Higher barrier to entry? was RE: [MUD-Dev] NEWS: Blizzard Entertainment announces World of Warcraft

Brian Hook bwh at wksoftware.com
Fri Sep 7 20:04:52 New Zealand Standard Time 2001

At 09:04 PM 9/5/01 -0400, Derek Licciardi wrote:

> of this only acts to increase the monetary barrier to entry for
> the indie developer or non-big time publisher.

I disagree.  There are always going to be the big budget games like
the EQs, UOs and WoWs, but smaller developers can survive and even
thrive by not directly competing with the big companies.
Simutronics and some of the people even on this list have successful
small MUD operations that operate commercially.

The key to ask is "How do you compete with 1% of the budget?"  Short
answer: you don't.

Our company is pretty much founded on the premise that if you can't
control sales, you have to control costs.  Make smaller games
quickly, and target markets that are underserved.  These include
underserved genres (sci-fi, western, furries, Gothic, horror),
consumers or even computers.  The Macintosh market is absolutely
craving a good MMORPG, but so far I think they have none.  That's a
captured market of at least 20K potential subscribers by my
reckoning.  Or you can target lower end machines where the true
casual gamers lie -- PII/300 w/ ATI Rage Pro is our min spec
machine, and will remain so for at least 2 more years.  Expecting
people to pay $50 -- especially after the launch fiascoes of, well,
every game that's been coming out except maybe Diablo 2 -- is just a
little bit weird to me.  $50 is a LOT of money to most people, and
95% of the games out there aren't worth it.

Companies like Verant and Blizzard are going to have the cash to
make bigger, better, louder, fancier, prettier, huger, more famous
games than we can.  It would be flatly idiotic of us to, say,
release a fantasy styled graphical MUD, even though we're very
capable of doing so.  We have to aim for the cracks and niches, and
there are many, many of these.

So our strategy is to control costs and target small, but
interested, markets.  Our first game will be a single player space
flight sim shoot 'em up type thing, and it will be released after 4
months of development work by TWO people.  It's not going to be
earth shattering, but it will be cheap, fun, easy to play and will
run on any computer sold since 1998 (and RealArcade will probably be
our distribution mechanism).

Our second game is likely to be a space oriented graphical MUD --
think of the old game Starflight and imagine it on-line.  It will
leverage the client side graphics engine of our first game, coupled
to a multiplayer backend that I'm writing right now.  It will be
cross-platform on MacOS, OS X and Windows.  The entire universe is
procedurally generated, with several million planets and star
systems, multiple races, and spanning hundreds of light years in
each direction.  Yes, Earth and Beyond might show up and kick our
asses, but even if we get a total of 500 subscribers, we're going to
do all right.  E&B can have its 200K, we're happy with the crumbs =)
And that's the important thing, keeping costs so low that a failure
by most standards is a moderate success for us.

Optimistically speaking, we think we can get 5000 subscribers when
the entire game is in place.  Our #1 worry is the infrastructure --
we know how to build it, but hiring ops and support staff, billing,
bandwidth, etc. are big worries.  The technology is trivial, it's
the logistics that scare us.  Which is why we're hoping for no more
than a couple hundred subscribers initially.  Unless we can find
someone that's willing to partner with us to deal with the
logistical stuff, at which point we're home free.

So we think that the barrier to entry isn't that high -- if you're
experienced, focused and choose the right problem domain, I think
it's relatively simple to compete.  But if you choose to engage the
competition on their turf then you're going to suffer.

> believe they have the game talent, I do not believe that every
> game company out there has the systems development talent to
> develop large systems just because they can produce a single
> player RPG/RTS.

If ANY company has this, it's Blizzard.  They are probably the only
company that has consistently demonstrated an ability to manage very
large teams into delivering high quality products.  In addition,
they're more familiar with on-line persistent gaming than just about
any other company out there that isn't already involved in the

> it will raise the barrier to entry, but as of right now it will
> not reinvent the genre and will therefore struggle like the rest
> of the EQ clones.

Except it's from Blizzard -- which is a huge, huge point for.  If
it's released next year, it will likely be a better EQ than EQ, but
backed by a huge company with a track record of making incredibly
successful and popular games.  If people are tired of EQ by then or
just want something new, they may just migrate to it naturally.


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