Most video games on the market today aren't MMORPGs. This isn't necessarily because MMORPGs don't sell well or because there aren't enough interested players. Instead, it's because MMORPGs take longer to develop, and they're more expensive to develop and run than other games. If an MMORPG doesn't take off, the developer stands to lose a lot of money.
There are several reasons for this. One is the size of the world and the amount of playable content -- or things to do -- that the game has to offer. MMORPGs have more physical land mass than other games. In other words, their worlds are larger. In addition, they take longer to play. Single-player RPGs take between 40 and 80 hours to complete. Other games can be finished in as few as 12 hours. But to be successful, and to be profitable for developers, MMORPGs have to have at least 500 hours of content. More content means a longer development cycle, and development can cost $10 million or more [source: IDGA, Persistent Worlds].
Writing is also a big part of MMORPG creation. For a newly-created world, developers often have to create a back story to make everything seem real. Even if developers are licensing an existing world such as Middle-earth, they may have to adjust the back story to make it relevant to the game. NPC dialog and quest text has to be logical, engaging and well written -- and since this makes up a substantial part of game play, there's a lot of text to write.
Physical features of the game world start with concept art and progress to 3-D renderings that will appear on the computer screen. Character movement comes from 3-D animation and from motion capture work done with actors in a studio. Developers also have to decide on the world's physics, even down to what happens when a character bumps into a table or a mailbox. All this has to be boiled down into information that can be stored in ones and zeros and expressed in computer languages like C++. Developers determine how to keep the game and its data secure using encryption and firewalls. Then, testers have to test the code to make sure it works.
But it doesn't stop there. Once the game launches, a whole new step in the development process begins. Players often make unexpected choices, leading to consequences that the game designers did not originally intend. The large influx of players into a finite server space can also reveal problems in the game that weren't evident during testing. On top of that, developers have to come up with new content after the game has launched to keep players interested.
Game companies also have to determine how to handle customer and technical support for the game. Since people will be playing the game 24 hours a day, staff members have to be on hand at all times to settle disputes between players. An around-the-clock support staff has to deal with everything from lost loot to griefing, or the deliberate use of the game to harass other players. Game companies also have to determine how to handle gold farmers, or players who collect vast amounts of in-game gold in order to sell it outside of the game world.
In spite of all that, MMORPGs have become a big business. Blizzard, the company behind "World of Warcraft," has announced its second expansion to the game. Popular games like "EverQuest" have spawned sequels. Developers have also announced entirely new games based on new or licensed worlds. Whether these games will take off remains to be seen, but since MMORPGs combine both technology and a social structure. Since both technology and social networks are appealing to many of today's computer users, it's likely that MMORPGs will remain a popular source of recreation.
To learn more about MMORPGs, RPGs and related topics, browse through the links below.
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- Alexander, Thor, ed. "Massively Multiplayer Game Development 2." Charles River Media. 2005.
- Alexander, Thor, ed. "Massively Multiplayer Game Development." Charles River Media. 2003.
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