QOTD: MMOs are like the Plague

“There are many good reasons most games studios don’t attempt an MMO, and why all of the advice to indies is to avoid it like the plague. Basically? Because it’s the plague.

An MMO is the most expensive and complex design choice you can possibly make. In some ways it makes the 64bit problem look like a school project. Moving from single-player to multi-player adds complexity. Moving to large numbers of players who expect to be able to interact with each other en masse, chat, trade, work together, work against each other, connect any time of the day or night, never lose any saved data, never have their accounts hacked, never lose out to a cheater or a scammer, and never be abused in chat by a troll… well, it’s games development in “Extreme difficulty” mode. “MMO” also makes people think of complex character sheets, and massive, massive, massive replayability.” [James Hicks]

Yesterday, the folks over at Massively OP featured a lengthy commentary by Ascent’s lead developer James Hicks on the kerfuffle around Star Citizen. It’s an insightful read about all the great risks and challenges that come with such massive, crowd-funded projects and naturally, his above statement about the MMO genre as a whole stood out to me and bears repeating. We are so used to our AAA-MMO gold standard and so very demanding, it’s easy to forget what a remarkable feat every running MMO(RPG) is to begin with. Developing massively multiplayer online worlds is diving into a bottomless well or as Hicks called it, the plague – one we get to enjoy without all the peril until no one’s left who would lead us there.

darkest dungeon artwork

darkest dungeon artwork


  1. For some reason I thought of Neverwinter Nights when I read this post. All of the work that goes into the Bioware engine to enable players to create their own adventures is both fascinating and daunting.

    And an MMO is only more so.

    I guess it’s no surprise that Bioware’s likely only MMO is its first, SWTOR. Blizzard is content to stick with WoW until it sunsets. Only a few companies that specialize in MMOs, such as Funcom, Trion, or Turbine, seem to want to keep dipping into the well of insanity.

    1. Yes, for now. I don’t think we’ll see that many new studios compete for this market outside of Asia where it’s probably always going to be a thing. NCSoft has its league of MMO titles but that aside, here in the west we are left with the handful of devs you mentioned. The future is online coop, lobby and team games, arenas etc. Overwatch and Gigantic are coming, there’s stuff like ARK or The Division- online yes, coop sorta but never massively multiplayer the way we understand it and not these huge, persistent worlds either. Gosh, what a depressing outlook.

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