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The Future of Indie MMOGs 69

Posted by Soulskill
from the don't-have-to-have-ten-million-subs-to-succeed dept.
Karen Hertzberg writes "Ask any 10 gamers what constitutes an 'indie MMO' and you'll probably get 10 different answers. But one definition that most can agree on is that an indie game lacks the financial support of a well-funded publisher. But do smaller budgets mean greater freedom? Ten Ton Hammer asked Nathan Richardsson, Executive Producer for CCP (developers of EVE Online), and Todd Harris, Executive Producer of Global Agenda, to share their thoughts on the bright future of independent MMOG development. 'By definition a niche market is a segment that is currently underserved by the mainstream providers. So, to serve that audience a developer typically needs to deliver something really different and innovative vs. just more of the same thing available elsewhere,' says Harris. 'With a big budget there could be a temptation to cover up stale gameplay by shoveling out more content or simply pumping up the marketing hype. However, for an indie developer such as Hi-Rez Studios, the game must stand on its own merits and we find that liberating.'"
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The Future of Indie MMOGs

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  • Quality (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PerZon (181675) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @07:30AM (#29363875)

    The games popularity should depend on the quality of the game and not the market hype. With a good idea and the urge to follow through it should not matter if the game was made in a studio or a garage

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I tend to agreee with you, but MMOs are a special case. You literally need a "massive" number of players for the game to be any good. Generating a sufficient number of players is hard to do without the marketing hype.

      • by toriver (11308)

        Depends on how many servers/worlds you split the players across, ref. Eve Online's single server or the server merges hitting less popular games as the initial rush of players leave for greener pastures. A game can be profitable without WoW class numbers.

        • It's like saying the only kind of restaurant that can be profitable is McDonald's.

          No there are people who love to eat at very nice restaurants. Many of whom, btw, also eat at McDonald's once in awhile.

        • I agree, but modern players - awash in the sea of figures concerning WOW's popularity - seem to judge a game's success at launch purely based on the number of subscribers. If that number isn't huge, they condemn the game as having failed.
          Look at the recent release of Warhammer Online - touted by players to be the next "WOW-killer", even though the publisher stated that was not their focus at all - when it failed to score at least a million subscribers right at release, a lot of players seemed to decide that

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Cornflake917 (515940)

        You literally need a "massive" number of players for the game to be any good.

        Not necessarily. A well designed MMO can be an enjoyable experience regardless of the number of players on the server at any given time.

        • by biking42 (1437037)
          I totally agree. I've built my own private WOW server and my wife & I enjoy soloing and grouping with each other. In fact we probably play solo more than grouping. It's kinda like having a single-player RPG but with a massive game world. Contrast that to SWG - a game we both loved (pre-NGE) and actually met online playing - the ONLY reason I play occasionally it due to the other players. Though there is SWGEmu and one or two other private server projects I think playing SWG on a private server woul
      • by drsquare (530038)

        Most MMOs are split into servers of a few thousand people, and you only really interact with the dozen or so in your group or guild. There's nothing 'massive' about most MMOs.

    • Re:Quality (Score:5, Informative)

      by Walkingshark (711886) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @08:49AM (#29364341) Homepage

      The real problem is that people judge a game based on its production quality. Having a diverse amount of play environments (zones or levels or instances or whatever you're using), having a decent amount of different ways of playing the game (classes, skills, what have you) and pretty graphics to show them off, etc. All of this means resources, and while you can use things like procedural content generation and randomizers to help pack as much fun as you can into the game, it is still hard to compete with something like WOW that has a brazillion dollars thrown at it on a daily basis.

      Of course, you can always pick a genre that doesn't require a huge amount of art assets and can be expanded and supported by a small team, like EVE, and do great. Trying to compete in the fantasy genre is going to be really hard, and sadly thats what people like.

      • Re:Quality (Score:5, Funny)

        by tecnico.hitos (1490201) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @09:56AM (#29365219)

        ...it is still hard to compete with something like WOW that has a brazillion dollars thrown at it on a daily basis.

        There are no Brazilian Dollars. Our currency is the Real.

    • The games popularity should depend on the quality of the game and not the market hype. With a good idea and the urge to follow through it should not matter if the game was made in a studio or a garage

      i agree !!! i have spent countless hours , over 2500 on my game at http://www.mafiaclassic.com/ [mafiaclassic.com] trying to infuse elements that make it more of a addicting yet fun game. one of my key elements was coding in a floating weapon script where there is only one of each of the weapons and the only way to get it to use this is to steal it off another player. it gives the game a nice little twist to it. baz http://www.mafiaclassic.com/ [mafiaclassic.com]

  • by cthulhuology (746986) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @07:32AM (#29363879) Homepage
    The moral of the story is the same as with any business. You don't need to "win" by beating all of your competitors, you need to "survive". In life, like all infinite games, survival is its own reward. And if you don't understand that, or tend to disagree, please do us all a favor and leave the gene pool. :)
    • by RobotRunAmok (595286) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @07:41AM (#29363919)

      You don't need to "win" by beating all of your competitors, you need to "survive"... And if you don't understand that, or tend to disagree, please do us all a favor and leave the gene pool.

      Right. We don't want any over-achievers in our gene pool.

    • by PerZon (181675)

      Correct me if I am wrong but don't most indie developers code for the more hardcore and niche market where big studios target a mainstream audience? So to survive financially, the indies need to either change their approach or find a way to reach a larger mass.

    • by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @07:49AM (#29363971)

      Or "win" by having an incredible amount of fun. Have you played "Kingdom of Loathing"? (www.kingdomofloathing.com) It's one of the best games I've ever played, and a number of friends of mine prefer it to expensive, computation and bandwidth expensive twitch shooters or highly animated games. As an old "Zork" and "rogue" player when they were first publicized, I empathize with their choice.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Walkingshark (711886)

        I tried it and didn't find it very fun. Then again I didn't like the hack games either, and I know a lot of people love those. Lately I haven't really been enjoying much of anything though, so maybe I've just become old and embittered.

      • I find the gameplay itself to be rather simplistic, repetitive, and not too much fun. Not to mention the UI is just terrible, though things are getting better. KoL is certainly not a game I'd recommend to most people. Most enjoyment seem to come from the humor (course you need a strong background in American pop culture), and the fact that it's simplistic nature means new content can be added relatively quickly. As for me, I play using KoLMafia, but do new content manually through the browser. Yea, w/o the

      • I used to play it back in the day. It used to be a lot of fun; hell, I met my wife on there. That being said, there has been too much change for the sake of change and I'm not enjoying it at all these days.
    • And if you don't understand that, or tend to disagree, please do us all a favor and leave the gene pool. :)

      Isn't there a "Darwin Award" achievement for doing precisely that?

  • by zwei2stein (782480) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @07:32AM (#29363881) Homepage

    What about amateur MMO / Hobbyist MMO. We have decent enough tools for anyone to pull basic WMMO with roguelike interface with as much ease as making tetris clone years ago. And even then, good mud libraries existed for decades ... why do we not hear more about that? Why don't more people try that?

    I, for one, find it much more fun to actually try to code one than actually play fullblown commercial MMO. Two hours a week of MMO development certainly beat two hours of grinding in WoW... you are not really getting anywhere in either, but you at least learn a thing or two if you code instead of grinding xp.

    Shameless self plug: http://foh.zweistein.cz/ [zweistein.cz]

    • by AlXtreme (223728) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @07:55AM (#29364001) Homepage Journal

      Two hours a week of MMO development certainly beat two hours of grinding in WoW... you are not really getting anywhere in either, but you at least learn a thing or two if you code instead of grinding xp.

      Hear hear! Coding beats playing games anyday.

      However what most people think of when discussing MMO's is 3D graphics/animations, and coming from a programming background this is the real hard work. There simply aren't a lot of (free/open) 3D resources you can tap into for your amateur MMO.

      Having said that: roguelikes like your project are a lot of fun, even if they don't appeal to your average gamer.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Over00 (591403)
      The problem is that we hear a lot about vaporware from amateur / hobbyist so most people won't even care (and they're not to blame).

      For us, it's not much a matter of survival but just doing what we enjoy. Should it be successful then great! If not, we still had fun doing it... just like any other hobby.

      Of course, an amateur / hobbyist status doesn't grant you immunity from rants and such but so is the reality when you decide to go public with a project of yours.

      So in the line of actual projects that r
    • My first real programming language (after having done a little bit of stuff in Pascal and BASIC) was LPC, the C variant used on LPmuds. Man that shit was fun. I started out hacking out copy paste areas and ended up re-writing the entire mudlib from scratch (with backwards compatibility).

  • GA (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AP31R0N (723649) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @08:39AM (#29364275)

    Notes about GA:

    i've been in the "alpha" and beta. It's a bit like WoW, Team Fortress and Unreal Tournament. Like WoW, it has a Gygaxian power curve and player economy (and all the attendant issues: n00bst0mping and buying virtual stuff with real money), and some form of player character persistence. Like TF it has classes, but you can't change classes in battle. Like UT it is round based. What happened last round seems to have little effect on anything but your ranking and leveling. It does not have PlanetSide's never ending persistent battlefield.

    The MMO i want:

    Non power curved (so there won't be n00bst0mping, instead levels give you flexibility), persistent battlefield (not meaningless rounds), no player trade (therefore no gold farming, twinking or buying virtual "property" with real money), rewards skill, tactics, strategy and teamwork over not having a life or having more money than sense.

    i know this puts me in a tiny minority. Most players want to stand godlike over newbs they killed with one click, letting the equations and die rolls do the work. Most players don't want to earn stuff, they want to buy it from a Chinese guy in a sweatshop. They don't want to think about anything beyond the next kill.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Walkingshark (711886)

      Planetside was almost what you wanted, but they could never deliver the netcode to back up the kind of action they put in the game (to this day warp-strafe and other shitty netcode exploits are the tactic of choice for "elite" planetside players) and their engine was designed in a way that made updating the maps a monumental pain in the ass (which is pretty fail for an MMO developer, they should have known they'd be wanting to do that on a regular basis and ensured it was supported as a core functionality o

      • by AP31R0N (723649)

        Yeah, i've been playing PS since it went live and i love it. i wish they had the money to fix things and make some updates. i'm still having a blast in it though. No thing has come close to replacing it for me.

        i've been designing such a game for a while now. All i need is a few million dollars and a crack team of coders and artists. Or a company with those to listen to me!

        This is me holding my breath.

    • by Frogg (27033)

      hi

      i agree with a lot of what you say - 'sick of all the same stuff' is a regular conversation between me and my mates.

      i think that real in-game rewards is definitely a much better idea than rewarding grind-time - although i quite like the idea of in-game trading myself, it does bring with it a whole heap of unwanted problems as you rightly mention, to which there's no decent solution currently.

      when you say "Non power curved (so there won't be n00bst0mping, instead levels give you flexibility)" - could you e

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by AP31R0N (723649)

        Gladly.

        In PlanetSide there is a certification system. At Battle Rank (BR) 1 you have something like 5 or 6 cert points. With this you can buy access to certain vehicles, weapons or support gear. You might take Light Armor and Main Battle Tank. i would take Cloaking (invisibility) and hacking (allowing me to open enemy doors faster, steal enemy vehicles). As we progress i could take more support stuff (reviving, repairing, virus installing) and you might drop your vehicle certs to become an all around g

        • by Frogg (27033)

          interesting, cheers for that.

          i've not played PlanetSide - i will likely take a look...

          • by AP31R0N (723649)

            If you do, you can get a 14 day trial:

            http://launcher.station.sony.com/ [sony.com]

            Make a character in the Vanu Sovereignty (my empire/faction) and around 8pm Eastern look for people with the tag "Ghosts of the Revolution". Tell them N1H1L (nihil) sent you and that you're looking into the game. Someone will be able to help you. Get TeamSpeak because that's how we coordinate our group of 30 to 60 players. i'm on most Wednesday nights and every Thursday night. /t N1H1L {text} will talk directly to me (like whisper in

        • by Jarnin (925269)
          PlanetSide was a lot of fun, but when it first came out it was completely directionless. Besides the need to gain levels and acquire skills, there was no game there. It was like a massive death match with some bases and towers that could be captured. Later they added in the "lattice system" for base capture and it helped a little, but it still seemed like a grind after a while. There was no story behind base captures, no real motive to capture bases except that they were there, and you'd get a slight bonus
          • by AP31R0N (723649)

            For me the direction was conquest of continents. Later when i started leading teams, and then later several teams... it became another game. i'd send my cloakers to several bases and my heavies to another. Report intel to the other officers who would bring in tanks or reavers. In a matter of minutes, my guys could deny tech to the enemy. i was everywhere at once. i'm usually alone and running for my life so it never became a grind for me. i also play mostly to be with my outfit. Were it not for them

    • I think I am in your minority. I want an mmorpg that is more about having fun and enjoying some virtual roll play than hours and hours of grinding.
      • Re:GA (Score:4, Interesting)

        by AP31R0N (723649) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @10:09AM (#29365395)

        Keep the faith, brother! i think someone will eventually figure out how to have a multiplayer game that is grind free, yet keeps people playing. May be when bandwidth becomes cheaper.

        How about Neverwinter Nights Online? i LOVED NWN (there was never an NWN 2, NEVER HAPPENED). Imagine the game being centered on Sigil which allows us to use any realm in the D&D universe(s) and to allow players to make their own. You can hop into this or that realm and create a character compliant with that space. If you hop into Ravenloft, you need a stat for sanity, if you're in Dragonlance you can play a Kender. These modules could be hosted by WotC, by a third party or run locally if it's just you. Items and powers not compliant with the core rules cannot enter the central space. Players can rate and rank modules. Popular realms can have a big fancy portal. Modules could be ongoing or have a specific lifespan. Module X runs until the players kill the dragon, or they solve the mystery of the Mysterious Mystery.

    • The game you want is EVE Online.

      That leet 20 million skill point player that can fly a Titan dies just the same as anyone else when he's tooling around in a cruiser.

      EVE also rewards strategy, tactics and skill.
      • by Jedi Alec (258881)

        20million = leet and can fly a titan?

        Holy cow, I'm leet * 2.5 \o/

        Can't even fly a carrier or a dread though :/

      • by nedlohs (1335013)

        If you just ignore the "no player trade" requirement.

        Let me guess you are in development?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      The MMO i want:

      Non power curved (so there won't be n00bst0mping, instead levels give you flexibility), persistent battlefield (not meaningless rounds), no player trade (therefore no gold farming, twinking or buying virtual "property" with real money), rewards skill, tactics, strategy and teamwork over not having a life or having more money than sense.

      ip>

      Theres a few problems in the basic design of such a system. I personally don't understand how people tend to think of "Flexibility" as NOT an overpowering strength. Its just as bad as n00bst0mping, essentially I'll be so flexible that my options allow me to perfectly outplay my opponent with fewer options. No player trade is a huge setback, and will actually encourage farming since people can't buy it (Albiet, EVERYONE on the server will be farming instead of just the Chinese). It'll either work out that it

      • by AP31R0N (723649)

        "There're a few problems in the basic design of such a system. I personally don't understand how people tend to think of "Flexibility" as NOT an overpowering strength. Its just as bad as n00bst0mping, essentially I'll be so flexible that my options allow me to perfectly outplay my opponent with fewer options."

        Look for my post about PlanetSide where i describe what i mean by flexibility. In PS the flexibility does not cause any sort of overpowering godlike characters. Having fewer options isn't a hindrance

        • I'll have to give planet side a try - it sounds different even if I don't enjoy it I'll have a broader perception of whats out there.

          I just think alot of people have a different Idea of what Skill is. I, for one, would argue that Twitch reflexes are as important as knowing what you're oponent is going to do next. I played WoW from Year 1 up until the end of Burning Crusade, and I can say for a fact that In the olden Days, Skilled Noobs can beat non-skilled Veterans. You can look up "Unknown"'s first Mage Pv

    • I think the next big step in MMO design will occur when a company decides to implement a game where there are no levels and there are no classes, just skills you obtain (likely through questing etc). Sure, this already exists in EVE, Planetside (although that's really an MMOFPS and so attracts a different type of user) and likely a few other games, but I haven't seen it in a Fantasy setting, and the Fantasy environment is the 800 lb Gorilla for MMO genres.

      Levels as a concept are outdated in my opinion, and

      • by AP31R0N (723649)

        Excellent analysis!

        Yeah, it's time throw off the strangle hold of Gygaxian power curves and class/level straight jackets.

    • UrbanDead isn't that far from what you're talking about.. there's actually a serious lack of 'meta-abilities' in the game (like trading), which imo go to help it and keep it from being being noon-stompy.

      The issue alot of ppl have with it is it's a real-time turn/based sorta game.. when you're waiting for turns to refresh, your toon is just sitting there (hopefully barricaded up in a building with other survivors for protection...)

      • by AP31R0N (723649)

        i'll give it a look. The turn based aspect appeals to me because, well... my eye hand coordination is crap.

        Thanks!

  • Zwei2stein mentioned the REALLY Indie developers (i.e. Hobbyists and Amatures). This is the bucket where we're catagorized. Some of our greatest hurdles could be handled by throwing more money at it, but it's given us the motivation to find other, cheaper avenues for getting things done.

    In our situation, we have a very small team of friends working on the game (both engine and content). At the time, we can only afford the bare minimal amount to host the game's site. Mostly, we put more time and energy

    • by Quirkz (1206400)
      I continue to hear good things about you from the folks playing Twilight Heroes, and I continue to forget to actually create an account and check you guys out. Just about everything you say in your post applies comprehensively to me and my experiences as a "so indie it's barely more than a hobby" kind of developer.
  • Another indie company out there, making an overly ambitious PvP game in a fantasy setting, is pretty much the antithesis of what 'indy developers' should look like.

    They announced a beta whereby, you would pay for the whole game up front, and they'd let you into what they called a "staged beta", where most features weren't "turned on" (or what people really believe, is that they aren't even developed).

    I had high hopes for that game, but unfortunately it's going to wind up as a steaming pile of shit. I am loo

  • A tale in the Desert (Score:2, Interesting)

    by hlopez (220083)

    Anyone remember playing this game a few years back?
    It was awesome how you could interact with the developers in game almost on a daily basis, even the president of the company played every other day.
    I guess it never took off because of its niche market, but the lack of combat and need of watching you back made character development and in
    the case of this game developing your compound your main goal.

    • I played it for a while. It was a pretty cool game, but the story part of it was poorly implemented. It was set up such that the players could change the world or beat the game by accomplishing certain goals. But it mostly ended up being the players really had little control and progression basically came down to what the devs had time to implement. I wonder if it has changed much since then... do any current players have a more up to date analysis?
  • I think the problem with most 'indie' games is that they don't have boatloads of cash behind them which seems necessary to have 'supercool bleeding-edge graphics.' So you automatically lose all the people who won't play anything that isn't 'pretty enough.' Fact is, it takes a bit of time and effort to explore the game and see how gameplay is. It's a ton easier to simply see the graphics and make a judgment on that. I have been playing an 'indie' MMORPG - Clanlord (www.clanlord.com) - for a good 10 years n
    • by Quirkz (1206400)
      Agreed. Quality art can be expensive, and a lot of niche games--particularly browser-based games--can find an audience that enjoys other aspects without requiring flashy graphics. One of my favorite games uses stick figures as their design model, which isn't just inexpensive, it's also pretty funny. I've found a way to get by in my own game with stylized greyscale GIFs (thank goodness for PhotoShop filters!) that convey just enough visual appeal to get the point across while I focus on my game's real streng

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