Making an MMO: Coding, Cash, and Crises

While almost every modern title includes a taxing amount of work, MMOs stand out as some of the most difficult games to create – and may even be beyond the abilities of many small teams. Of course, with the enormous labor costs associated with games like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV, they also come with an inherent risk, which, again, is likely to exceed that of most other titles on the market.

Making an MMO

An article from Maryville University suggests that large-scale MMOs likely require teams of 200-300 people involved in areas such as artwork, programming, marketing, sound, quality assurance, tech support, and myriad other departments. Unfortunately, this huge demand for expertise is why many great ideas never see daylight. There simply isn’t enough time or money available in the world to bring them to fruition. 

For those people who are still determined to get started in MMO development, let’s take a look at the necessary nuts and bolts. What are the most appropriate languages and/or engines in which to code an MMO? 

MMO Development Engines

Inevitably, the languages used to create regular games do crop up when talking about MMOs, too, like C#, C++, Python, and Java. The choice may be taken out of developers’ hands entirely depending on whether or not they want to use a game engine, though. Unity (Java and C#), Godot (Python), and the Unreal Engine (C++) all require their users to have some expertise in a particular language.

Unity is not well known as a source of MMO games, although, at least half of Albion Online was built in the engine. The mobile game Raid: Shadow Legends is also a Unity-made game, as are several other entries in its developer’s catalog, such as the MMO Vikings: War of Clans. Unreal Engine, now on its fifth iteration, is the toolset behind World of Warcraft and Lost Ark, making it a mite more useful for creating MMOs.

Kickstarter

The disappointing truth is that many MMOs use their own in-house engines. Final Fantasy XIV is built with Square Enix’s own Crystal Tools, for example. This brings us back to some of the problems that would be-MMO developers face. Estimates for the price of building a brand new graphics engine range from half a million to many millions of dollars. In fact, even an off-the-shelf product like Unity has a cost, at $399 for its second-tier engine.

It’s perhaps no surprise that plenty of new MMO studios end up crowdfunding their development via Kickstarter and IndieGogo. Sadly, this doesn’t always work out for backers. The well-funded game Pathfinder Online collapsed in 2021, for instance, while Crowfall was poorly received, despite raising $7.2m in backer funds. Ultimately, Kickstarter is entirely hit-and-miss for just about everybody involved. 

So, what’s the solution? Unless money is no object, developers with a serious interest in creating MMOs are encouraged to apply to work at existing studios or try to join a small-scale team working up to something bigger. In any case, it’s possible to lay the groundwork for a potential career in MMO development by experimenting with some of the tools listed above. You can learn most of the ins and outs on YouTube, too. 

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