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Old 12-11-2007, 08:08 PM   #1
Aeran
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Games as service

Today I read that Asheron's Call 2 had run for 3 years and then been cancelled due to too few subscribers(http://www.killtenrats.com/2005/12/30/the-end-begins/). It made me start ponder. Game as service like mmrpg might sound fun but we might also be fooled by it. Would we buy Microsoft Office as a service which servers could be closed at the whim by the company - possibly taking online documents with it? Most people would be very mad if such thing happened. To a mmrpg this can happen as well. Players lose the work they have performed in the online world. They lose a game they liked. So in a way upgrading from singleplayer games(non service based ones) to mmrpg(service based) might actually be a downgrade.

To me it feels unethical of a company to sell a game to a customer and then make it impossible to play it. As there's no AC2 servers running anylonger the customers cant use the product they bought. Even if you look at it from the perspective that the customer bought a license to play the game it feels to me like there's something wrong somewhere. Perhaps the server software should be released to a mmrpg if it is about to get closed down? Then again I doubt many companies would want to do that as it could be making competition between your new mmrpgs and the old one.

The charts at MMOGCHART.COM can be interesting to look at. We see that AC2 "only" reached 50K subscribers before it started to decline. It's also interesting that AC1 had 120K subscribers a while but then dropped down to about 15K subscribers. One could argue that AC1 is closed next.

What does everyone think? Is games as service good or bad? Perhaps there's better models that should be used instead like some hybrid mmrpg with both offline and online mode?
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Old 12-11-2007, 08:53 PM   #2
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Re: Games as service

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Originally Posted by Aeran View Post
Today I read that Asheron's Call 2 had run for 3 years and then been cancelled due to too few subscribers
Unfortunate, but hardly surprising. While a non-commercial mud is generally operated as a hobby, commercial muds tend to be operated for profit; if they cease to be profitable, they'll be shut down. In the case of graphical muds, their lifespan is even more limited by their graphics (eye candy becomes dated very fast).

In the past, it's been implied by some that commercial muds offer a more stable future than non-commercial muds, because the admin have a vested financial stake in making sure the game continues to operate. My counter-argument has always been that the existence of such a mud depends upon its financial status, and this situation with Asheron's Call 2 is a prime example of the sort of thing I was referring to; The game ceased to be profitable, so it was cancelled.

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What does everyone think? Is games as service good or bad?
If you want a multiplayer game with lots of players, then you really need at least some service aspect - even something like Diablo II, which is great fun solo, relies on the Battle.net service for its community element.
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Old 12-12-2007, 07:11 AM   #3
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Re: Games as service

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Originally Posted by KaVir View Post
Unfortunate, but hardly surprising. While a non-commercial mud is generally operated as a hobby, commercial muds tend to be operated for profit; if they cease to be profitable, they'll be shut down. In the case of graphical muds, their lifespan is even more limited by their graphics (eye candy becomes dated very fast).

In the past, it's been implied by some that commercial muds offer a more stable future than non-commercial muds, because the admin have a vested financial stake in making sure the game continues to operate. My counter-argument has always been that the existence of such a mud depends upon its financial status, and this situation with Asheron's Call 2 is a prime example of the sort of thing I was referring to; The game ceased to be profitable, so it was cancelled.
Yes and that is an issue to both players and developers. The players can get to pay a lot when you sum the monthly subscription fee. Both players and developer lose a lot of work and effort if the game is closed.

I believe that WoW's huge success might be just as bad as it is good for the genre. From looking at the charts you can see both Lineage1 and Lineage2 are declining while WoW's subscription increase rate seem to not have reached its peak yet. It'll be interesting to see what happens once conan is released.

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If you want a multiplayer game with lots of players, then you really need at least some service aspect - even something like Diablo II, which is great fun solo, relies on the Battle.net service for its community element.
The different between Diablo II and e.g WoW is that there is no monthly fee to play Diablo II. Also I believe an emulator for Battle.net was created but was scared away by Blizzard's lawyers. So for a while atleast there was a backup service if the main service would have gone down. Even if Battle.net is closed the players still have access to the game. In the more traditional mmrpg they would only have the "unusable" CDs left if the service was closed.
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Old 12-12-2007, 11:00 AM   #4
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Re: Games as service

ACII closed after they switched credit card processors, and all their "sleeper" accounts did not renew. I think they lost like 60% of their business from one day to the next.

I'm not sure that I agree with the decision to close the game down. Afterall, the coding is already completed, the servers have already been bought, and it's very doubtful that they'll need a hardware upgrade due to the lack of numbers. At the same time, I freely admit that there could be costs that I can't imagine such as tech support, customer service, player complaints against other players, forum support, etc. Perhaps those costs heavily outweighed the gain. These companies, unlike most mudding teams, have share holders to answer to, so I see why they might try to cut their losses once they go in the red.

Honestly, I think I would give our muds away to people who wanted to host them rather than shut it down, but even Mythic made the choice to shut down all their muds once they got huge in the MMO arena.
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Old 12-12-2007, 11:28 AM   #5
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Re: Games as service

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Honestly, I think I would give our muds away to people who wanted to host them rather than shut it down,
They're not cancelling all of their muds though, only Asheron's Call 2, and releasing it to the public wouldn't do the first Asheron's Call any favours. If it were the other way around, and they were cancelling the original Asheron's Call, then I might agee with you - but how many people are going to pay money up front to try out Asheron's Call if they know they can play the sequel for free?
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Old 12-12-2007, 01:55 PM   #6
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Re: Games as service

Do people really care that much about a MMORPG closing down? Assuming it's done responsibly and nobody's cheated out of their money, people just go to the next game. MMORPGs are about the people, and so I think that the mechanics aren't really all that important.
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Old 12-12-2007, 02:41 PM   #7
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Re: Games as service

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Do people really care that much about a MMORPG closing down? Assuming it's done responsibly and nobody's cheated out of their money, people just go to the next game. MMORPGs are about the people, and so I think that the mechanics aren't really all that important.
I believe the mechanics are very important. From what I have read, it seems that releasing a mmrpg too early with broken mechanics can ruin the entire project. If you read the review of Dark and Light over at http://www.mmorpg.com/gamelist.cfm/s...w/43/gameID/58 you'll see that what looks like a quite nice game from the graphics get a low rating. A quote I find interesting in that review is, "The game in its current state is broken, full of bugs and does not have half of what was promised."[Mortensen]. My guess is that they released the game too early. Perhaps they had no choice. Could the game have gotten a better rating if they had fixed the bugs before releasing it?

This is also backed up by Jeff Strain, one of the co-founders of ArenaNet who are the makers of Guild Wars, in the article located at GuildWars.com: Events: Trade Shows: NCsoft at the Games Convention 2007. The relevant quote is "I can assure you that releasing an MMO into the market before the development team is proud of it will result in writing off every penny invested in its development."[Strain]

It might be possible that in cases like AC2, people would become hesitant to buy future MMRPGs made by that company.

Last edited by Aeran : 12-12-2007 at 02:50 PM.
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Old 12-12-2007, 03:27 PM   #8
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Re: Games as service

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What does everyone think? Is games as service good or bad? Perhaps there's better models that should be used instead like some hybrid mmrpg with both offline and online mode?
Well, considering that every single text MUD I know of is run as a service, we better hope games as a service are a good thing. As most text MUDs don't have a client-side component, they are ALL service, even more so than Asheron's Call, for instance.

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Old 12-12-2007, 03:38 PM   #9
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Re: Games as service

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Originally Posted by KaVir View Post
In the past, it's been implied by some that commercial muds offer a more stable future than non-commercial muds, because the admin have a vested financial stake in making sure the game continues to operate. My counter-argument has always been that the existence of such a mud depends upon its financial status, and this situation with Asheron's Call 2 is a prime example of the sort of thing I was referring to; The game ceased to be profitable, so it was cancelled.
For every Asheron's Call 2 there are dozens, possibly hundreds, of hobbyist MUDs that launched and then shut down quickly afterwards. It's so trivial to start a hobbyist MUD that that fact alone ensures the rate of failure of hobbyist MUDs will always dwarf commercial projects. We'll just never hear about most of them because they'll never attract more than a handful of players.

All it takes for a hobbyist to decide to shut down the world is that he's bored of it. That's not to say the good hobbyists act that way but it's pretty obvious when you look at the full list of MUDs on Mudconnector, for instance, that most of the devs operating most of the MUDs there are far from serious about creating and sustaining value for players. And why should they be? It doesn't take much of an investment in terms of time/money/will to download yet another DIKU copy, slap a name on it, and "launch it".

Again, that's not to imply that commercial = will always be around (obviously not) nor is it mean to imply that hobbyist = flakey. It is, however meant to imply that reality dictates that the average hobbyist project that is launched has a far, far higher chance of shutting down in the near future than does the average commercial project (though I'd argue that even in the commercial case, the likelihood is greater than 50%).

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Old 12-12-2007, 03:50 PM   #10
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Re: Games as service

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I'm not sure that I agree with the decision to close the game down. Afterall, the coding is already completed, the servers have already been bought, and it's very doubtful that they'll need a hardware upgrade due to the lack of numbers.
Had the servers been bought? We lease our servers, for instance, as do many MMO operators. Further, servers are only part of the NOC costs. You've got bandwidth, server support (servers fail after all), etc.


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At the same time, I freely admit that there could be costs that I can't imagine such as tech support, customer service, player complaints against other players, forum support, etc. Perhaps those costs heavily outweighed the gain. These companies, unlike most mudding teams, have share holders to answer to, so I see why they might try to cut their losses once they go in the red.
Those are all true, and it's also about brand. It's not to Turbine's advantage to just release an unsupported game, because the experience there tarnishes whatever value the Turbine brand has (I'm unsure how much it really has given their rather troubled track record, but the point remains)

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Honestly, I think I would give our muds away to people who wanted to host them rather than shut it down, but even Mythic made the choice to shut down all their muds once they got huge in the MMO arena.
That's one reason we spun off Sparkplay Media as a separate company to develop graphical games. One of the worries is that if we're successful with Sparkplay it will dwarf the size of Iron Realms, and if they were mushed together into one company the natural logic of the situation would end up dictating that the text MUDs get de-prioritized. By putting them into separate companies, we ensure that the success of Sparkplay doesn't end up minimizing the IRE text MUDs, which have a long life ahead of them.
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Old 12-12-2007, 04:20 PM   #11
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Re: Games as service

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Well, considering that every single text MUD I know of is run as a service, we better hope games as a service are a good thing. As most text MUDs don't have a client-side component, they are ALL service, even more so than Asheron's Call, for instance.
We better hope it is a good thing yes . The idea of a hybrid MUD is starting to sound a bit interesting to me. A MUD with both offline and online play. I don't think I had considered that before this thread.
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Old 12-12-2007, 05:32 PM   #12
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Re: Games as service

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We better hope it is a good thing yes . The idea of a hybrid MUD is starting to sound a bit interesting to me. A MUD with both offline and online play. I don't think I had considered that before this thread.
Just consider that you're making two different experiences in that case, and that what you do while offline cannot really count towards what you do while online because of hacking issues. The client is always eminently hackable and if the game resolution is done client-side vs. server-side then you can't trust that anything that has been done was really done.

So, for example, gaining gold or xp while offline couldn't really translate to the online experience because you can't trust that they have actually been earned as opposed to hacked in.

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Old 12-12-2007, 06:30 PM   #13
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Re: Games as service

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Originally Posted by the_logos View Post
For every Asheron's Call 2 there are dozens, possibly hundreds, of hobbyist MUDs that launched and then shut down quickly afterwards.
There are certainly many muds that shut down soon after (or even before) they launch, but whether those muds would have eventually become commercial or not is something we can only speculate. A number of today's commercial text-based muds started out non-commercial, after all.

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It's so trivial to start a hobbyist MUD that that fact alone ensures the rate of failure of hobbyist MUDs will always dwarf commercial projects.
If you were to replace the word "hobbyist" with "stock" then I'd agree, but a mud doesn't suddenly become more difficult to develop just because the players start sending you cash.

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All it takes for a hobbyist to decide to shut down the world is that he's bored of it.
While all it takes for a commercial mud to decide to shut down the world is that it's no longer profitable. The difference is that, while a hobbyist may never tire of their game, sooner or later every commercial mud will cease to be profitable.

Having said that, in my experience hobbyist muds are more likely to be handed down to someone else when the original owner gets bored. I imagine the same would be true for commercial muds, although the arrangement would likely involve a formal contract. Once again, however, if the objective of the mud is to turn a profit, then as soon as it stops doing so it will be cancelled.
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Old 12-12-2007, 07:14 PM   #14
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Re: Games as service

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If you were to replace the word "hobbyist" with "stock" then I'd agree, but a mud doesn't suddenly become more difficult to develop just because the players start sending you cash.
A commercial MUD is far more than just the development effort. There are all sorts of things to deal with that you simply do not have to deal with as a hobbyist. Security certifications around storing credit card information, actual responsive customer service, the marketing and advertising chain (tracking conversions from ads and whatnot is trickier than it sounds), human resources (hiring processes), schedules (although Iron Realms is quite relaxed about scheduling due to the highly iterative nature of its process), etc. It's fundamentally not different but the devil's in the details.

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While all it takes for a commercial mud to decide to shut down the world is that it's no longer profitable. The difference is that, while a hobbyist may never tire of their game, sooner or later every commercial mud will cease to be profitable.
Not at all. For instance, Mythic ran their text MUDs past the point where they were profitable. Further, I'm unsure where your data points are coming from on every commercial MUD ceasing to be profitable. The oldest operating text MUD (Gemstone I believe) is a commercial MUD, for instance. I could as easily claim that every hobbyist MUD will be shut down to due lack of interest eventually, but that's not really accurate.

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Having said that, in my experience hobbyist muds are more likely to be handed down to someone else when the original owner gets bored.
Really? I suspect you're mainly thinking here about hobbyist MUDs that have gotten to a certain point in their life cycle. I'm including all hobbyist MUDs, which includes the kid who sets up a MUD and shuts it down a week later. The churn of hobbyist MUDs at the very low end is pretty high if you watch Mudconnector's listings.

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I imagine the same would be true for commercial muds, although the arrangement would likely involve a formal contract. Once again, however, if the objective of the mud is to turn a profit, then as soon as it stops doing so it will be cancelled.
Saying that the only objective of a commercial MUD is to turn a profit is as misleading as saying that the only objective of a hobbyist is to entertain himself. If profit was the only thing I was concerned with, for instance, I wouldn't have gotten into text MUDs. They're hardly a massive market, and never were. One gets into a niche market on the commercial end (in my experience) because of an all-consuming passion for it and the desire to focus on that passion rather than having to hold down a day job doing something less entertaining.

In the case of our MUDs for instance, it wouldn't matter if they weren't profitable. I'd just fund them out of my own pocket.

--matt
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Old 12-12-2007, 08:25 PM   #15
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Re: Games as service

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A commercial MUD is far more than just the development effort.
So is a hobbyist mud. But I was responding to your statement "It's so trivial to start a hobbyist MUD".

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There are all sorts of things to deal with that you simply do not have to deal with as a hobbyist.
Well yes, the "commercial" parts - but hobbyist muds also have to deal with security issues, customer service, advertising, recruitment, schedules, etc. And even more difficult, they have to do so without a budget.

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Quote:
While all it takes for a commercial mud to decide to shut down the world is that it's no longer profitable. The difference is that, while a hobbyist may never tire of their game, sooner or later every commercial mud will cease to be profitable.
Not at all. For instance, Mythic ran their text MUDs past the point where they were profitable.
Ran, past tense. I'm not saying commercial muds automatically close down the instant they fail to make a profit, but that if they continually cost more money then they make, then after a certain point it no longer makes sense to run them as a commercial business.

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Quote:
I imagine the same would be true for commercial muds, although the arrangement would likely involve a formal contract. Once again, however, if the objective of the mud is to turn a profit, then as soon as it stops doing so it will be cancelled.
Saying that the only objective of a commercial MUD is to turn a profit is as misleading as saying that the only objective of a hobbyist is to entertain himself.
Which is why I instead said "if the objective of the mud is to turn a profit..."

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Originally Posted by the_logos View Post
If profit was the only thing I was concerned with, for instance, I wouldn't have gotten into text MUDs. They're hardly a massive market, and never were. One gets into a niche market on the commercial end (in my experience) because of an all-consuming passion for it and the desire to focus on that passion rather than having to hold down a day job doing something less entertaining.
Which brings us back to your earlier comment "All it takes for a hobbyist to decide to shut down the world is that he's bored of it."

If the objective of the mud is to turn a profit, and it continually fails to do so, then after a certain point it will be shut down. Conversely, if you're working on the mud out of passion, and that passion turns into boredom, then after a certain point it will be shut down or passed on to someone else.

Last edited by KaVir : 12-13-2007 at 05:27 AM. Reason: Closed [b]
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Old 12-12-2007, 09:14 PM   #16
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Re: Games as service

From my understanding, the server system for AC is **vastly** superior in how it handles moving between servers than EQ or WoW have done, so maybe the next game to come along will at least realize that, and aquire the design. Ironically, this also means that its probably very hard to manage to replicate it, the way they did when creating stand alone EQ1 servers.

But yeah, I had kind of hoped, given some of what I heard of how much less zonish and prone to making you wait when moving from area to area, it was, that they would eventually use it to make something even better. Of course, given that I am an EQ2 player, I can't help but hope that Sony picks it up from them and builds a better EQ with it. lol

Really though, we are at a cross roads. On one hand, in theory, something like Second Life might continue forever, as long as the archetecture allowed for expanding the game design, like happened with the internet itself, though SL is "probably" not there yet, for a lot of reasons. On the other hand, systems that are stable, complex and strictly targetted at game play and the like cannot last forever, if for no other reason than because its damn hard to improve the technology that makes it work, without radical changes to the client, the servers, and even the data. Its unfortunate, but inevitable.
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Old 12-13-2007, 06:30 AM   #17
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Re: Games as service

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So is a hobbyist mud. But I was responding to your statement "It's so trivial to start a hobbyist MUD".

Well yes, the "commercial" parts - but hobbyist muds also have to deal with security issues, customer service, advertising, recruitment, schedules, etc. And even more difficult, they have to do so without a budget.
It is trivial to start a hobbyist MUD if you define it like the_logos has done. That anyone can start a finished one and then shut it down. If we look at the more serious attempts where the hobbyist wants to start a MUD and make it really good it starts to become more like the commercial MUDs, and then it is far from trivial. It is amazing we have decent quality MUDs out there made by hobbyists because there's so many things that needs to be solved. Unlike the commercial MUD the hobbyist does the work as a hobby. This means continue long hours of work after getting home from day-work. Even if it is a fun hobby it does require you to put energy and effort into it.

As a hobbyist you can be very uncertain about what to do. An angry builder might tell you to remove all his areas for some odd reason. Most hobbyists probably neither want nor can afford legal help. So they go to TMC and ask for help . Also if your game is story intense with zones tightly connected, and you decide to remove the zones, this could mean effectively cutting a big hole in the plot line. It could take weeks to repair.

Also once the game starts to have players you have to handle player relations. Some players will login to your game just to tell you how much it sucks. Others will complain and make a scene every time you make a change they don't like. With more players there's more who find reasons to make a scene. I have even seen one case where players from another MUD started to login, just to harass some player.

If you get exhausted with your day-work and need to take it easier on the MUD side awhile, it can cause trouble ingame as the morale can suffer.

And what do you do if you find a serious bug that keep crash the game, but it is subtle and can require many hours of debugging? Meanwhile the players complain on forum that the game is more offline than online. As hobbyist you might only be able to work on your project 3-4 hours per day if even that.
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Old 12-13-2007, 07:01 AM   #18
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Re: Games as service

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It is trivial to start a hobbyist MUD if you define it like the_logos has done. That anyone can start a finished one and then shut it down.
Except that someone could start a commercial mud in exactly the same way - offhand I can think of at least two commercial muds running today that started out as stock muds.
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Old 12-13-2007, 03:37 PM   #19
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Re: Games as service

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Do people really care that much about a MMORPG closing down? Assuming it's done responsibly and nobody's cheated out of their money, people just go to the next game. MMORPGs are about the people, and so I think that the mechanics aren't really all that important.
Amen Brotha. Look at Ultima Online, which was HUGE and the powerhouse for a few years and now it is WoW and in a couple years it will be something else. Do we really care? That's business.

Same goes for Muds. There are many more Text RPG choices than GUI RPGs (I like the gui distinction rather than the lame MMORPG, because anything could be defined as Massive) so you will likely find what you want in a Text RPG. The reason for this is because Text RPG's can be hobby run, but try to run a competitive GUI RPG without paid high end graphic artists and proggers and you'll get jack.

But the bottom line is that GUI RPG's and Text RPG's will come and go as the market dictates and not because someone can't hop onto Battle.net and play.
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Old 12-14-2007, 01:54 PM   #20
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Re: Games as service

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Well yes, the "commercial" parts - but hobbyist muds also have to deal with security issues, customer service, advertising, recruitment, schedules, etc. And even more difficult, they have to do so without a budget.
If it was more difficult, there'd be a whole lot less hobbyist MUDs and a whole lot more commercial MUDs. I've done both and pressure in a hobbyist environment doesn't exist in the same way it does commercially. Things change when people are depending on the success of the MUD to pay their mortgages and feed their kids. I'm not trying to say that that makes commercial MUDs better, but the experience of running them successfully is different.

--matt

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