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Mmorpg Game Development And Economic Viability


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After taking a 7 year hiatus from MMO-gaming to start a company, I bought a new gaming computer and revisited some of my old haunts -- EQ, EQ2, and LoTRO. All of them have gone F2P with the degree of P2W varying from game to game. But, since they are all PvE games, the P2W impact is a lot less significant than in PvP games. Anyhow, between the release of EQ and the dominance of WoW, it seemed like there was another full-blown MMORPG being released every six months or so - EQ, AC, AO, DAoC, AoC, EQ and AC 2, SB, SWG, and others I didn't play. Personally, I hate out-of-game stores that sell "extras". So, I worked some numbers to try and understand why this model is happening.


These numbers are going to be US-centric as US data is easiest to obtain (2013 US Census). 


1. There are 116 million households in the US.

2. There are 43 million household in the US with a head of household aged under 45.

3. 79% of the under 45 households reported having high-speed internet access (DSL and above)

4. We'll just assume that those households with internet access have computers.

5. 47% of all HH with high-speed internet have HH incomes under $25,000.


Based on the above, there are 34 million HH in the US capable of playing on-line games with 18 million having incomes above $25k a year.


Entertainment Software Association (ESA) reports that 53% of Americans play video games. The statistics get a bit muddy here as we're mixing household data and individual data. The average age of the US gamer is 30 with 32% of US gamers being under 18. To present a 'best case' scenario for online MMORPGs, let's assume one gamer per household.


1. There are 18 million gamers in the US in HH with high-speed internet and incomes above $25K.

2. Of those, there are 12.25 million gamers in the US aged 18 or above.

3. The number is probably a bit higher as there are multi-gamer HH. For the sake of argument, let's assume 1.3 gamers per gaming HH. This brings the total market to 16 million.


Now, accounting for genre... according to the ESA, 7% of the games sold were RPG's. Adventure and 'family entertainment' account for another 12.4%.


Thus, the total number of US gamers who have computer/high-speed Internet access, incomes over $25k a year, are over the age of 18 and can legally sign contracts/get credit cards, and have an interest in the genre is between 1-3 million.  The numbers aren't perfect but they illustrate that the number of US gamers who have an interest and means to buy and play a traditional subscription-based MMORPG (my favorite model) is relatively small.


The next step is to look at US market penetration...

1% of the total US subscription-MMORPG market would be around 20,000 subscribers (generating $300,000 in monthly subscriptions).

5% would be around 100,000 (generating $1.5 million in monthly subscriptions)

10% would be around 200,000 (generating $3 million in monthly subs.)

*** based on $15/mo. subscription


  1. What percentage of those 1-3 million gamers have high-end systems that can support the high-end graphics technology?
  2. What percentage of multi-gamer households have MULTIPLE high-end systems so that family members can play together?
  3. The average gamer plays 13 hours per week. Does the game support that style of game play?
  4. What percentage of MMORPG players are open to switching games?


Each of the above factors will shrink the potential market for a MMORPG.


Based on the above, it's easy to see why many MMO's have resorted to a F2P with 'company store' model:


  1. MMOs with no/few players suck. The more players, the more social/grouping options the player has. Players are a game's most important asset.
  2. MMO's have to develop mechanisms to generate income from the 'wealthier' players as the number of players who have significant disposable income is relatively small compared to the overall gaming population.
  3. The average gamer only plays 13 hours per week. That is significantly less than the hard-core MMO gamer so the game has to be able to support a wide variety of play styles to maximize the size of the player base.


It's a tough pill to swallow for me because I like immersion in my MMORPG and I believe that 'company stores' reduce that immersion. But, the reality is that market is just too small to support a pure subscription-based game any longer. There are so many games out there fracturing the market. Yet, the players still have the same expectations of bug-free play (developer$), a regular stream of new content (developer$), and server stability (IT $taff). It's easy to see why giving players the ability to trade VIP status for in-game resources is so popular across so many games as it increases the number of players (most important), allows the average 13-hour-per-week gamer to progress at a more satisfying rate, and generates additional revenue from the players with higher disposable incomes. 


The 'golden age' of MMORPGs is over. (But, man, was it fun experiencing one high-budget release after another at a stage in my life where I had extra time!) The market is now mature and player acquisition means stealing players from a different game. Game developers understand market size and what is possible and probable and budget development accordingly. They also understand better that the game has to be broken up such that a player can make real achievements in a couple hours of game play (as opposed to the constant treadmill grinding and grinding). I'm interested to see how Crowfall does in targeting a niche and developing a revenue stream to justify the development costs and meet the players' high expectations.















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I think at this point the MMo market as a whole is somewhat over saturated, and has been for years.


Doesn't matter how many household there are.....how many of those have good internet....are not console gamers.....its a market full of been there ...done that.


MMo genre has more people leaping frogging game to game then any other genre....


People try a new MMO and after 2-5 months stop playing......


Player A goes to game z ...it reminds him of game a & b ... But doesn't capture their interest like those games.....player a now goes to game c hoping it to be better...game c feels too much different then game z.... PLAYER GETS BORED hopes next MMo will be different...next MMo is pay 2 win...player does like it the p2w...goes on.....next game has great graphics smooth client but the PVP sucks......I'm sure most PVP guilds there forums have players trying every game on the net trying to find that next MMO to get excited about........I believe most of us with crow fall that search will be over.


Too this day I've yet to play a game that got my heart going like UO at launch for the first year or so....or capture the bane experience of SB (never played daoc, or lineage 2) ..... But so many games cater and appeal to the care bear mentally....or have such an obvious grind loop that the game turns you into human hampsters trying to raise your PVP rank....too try and get better PVP gear so u can keep ranking fighting people w better PVP gear then you...month after month.


While all MMo have an element of skill too many have become your gear is way more important then your player skill. Take UO for example while pvping the majority of players used crafted GM or exceptional weapons/armor which was equivalent to mid tier magic ...this created a quasi level playing field where skill was important......

Shadowbane if you were in any guild worth a Damn once forges were rank 7 you random rolled till you got gear you needed. So with the exception of resource gear this was also a semi quasi level playing field.....the exception was since SB had so many races/class combos there was always the Rock Paper Scissors affect. In large scale combat this didn't matter but in smaller numbers it was obvious.

Edited by mendoza

I turn dough into $$$ .....The Pizza King of QFT

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