Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

25 June, 2007

An indie MMOG writeup
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 3:07 AM

Eric Rhea, one of the minds behind the indie online game Wraith: The Iron Horse just posted up a fascinating look at indie online game development from a practical point of view. It includes some figures and other information about what the team learned in their trial by fire.

Not much more to add, but I have a quick comment after the break.

Unfortunately, some of the data is currently in black text on a dark blue background. I guess Eric is still learning about that whole “art” thing. ;) Just highlight the information to read it.

One serious issue he brings up is how indie games can compete with the bigger games:

I’m running out of time to explore this and the related issues, so I’ll just raise the indie-dev questions:
Your players experienced the functionality of the AAA titles and expect it from you, no matter what you say. What next?
You will have folks complain about your graphics quality compared to the AAA titles. As this rift continues to grow, what impact will it have on your title?
Think real carefully: how would your game handle comparison to other titles and folks saying that they won’t play until those similar features are in place?

The real answer is that you are competing with the other games even if you don’t want to. You need to find something you do better and focus on that competitive advantage. In the case of many indie games, there is an original setting to consider. You can’t just clone WoW and expect your indie game to be successful. Almost every single successful indie game has something they offer that nobody else had. Runescape had free play and cheap subscriptions, for example, which allowed them to attract an amazing number of players with a game that does not, in general, compete directly with larger games in areas such as graphical presentation. (That’s the nice way of saying it looks ugly.)

Further, you have to accept that not everyone is going to play your indie game. Some people are going to balk if you don’t have feature X they love. So, you have to adjust your expectations, and take advantage of the fact that you are going to have less (but most likely more rabidly dedicated) customers than other games do. A business model other than subscriptions will help you take advantage of this fact easier.

Anyway, go read the post. Fascinating stuff. Anyone else have any indie stories to share?


  1. A good read. Even with the advances in technology, it still boggles my mind that indie MMOGs are able to get up and running at all. Sure they can leverage existing technologies, but on the other hand, the expectations of players have been steadily rising for the past 10 years.

    When someone figures out how to make a game with the breadth and polish and fun factor of WoW, in 2 years + a couple million dollars, I will be really impressed.

    Someday I hope to give the MMOG space a try, but not until it gets easier than making AAA console titles is today! =)

    Comment by moo — 25 June, 2007 @ 2:51 PM

  2. Further, you have to accept that not everyone is going to play your indie game. Some people are going to balk if you don’t have feature X they love.

    Actually, it’s probably a good sign if not everyone likes your game.

    I use the restaurant analogy: McDonalds, Denny’s and whatnot are mass-market restaurants. They design their food to offend no one… and ultimately, this means that their food pleases no one.

    Your local Sushi Bar, Moroccan cafe, etc. restaurants offend a lot of people. (Personally, I don’t like sushi.) However, those people that like it, really like it, and keep coming back.

    Comment by Mike Rozak — 25 June, 2007 @ 10:29 PM

  3. Pseudo-Random Linkage

    [...] points out an excellent article by indie MMO dev Eric Rhea, adding some commentary of his own as well. Good [...]

    Pingback by Voyages in Eternity — 26 June, 2007 @ 4:13 AM

  4. Mike’s words are very wise. If you’re going to be a little guy entering a market full of bigger guys, then you must be disruptive. Otherwise, you’ll be swept away as a second-rate imitation.

    Eric, you have balls the size of peaches for posting those numbers. A few friends and I been trying to make a MMO on a limited budget too. The amounts and types of expendatures you’re making is pretty much inline with what I’m experiencing. Art, licences, hardware and music currently consumes most of my money. I’d guess the current figure hovers at about 20K.

    We’re not paying anyone salaries. Instead, I’ve promised a percentage of the gross for the first year. This has the wonderful effect of giving the other members of the team a sense of ownership. On the other hand, the other team members know they can’t be held liable if something goes terribly wrong. It’s not a perfect solution to salaries, but it’s an alternative.

    I also lucked out by meeting up with the Iron Will Games guys. I’m using their account management system which gives me all the needed administration functionality.

    For example: IP logging, banning, player history, monthly payments, micropayments, monthly micropayments, launcher and patcher technology, and GM support. Or… Payment by credit cards, Paypal, Pay by cash, or some guy sending a check in an envelope.

    These are all things that’ll kill a little guy like me if they’re not just right. I’ll shut up now.

    Comment by Bobby Thurman — 26 June, 2007 @ 7:23 AM

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