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General: Why Not an Indie MMO?

MikeBMikeB Community ManagerQueens, NYPosts: 6,180Administrator Rare

In our Independency column debut, we discuss the possibilities of an indie developed MMO as well as the realistic challenges that would face anyone looking to create one.

The idea of an indie MMO is, in some ways, one of the most exciting things to ponder in this industry. Free from the constraints set by mainstream expectations, an indie MMO has the potential to be just about anything within reason. A side-scrolling venture into outer space. A browser-based survival horror. A system-less, free-form sandbox filled with enemies that will stalk you like real predators. A resurrection of an old, beloved franchise. However, glorious as the concept of an indie MMO might be, it is one that is seldom explored -- a dream as impossible and as alluring as the age-gold quest to turn lead into gold.

Read more of Cassandra Khaw's Independency: Why Not an Indie MMO?


Michael "MikeB" Bitton
Community Manager
Twitter: @eMikeB



  • ChirpesChirpes Lenoir, NCPosts: 1Member

    *Scrolls right down to the "Long story short"* Thank god for kick starter. :3

  • WodgeWodge SwanseaPosts: 18Member Uncommon

    I've played a few Indie MMOs, Neverdaunt 8Bit,  Love, Realm of the Mad God.  All serious fun, but they left me always wondering "is there much longevity in this?" and to be honest, there wasn't, always fun to delve back into them every now and again, but as it stands, not going to be my main game.

  • KyleranKyleran Paradise City, FLPosts: 24,437Member Legendary

    Great comment, especially loved the highlighted part.

    "The MMO space is controlled by somewhere in the vicinity of six games at any given time: World of Warcraft, Eve Online, anything free-to-play that hasn't been shut down, and what I call the 'MMO of the Month,' i.e. the latest release (Rift, Old Republic, etc.).”

    It seems to me the best way for an Indie MMO to succeed is to identify and try to serve a very specific niche market that is being virtually ignnored by any major Developer.

    Take EVE for example, their subscribers stick with it, sometimes for many, many years because there literally is no where else for them to go, there is nothing out on the marketplace (besides Perpetuum) so they've carved out a great niche.

    I think there's still some underserved niches too, (like say, good PVE sandboxes without FFA, full loot PVP) and plenty of room for someone to give them that sort of game.

    No, you won't drag in 2M subscribers, but it will get you started and make a name for yourself, perhaps so that your next title becomes the next big thing.


    On hiatus from EVE Online since Dec 2016 - Screw off-grid PVE boosting changes

    Pouring on extra "Salt" for 2017

    In my day MMORPG's were so hard we fought our way through dungeons in the snow, uphill both ways.

    Don't just play games, inhabit virtual worlds™
    "This is the most intelligent, well qualified and articulate response to a post I have ever seen on these forums. It's a shame most people here won't have the attention span to read past the second line." - Anon

  • TheLizardbonesTheLizardbones Arkham, VAPosts: 10,910Member Common

    If I were a developer I don't think I'd go for an MMORPG. Even if I had the money for one. It just costs too much to get something acceptable. I think you could get a better product by not doing an MMORPG. I'd go for a persistent, multiplayer experience, where players run their own private servers.

    I have several reasons for thinking this is a better way to go for Indie developers and even for the AAA crowd.

    The cost of making an MMORPG is prohibitive to get a quality product. Add "MMO" to whatever you're developing and the cost escalates rapidly.

    The tools available for producing a game that runs on private servers are more readily available. There are even small scale examples of private servers on the internet. The same cannot be said for MMORPG servers.

    The experience is different for players running private servers and for the players who play on those servers. In a lot of ways, I think that experience is better, especially if the server admins can customize the experience of their server.

    I think it would be easier to sell a game as something other than an MMORPG both to the public and to investors.

    Don't get me wrong, I like MMORPG. I like them a lot actually. I just haven't seen anything that would lead me to believe that the Indie 'space' is the place for them to be developed.

    I can not remember winning or losing a single debate on the internet.

  • xaritscinxaritscin CaliPosts: 350Member Uncommon

    i think the problem is the fear to invest and get bankrupt...

    indie developers have to stop thinking in doing their projects with low budget. look the guys of CCP, EVE would have been garbage if they didnt asked for money in the bank.

  • bobfishbobfish SouthamptonPosts: 1,679Member Uncommon

    There are ways to mitigate the expense of an MMO, trouble is a lot of developers just work in the present and don't plan three or four projects down the line.

  • RalkarinRalkarin Dover, PAPosts: 4Member Uncommon

    For those of you interested in following the development of a pretty good Indie MMO and to get some insight into the design and development process, I recommend following Project Gorgon being developed by Eric Heimburg formerly of Turbine during AC2 days.

    He's been creating a lot of new mechancis and radical ideas, explaining the rationale and taking community feedback into consideration.




  • MumboJumboMumboJumbo LondonPosts: 3,219Member Uncommon

    Awesome column, has a contender for "new motto":

    "Of all the freakin' genres of games that can leave you hopelessly bankrupt overnight and with zero possibility of your game ever coming out, MMO's are the only one."

    Reminds of something... "Abandon all hope ye who enter!" ?? ... Inferno - Dante"Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate"

    "the ability for the player to host their own dedicated servers or to go peer-to-peer." 

    = perhaps the positive thing (aside from do-able) is bespoke communities?

  • CaldrinCaldrin CwmbranPosts: 4,505Member Uncommon

    Some of the best MMORPGs i have played have been indie games..


    Eve, Darkfall, Mortal online... yes all where buggy due to the lack of funds, knowlage to start with but I have to admit these games have provided me the msot fun out of any MMORPGs I have played..


    Would they have been better if the companeis had more cash to put into the games?

    Hell yeah look at whats happened to eve over the years, because of the influx of cash and steady player base it has just got better and better :)

  • OzmodanOzmodan Hilliard, OHPosts: 8,280Member Rare

    Problem with indie MMO's you mostly get products like Darkfall.  Great ideas, but failed execution of them.

    There is some genius out there probably that can get it right, just can they get a team around them that can execute it.

  • LarsaLarsa NurembergPosts: 990Member

    Interesting article.

    But to me it seems that there are quite a number of indie games already out in the MMORPG market, with Eve - obviously - the shining example for success, sadly also the only example. All other indie MMORPGs, however, have to deal with low population, little polish, shaky financials, small development teams, missing content and missing features.

    The more I think about it the more I wonder whether the players are really so demanding these days that they flat-out refuse to play anything else than big budget (and big marketing budget!) games. And it has to be a new game too it seems, aptly called the "MMO of the Month" in the article. I really wonder whether it's the developers and studios that have to change or whether it's the players. ...

    I maintain this List of Sandbox MMORPGs. Please post or send PM for corrections and suggestions.

  • jybgessjybgess Parkton, NCPosts: 355Member
    Originally posted by Ozmodan
    Problem with indie MMO's you mostly get products like Darkfall.  Great ideas, but failed execution of them. There is some genius out there probably that can get it right, just can they get a team around them that can execute it.

     I agree 100%.

    I could also add, the problem with AAA MMO's you mostly get products like TOR, Warhammer, Aion, Age of Conan, DC Universe, STO, FFXIV, Vangard SoH , Tabula rasa and  -------------------Instances

    Just my opinion.

  • MaouTsaouMaouTsaou Warrenton, ORPosts: 5Member

    So the assumption here seems to be that there is some level of undefined "quality" below which a MMORPG can not have any success. Start by defining that level of quality. The Silver comment about "more and more" failed MMORPG's is interesting in its obvious failure to note that the only genera of game that can bankrupt a developer overnight, according to Silver, is also the only genera with the subscription business model that can be strongly affected by a poor economy which is how a developer can shut down after "mere months online, even with millions of dollars backing the projects." No subscriptions. The question here is how were the prices set in the first place? Are the fees an honest assessment of the costs necessary to pay for and opperate the servers, moderate the gameworld, and develop and maintain content as distrubuted among the expected player-base or is it more like 'WoW charges x so we can too" pricing? Assuming the former are there other ways for an "indie" team to realize the funds necessary to run the thing? I was never a fan of the pay for the software so you can pay a monthly sub thing but I'd more readily consider paying a premium price for the software if not charged a monthly subscription fee. Could this, maybe coupled with a vanity/boost store, t-shirts, coffee mugs, and yada meet the bills instead of the current model? Is there any way for the indies to sluff off "departments" here? With servers and their minion opperators being the obvious gorilla in the expense room would it be possible to farm out the server side? It would be my pulled from my neather regions guess that Turbine might get some savings by having techies maintain servers for LotRO, D&D, etc. compaired to the scenario assumed by Tan in his comments on "manpower" with the indies staffing their own servers with their own people. Perhaps Turbine could be bs'ed into a MMORPG "hosting" service as a secendary revenue source? "Dudes, your already running how many games? We'll buy the servers and pay you to run them as long as we're ending up cutting overall costs by not having to maintain our own staff." That or a solution with similar results would leave the indies with the tasks of content and moderation to focus on without the silly assumption that they must take on the burden of servers because there's no other way. And I realize my neckbeard is showing here but Dwarf Fortress does some amazing things with ascii. Having been a shaver in the days before computers when we still thought digital watches were a pretty neat idea I've noticed that better graphics has little relation to better game. I understand that Dwarf Fortress 3d is never gonna fly even for most "hardcore" gamers as graphics but I'm not sure that an imposing amount of art assets is a set in stone requirement for an indie either. To end up where I started I again state that I think the assumed requirements for a "successful" MMORPG should be stated clearly.

    (Oops! sorry for the yellow text... writing through my mail browser and oddness sometimes happens)

  • Xstatic912Xstatic912 New York, NYPosts: 365Member
    Execution & Cash....

    That's why Indie mmo have a hard time making it.. You also see it in xbox 360 Indie released games too, you can only say to yourself "great idea but the execution just isn't there yet"...
  • NoizMchnNoizMchn Atlanta, GAPosts: 29Member Uncommon

    My eyes!!!

  • TheLizardbonesTheLizardbones Arkham, VAPosts: 10,910Member Common

    Originally posted by NoizMchn
    My eyes!!!

    Mine too. :-(

    I can not remember winning or losing a single debate on the internet.

  • Garvon3Garvon3 Worcester, MAPosts: 2,898Member

    Indie seems to be the way to go.

    Darkfall started out as an indie niche game, and it has been slowly but surely growing. Aventurine has gone from 19 devs at launch, to 50 now. Darkfall boxes are in stores. A second server was opened. And now, they've got a new publisher and they're going to launch a massive (free) overhault of Darkfall in the near future. It seems to be following in Eve's footsteps.


    Meanwhile, SWTOR is in a downward spiral, losing devs and players by the day. Rift already merged servers. LotRO was forced to go FTP. Aion has all but vanished. Aoc was dead on arrival and never recovered.

  • TheocritusTheocritus Gary, INPosts: 5,066Member Rare

          Hmmm I'd heard people saying they left Darkfall because no one was playing much anymore.......They probably have 50 devs because they are working on Darkfall 2.0......As for Indie MMOs in general, the ones I have played have all had very low pops....Some of them weren't bad games, just most gamers aren't willing to go out on a limb and stick with them.

  • Garvon3Garvon3 Worcester, MAPosts: 2,898Member
    Originally posted by Theocritus
          Hmmm I'd heard people saying they left Darkfall because no one was playing much anymore.......They probably have 50 devs because they are working on Darkfall 2.0......As for Indie MMOs in general, the ones I have played have all had very low pops....Some of them weren't bad games, just most gamers aren't willing to go out on a limb and stick with them.

    Many people stopped playing because almost all development on the current game has stopped, as everyone is working on the 2.0 relaunch. But they're doing a big promotion right now that's brought most people back, with 2.0 right around the corner.


    Salem is another indy game worth looking at right now. Paradise for crafters and Ultima Online types.

  • KenFisherKenFisher Northwest, INPosts: 5,035Member Uncommon

    The way I see it, quality is a combination of design and execution.


    Indie devs are more likely to take risk with design as a way to set themselves apart from the competition.  This can be good or bad depending on how well the design is received by the playerbase.


    Execution for an Indie is tough.  Working with lower budgets, small teams, and sometimes inferior tools means they have to work harder and smarter to produce a quality release.


    One common problem I see in Indie devs is setting the feature list so high that it distracts from what should be a priority, namely solid coding.  All the features in the world don't matter if the base framework is buggy.

    Ken Fisher - Semi retired old fart Network Administrator, now working in Network Security.  I don't Forum PVP.  If you feel I've attacked you, it was probably by accident.  When I don't understand, I ask.  Such is not intended as criticism.
  • troublmakertroublmaker St. George''s, NFPosts: 337Member

    I think what is missing is a clear definition of exactly what is an indie game, or what is an independent studio.  In normal games we call indie games those that are not tied down by the constraints of a major publishers.  In the case of MMOs most of the developers self publish.  So in a sense, most MMOs are actually indie games.  The ones that aren't are those from Blizzard, Bioware, and ArenaNet.  Maybe there are a few others I'm not mentioning but for the most part the MMO industry is pretty independent.

  • lokanalokana Sacramento, CAPosts: 5Member
    It always comes down to money.  Indie Devs start with very little money and burn through it fast.  To survive, they have to release their unfinished / buggy game to bring in some cash.  The hope is that players like it, and stick with the developer long enough for them to be able to polish the game more.  That model doesn't work as well as it used to since there's so much competition now.  Players are more likely to keep hunting for that perfect game.
    I’m an Indie Developer, and we’re trying to make an MMO with absolutely no money.  There’s a lot of advantages to that.  We’re never going to run out of money.  We can also take chances on people that we think are talented even if they don’t fit a conventional mold.
    There’s about 25 of us on the team right now, though that number slowly increases.  We’re all students or recent graduates from game programming or art related colleges in Sacramento, CA.  Aside from working on a few other indie MMO projects as a designer, I’m really the only one on the team with game industry experience, and it’s not that impressive, but if, like some of you guys are saying, we can execute our ideas right, I think this game will end up pretty cool.
    We’re about 7 months into production.  We have our first buildings and characters modeled(we spent a really long time getting our concepts down before we started building anything).  We’re using the HeroEngine so we already have a system where you can log in, create a character and fight stuff.  We still have a whole lot of work to go.  If anyone wants to follow our progress, you can google Dawnshine Online.
  • maplestonemaplestone Ottawa, ONPosts: 3,099Member Uncommon

    What about getting some bright people to put together a basic API standard that would let different minigames talk to each other without knowing anything about the physics of the world they are in?  Then, rather than creating an entire MMO, indie developers could focus on creating one piece of a collection of games that would sum up to being an MMO.

  • kb056kb056 redford, MIPosts: 423Member Common

    SWG-Pre CU is the only "Indie" style game that could survive and thrive. Won't ever be a WoW killer but it will last alot longer then all other "indie" games combined.

  • AstrinaAstrina Phoenix, AZPosts: 46Member Uncommon

    To me, ATITD (A Tale in the Desert) is an indie MMO (probably one of the first made). It's got a low population (around 2k players at it's peak) and it's done just fine with it's unique replayability. You see, they end the world and start over again (takes about 2 years to play then it's restarted). The dev team has certainly slacked in recent years but in the beginning the dev was constantly making changes and updating as we played (no down time).


     It's unique and different, no mobs to fight at all. It's about crafting, building, competition and a whole lot of politics.  Are the graphics top of the line? Nope. Are the crafting puzzles and politics unique and fun? You bet. Sadly, many hard-core players (they come back tale after tale) are now starting to leave. The dev just does not show as much interest anymore and the players can feel it. 


    But as an indie syle MMO, I would say this is a great example of a new and unique approach (no rinse and repeat here). This game and others like it would do just fine. No, they probably won't have 5 million players, but with a good game...players do stay and it's very possible to make a living doing it. If more developers would take a look at that game, we might see some fresh new ideas implemented  in new ways.

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