A pet peeve of mine is overblown engines created by teams who haven’t even made a single MMO engine before. The honest truth is that most MMO development teams collapse because they can’t make the technology work. (This is very rarely the reason they admit to, though.) The server is harder to make than they think. The content creation pipeline is vastly more difficult than they expect. So MMO teams fail, more often than not.
In this environment of rampant failure, you would expect to see pragmatic engineers and designers who have modest goals and hope to do just a few cool things with their first game. Make a game with a working engine first, then go crazy with your SECOND game, right? But no, nobody thinks that way. There are lots of reasons why not, but a HUGE part of it is that they don’t think it’s going to be that hard.
“Our engineers are really smart. They’ve read why everybody else failed, and they aren’t going to make those mistakes. We have a brilliant new architecture idea that solves everything.” The sad part is that I never get to say I-told-you-so, because after these guys’ games collapse, the last thing they need is me kicking them when they’re down.
Have you ever looked into the various third-party MMO engines for sale? They are really very primitive, if they work at all. These are companies whose sole reason for existence is to create an MMO engine. And they can’t make it happen in a timely manner. And here your team expects to do all of that, plus make the world’s craziest new features on top of that and add 5,000 hours of content too. In two years. With an estimated cost of just 15 million.
Same old story.
I made the same sort of mistake when I decided to make a casual game. “Sure, everybody says they can’t make real money with indie downloadable games, but they’re doing it wrong. I’m really, really smart. I’m going to knock this out of the park.” My game was basically a failure. It sure didn’t make me rich. But I learned a lot — things I hadn’t even conceived of when I started — and my second casual game could have a real chance of success.
MMO engineers do the same thing. They think they’re going to knock it out of the park on their very first try. But in reality, it’s their second or third try that has a real chance of being amazing. Of course, unlike casual games, an MMO game can often take three, or four, or five years of toiling to get that first game out the door. That’s a big chunk of your lifetime to lose if you’re going to fail in the end.
Engineers are inherently optimists, and the best engineers are incredibly self-confident. I don’t want to change that. Hell, if people honestly assessed the risk involved in creating an MMO, very few teams would try to make one. And that would be sad.
But do me a favor. Start small. Yes, sure, your team is really smart. Way smarter than the team at Perpetual who couldn’t make their server and pipeline work after 4 years of continuous development. Sure, okay. But instead of shooting for the moon right away, could you make a simple version first? Make it a zoned architecture, like an old EQ1 server. Make that work, and if you have time left over, make it zone-free.
Just… take it in steps, okay? Sure, maybe you’ll have time to add flying mounts and realtime terrain deformation. But first just make sure you have path planning and collision detection.
You say your game will be the first to support 50,000 simultaneous players in a non-instanced contiguous landscape? Nice! But before you do that part, can you make sure your server supports 3,000 simultaneous players? (And no, your prototype that can handle 200 connections is not a good enough test. A few hundred are easy. Thousands are surprisingly hard.)
It makes me so sad when people fail after years of blood and sweat. And these failures could often be salvaged into fun games if the team hadn’t shot for the moon right from the get-go. Yes, you’re smart. I sure hope you are, because otherwise you haven’t got a chance of making an MMO. But being smart is just a prerequisite. Those other people who failed… most of them were really smart too.