Thursday, February 3, 2011

Beneath the Giants' Feet

You know that game developer is a very specific kind of job. But you decided to take the risk anyway and finally convinced some investors. A few million dollars, perhaps even a 8-digit number. What do you do now?

Well, you should know that there are two giants out there who want to crush you. The first one obviously is Activision Blizzard. How much money do they invest into their next-generation MMORPG? Have look at this and this to get an idea of how much money they could afford to invest.

Currently World of Warcraft creates a revenue of about one billion $ a year. That is a quite conservative assumption. So, if they exspect the market to grow, if for no other reason than due to globalization, they could easily invest some $500mio. Is it even possible to invest so much money in one single MMO? Good question; up to now nobody has tried.

Secondly there is Bioware. According to this unconfirmed leak, Bioware has already invested some $300 Mio in their new Star Wars MMO.

These are the big guys who control the playground right now or risk a lot to get into control. Failure is not an option for them. For these guys the projects are too big to fail. They are in a position that forces them to go all-in.
(Failure may still happen, but not if money could have prevented it).

What's even worse for you is that the MMO market shares a property with the music industry. You see, there are about 21 mio potential subscribers right now. The vast majority of them only plays one (non-free) MMO at a time. These games aren't designed to be played just for a month. You either play one or none. And that is why in this market, just like in the music industry, the winner takes it all.

So, you are about to create a MMO at about one 1/10 the costs. Can you compete? No. Add experience and existing infrastructure to the equation and the answer is "Hell no!". Should you give up? No, of course not. There is a solution to your problem: Just don't attack from the front.

Blizzard, as well as Bioware follow a very specific approach: They look at an MMO as if it were an improved single player game. For Bioware that is not even surprising. With Dragon Age and Mass Effect they control the market for single player role playing games.

If you aim for a different kind of consumer, you could well profit from the publicity of MMORPGs without actually competing with the giants. A company that does exactly this for about a decade now is CCP with EVE Online (about 300k subscribers). But EVE Online is old and it is in space. See where I am going ?


  1. The distinguishing point about EVE isn't that it's set in space, its that it is a very different game. Instead of inevitable gear progression there is harsh gear loss, the focus is on a sandbox economy/society, ability improvements occur based on time and nothing more, and so on.

    One could develop a similar playing game set in a fantasy milieu, and it would work well too.

  2. I agree, Garumoo. This is exactly my point. There is 8-years old game that has a monopoly on it's kind of game design and 300k subscribers, even though anybody can tell you that the accessibility is non-existant and the user interface is a catastrophe.

    And you don't even need to produce a rival to that game if you want to take your share from the market. You could copy/paste the game on a 2D-fantasy landscape benefiting from proven gameplay and the favourite theme of the masses.

    Add some lessons learnt from WoW, Mindcraft and ATitD and there you go.