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Bill Roper: Making MMOs Work Again
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Bill Roper: Making MMOs Work Again

February 14, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 5 Next

Do you think there's a structure that can be put in place? Or do you think that things like you discussed, like tech being idiosyncratic, or game design style being idiosyncratic to developers, is going to be too much of a stumbling block?

I mean, obviously, they have the guilds and stuff in Hollywood. Their whole system is designed to ramp up, ramp down, and to bring people on at the right times, as we all know.

But you don't need a pool of artists at the beginning of a project. You burn through so much money so fast, with nothing to do until you enter into actual production.

BR: I think where we have seen companies try to do that is through outsourcing. So, art is a great example of that. And we really tried this at Flagship. Our intention was to do almost all outsourcing. We were like, "We're going to have like two or three artists. We're going to have a concept guy, an art lead, and a technical artist. And then we're going to outsource everyone else."

We found that there were certain things where, "Okay, we really can't wait for turnaround." You start finding ways that you have to have people more involved, or there's a certain way you want your art done, and you haven't found the right outsourcer the way you want it. "Screw it, let's just... We'll hire our own guys and teach them."

I think that's the way that you would have to make it work, to just say, "Look, here's the core team of guys in my company. These are the creative and the leads on our projects. And then when we ramp up, yes, we're going to go get..." Art is the easier one. Sound and music are easier. Programming, the most difficult, you know. Design, somewhere in between. So, there's always going to be a certain size you're going to have to maintain.

The tricky part is the down-ramping, right? If there was a way where you could -- and I think this is especially vital in the West -- say, "Great. Now we need to be making additional content. Here are all the tools. Here's the engine." Because by that point, things are really in place, right.

Star Trek Online

If you could have the ability to say, "Here are a couple of my design guys, one of my programmers, a small team of three or four guys. You're going to run this other outsource team because it's going to be far more cost efficient. Here's what I want. Here's the next content thing I want. You guys run that with these other..." You could have the smallest amount of the highest priced resources involved.

I think the challenge is that isn't what ends up happening. You end up taking your whole company and focusing on that product. So, it's hard to roll onto anything new. Again, it's very specifically [like this] in the MMO space. It's hard to roll onto anything new. You're tying up all your best people in things that honestly they shouldn't be tied in.

My lead programmer shouldn't be fixing bugs for a product that's been out for six months. He should be working on what's the next innovation. But sometimes you're just trying to manage costs, so you have the team as small as you can. "I can't free you up to go work on the next cool thing. I honestly need you to fix this stupid bug." Not stupid because it's in the game and it's affecting players, stupid because it's like, "I could have a junior programmer fix this, but we don't have any because we had to cut back."

MMOs are an incredibly difficult creature for anybody. I think that's because of the cost association that's exacerbated in the West. That's why I think they operate better here [in China], they re-use technology, they're not afraid to just go, "Yup, we're going to build like 10 off the same engine," or whatever. Yes, they all look kind of similar, but there are different games. They're not afraid to use good mechanics that work. And they can maintain larger staffs for less investment. I think that's a huge thing.

I think the tech thing is a big thing in the West, too. I think Cryptic was very smart because they have a very good set of tools. They have a very good engine. They had a very good backend. And the idea was, they were like, "This is going to be a platform."

But one of the first comments that came out, when Star Trek Online came out, were people saying like, "Well, it's just Champions re-skinned." I mean, gameplay-wise, not at all! But when you show it, it's like, "Well, yeah, we just kind of used the interface placing." Like there were enough similarities where I sort of understand what that actually meant.

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