Are MMOs Limited By Their Scale?
I had a blast writing about my idea for a Zombie MMORPG the other day and the response from readers was fantastic (thanks to everyone for their comments). A few of the replies even urged me to start an indie studio and make it! That would certainly be a dream no doubt, but maybe not one that’s going to happen any time soon There was also a couple of concerns about whether the audience of the game would be too limited to make such a concept “successful”. This got me wondering: is the MMO genre limited by the scale of the games?
Much like the movie business and those big summer blockbusters, video games are becoming ever larger in scale and requiring more and more time and money to develop. There is no better example of this than MMORPGs and how now players have vast expectations for new releases, thus requiring years of development and millions of dollars in funding. Yet, if we look back at the history of video games as a whole, some of the most successful and popular were made by small studies. Doom, by id Software, springs to mind here.
Are MMOs just too big to survive? We’ve now got companies like Mythic who declare their games unsuccessful if they don’t hit 500k subscribers. Is there no way for small studios to produce polished games and can compete in the market?
Although studios can buy the Unreal Engine and certainly use it as a base to produce their MMORPGs (Vanguard used it), there’s still a vast amount of work that needs to be done to modify it to create the MMO element of the game. This made me wonder something. What would the impact be on the MMORPG industry if, say, Blizzard released their World of Warcraft engine as a purchasable product for a reasonable fee?
I think the impact of smaller studios using something like the WoW engine to create their MMOs would be an amazing leap for the industry as a whole. No longer would we be limited to one or two AAA MMORPG releases a year. No longer would MMOs required hundred of thousands of subscribers over several years to be considered a success. No longer would developers err on the side of caution and stick with ’safe’ design concepts.
If MMOs could be produced in a more efficient (time and cost) manner and yet still keep their tremendously appealing scale, we’d then truly see the industry evolve. Evolution requires innovation and risk and right now the MMO genre is lacking in those simply because the requirements to produce these games is too high. However, if we could reduce the requirements and allow MMOs to be produced by smaller studies, then we might see some great things happen. Maybe then one day we’d see my survival Zombie MMORPG come to fruition.
What do you think? Are MMOs, by definition of their requirements and scale, always going to be limited? Would making a cost-effective, re-useable MMO games engine available change the industry for the better?