My picks and grading are from experience and testing of these engines over the last 13 years so this compilation takes in the zone type game engines and the open world infinitely large world design engines. I take into account complexity of the development pipeline and the price.
Top two picks for indies is kind of a toss up because one engine has more features in pipeline but the other has a better network scalability. The others picks in order are graded as complexity increases for their requirements
Top two picks for me. (1 and 2)
I wanted to be able to build a infinitely large world and I wanted the engine to be capable of performing at a reasonably good level.
. – Has so many features that can’t list them all. Worth mentioning here is unlimited world size, destructible environment, advance path finding. Has a very indie friendly art pipeline and very rapid development cycle. Probably the best engine on the market for the investment of any indie developer games for any type of game.
The down side of this engine is that it requires C++ and to make a MMORPG you need to make a better network infrastructure. The one that is developed will work but it does not have the capability of enterprise level connections. It has a CScript syntax editor but the raw power of C++ makes this one probably the best engine for the 100 buck investment. With the new EE2 editor it is designed to make collaborative editing a lot simpler and faster.
. – You need to be knowledgeable of Python programming language but it offers the gridded world that is infinitely large. The server structure is a enterprise level grid design so scalability is based on the number of cores available you can achieve 100,000+ CCU with the right number of cores to a single world design. It has MySQL database for indies now which makes it capable of handling enterprise level connections. It is more fault tolerant than others because the persistence can be put into the database.
Down side of this engine is that the support is very minimal unless you display a degree of skill to the engine developers. They are no longer limiting you to 10K subscribers as far as I know but you don’t have any means to use any external 3rd party add-ons and you have the watermark on your client. They want you to buy the commercial package but if you show that your game has potential they will work to help ya. The 10% loyalty cost.
3. – Unity engine.
Unity offers a wide range of features and has a very active community. Offers a infinitely large world design with the pro package which has background streaming. With the right packaged network code you can build a MMORPG. Down side of this one is the amount of interfacing you have to do in order to make a MMO ready game.
4 . – Hero Engine.
This engine is great and has all the bells and whistles for any game maker. Lots of features.
Downside is the lack of gridding out your worlds. The ridiculous 30% royalty which kills your profits. The world build cycle is difficult and time consuming and art pipeline requires expensive external editors for assets. (Max/Maya) Requires cloud computing so if it stops like others have in the past you’re screwed unless someone picks it up under MIT, GPL or some form of licensing.
5. – Multiverse game engine.
Multiverse is open source under MIT license now. Much like Hero except not cloud dependent. In its prime this engine was a good choice but it is dated now. The new developers are making changes and trying to make it better so stay tuned there if you have some serious interest in the future. I personally had a world up and fully functional in 2009 with this engine. Very easy to work with but like I said very dated.
6. – Ryzom Core.
Open source under Alfrado LGPL. Has a shard design with limited number of CCU but is fully functional engine. You have to be highly knowledgeable in C++, LUA and MySQL to use this one. I did some minor code fixes and got this functional a couple years ago and had a functional demo world up and running. Lots of nice things you can do with this engine.
NOTE: The game you make is the database and the scripts which are your property but if you use any asset or script from the project you will be required to share your work. Otherwise if you don’t use anything but your own stuff in the game, your game is your property. If you make any changes to the core program you are required to share those changes.
7. – Massiv MMO engine.
Another unknown open source middleware engine which is probably the fore runner of BigWorlds. LOT of down sides to this one but worthy of a ranking. Has very similar features to BWT but is very difficult to understand. Does not work directly out of the box so you have to fix code in the encryption system. I got a working demo running after a couple days of debugging. It has unlimited world size because it is designed for the web and servers scattered across the globe. Has its own built in database which make it a level of persistence above a normal MMO engine. Made for real-world simulations which persist even after it is shut down. You have to manually reset the world.
The bigger downside of this engine is it was build with SDL as its video driver so it is not very nice looking. With a little elbow grease and some working knowledge of C++ one could build a truly unique game. This engine will fall under abandoned code soon and will be available for a new developer and new license description. Probably fall into public domain MIT or ZLIB. Once it hit this status a prime candidate graphics engine would be Irrlicht.
8. – Delta3D
Delta3D is not really a MMORPG engine but has the capability. Has one of the best animation blending available. It is built more for military simulations. I have tested this one out several years ago and was actually impressed with OSG as it base graphic engine. It is another complex system that will require a lot of study but this engine can pull off some amazing stuff.
9 – Crystalspace.
Although Crystalspace core is not in itself a MMO engine the code base of Planeshift MMORPG is available to study and develop into your own game.
Crystalspace is one engine that is useable across many platforms so it can be a great benefit to someone wanting to get their games out for other than windows.
10– Your own rolled MMO engine.
Don’t need to say more here.
Physics engines - Bullet, PhyisX or possibly Havok
Network packages – Raknet, ICE
Database – MySQL, Berkeley, Your own built in DB
Last – Here is some advice hope you listen.
Don’t expect others to do the work for you.
I am still working on my MMORPG (KoW) It is painfully slow because I always reach a point where the design just doesn’t fit the engine or the team seems to fall apart. Seems I lack the skills to movativate people or people seem to think that a MMORPG will build itself in a few months. Building one of these is HARD work. Much harder than a real job. In fact somedays I feel like just giving up after a setback. I must be a glutton for punishment maybe?
Learn about the profession first hand before you think its all a bowl of cherries.
If you really want to build a MMORPG and you think you have what it takes to do this then join some of the teams that are using these engines and learn something. Most of the guys and gals working on these projects have master degrees and are working toward their doctorial and they have vast knowledge that is essential to your success. There are many many hats to wear in a game development cycle and a MMORPG has many many more hats than a single player game.
wishing you the very best in achieveing your dreams!