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Old 10-24-2008, 06:23 PM   #1
Orrin
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Barriers to commercial MUDs

I would be interested in hearing what people think are the barriers, if any, to making commercial MUDs. By commercial I am including subscriptions, pay for perks, or even donations (beyond what is usually taken to be allowed by 'non profit' or 'non commercial' licenses).

I appreciate that the majority of people who run non commercial MUDs do so as a hobby and have no desire to take them commercial, however I am interested in hearing from anyone who falls outside this group.

What are the factors that are stopping you from making your MUD commercial? How far do concerns over things like payment processing, increased customer service demands or codebase licensing restrictions restrict you from taking your MUD commercial?

It's not my intention to start a debate on the merits of free vs commercial MUDs, I am simply wondering if there are people out there who would like to make a commercial MUD, or take their MUDs commercial, but are prevented from doing so for whatever reason.
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Old 10-24-2008, 10:42 PM   #2
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Re: Barriers to commercial MUDs

Your question inevitably raises the issue of eye candy...

Looking at MUDStats.Com shows a "peak concurrent users" of 9000-ish for known muds (as known by mudstats). I assume they missed some; maybe the peak concurrent users is 14,000. For a popular pay-for-play MMORPG, you'd multiply this by around 5 to determine the number of paying players. For MMORPGs (and MUDs), multiply about 10x.

Thus there are around 140K MUD players (+/- 40K?). IMHO, this number has been steadily shrinking. (The shrinking part is open to debate, as per other threads)

If you make a text MUD, you'll never get any more than 140K players.

Actually, you'd never get more (paying players) than the total number of players in Iron Realms and Simutronics combined (about 1800 peak, x 10 = 18,000 players) since they're the only two commercial text MUDs companies surviving.

And you'll only get 18,000 players if you manage to make infinitely better products than them (and also better than all the free text MUDs.)

Conversely, MMORPGs (see MMOGCHART.COM) have 16 million active subscriptions, NOT counting the non-paying players on "free-to-play" MMOs like Runescape. Lets say 30 million total MMORPG players worldwide.

That 30 million is most definitely growing (see mmogchart), while text MUDs are either holding their own or shrinking. Even if text MUDs were growing (which some people have proposed), they're NOT growing at the 20%-30% annual rate that MMORPGs are. (Even Simutronics and IRE are making their own MMORPGs now.)

So, to make a new commericial text MUD is (a) challenging because of the dominance of Simutronics and IRE, (b) limiting yourself to 18K max players, and (b) entering a shrinking market.

The reason why more people (30M vs. 140K) play MMORPGs than text MUDs? EYE CANDY! They certainly aren't playing for better and more-creative gameplay!

Having said that, I am writing a commercial "MUD" (kind-of). It uses a lot of graphics, audio, and text-to-speech, but not as much eye candy as a full MMORPG. The problem with a MMORPG heavily-laden with eye candy is that writing one is a huge amount of work.
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Old 10-25-2008, 07:11 AM   #3
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Re: Barriers to commercial MUDs

I am not sure I agree with all your figures, for example I can think of more surviving commercial MUDs than just IRE and Simutronics, although I do agree that the potential market for commercial MUDs is small. However the cost of entry to this market is tiny in comparison to that for graphical MMORPGs. A single person or a small team can produce a MUD in their spare time and host it for a few dollars a month. When your development and operating costs are this low you don't need 10 million subscribers at $15 a month to be successful.

I think it's fair to say that not many major game companies would choose a MUD as their flagship product any more (after all MUDs just aren't sexy enough) but I was also aiming my questions at smaller indies or existing free MUD owners who may be interested in making a bit of extra cash to cover hosting, advertising etc.
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Old 10-25-2008, 01:23 PM   #4
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Re: Barriers to commercial MUDs

I found an interesting quote here (June 16th, 2008):

Quote:
Lightspeed, a venture capital firm, recently did a few calculations to come up with the figures of how much revenue is generated by a single user in today's most successful free-to-play, microtransaction supported MMOs. What they came up with is a pretty interesting look at how much a "successful" MMO will make. For example, Habbo Hotel pulls in around $1.30 on average for each of their active users per month, while RuneScape pulls in 84 cents per active user per month.

The one figure that stood out from the pack was Second Life, which pulled in 9 dollars per user per month thanks to things like land ownership and the premium subscription that land owners have to buy to be able to own property. Even with Second Life in the mix, it's interesting to see that these types of MMOs don't make much per user, yet still can pull in great amounts of revenue by entertaining huge player bases.
I'm curious how this would compare to IR muds (Gemstone is subscription, right?).

Completely hypothetically of course, if you were to take Mike's posited market of 18,000 players, and your game captured a third of that, and you go with $1 per player per month in a microtransaction model, that gives you a revenue of $72,000/year.

My opinion is that mud players would spend a little more, due to the game being more personal and niche. If they spent as much as people do in SL, your revenue is upward of half a million dollars a year, which seems workable.

On the subject of entering a shrinking market, I think those problems are obviated a bit in muds because if you put some effort into your mud it's easy to rise above the muds already out there. Putting in the effort in a graphical game is, as has been mentioned, much tougher.
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Old 10-25-2008, 06:03 PM   #5
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Re: Barriers to commercial MUDs

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Originally Posted by Ide View Post
Completely hypothetically of course, if you were to take Mike's posited market of 18,000 players, and your game captured a third of that, and you go with $1 per player per month in a microtransaction model, that gives you a revenue of $72,000/year.
I was thinking about that exact same thought last night (after I made my last post).

The biggest problems is that Simutronics (and to a lesser extent, IRE) created the bulk of their code/content in the golden days of text MUDs. Simutronics must have poured at least a million into their code/content (because they were making a lot through hourly billing), not to mention years of fine tuning.

All things being equal (which they aren't), you could invest $1M of your own money and take away half of Simutronics' market. I suspect that the return on the $1M investment would be less than you could get by putting the money in the bank (assuming the bank doesn't go under. :-P ).


And, of course, there are all the completely-free hobbyist MUDs, some of them with content to rival Simutronics. You have to compete against them too.

It's not impossible, but it's very challenging.
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Old 10-25-2008, 06:10 PM   #6
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Re: Barriers to commercial MUDs

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Originally Posted by Orrin View Post
I am not sure I agree with all your figures, for example I can think of more surviving commercial MUDs than just IRE and Simutronics, although I do agree that the potential market for commercial MUDs is small. However the cost of entry to this market is tiny in comparison to that for graphical MMORPGs. A single person or a small team can produce a MUD in their spare time and host it for a few dollars a month. When your development and operating costs are this low you don't need 10 million subscribers at $15 a month to be successful.
Disagreeing with figures - No problem. They're just guestimates and generalizations, since the exact information is unavailable.

My thinking has been that a text MUD with a bit of eye candy (some posibilities: web-based, some static graphics, perhaps some simple 3D, some sound effects, etc.) is doable by a small team, and could potentially attract more players than a text-only game.
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Old 11-06-2008, 05:55 PM   #7
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Re: Barriers to commercial MUDs

Some of the reasons, I think, that you don't see too many commercial MUDs (ignoring the fact that the market is a niche market already controlled by one or two goliath companies) is liscencing. Most people interesting in running a MUD do not have the experience necessary to pull a completely custom base out of their arse; most code in the MUD world is either derived or based off of other code with restrictive liscences.

Out of those who have the experience to fully code a MUD from scratch, few have no intention or are foolish enough to spend the overhead required to get started when you have such a high-risk investment. At best, you can hope to break even.
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Old 11-07-2008, 05:01 AM   #8
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Re: Barriers to commercial MUDs

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Originally Posted by Parhelion View Post
Out of those who have the experience to fully code a MUD from scratch, few have no intention or are foolish enough to spend the overhead required to get started when you have such a high-risk investment. At best, you can hope to break even.
I think coding a MUD engine from scratch is pretty simple. Atleast if you don't aim for some epic game with hundreds of classes. The main problem is that it takes some time and dedication to write it.

My suspicion is that the bigger challenge is to get content for the game. E.g zones, and story writing.
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Old 08-05-2009, 09:40 AM   #9
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Re: Barriers to commercial MUDs

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ide View Post
I found an interesting quote here (June 16th, 2008):

Quote:
Lightspeed, a venture capital firm, recently did a few calculations to come up with the figures of how much revenue is generated by a single user in today's most successful free-to-play, microtransaction supported MMOs. What they came up with is a pretty interesting look at how much a "successful" MMO will make. For example, Habbo Hotel pulls in around $1.30 on average for each of their active users per month, while RuneScape pulls in 84 cents per active user per month.

The one figure that stood out from the pack was Second Life, which pulled in 9 dollars per user per month thanks to things like land ownership and the premium subscription that land owners have to buy to be able to own property. Even with Second Life in the mix, it's interesting to see that these types of MMOs don't make much per user, yet still can pull in great amounts of revenue by entertaining huge player bases.
I'm curious how this would compare to IR muds (Gemstone is subscription, right?).
It seemed relevant to necro this thread in light of this interview with Matt Mihaly which mentions IRE's revenue figures:

Quote:
Iron Realms began microtransaction-based MUD play in 1997. The company was able to maintain a $22 ARPU (average revenue per user), and a $75 ARPPU (average revenue per paying user)
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Old 08-05-2009, 10:29 AM   #10
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Re: Barriers to commercial MUDs

Simu got into the business, as was mentioned in a previous post, during the golden age of muds. This was when GEnie was charging by the hour to log onto their service, -and- an extra fee per hour to play the games they provided to customers. There were some GEnie members paying hundreds of dollars -monthly- just for the privilege of being on GEnie and playing a text game. There were even stories of bankruptcy by players who couldn't stop playing, and couldn't afford to pay the rent because they'd skip out on work, get fired, have no income, and continue to play and be charged by the hour.

Then Simu took their games to the other online service providers, such as CompuServe, Prodigy, and AOL. THOSE services were monthly fee providers too, plus they -also- charged per hour for game play at one point or another (some of them went free play, monthly fee for login, but at some point, all of them had an hourly fee to play).

Then..AOL went free to play, monthly fee to log in. That's when Simu acquired the bulk of its customers. Thousands of customers, to the point where they were over 10,000 accounts. The problem was, they didn't limit the number of accounts anyone could have. If you had 10 e-mail addresses, you could have 10 accounts. And on AOL, it was easy to do that, especially with those "Free Trial Offer!" CDs they tossed in mailboxes every month to US residents from coast to coast.

The gimmick worked great for Simu though, who managed to addict a core group of people with multi accounts, who learned how to min-max and sell characters, sell equipment, sell all kinds of things, for actual money over e-bay and player fansites. Then Simu "went internet" and divorced itself from the online servers, most of which had gone out of business.

A whole lot of customers who -were- playing for free or at an hourly fee, were now hooked, had no idea other muds existed because they had never stepped into the Internet, and only knew about Simu from their online services. So they went along with Simu to the internet and started paying a monthly fee, gladly. They justified it, that a month's fee for playing was cheaper than a weekly night out at the movies, or that it was definitely cheaper than most other hobbies.

That's WHY Simutronics is successful. Because they started during a time when people were paying a FORTUNE..and then it became a provided service of AOL, which skyrocketed the playerbase. And then they took that freebie away, tossed it on the internet, and told everyone they had to pay for it. By then, the players who had been playing a couple of years already, were die-hard fans who would refuse to accept the fact that free games -might- actually offer better than what they're paying for.

The playerbase of SImu games has dwindled since that huge boom, but remains steady enough to maintain their offices. Also, the promise of the graphics game Hero's Journey, which *I* remember being told would be out in 2002 when I used to play Gemstone, is still being promised. And like obedient sheep, the players still think it'll come to them some day and they'll get to be the first to play it. So they hang on to their multi accounts, continue paying per month, some of them continue -making- money by selling game-items for cash, and Gemstone really is nothing more than a RP-optional trading card game.

Now, if you want to go that route, if integrity is just a word with no meaning for you, you could set up a trading card game, hook a few people into it, don't charge them anything at first, wait until people are in love with your game..release some amazing items, and then BOOM - start charging for the privilege and leak out to your favorite player that you'll pretend not to notice if he sells his uber sword of doom to Lord Bigbang's player over e-bay.

And then you can be just like Simutronics, and succeed in a commercial venue.
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Old 08-05-2009, 12:14 PM   #11
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Re: Barriers to commercial MUDs

Simutronics is still riding the wave of the golden age and steadily losing momentum. IRE, for lack of a better word, leeches on the MUD community for its players, steadily losing momentum as well as the MUD community as a whole shrinks, as can be observed with google trends.

It should be possible to attract people who never mudded before, but I think time has shown that this is incredibly difficult, so the biggest barrier for commercial muds is advertisement.
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Old 08-05-2009, 10:15 PM   #12
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Re: Barriers to commercial MUDs

I think there are a handful of new muds that are going in the right direction to attract new players. I'd cite Avenshar, Maiden Desmodus, and IRE muds of course (they are cognizant of the need for a contemporary UI). The figures Orrin cited are pretty interesting, they're in line with the earlier article -- twice what you get in Runescape actually (I assume those are /year figures?)
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Old 08-06-2009, 01:07 AM   #13
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Re: Barriers to commercial MUDs

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Actually, you'd never get more (paying players) than the total number of players in Iron Realms and Simutronics combined (about 1800 peak, x 10 = 18,000 players) since they're the only two commercial text MUDs companies surviving.
Wait just a second now...

Frogdice is a 13 year old company that makes text muds. We have a new commercial text mud coming out in the next few weeks, and we have a number of other games in development as well.

There are a few other commercial text mud companies as well.

Bear in mind that Simutronics still makes in excess of a couple million dollars per year from their text muds. Their President and Founder disclosed this fact at IMGDC this year.
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Old 08-06-2009, 04:11 AM   #14
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Re: Barriers to commercial MUDs

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The figures Orrin cited are pretty interesting, they're in line with the earlier article -- twice what you get in Runescape actually (I assume those are /year figures?)
I had assumed they were monthly as that's how ARPU figures are usually quoted.
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Old 08-06-2009, 09:38 PM   #15
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Re: Barriers to commercial MUDs

Holy s$%&.
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Old 08-07-2009, 01:26 AM   #16
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Re: Barriers to commercial MUDs

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Originally Posted by Threshold View Post
Wait just a second now...

Frogdice is a 13 year old company that makes text muds. We have a new commercial text mud coming out in the next few weeks, and we have a number of other games in development as well.

There are a few other commercial text mud companies as well.

Bear in mind that Simutronics still makes in excess of a couple million dollars per year from their text muds. Their President and Founder disclosed this fact at IMGDC this year.
Are we supposed to just take your word for it? Or his? Since when do business men tell the truth about how much money their companies are making? Funny stuff that. They must have some rich players, because here on TMS I see muds that don't charge and have an average online playerbase of 40 that are within the top-10 all the time. Fanatical players that vote all the time? Or is it just that these so-called commercial muds making millions of dollars are full of bull****?
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Old 08-07-2009, 08:34 AM   #17
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Re: Barriers to commercial MUDs

Actually Delerak, David Whatley is probably telling the truth. Simutronics has been an established commercial gaming company for a very long time, and you can visit their headquarters in St. Louis (I have). They also sell their Hero Engine commercially to big-name companies, and they have several muds using their proprietary mud code.

They have thousands of accounts, although many of those thousands, are "multis" who pay a minimum of $20/month for -each- account, plus extra for special events. It's pretty likely that Simutronics earns a few million in revenue yearly and that their profit margin is healthy enough to keep their building maintained and occupied by their employees.
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Old 08-07-2009, 11:24 AM   #18
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Re: Barriers to commercial MUDs

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Originally Posted by Delerak View Post
Since when do business men tell the truth about how much money their companies are making? Funny stuff that. They must have some rich players, because here on TMS I see muds that don't charge and have an average online playerbase of 40 that are within the top-10 all the time. Fanatical players that vote all the time? Or is it just that these so-called commercial muds making millions of dollars are full of bull****?
I think it's more that the majority of mud players don't visit TMS at all.
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Old 08-07-2009, 05:22 PM   #19
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Re: Barriers to commercial MUDs

This is a pretty interesting subject! I know that I have played both simutronics and IRE muds extensively. It's easy to be critical of the IRE crowd since they do "leech" their players primarily from other muds, but those guys love muds and mudding, don't doubt it :P

As for simutronic's profit margins, don't doubt that either. It's $10 a month for default and something like $40 a month for premium, and their two primary muds each have 250-400 people online at a given time. I have no idea what that makes their total player base to be, but it's not that hard to imagine their income (before expenses anyway) being over a million per year.

There's people here who have researched this all (and I have not) but some of this is just common sense. I think the important thing to keep in mind is that while you can make money with a mud, don't quit your day job right away.
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Old 08-07-2009, 05:28 PM   #20
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Re: Barriers to commercial MUDs

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Originally Posted by Dawnquiver View Post
This is a pretty interesting subject! I know that I have played both simutronics and IRE muds extensively. It's easy to be critical of the IRE crowd since they do "leech" their players primarily from other muds, but those guys love muds and mudding, don't doubt it :P

As for simutronic's profit margins, don't doubt that either. It's $10 a month for default and something like $40 a month for premium, and their two primary muds each have 250-400 people online at a given time. I have no idea what that makes their total player base to be, but it's not that hard to imagine their income (before expenses anyway) being over a million per year.

There's people here who have researched this all (and I have not) but some of this is just common sense. I think the important thing to keep in mind is that while you can make money with a mud, don't quit your day job right away.
I'll be generous. Let's say it's $40 for a premium account or whatever. You say they have 400 people on at any given time. Let's assume that they have ten times the amount of users that are ever on. That's 400x10 = 4000. If everyone has a premium account, that's only 160k. If they have more than 4000 users paying it's still a far cry from even breaking a million dollars.
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