Why most MMOs fail, as explained by Warhammer Online dev

With Warhammer Online now instigating a “WAAAAGH” on computers around the world, Destructoid had a chance to catch up with one of the game’s senior designers, Josh Drescher, for a post-launch chat. In our upcoming interview, we talked about how smoothly the game’s launch went, how much of a threat the Cartoon Network MMO will be to EA Mythic, and what it takes to make a massively multiplayer game.

On this subject, Josh provided his own insight as to why the increasingly populated MMO market is home to so many spectacular failures. It’s no secret that a few MMO titles have died on their arses following release, and the Warhammer Online designer knows why:

“What is it that causes the MMOs that fail to fail, largely before they even get out of development? Part of that has to do with [it being] very easy to look at the MMO genre and go: ‘This is where all the money is in PC gaming at the moment … obviously the MMO is the only way to go!’ So developers that have a pedigree in some other area — maybe they make console games or real-time-strategy games — they look at MMOs and they go: ‘Well we’ll just make one of them.’ Not realizing just how much more difficult it is to build an MMO than it is to do anything else in the industry.

These are games where you’re not working with a team for a year or eighteen months to develop ten hours of content. You are working with a team of hundreds and hundreds of people, for usually two, three, four or even five years in the case of something like WoW, to build a game that is intended to be played forever. You’re handcrafting hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours of content. In Warhammer there’s probably around a thousand hours of handcrafted content in the game across the six different races.”

More after the jump.

“That’s a ton of stuff to be building, and so it’s really easy to dive in and go: ‘Yeah we’re gonna make a massively multiplayer game based on football! It’ll be real easy,’ and the next thing you know, you’re two-and-a-half years in, you don’t know what you’re doing. Your server code doesn’t work, you’ve never worked with thousands of players at once instead of ten or fifteen, the engine that you’re working with is designed for first-person-shooters and doesn’t scale when you put fifty models on the screen. There’s just a lot of experience that we had that made it much easier for us to build this kind of game because we’ve been in the industry for a really long time.”

Mythic be laying down the law, son! Knocking up a quick MMO may sound easy, but it isn’t the cheap cash-in that publishers seem to think it is. So many publishers talk about turning popular franchises into MMOs, but it’s clear that if you’re just in it with an eye to making quick cash, you’re going to learn otherwise, and learn it the hard way.

Make sure to visit Destructoid tomorrow, where we will have our full interview with Josh Drescher.

James Stephanie Sterling