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Article - 'So you want to make an online game?' by Terin

An item about Game Design posted on Jan 14, 2004

Blurb

...capable of holding hundreds of players, having the best and most capable graphics, and all the like...?

Body

I see a lot of posts in the forums about MMORPGs, and how they can be made with this and that. Most people believe anything they see in the forums if the people talk technically. Well, I'm about to talk about the low and dirty of MMORPGs and really any massive game that will be played online. By the end of this, you should be 100% discouraged from ever making a MMORPG or Online Game. You will simply realize that there is no point.

Of course, I realize a lot of people will respond negatively to this, because they simply believe that I'm wrong and they're right. I'm just trying to discourage them so they won't ever do anything. Well, go ahead and post, then go try to make a MMORPG. Swallow your pride when you can no longer continue, and come back to justify my reasoning. This is somewhat of a rant, but I hope that some people who are interested in online administration and the like will learn a little bit!

Beginning, we have to keep in mind what you're making this online game in. If you're not doing it in a programming language (most are written in C++ that are good) and instead, a maker, don't bother continuing your project. Games like these always have flaws in their system that you can't fix, such as a socket bug. If someone knows the input buffer for your game is only 8KB and they send a packet that totals up greater than that, without dynamic fixes for buffers, your game crashes. Sometimes, these crashes will rupture files for the online game that will need you to completely reinstall it and possibly be killed while you aren't online, but your persona is. My basic argument for not using a 'maker' is that it's too limited. Unless you have the source code and know something about it, don't bother trying.

Another argument I have is about traffic. For a site like Gaming World, that has literally 10,000 or so members, to stay running, our generous staff and benevolent donators have to chunk over cold, hard cash. Is Gaming World sending you maps of where to go for security measures? Are they encrypting your information between sending to make sure it's safe? Is it keeping track of you in it's database constantly? (Actually, this question is a Yes, but it's very efficient, thanks to the wonders of mySQL and Bart's elite coding skills.) However, the data it needs to store isn't quite as large as an online game that keeps track of your graphics, etc. I'm not sure if I'm at liberty to say, but most large sites like Gaming World and various others require at least $50 or more to keep a server up due to excessive bandwidth. Gaming World requires more. In fact, most people don't even realize that Bart pays A LOT of money to keep this site up, along with our other staffers. How much? To put it in gaming terms, since most people wouldn't understand 'real world economics,' you could probably buy about three or so of the latest console at the present time. Now, assuming roughly that each console (priced at about $199 U.S.) isn't neccessary, and that Bart wants to get some games, this would be roughly a console and 10 of the hottest games for the time. Why should he have to pay for you when he could enjoy himself in front of the PS2, etc? This will be answered by the next section in some terms, but the easiest way to put it is that Bart and our contributors who put in time (for coding, updates, etc.) and money to Gaming World are really nice. Now, since I've explained bandwidth on hosting terms, what about hosting itself? Well, you'll need your own server (for a MMORPG you'll need a REAL SERVER, not a PC pretending to be a server) with the game engine running for clients (what you see for the game) to connect. Well, you'll also have to keep in mind RAM isn't free, etc, and you're sitting at a couple hundred dollars a month, the equivalent of a current gaming system, in general gaming terms. So, do you have the money?

Now, administration is another big part of online games. How are you going to pay the staff? What about their and your skills? Do you spell things out correctly, or do you use chat abbreviations with crappy grammar? Are you a people person, and can you put up with the most annoying players? Do you like power? Few people are cut out to be administrators. Having been an administrator for several successful games, don't you think I'd know? Let's not stop there, we need to talk about hackers, game resources, and availability. If someone comes in and knows a problem with your game, they can exploit the bug and do whatever they like. I found such a thing back in the really old versions of LORD with a special add-on that I could start out with the best weapon and armor and beat the game in literally a day. Now, others, it took a few months to beat. This wasn't even hacking, it was just finding a bug and abusing it. Of course, I reported it after I won twice, leaving the long-time hard-workers to mutter in their stead. Now, a hacker might actually come in as your characters while guessing passwords, or cracking them (assuming you don't use a constant CHA, Challenge Handshake Agreement, chances are your game will be easy to hack) and then cause mischief. Hackers can do anything they really please, honestly. If they want your game to be in Space Station Mir, by God, they will make it possible.

Another thing is game resources. You guys can see this effect in Gaming World Arena Expanded right now. Notice how I need the graphics, but nobody pays attention and wants to edit graphics and color clothes onto characters? These types of people will never be able to run a game, simply because they have the lack of mentality to understand how things work. At least, never as in, by their present state of knowledge. You have to gain most of it through experience and innovation. For example, when people were doing the entire 999 picture graphics in RPGMaker to draw out things, rather than actually considering seperating digits to accomodate what you have. Now, the real core of this problem is finding someone who's skilled enough to do it. These people usually require some incentive to do this sort of stuff. Do you have the money for their hours of work and keep a game up and running? Doubt it. You have to seriously make the graphics good enough or nobody will want to play. Just like in text-based MUDs and other games, if the grammar sucks and you can barely read it, WHY PLAY IT?

Let's talk about availability. How often are administrators going to be on to vigilantly guard your game from constant disaster, wherever it may strike? Everyone will want this, but their experience and greed are things to keep in mind. Your staff, like it or not, likes working for the game for a reason. Because of this, they'll eventually want the code, graphics, etc, to make their own. Thus, when they hit the highest position, guard your server with your life, because you know they'll be after it the second they can get it. Again, they could offer to sell it to those who would want it for large money that they could then put in their pocket, walk away, and have no problems. Wait?! A solution? You mean, making them sign NDA's and Contracts? Yeah, like that will work. Few people will accept that stuff anyway. You don't know the person in real life either, so you can't go call the cops. Who are you going to call? The FBI and lawyers to say how a game was stolen. You think they'll care unless you're making money, and a lot of it? No.

I myself am not one who likes to be an administrator. I like playing games as a character. Once you become part of the staff, you'll be open to learn all secrets to items, quests, weapons, and so forth, and the fun will be ruined. When you're the highest you can be, nobody wants to play with you because you're too suped-up and cheating at this point of the game. Now, you could start over, but wait! You know everything, so you'd just do it again. The process repeats. What do you do when you get the maximum level and ability in a game? You beat it! You don't continually kill things over and over again. I liked to work my characters up to a supreme level in Final Fantasy 7, etc, and let them take on the final boss with no problems, for the fun of it. There's no challenge anymore. Sure, it might look cool to use the Super Special Secret Ultimate Technique©, but even that gets old.

Most people have hoaxes going about things anyway. Yes, you can literally make anything an online game, but the question is, "How good?" By dropping things down to machine code, you can change what they do. People like Rast and others have done things for RPGMaker, like add MP3/MOD support, and so forth, because they disassemble things into a grotesque language, and then add things in. However, have you noticed all the bugs in the MP3 patches? Yes, because you can only take these things so far. For example, RPGMaker was never meant to make network games, nor was Sphere or RPGToolkit. Yes, they do have features that let them pull off online things, but that alone doesn't justify the amount of work needed to make an online game to your exact liking.

So stop trying to go too complex people. If you can't make a good game that people like and give 9/10 points when reviewed, why bother with something for online? Have you seen games like Ragnarok, Everquest, Dark Ages of Camelot, and so forth? How do the graphics look? Nice, right? Sound? Pretty good. Gameplay? Excellent. To put it honestly, you have to be a game creator and an administrator, and more often than not, the two don't mix. We have a lot of wanna-be game designers, but unless you're getting on average a 9/10 points on your games (if you even finish it, which is a neccessity) you're not a game designer. Now, for a rough estimate of administrators, let's break it down by the simple fraction of 1/100. Honestly. How many people run a corporation? Well, the CEOs, Chairpeople, Executives, Directors. How many people work under them? Thousands. Tens of Thousands. Lots.

My point being, of the 10,000 or so people we have at Gaming World, only 200-300 are cut out to be administrators. Of that, who actually want to be administrators (a 50/50 choice) only roughly 100-150 are or will ever be. Notice how small that number is?

So, I hope my point will be made clear and people will stop trying to make MMORPG's, etc. Network support is cool, if you want to do something like Smash Brothers Online, with no scores that are held online, etc, that's cool. However, creating and maintaining a playerbase and everything will engulf your life. This is why MMORPGs cost big bucks to make, and why they pay people to administrate.

If you send me a mail telling me how you want to be an administrator and I'm completely wrong, I will cut out your tongue and tie it around your brain with such pressure that your brain will explode. Yes, I'm that serious.