses me off is people who have no idea whatsoever on what they're doing starting $4+ million dollar content-driven projects and starting off by asking for people to help them out, without bringing anything to the table themselves - except ideas, which they think are unique.

One of the things people have asked me to add is some deeper explanation on what kinds of things an MMORPG project needs, code-wise, to scare the would-be developers. I could go into the horrors of distributed network load balancing and managing resources and stuff, but that's not the purpose of this rant. The target audience doesn't know about network programming or whatever, so mentioning those tidbits could be brushed off by saying that they'll find someone in their team who can do that stuff. So I only talked about things that are somewhat easy to understand.

Learning is fun. Finishing projects is fun. Wasting the time of promising graphicians and musicians and ending up fighting over things isn't. This is my point.

Addendum, 2010

The hobbyist MMO projects still pop up every now and then, not as often as before (or then I'm just not hanging on the correct boards or something.

One thing that I've noticed is that all new MMO projects start from innovating on the game side, and not on the service platform itself. Guess which of these is more work?

There's some 'turnkey' MMO software now, and I think they're a great idea for all those 'make my own mmo' folk. Quick to get in, and into the fun stuff that you want to do. Of course they're not as flexible as whatever you'd write from scratch is, but they're much more likely to result in an actual, working project.

Anyway, I've been asked (rather often) why I have something against MMOs. I don't. I just have thing about futile projects driven by people who have no idea what they're getting into, wasting other peoples' time..

Comments are (still) appreciated.

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