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[Column] General: Up to 90% of MMO Real Estate is Wasted

SBFordSBFord Former Associate EditorMember LegendaryPosts: 33,126

Raise your hand if you remember the tutorial starter zone in your first MMO. It's sometimes hard to stretch back that far and it proves one of the points in Mark Kern's latest editorial here at See why he believes 90% of MMO real estate is wasted and then leave your own thoughts in the comments.

It’s incredibly arduous to create a zone for an MMO. After all, you are talking about detailing something like 5-10 square miles of land (or more). Everything has to be placed by hand: mountains, roads, caves, dungeons, valleys, trees, rocks, points of interest, themed/unique monsters and even grass! I would argue that zone creation is about 70% or so of an MMO’s total cost to develop including features, programming, art and world design. That means, on a 100M budget (typical for a mid to top end MMO these days), and a 20 zone game, you are spending about 3.5 million dollars a zone. 

Read more of Mark Kern's Up to 90% of MMO Real Estate is Wasted.





  • psysentionpsysention Member UncommonPosts: 19

    there was no tutorial zone in UO

    besides that if sum1 spents 100m for a game development, it clearly states he has no idea what he is doing like bioware.. spending more money doesn't mean you will have a great game.. important thing is not the money spent.. Important thing is providing a fun content that can not be completed in a short time.. at the moment mmos tuned for casual gaming, and most of them are p2w.. this way people invest real cash in game and spent less time in game and they complete content in no time.. In the past we had games where you need to invest time in it in order to clear a  content.. thats why 100s of players run to nefarian when nihilum did the world first.. because it was something challenging and hardcore.. now anybody can make a game, and make couple mil out of it via microtransaction.. thats why gaming market will collapse in couple years, unless somebody bring decent mmorpg like wow vanilla, daoc, swg pre-nge, ultima online, everquest, where you have to invest time instead of money..

  • BelegStrongbowBelegStrongbow Member UncommonPosts: 296

    @wormed,  stop trolling.  Mark is passionate about what he is doing and believes in it, and so do I.  How can you not agree that noob level zones are just purely wasted development cost.  Yet Devs put forth so much effort to get you hooked on the game.  


    One thing I wish Firefall did better was use more Sandbox systems,  Sandbox crafting and resource gathering keeps zones from being useless,  when every tree or rock is worth harvesting.  Yes Thumpers are great,  but so many zones have weak thumping spots and are always rushed over and never used. 

  • BattlerockBattlerock Member CommonPosts: 1,393
    So how big is the firefall world lets compare it to azeroth?
  • John_GrimmJohn_Grimm Member UncommonPosts: 14
    Well, i know one game that is like that, Eve Online, most of its space can be used by any lvl char.  :D

    Steel and Iron guard me well,
    or else i'm doomed and damned
    to Hell!

  • TalinTalin Member Posts: 824

    I agree with what is proposed here, as most MMOs either spend too much time/effort for the number of zones, or take the "easy way out" and reuse art and landscapes to the point of their embarrassment just to give more real estate for mob placement.

    The better balance would be adding tiered layers in content. Imagine near the "starter" area (let's say it is a town surrounding a castle) there is a crude village of goblins. In the beginning, players will perform some raids on the perimeter, taking down the lower level grunt goblins. There is then an interior part of the goblin camp filled with elite goblins several levels higher that players will return to battle later in their career. We have now created two levelling areas out of one set of assets (although I would expect the goblins to look far stronger with their size, weapons and armor). Not too complicated, eh?

  • TimassinTimassin Member Posts: 14
    Do mid level mmos really cost a 100 million to make? How do indie devs do it on an incredibly lower budget and better most of time?
  • JakdstripperJakdstripper Member RarePosts: 2,398

    the "money invested vs. money returned" approach to mmos is exactly why games have gone down the tube. Money invested per square inch DOES NOT translate to gaming enjoyment per square inch.

    just look at EvE, or DayZ, or Minecraft. there is no way those games spent 3.5 millions per zone and yet they are some of the most iconic, most innovative and fun games of the last 3 years.  

    games are about, fantasy, imagination, freedom, and innovation. without those you can spend billions and all you'll get is Star Wars prequels, and Jar Jar Binks clones. Business man DO NOT make good games. Artists, visionaries, and innovators do, because they do not ask themselves "how am I going to make money out of this?", they ask "what kind of world would I want to lose myself in?".

    THAT is what makes great games.

    The rest is just greedy suits complaining how throwing money at the industry doesn't work like it does at the strip club.



  • SanguinelustSanguinelust Member UncommonPosts: 811
    I can't remember if Anarchy Online had one when it came out
  • pantheronpantheron Member UncommonPosts: 256
    I like GW2's system, since it scales you down to a zone, you can go anywhere, but in the lower level zones, youstill feel powerful, which is extremely important, but you don't just run over all the content.  I don't really see this as a bad solution like this guy seems to. i mean, you STILL have  all your gear which is higher leveled, and all your skills, and all your traits. i find it pretty satisfying.

    I play MMOs for the Forum PVP

  • ZarriyaZarriya Member UncommonPosts: 446

    Using WoW as an example, I would not say that people level once and then the zone is ignored- I leveled over a dozen characters to endgame and saw the starting zones even more than that - it was fun to go back to some of those places with friends on a new character/race/class. 

     I do agree with "Dynamic content and more horizontal, rather than vertical, progression is one way to do this. Imagine a world that knows what players are in a zone, and creates encounters for those players specifically, at their level of challenge."TSW kinda tried to do this based on difficulty but imho it was still level-like then.

  • AlcuinAlcuin Member UncommonPosts: 331

    Having just recently logged on to EQ1 to visit my old stomping grounds, Rivervale, I agree.  

    The OP makes me think of content like the griffon ("Griffon!") in EQ's Commonlands and of Kithicor Forest, which transformed from a newbie zone during the day into a hellish undead nightmare at night.  

    This content had me looking over my shoulder at a lower level and returning (mostly for revenge) at a higher level.  


    And, having just been subjected to advertising for the latest EQ expansion... 


    Why not create a high level dungeon in an older zone like the Karanas?  Tons of unused space there!


    "Ad eundum quo nemo ante iit"

  • ZarriyaZarriya Member UncommonPosts: 446

    i do agree : "Dynamic content and more horizontal, rather than vertical, progression is one way to do this. Imagine a world that knows what players are in a zone, and creates encounters for those players specifically, at their level of challenge." 

  • DarkVagabondDarkVagabond Member UncommonPosts: 327

    Mr. Grummz, your articles are looking more like used car commercials than discussions of the MMO industry.

  • moosecatlolmoosecatlol Member UncommonPosts: 1,472
    Originally posted by DarkVagabond

    Mr. Grummz, your articles are looking more like used car commercials than discussions of the MMO industry.

    Agreed, also enjoys CJ'ing it to Firefall apparently.


    Moreover this column should probably be retitled "Numbers From My Arse Mark Kern Edition." If you're going to be discussing the analytics of gaming, post sources or don't post at all.

  • maplestonemaplestone Member UncommonPosts: 3,099

    I realize that this article is focusing on promoting the author's game, but it would be nice to see an analysis of how different games approach lowering the cost of zone creation and increasing the amount of zone re-use.

  • Mors.MagneMors.Magne Member UncommonPosts: 1,549

    The article could be describing Darkfall (DFUW), which most people would hate.

    The future is 3D goggles / Oculus Rift.

  • AntariousAntarious Member UncommonPosts: 2,804

    As someone else stated Ultima Online (my first MMO) had no starter zone.   Beyond that to this day I still have memories that relate to almost every geographical area in that game.


    Moving on to EQ... well guess what I still remember all the areas I played.


    Perhaps that wasn't the best opening statement for me to have read in regards to the article.   Before I shut down my account here for a while I used to occasionally mention this type of topic.   I like to use the example of a Pie/Pizza (any type of circle).   You start at the very center and work towards the crust... every expansion makes the circle larger in diameter.   The problem is as time has gone by almost all game play is on the very outer edge of that circle and you get an ever growing dead zone everywhere else.   So I do agree with the article in general...


    I also agree that the "problem" as they state it .. is directly tied to level based systems (tho they use the term "level based zones").   The only really interesting thing to me is how will developers deal with the problem (if they do).   Do we simply see zones split into level ranges (as opposed to separate zones for those ranges), skill based (hidden level) instead of level based game, instances to deliver level related content or hard level caps like Dark Age of Camelot has (to avoid the infinite expansion of ever higher level related content).


    *edit to add*  UO did a lot of things right and probably did more things wrong.   Yet the game while I played it kept the entire virtual world relevant (I quit shortly after trammel so I can't comment on later times).   The thing with UO is this didn't just happen because it was skill based.. it had to do with the resource system/crafting.. all of it.   This is why I'm more interested in seeing how developers approach this "problem" (if they do) and what their solutions will be.

  • orbitxoorbitxo Member RarePosts: 1,936
    Originally posted by Battlerock
    So how big is the firefall world lets compare it to azeroth?

    gwad this comparison in incomprehendable to lets not.

    Blizzard has thawed out my friend. games styles n  structures have evolved...WoW hasnt in so many ways...

    back to topic-
    eveonline made it very useful as you gained knowledge during missions as your tutorial.
  • aspekxaspekx Member UncommonPosts: 2,167
    what is up with all the random Mark Kern hate? seems kinda random. i mean, why would a developer write an article on game design trashing his own principles and not advocating them?

    "There are at least two kinds of games.
    One could be called finite, the other infinite.
    A finite game is played for the purpose of winning,
    an infinite game for the purpose of continuing play."
    Finite and Infinite Games, James Carse

  • ZakaneZakane Member UncommonPosts: 71

    I'd love to see game developers use zones over again for example.


    You start in zone A:

    You go to zone B as a certian level:

    Progress to zone C, that then for example leads you back to zone A:

    Just one example they could do it.

  • mCalvertmCalvert Member CommonPosts: 1,283

    I agree with the point of the post, and many of this have been saying it for years. This is why sandboxes are superior. All areas are useful to all players.

    I see no reason to have levels at all. Instead, challenge should be dictated by skill, group size, strategy. Adventuring should be dynamic instead of static.

  • grummzgrummz Member Posts: 56

    Its really going to hamstring the discussion if I can't mention Firefall. I try to leave it at the very end only and talk about the philosophy that we observe in current MMOs. 

    As for facts and figures, there are no public sources. I am drawing upon my experience leading the WoW team, working on Diablo II, and talking to many of my friends who are leaders in the industry. I'm not the only one who feels this way.



  • Dreamo84Dreamo84 Member UncommonPosts: 3,713

    While I enjoy your articles Mark and they have even peaked my interest in logging back into Firefall to give it another shot. I do wonder, with all the accusations of paid advertisements in articles on this site, what these must look like.

    It is great to hear some thoughts from someone actually in the industry though. Instead of just all the forum posts from people who think they're in the industry. Keep it up!

  • grummzgrummz Member Posts: 56
    I'm going to leave Firefall out of my next article. See if that prediction is that people will still find fault. ;)
  • Dreamo84Dreamo84 Member UncommonPosts: 3,713
    Originally posted by grummz
    I'm going to leave Firefall out of my next article. See if that prediction is that people will still find fault. ;)

    On this site? Ya, but you can't let that get you down! Some of us aren't bitter and angry, I swear it!

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