Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
How much does it cost to make a MMORPG?

The news of the week is the Crowfall Kickstarter, which has raised some serious questions. Not just the usual Kickstarter question whether the company can actually deliver what they promised. But a far more fundamental question of how realistic it is to make a MMORPG for less than a million dollars.

For me Crowfall in scope somewhat resembles Darkfall. So how much did it cost to make Darkfall? We don't have official numbers, but we do know they received $3 million (€2.6 million) from InternetQ plc as investment just for the development of Darkfall 2.0. They also received a bunch of European and Greek government research grants, which were said to be around $20 million. As Ionomonkey pointed out, the $800k they are asking for via Kickstarter corresponds to less than industry standard salary for the 17 known team members for a year.

Other MMORPG Kickstarter projects asked for much more money, for example Camelot Unchained with $2 million. And then of course there is a long list of actually released MMORPGs which did cost tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars. Of course the scope of these might have been a lot bigger, but I'm not sure if all Crowfall Kickstarter backers understand that they'll get a game with indie scope and polish, and not something comparable in quality to The Elder Scrolls Online or Wildstar.

In short, I do believe that it costs several million dollars to make even an indie MMORPG with ugly graphics and lots of bugs. It costs tens of millions of dollars to make a half-decent MMORPG, and over a hundred million dollars to make a top-shelf one. Backing a $800k project is basically giving a donation to a bunch of guys so they can have some fun coding the game of their dreams for a year, before reality hits them and sinks the project.

[P.S. Peter Molyneux' Godus Kickstarter raised $813k.]

Graphically speaking is a wow 2.0.
Being ugly isn't necessary. You can license very powerful (and multi-hundred-million dollar developed) engines. They could easily cut a deal with the engine-provider to pay for example 1$/month/subscriber.

Secondly: they need the campaign only to develop an alpha project to show investors. It IS possible that then the investors say no and they go down or go "early access" (=crap), but without an alpha to show, they are dead anyway.
The kickstarter isn't paying them to do a full game in a year. It is offering them financial support in addition to their other (undetailed) revenue streams.

They could have all the other funding already sorted out or possibly they want a some money to to see them through until they complete the alpha and take it to a publisher who will then bankroll them. There are 101 viable possibilities.

The reason for not donating is not that they have unrealistic funding requirements, but that we know nothing of their financial planning to support an assessment of how viable it might be.
I wonder how much it cost Darkfall to spam my INBOX at least once a week.
I wonder how much it cost Darkfall to spam my INBOX at least once a week.

As little as $100 for sending out 50,000 spam mails.
As dobablo stated, I highly doubt Kickstarter is their sole source of capital.

If anything, it's a great way to get a loan from a venture capitalist. "Look how much I was able to raise for free! People just gave me this money because they believe in the project. Loan me five million more and I can deliver!"
Is February "Pedantic Month" here? Or more pedantic than usual?
Seriously, a year ago we were talking about how Kickstarter has become more of a marketing test exercise than a sole funding method. Mark Jacobs was completely up front that getting $2 million (after which he would kick in another $2 million) would enable him to prove that the game had a viable level of interest, allowing him to secure additional funding.
And that doesn't even get into the Star Citizen model where just because the Kickstarter ends doesn't mean the fundraising has to stop. Star Citizen raise just over $2 million on Kickstarter and has raised thirty five times that much since.
So please, do not stand there and complain that you can't make an MMO for $800K as though that was the point of the exercise, it insults us both.
as though that was the point of the exercise

So what you are saying is that Kickstarter page is one big blatant lie? Because it says there: "Our goal for this Kickstarter is to fund the core module of Crowfall.", and then details that the money will be used for the core module, character creation, world, combat, economy, eternal kingdoms, and campaign rules. They also specifically state about other sources of investment: "Could we raise money from a publisher to build this game? Probably. And if that’s what we have to do, to get Crowfall made, we will. But we would rather try and make a direct appeal to you, first."

So what the SAY is that they will make the game from the Kickstarter money. If they have other forms of investment or other funding plans, why aren't those detailed on the Kickstarter page? If, as you say, the Kickstarter is only a marketing test exercise, then it is highly misleading to the backers.

it insults us both

My post is completely free of insults. The same cannot be said about your comment here. Fair warning: If you can't make comments without personal remarks in my direction, I will delete them in the future.
bare minimum imho for a MMO

1 person gfx
1 person music
1 person story
2 developers client
2 developers server
1 architect
1 project leader
1 dba
1 networkengineer

11 persons with salary of $55K per year.

let's say, they do the programming in their own homes, so no workspace.
and they have their own laptops

misc stuff:
- servers
- adsl/vpn connection sub
- (software) licences


in short, $650K per year of development

you can do a lot in 1 year, but an mmo... doubt it.
"So what you are saying is that Kickstarter page is one big blatant lie?"


They say, "Our goal for this Kickstarter is to fund the core module of Crowfall."

You take that to mean, "Our goal for this Kickstarter is for it to serve as the sole funding source of the core module of Crowfall." Just because you've chosen to read something that isn't there does not make it a lie.

Certainly any money donated will go towards funding the features you mention.

The sources of funding are not limited to either Kickstarter or going to a publisher. There are numerous other sources of funding. A successful Kickstarter opens a lot of other possibilities that otherwise would be closed.

Why would they have to discuss the capital structure of their firm on the Kickstarter page? Just to satisfy the curiosity of a blogger? It's irrelevant - they're trying to make a game and they need your money to help them do it. Donate if you want to help, click the little X in the corner of your window if you don't.
Why would they have to discuss the capital structure of their firm on the Kickstarter page?

Not of the firm, of the project. The Kickstarter page is pretending to be about a game for the fans, financed by the fans, and with the fans having a strong say in the project. That goes out the window if the fans contribute only a fraction of the money, and some big investors call the shots.
This project also has Raph Koster which is a huge warning label that the product will have problems at best. :(
"This project also has Raph Koster"

Raph Koster is to MMOs what George Lucas is to Star Wars prequels.
Eric Heimdahl's Project Gorgon is in testing with a non-trivial community. It's a surprisingly full-featured MMO which he developed close to solo, over a few years. So development costs would be in the few hundreds of thousands of dollars, mainly in the form of salary he would have earned had he put his time into a traditional job.

So yes, Project Gorgon is definitely an Indie game, and looks it, but it's astonishing what a single very talented person can do.
I agree with your argument that it probably costs more than $800,000 to create a viable MMO. The developers of Crowfall agree with you, and in their FAQ clearly labelled “How can you build an MMO for 800k?” they answer explicitly “you can't.”

I don't agree with your conclusion that Crowfall will fail however, simply because they only asked for $800,000 for their Kickstarter campaign. In the same FAQ they clearly state that they have already raised $2.3 million. This gives them a minimum budget of $3.1 million should they meet their Kickstarter goals, and they are quite explicit about leaving themselves the options of either raising more capital from minority investors or selling the rights to Crowfall in foreign territories as a way of covering further development costs. They also take great pains to outline the steps they are taking to limit their development costs, from limiting their scope to the core modules of the game to leveraging existing tech rather than developing code from scratch. All in all I think this Kickstarter has been one of the most transparent and informative fundraisers yet, and I've decided to pitch in based on the information I've received. This is the first time I've ever backed a Kickstarter project, and I chose to do so because I really liked the concept, was satisfied by the information presented pertaining to both vision and financing, and was willing to make the “leap of faith” that Ionomonkey was not.
@Gevlon - The engine informs how detailed you can make your game, but the actual models/textures/art still has to be put together by actual people, and it takes a long time even for a single model.

Think of the graphics engine like your ilvl in WoW. It gives you an upper threshold, and can even give you some improved performance if you're not so great, but at the end of the day the skills and time of your artists are what actually make something pretty vs ugly.
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