Everybody knows that building an MMO involves a lot of people, takes a lot of time,Â and costs a lot of money. Fewer people know how much money, how many people, and what all those people are doing for all that time.Â I thought I would share a bit of my experience on Pirates and give you some idea what those big MMO budgets are spent on.Â All of the data behind this post is up on Zoho Sheet; feel free to do whatever you want with it. (Also, Zoho is much cooler than the Google Docs spreadsheet.)
There are a few things I should mention up front: These are not the numbers from Pirates.Â We had a gradual ramp up of people and project scope over the course of five years and that’s definitely not the right way to do it. I also rearranged people to compensate for some of the staffing shortages we had on Pirates.
This “budget” also doesn’t include anything but people’s salaries. Most costs scale up with staff, including desktop hardware, office space, software, office server capacity, taxes, benefits, etc. You would need to add 40-50% to the dollar figures to take that into account.Â I mostly care about the percentages, so I didn’t bother trying to include any of those items. The budget also doesn’t include any server, hosting, or bandwidth costs. Those can be pretty significant in the beta and live phases.
Most of the salaries were drawn from the 2007 Game Developer magazine salary survey. Those are:
There were three functions I didn’t have any salary surveys to draw from, so I just made up some numbers. I assumed Community people make about the same as Designers and that Operations people make about the same as Programmers. I put Customer Service people down at $30k on average, which is much more than front-line CSRs and forum moderators, but less than supervisors and managers.
The purpose of the pre-production phase is to figure out the answers to a bunch of questions before the team grows to its full size and things get really expensive. There is an emphasis on programmers and system designers in this phase, because they have the most questions to answer. As expected, the programmers take up the biggest chunk in pre-production. They are both numerous and expensive. System development is also a big focus in Pre-production.
This is where most of the money on the project will be spent, and most of that is spend on building the world:
During the beta phase other significant costs (such as operations and customer service) start to come in, but the content team is still going full bore on building out and bug fixing the world, so it doesn’t affect the numbers too much.
The Post-Launch phase of the project is represented in this graph primarily because it takes a while to get money out of your players and through the various intermediaries involved, and into your bank account.Â Even if you have 100k players on launch day you won’t see revenue from those players for a while.Â If the game isn’t at least self-sufficient beyond that, then you’re in trouble.Â The Live phase has a smaller number of world artists since you are not building the main world anymore at this point. Depending on the (paid or unpaid) expansion pack strategy of the game, this will vary.
Here are some graphs to break down the total amounts spent. See how world is the biggest chunk?Â That’s why everyone is talking about user-generated content.
How closely to these numbers reflect the budgets on MMOs you’ve seen? I’d love to hear your thoughts.