Indie MMORPG Develeopers Making Great Games

by Daniel Reynolds, May 30 2010

The MMORPG market is one that seems to be dominated by large developers. But for every Blizzard Entertainment (World of WarCraft) there are dozens of smaller independent (indie) developers that are hard at work to create enjoyable MMORPGs. And while they may not have the notoriety of the major developers, many of these indie MMORPG developers have created games that score high in entertainment value, and have displayed a strong staying power.

Indie MMORPG development teams are loosely defined as a team of 1-10 (sometimes 15) people developing a game without the backing of a major company. This immediately creates several difficulties for the indie MMORPG developer. First, without the backing of a major company, the developer is very limited in what they can spend. More money means being able to hire more developers, artist, and writers which can help make your game much more rich and entertaining. A high quality MMORPG will cost millions to develop (Some indie MMORPGs have been created for less than $1 million dollars, Puzzle Pirates for example had a development budget of approximately $750 thousand), which is much less than most independent developers have at their disposal. Indie MMORPG developers are usually limited to themselves and a small staff to handle all of those creative elements.

Another limitation that the indie MMORPG developer faces thanks to a limited budget is a shorter time frame. A development team that is backed by a major company usually has the freedom to take years to develop a game. Because funds are limited for the indie MMORPG developer, they are faced with having to create a game before the money runs out. There are however, some tools that indie MMORPG developers use to either shorten game development time or increase the amount of time they have to develop a game. One method for shortening development time is to take an existing game engine, and create new content around that. One example of this is Last Chaos, which is an MMO game that takes the Lineage II graphics and creates a new storyline, thus creating a new game. One method of increasing the time you have to develop a game (and a route that many indie developers take), is to offer development team members shares of the company in lieu of some or all of their payment. This will allow a developer to pay less up front in the development phase, and has the added advantage of creating a development team that has a vested interest in putting together a successful game.

Success in the MMORPG market can be a very hard thing to come by. There are many games competing for the same customers, and much of the market is dominated by large publishers who can afford to lose money in the short run in order to create long term interest in their game (NcSoft's MMO Lineage was in open Beta for over a year). But despite this, indie MMORPG developers have managed to create a number of games such as StarQuest Online and Pirates of the Burning Sea which have shown a strong and ongoing level of support.

Works Cited
James, D. (2010). Bringing the Item-Based Model to the Western Market (online PowerPoint presentation). Retrieved 05 19, 2010, from djames.org: djames.org/gstar.ppt