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Realistic MMO Research! - mikemcleanuk - Jan 25, 2010 05:52 PM

Hello, firstly after reading some guides on here i understand this thread is probably common and wont be well received however i have some questions regarding the prep-work and the potential of an idea i have had for a MMO.

I am beginning to flesh out substantial game play details for my MMO idea and already have some very strong information. I have a lot of base programming background from advanced PHP and currently studying Java at University. I have also studied C++ for a year before changing to my current course. If my project was to take off i would be drastically improving my C++ experience and knowledge.

Anyway on to my questions. My idea is based on a current film franchise, with regards to gaining rights to use their intellectual property what is the best method of heading forward? Originally i was planning on compiling a portfolio of my game design and presenting this to some form of related contact within the films franchise. Would this be the best course of action? And am i able to copyright my idea even though it is based on an already copyrighted franchise?

Realistic MMO Research! - NelsonMandella - Jan 25, 2010 08:47 PM

I can't exactly tell but it sounds like you're toying with the idea of creating this game yourself or with a self-assembled team, if you are you should totally forget about it.

No reputable film studio would simply hand over an ip license to a developer with a good, or even great design doc.

And no, you couldn't copyright something infringing directly upon someone else's ip, a non-parodying game design would not be covered under fair use and any claim you made to a copyright would be invalid.

Realistic MMO Research! - mikemcleanuk - Jan 25, 2010 09:54 PM

No i wasn't planning on creating the game myself. I would probably attempt to enlist a more reputable games design company to do the main part of the work however with the hope of me being a part of the team they put together.

My question i guess is do i need to purpose my ideas to a development company first or contact the film franchise first? For example the film franchise could tell me that providing i complete a certain checklist such as getting a games design company on board along with others that they will likely grant me the rights. And that i should come back in the future with the development company and some more concept design and they will review the case and decide if we can have the rights then.

Realistic MMO Research! - OneSadCookie - Jan 25, 2010 10:41 PM

Well, you're going to need a team of say 10 developers and 20 artists for say 3 years, total cost of salaries and equipment somewhere around $10,000,000. Compared to that, another couple of million for IP rights, middleware, premises, console development licenses, etc. will be a drop in the bucket. Presumably you've got quite a lot of cash on hand from your previous games, and probably some venture capitalists or a big-name publisher up your sleeve too.

And please don't say "Avatar". That would be soooooo predictable.

Realistic MMO Research! - mysteriouspants - Jan 26, 2010 02:50 PM

OneSadCookie Wrote:Well, you're going to need a team of say 10 developers and 20 artists for say 3 years, total cost of salaries and equipment somewhere around $10,000,000.

That's actually a frighteningly accurate number just to get the game built.

Developer base salary is roughly $80,000 per year if you're in the USA, add another $4,000 in the bucket for the healthcare slush fund. This is actually a fee contracted out to a special insurance, so if someone has a quadruple amputation and a triple bypass and gets cancer, you won't be footing a $100,000 hospital bill by yourself. How fun!

So, roughly $84,000 * 30 employees * 3 years = $7,560,000.00 USD.

Now let's run the equipment costs!

Let's assume you're targeting Microsoft Windows because you want to make some money on the off-chance you don't think debtors prison is fun.

30x Developer Workstations: 30x * $2,500 = $75,000.00 USD **
30x Windows 7 Professional Licenses (OEM): 30 * $250 = $7,500.00 USD
20x Photoshop Licenses: 20 * $600 = $12,000.00 USD
20x 3DSMax Licenses: 20 * $3,495 = $69,900.00 USD
10x Visual Studio Team System seats (comes with MSDN membership): 10 * $10,000 * 3 years (yes, it is that expensive!) = $300,000.00 USD ***

** I'm going with the figure for my dream iMac 27". It's a decent machine - not the fastest in the world, but it represents a price point that has a good balance of hardware and cost.
*** what does that get you? phone support, preferential treatment, oh, and the ability to compile against 64-bit systems. You might be able to get away with the $5,000 subscription, but hey, you want the BEST for your team, don't you?

Subtotal: $464,400.00 USD + $7,560,000.00 USD = $8,024,400.00 USD

Now this is a tad lower than Keith's numbers. But wait, there's more! You're building an MMO! Guess what, that involves SERVERS! And they aren't free, and they aren't cheap.

Not just anyone will host game servers. You'll need to go through a special host such as Hypernia ( which has datacenters and machines built for this stuff. Hosting a game server from most datacenters is grounds for an eviction!

Additionally, you'll need to think about publishing costs. This means getting your game to your customers! You could print CDs or DVDs. Oh fun! This means going through an established publisher like EA or Ubisoft, who will probably sign you into a bad contract involving your surrender of the IP to the game if you should fail to meet a deadline. Not fun.

Why not digital download? Hey, you know that a DreamHost account isn't going to cut it? No, imagine releasing a patch. Say you have 300,000 subscribers. Oh no, DreamHost's network router just exploded (again)! You need a Content Delivery Network, or CDN. They're expensive, but thankfully there are folks who have them and will sell you space on them. But this, as with everything else, costs money.

Or what about folks like CCP Hf.? They run a successful MMORPG with 300,000 subscribers. Not quite World of Warcraft, but that's success you could expect, right? They own their own datacenter in London. Just the rent for the building is going to be astronomical.

So let's say you go the cheap route and host through Hypernia, and use their CDN too. Blam, you're out roughly $100,000 a month. But you can avoid that during the first year of development, maybe two. Later on, you're going to want to actually deploy to the live server. (Release night is NOT the time to figure out that things are working differently than you planned).

Subtotal: $8,024,400.00 USD + ($100,000.00 USD * 12 months) = $9,224,400.00 USD

Now, this is all fine and dandy. But this is a perfect world right now, where the only thing is building the game. But what about the nuts and bolts which hold the whole thing together? You're going to need:
  • Marketing. If nobody buys, why bother?
  • Web developers, to build a lovely site to sell your game.
  • System administrators to keep your servers running and to keep the forums running. As any iDevGamer can attest, forums do NOT stay running without effort!
  • Customer support technicians. There will be problems, there will be angry customers. You need a frontline to help them.
  • Legal counsel. Laugh if you will, but someone on retainer to notorize documents, respond to patent infringement claims, and just to scare away nare-do-wells with malevolent legal-ese is going to be a must-have!
  • Accountants. If you can't figure out why you'll need them, STAY OUT OF BUSINESS!
  • Evangelists. You need people to go out and talk about your game. Hire people to play it on laptops in New York City. Whatever. Kind of like marketing, but this is more in-your-face. Marketing makes ads and convinces the developers to release videos. Evangelists are the folks who troll IRC waiting to suggest your game when someone talks about MMOs.

So now, let's be conservative and estimate that you hire:

2 marketing: 2 * $70,000.00 USD
2 web developers (they work better in pairs, anyways): 2 * $80,000.00 USD
1 System administrator (just promise him you'll hire an intern for him when the game goes live): $80,000.00 USD
1 customer support tech (during development, this guy will be the dude who talks to beta testers. developers should NEVER talk to customers outside of carefully controlled conferences where the full marketing team is on hand to clarify whatever the developer says) $70,000.00 USD
1 lawyer: $110,000.00 USD
1 accountant: $70,000.00 USD
1 evangelist. Will work alongside the marketers, but he's got a different job description. This guy will be planting adverts during development to try and generate a desire for your game even before you announce it.: $70,000.00 USD

(Let's be nice and assume you give them all medical and dental as well.)

9 employees * $4,000 medical = $36,000.00 USD

Altogether all those support staff cost $700,000.00 USD (per year)

Subtotal it again: $9,224,400.00 USD + ($736,000.00 USD * 3 years) = $11,432,400.00 USD

Now this is all before you do something novel like rent an office building, buy desks and chairs, pay the electric bill, etc.

So, three years and maybe $12 - $13 million USD later, you have a game. Congratulations. Go out of business now. You're going to need even more money to make it through the first year or two of being able to make a revenue before you can expect to see your first profit. Notice how this is before tacking on franchise fees to pay for the IP you're infringing on.

Another note, most professional MMOs have bigger teams. CCP Hf. employs 300 developers worldwide, full time. So, to put it bluntly, you should only expect to build a below-average MMO at the very best. Nothing to compete with the big boys on the block, that's for sure.

My suggestion: try something smaller first. Build a portfolio. Go get employed. Work your way up the ladder at an existing studio and then you'll get your project. There are obvious advantages to this as well. By doing this, you'll have the experience to produce a game (not just any idiot can do it - it requires intimate knowledge of the field in addition to a kind of leadership and charisma that you obviously believe you have, otherwise you wouldn't try and lead a project).

Whatever you do, good luck! You're going to need every favor dame fortuna will bestow upon you!

Realistic MMO Research! - AndyKorth - Jan 26, 2010 03:24 PM

Bless you cmiller for typing that all up. That all sounds pretty accurate. I've read 6 million USD as an absolute low point for a MMORPG, but I believe a few of the games in that range were web games.

Good to see you mentioned legal fees, one of our recent games that we worked on had over 11,000 USD of legal fees associated with it. Obviously it was a LOT smaller than a MMORPG.

You could probably save a bit by contracting offshore for a lot of your art, etc. A few months ago the producer of Deadspace came and gave a talk about the game. As an EA producer, she knew a lot about the people working on it. There were a total of 65 internal (EA) people working on the game, and 40 overseas.

Here are some of my notes:

Quote:1 executive producer
2 Game design directors: What makes the game sell and cool features to make it special
4 Product Production. Contracts with microsoft, sony, Nintendo. Organizing focus groups and negotiations with other contacts ( voice actors I believe)

8 internal 3 exernal game engineers. Writing engine, PS3 port.
2 + 9 character art (2 internal, 9 overseas, mostly china. I use this format below)
13 + 6 animation
2 riggers
10 + 15 environment people (halls, displays, doors, etc)
6 lighters
1 VFX artist, explosions, atmosphere, blood, lasers
1 techincal artist support, Sandra
2 tech arts, dismemberment ragdoll physics corruption growth
4 sound designers
3 + 1 art and enginerr management for budgets and communication
65 internal 40 external total. (I wasn't sure if I caught them all, so it might not add up, she was talking fast)

Rendering people were in france
UI in argentina
Lots of art from china EA office in Shanghai and somewhere else in china

So the team was a bit bigger than 30, but it was pretty art and effect heavy. Sounds like the game was more or less made in 23 months if the rest of my notes were accurate.

Realistic MMO Research! - AndyKorth - Jan 26, 2010 03:30 PM

But don't let those posts above discourage you! I wrote a multiplayer rpg and after my third try over seven years I got something that didn't totally suck. (more than 3 people played it for more than a few hours each)

Realistic MMO Research! - mysteriouspants - Jan 26, 2010 03:54 PM

AndyKorth Wrote:But don't let those posts above discourage you! I wrote a multiplayer rpg and after my third try over seven years I got something that didn't totally suck. (more than 3 people played it for more than a few hours each)

I <3 Reclaimed. Seven years though? That's a long time for an MMO to stay in development. If you're trying to market an expensive title with mandatory subscription fees and what not, after seven years all your technology will be hopelessly out of date - unless you want to go with Duke Nukem Forever syndrome.

But realistically speaking, MMOs (and especially so the big 3d professional ones) are difficult to build. You're going to need a larger team, so 30 folks full time seems about the bare minimum to my sensibilities.

Realistic MMO Research! - AndyKorth - Jan 26, 2010 04:05 PM

cmiller Wrote:I <3 Reclaimed. Seven years though?

Lol, yeah. Funny how the game looks ten years old when it's only seven! Like the original poster, when I started I didn't have a lot of skillz, so a lot of that time was spent learning. But as a hobby and a learning experience, it's a lot of fun and time well spent. But I'm sure not gonna spend money on an IP for it.

Realistic MMO Research! - mysteriouspants - Jan 26, 2010 04:07 PM

AndyKorth Wrote:Lol, yeah. Funny how the game looks ten years old when it's only seven! Like the original poster, when I started I didn't have a lot of skillz, so a lot of that time was spent learning. But as a hobby and a learning experience, it's a lot of fun and time well spent. But I'm sure not gonna spend money on an IP for it.

I think it's awesome, like a little sandbox you can share with friends. As a learning experience I'm sure it was awesome though, and the pattern re-use you can get out of it for different projects should be near endless.

Realistic MMO Research! - Kerome - May 23, 2010 04:01 AM

Just to add a bit more to the business side for the OP - if there's anything I've learnt over the time i've been in the games industry, it's that everyone has their own ideas (which they believe are great) and that getting them to take your design on board is a tough sell unless you are in the power position, ie control the money. I've seen game developers take publisher's ideas on in order to get a contract, but I've never yet seen a case of a major developer taking on a project which was originated by an independent designer (actually - i did hear of one - but that was about 20 years ago). Sad, but there you are, in this way the games industry does not function anything like the movie industry, which seems to be more open to third-party pitches.

For anyone who does want to try and get something like this made, I'd suggest the best route is getting together a small team and doing a kick-ass demo, and then going to the IP rights holder and getting them to at least part-fund, and then go looking for a developer... However, you should realise it's pretty long odds for commercial mmo projects. I know of at least one group of industry professionals with 10+ years of AAA experience in art, tech and production - basically a mini-studio ready to go - with demo and a quality presentation who could not get a project of this type off the ground and had to disband.

In terms of copyright, the answer is probably 'no', copyright applies to the text of your presentation but not to the ideas contained inside. You can try and protect your ideas by getting an NDA and asking them to sign it, which they may or may not do (i'd guess a 50-50 chance that they will just choose not to look at any ideas under NDA unless they're from a reputable source), but often these kinds of pitches just happen in good faith.