My regular job — the one I’ve been doing half-time — has had a crisis and I’ve had to switch back to doing it full time while we deal with an emergency. This will probably delay my plans for 3-5 weeks, I’m guessing. Frustrating, but the up-side is that afterwards, I will be able to take a chunk of time and work just on the MMO for several weeks. Working full time on the game is much more efficient than part-time work on it, so this delay has a silver lining.
Lessons from Star Corsairs
Dave Toulouse’s discussion of his indie Flash MMO “Star Corsairs” was informative. He shared sales and distribution numbers for it here.
In a nutshell, he worked on it for 5 months, launched the game with the last remains of his savings, and then promoted it hard for two weeks. He earned $273.31 in those two weeks, which wasn’t enough to keep him fed, so he’s had to go get a day job. He’s still hopeful it will pick up more steam as time goes on, but he couldn’t wait any longer.
The lessons seem to be:
- It’s really hard to get attention for your indie MMO
- You’d better plan on having the game live for a while, because at first it’s not going to have many players
I admit I haven’t paid a ton of attention to the publicity aspect of my MMO yet — I mean, this blog has kind of become a publicity blog in its own way, but aside from that, maybe I should start doing promotional efforts more aggressively right now. That feels like a whole separate job that I don’t know how to do (and don’t have time to do), though. I’ll be thinking about that aspect of the game.
Lessons from Lego Universe
I played Lego Universe for a few hours, and it seemed pretty nice. It didn’t quite hit all my buttons to make me pay for it, but I think it’s a pretty tight game. So I was surprised to hear it was going away. It just went free-to-play in August! They spent millions on this game, and they have 2 million sign ups, but they weren’t able to figure out a satisfactory revenue model for their target audience. The shuttering of Lego Universe means over 130 people are losing their jobs, too.
The game had an unfortunate development history, but I didn’t know any of that history when I played it: it just felt like a pretty decent little MMO. I didn’t realize an entire 130-person studio was riding on its success. So it feels like another game like Tabula Rasa: the final game may not have been a million-dollars-a-month moneygasm, but I’m sure they were making more money from it than it cost to run the servers and keep a small support team on it. But they needed the game to pay for 130 peoples’ salaries, plus pay back the millions they spent developing it. In the end I think it’s a lot less about the game, and more about how it just cost too much to make and run.
The lessons there seem to be:
- Don’t overspend/overstaff your MMO
- Don’t take too long developing it
- Find a way to earn money from your target audience
Pre-Alpha 1 Comes When?
I think both of these games’ lessons point out that I need to get something playable ASAP. I’m supposed to be testing this month with “Pre-Alpha 1”, which I scrambled to get working by the end of October. Now this emergency has pulled me away from the game entirely for a few weeks, so I guess Pre-Alpha 1 will be in November instead.
I also worry that Pre-Alpha 1 is not “playable” enough. I’ve been so focused on making sure the server architecture works that the content isn’t organized yet. So it’s basically a tech demo, with various vendors and items and monsters and quests lying about, ready to be used to test bits of the technology. It’s not really a game at all yet — more like a big pile of game parts that haven’t been quite assembled together.
The #1 goal of Pre-Alpha 1 is to make sure my server technology is stable, but in order to do that I need a dozen players logged in, all at once, playing for over an hour. If I need people playing the game for an hour, it stands to reason I need at least an hours’ worth of gameplay! I actually have that much content, more or less — I just don’t have it all connected and glued together. So if I just connect some of the quests and pieces a little bit, I think I can get that working. Hopefully that will happen by early next month, but it will depend on when I can get back to work on it.
Although I’m not coding on the game this week, some of the art I’ve ordered is coming in. Check out these combat ability icons. They’re being created at 64 x 64 pixel resolution, but are also designed to be legible at 32 x 32. That way, if you have a gigantic screen, you can see them in big-size, but in a little window, they’re half-size.
It can be very tricky to get icons that look good at both 32 x 32 and 64 x 64 — you need a balance of legibility (so it’s understandable at small size) and detail (so it looks good at large size). So I’m very happy with the look of these so far. Here’s just a couple (mixed and matched from different combat styles):