MASSIVELY MULTIPLAYER
ONLINE GAMES
In This Chapter
Differences between MMOs and Other Games
• Pre-Production
• Production
• Post-Production
9.1 I
NTRODUCTION
A
Massively Multiplayer Online game (MMO) is a game that hosts
hundreds of thousands of live players at any one time. The players can
interact with each other in a real time persistent world, meaning events
in the game world continue to occur even when the player is not logged in and
actively playing the game. The games are built on client-server architecture
and are constantly in use because players are enjoying the game 24 hours a day,
7 days a week. MMOs present some unique production challenges, especially
during the post-production phase when the game goes live and real people start
interacting with the game universe.
While it is beyond the scope of this book to discuss the production chal-
lenges in detail, it is important to highlight some of them so that they can be
planned for in the game development cycle. Todd Keister, a producer working
at ZeniMax Online, contributed to this chapter. He has extensive experience
producing MMOs and agreed to share his knowledge on the topic.
Chapter 9Chapter 9
146 THE GAME PRODUCTION HANDBOOK, 2/E
9.2 DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MMOS AND OTHER GAMES
There are several key differences between and an MMO and a traditional
console or PC game. While a console or PC game may include online features,
the features usually limit the number of players that can be online and the game
world is not persistent. The hallmark of the MMO is persistent character data
in a persistent world. This, coupled with the player character’s long-term pro-
gression and the amount of content necessary to populate the vast game world,
requires much client, server, and data management—much more than a tradi-
tional PC or console games with an online component.
Many MMOs do not have a traditional box release. The web handles an
increasing percentage of distribution versus the traditional brick and mortar
retailers. Many players still buy the box at their favorite electronics chain or
game store, but more and more are paying to download the entire game to their
computers without leaving home. Many game companies or publishing groups
provide portals to facilitate the communication of their players while also push-
ing new games and new products to the audience via the portal.
Most MMOs employ some type of subscription model to generate revenue.
Some models are built around the players paying a monthly fee, while others are
based on a free-to-play model where money is charged to access extra content
and features in the game. The simple monthly subscription model has evolved
to digital object models, episodic content models, and others, and consumer
habits have changed to support these shifts. iTunes demonstrates how readily
people will pay for a digital object ($0.99 for a song), and NetFlix illustrates how
readily a consumer will pay for the a service that lets them frontload content (for
example, select three videos ahead of your current one in a queue). More and
more games are leveraging these emergent trends with huge financial success.
New game content is also released on a regular basis to keep things fresh in the
game so that people will continue to play the game. Sometimes the new content
may be a few new weapons or items, while in other cases the content may be
a full blown expansion where new levels, characters, quests, and features are
added to the game.
Early in a game’s lifecycle, patches are often need-based to address criti-
cal bugs or system flaws that became apparent with the flood of new players
entering the world. Regular upkeep in terms of bug fixes and gameplay balance
changes occur at constant intervals—about once a week. You also have free
content updates that tend to be larger patches and come with much less fre-
quency. Because of the massive number of people that the game supports, it
is important to address a critical issue as soon as possible so the issue does not
get worse as more people encounter it. For example, there might be a quest
that mistakenly hands out a cash reward of 10,000 pieces of gold instead of the
intended 10 pieces gold. And, it just so happens that this hypothetical quest is

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