On the mud-dev mailing list, Mike Rozak wrote…

Several amateur MMORPG development kits are now on the market (Multiverse, Realmcrafter, Torque), with more to come. Some amateur authors are using the toolkits, but despite the fact that there are around 100x as many MMORPG players as MUD players, there only seem to be 10x as many amateur MMORPG authors as amateur MUD authors. Why is this? Where are all the amateur MMORPG devs?

Number of worlds as a metric:

MudConnector lists 1500 text MUDs. Sure, a lot of them are dead, so let’s assume the real number is 200 (just to be on the completely-safe side).

Those 200 MUDs are supported by a community of (my guestimate) 200K players. (It used to be 400K(?) pre MMORPGs.)

In other words, there is about a 1:1000 ratio of MUDs to players. Given a guestimate of 5 contributers per MUD (could be only 2), that means that 1 in 200 players are contributers. Or it could be 1 in 500 (if only 2 contributers per MUD on average).

There are approximatelly 20 million MMORPG players (100x the number of MUD players). Why aren’t there 200×100 = 20,000 amateur MMORPGs out there? Why aren’t there 40,000 amateur authors contributing to these worlds?

Yeah, sure, MMORPGs are more difficult to create, etc. So why aren’t there just 2000 worlds (not 20,000)? Or even 200?

The tools are available, albeit not very stable/mature: There’s Multiverse, RealmCrafter, and Torque. Metaplace is coming. My own toolkit (kind of MMORPG-like) is coming.

And there’s NWN 1 & 2, which actually do have around 200 worlds. Multiverse lists around 25 worlds, with (as far as I can tell) only a few being public, and none (as far as I know) are actually done. Realmcrafter’s forums are only accessible if you purchase RealmCrafter, so I haven’t been able to gague their developer population, but from posts elsewhere (and searches), it seems like only a few worlds are limping along. Torque has Minions of Mirth, and a few groups proudly displaying screenshots, but not much else.

Forum posts as a metric:

Watching the forums, it feels like hundreds of amateur authors (maybe a thousand) are out there. Not 40,000. MudConnect and TopMudSites get 10 (?) developer/author posts a day. Multiverse and MMORPGMaker are around 20-ish each. Even the NWN1 and NWN2 forums, while more active that MudConnector and TopMudSites, are not super busy (50 dev posts a day?).

Given 100x the players (MMORPG to MUD), I’d expect 100x the amateur authors, and 100x the forum posts… that’s around 1000 posts a day. My rough count is more like 100 posts per day on all the MMORPG-ish development forums.

Why haven’t amateur authors flocked to these tools?

For my part, I would respond with 3 points…

First, MMORPGs are a more visceral experience than the text MUD.  While there is possibly a similar ratio of discontent and interest in exploring alternatives for both MMOs and MUDs, I would suggest that there is far greater “low level” participation in the MMO realm… which I would define as people who are interested in being entertained, nothing more…. because it is easier for the typical individual to relate to and interact with the visual elements of the interface.  Such individuals, upon growing discontent, do not look to create their own alternative, but rather simply turn to some other form of diversion.

Second, MMO creation is difficult, particularly because it is multi-disciplinary in nature.  Not that writing a decent MUD is simple: however, it really only requires a fair amount of imagination, programming skills, and an ability to write engaging prose is a plus.  By contrast, a decent MMO requires artistic ability to generate sprites, models, animations, and what-have-you; some sound effect and music compositional skills are helpful; and knowledge of user interface design techniques is highly relevant, all in addition to the skills for the MUD developer above.

Most of the packages mentioned make few attempts to provide a comprehensive set of graphical elements as part of their distribution.  Help files and documentation is often highly technical, and fairly spotty to boot… meant more as a reference than a guide.  Examples are rudimentary and relatively poor in terms of leading interested parties through the process of generating a sample world to begin to flesh out.  In some cases, costs can run into the $500-1000 dollar range just to get a rudimentary world in place with a handful of models to animate.  In short, they are not currently situated to truly encourage widespread amateur use.  (Much the same is true in the MUD realm, and even arguably more so in some ways… but the simpler nature of the task, combined with the more focussed skill set requirements and cost-free access to materials, still equates to a far lower barrier to entry, I suspect.)

Finally, the question as posed in the email essentially assumes the the MUD/MMO crowds are fundamentally separate, that there is no crossover whatsoever between the MUD and MMO sets of participants.  I don’t believe that is really the case.

While it may be true that a large percentage of MMO participants are relatively uninterested in MUDs (see point #1), I question whether the reverse is the case.  Is it not likely that an individual with an interest in creating an MMO might not start by investigating MUDs, as a simple, relatively straightforward introduction to the endeavor?  They might quickly move on, or become discouraged and drop the idea entirely… but they’d still be counted in both MUDs and MMOs, not just one or the other.

Anyway, those are some of my random thoughts on the topic… anyone out there with a different take?