New Years Resolution: Game Tutorial Series

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I realized recently that for a game development blog I don’t have many “games” on here, lol. So my new years resolution for 2012 is to make more open source games available by starting a game tutorial series. In this series I’ll be re-creating some of the classics (hangman, tic-tac-toe, etc)  in first MySQL/PHP, then MySQL/PHP with jQuery/AJAX, and finally in Flash AS3.  All of the code will be available under the GNU Public license so you can use, edit, and modify it as you see fit.

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How Much Does It Cost To Create A Flash MMO?

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Are you thinking about making a flash MMO? Want to know what it costs? Then you’re in the right place. I’ve been working on an MMO for the past two years and I thought I would share for anyone who is considering making their own. There are a lot of expenses I didn’t think about or plan for so maybe this will help you budget for your game’s future.

Flash Server

These range from about $500 to over $25,000. The cost depends on if you buy a commercial one, how many users are on the license, and how many developer seats you need. I chose a middle of the line, out of the box, software called SmartFoxServer 2X. It has many of the features I need/want for my flash MMO already built into it therefore saving me development time. It’s about middle of the line in terms of price and has been used successfully by large multiplayer games (Club Penguin, YoVille, PetPet Park). An unlimited user/developer license is a one time fee of $5,500 (and yes, some servers charge yearly fees or a % of profits).

Domain Names

This is probably one of the things you’ll overlook. Many games only buy a .com domain name when in reality you should have multiple variations on the name, .nets, .orgs, and other domain extensions. This helps ensure someone looking for your website can find it. A domain averages about $20 a year per domain and I have 5 of them, so $100 a year in domain names.

Web & Database Servers

While you probably won’t overlook this you certainly won’t plan for as many as you really need. For added speed you should cluster your servers and keep all your databases running on their own, separate server. You want top of the line servers to support the amount of traffic you’ll generate. Expect to pay over $300 a month for every two servers up and running. Some places offer packaged deals so take advantage of that if you can.

Graphic Artists

Unless you’re an artist yourself you’ll have to spend some big bucks to have someone start generating the art for your game. The price of graphics will vary depending on the size, DPI, detail and quality of the artist’s skill. It will also vary depending on how many images and artists you need. For fastest turnout you’ll need at least three or four artists and trying to hire artists with similar graphic styles is a must for a cohesive looking game. Expect to spend at least $5,000 a year per artist, or more if your budget allows.

Animators

Every good flash game needs animated graphics. Not only do you need artists you need animators too. Many of the freelance animators I’ve found are willing to be paid per frames on an animation. Costs per frame vary from $5 – $25 a frame. Expect your animations to have at least 8 or more frames per direction/action. So for a single walk animation, that has 4 different directions (north, south, east, west) you’ll have 4 animations * 8 frames each * $5-25 a frame for a total of $160 – $800 an animation sequence. Chances are your game will have more than one animated character or graphics.

Programmers

Whether your program it yourself or hire someone to do it for you programming is a large part of any game. There are a few tools out there to help if you want a quick “out of the box” type approach like OpenSpace and other game engines but these will cost you a small fortune. OpenSpace runs about $4,500 a license. Hiring a programmer, on the other hand, will cost you anywhere from $25 – $75 an hour and the amount of work they can do depends on their skills, speed, and turn around times. I do most of my own programming for my games but I’ve hired outside programmers for a few smaller pieces to save some time. Expect to pay out at least 4+ hours of work each time you use a freelance programmer at their hourly rate.

Game Designers

If you’re not the brains behind the design of your game then consulting a designer may help your game from “flopping” before hit the market. An experienced game designer can quickly point out obvious flaws in your economy, level/questing/rewards systems, and more. Usually you can find someone on a forum to bounce ideas off of but that also means the potential for Intellectual Property (IP) theft and possibly opening yourself up to outside competition before your game has even hit the market. I would recommend hiring an experienced game designer and having them sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) before you give them any access to your game’s inner workings. Expect to shell out a couple hundred bucks for a consult but it’s well worth it.

Level Designers

If you game has multiple levels you may want to consider a level designer, or level design software. This makes it easy to implement new areas of the game and can possibly leave you free to do other things while your level designer slaves away at the more mundane stuff. Even though my game doesn’t have levels this is an expense you may want to consider if yours does. Having customized software developed for your game (or buying some) and/or hiring a level designer is another chunk of change out of your pocket.

Writers

You might have a fighting game but that doesn’t mean you won’t need a writer. Even if it’s things as simple as a user interface (UI), instructions, or start menu or little road signs a writer can help you use language that passes the Flesch Kincaid Readability Test and other readability tests. Did you even know these existed? A writer can also help you check for grammatical errors, succinctness, third person passive voice, and many common writing mistakes. For instance, does your children’s game use words that children in your target age group won’t understand? Hiring a writer to come up with all the text in your game is more expensive than hiring someone to edit it. Expect to pay a few hundred for a writer and prices for an editor vary based on word counts.

Background Music

Sure you can go the Facebook games route and have one background song that drives people nuts because it loops over and over again. Or you could purchase main stream music and/or have music composed specifically for your game. Prices vary drastically depending on your choices here. Custom music typically costs based on the length of the song. Quotes I’ve had for a one minute song are typically over $600 for a full license. Royalty free music costs twice as much as mainstream music and usually has other license limitations that must be followed but once you’ve paid for it it’s yours — even if it’s not unique. Using main stream music means you need to get a license from the BMI or the ASACP. While this might seem like the cheapest option at first (heck you can download a ton of songs for only .99 a piece) it’s also the most expensive ones. The BMI and ASACP charge depending on the number of daily listeners, number of song plays, and whether or not your users can select the song they want to listen to. On top of that they typically take a % fee of your yearly revenues.

Sound Effects

Most people remember the background music and forget the sound effects. A fighting game just isn’t the same without the punching and kicking sounds. While these are small sound files you’ll find that they add up fast. The better quality the sound effect the more it will cost. You may be able to save money by recording your own sound effects but that also means you’ll have to budget for buying sound equipment or paying for some sound studio time. Expect that your sound effects will cost anywhere from $5 – $25 each.

Language Filter Software

If your MMO is geared towards children you may want to consider purchasing language filter software. This may or may not be more expensive than writing your own language filters depending on the nature of your game. Third party language filter software typically specializes in stripping other suggestive/violent language which may also cause problems with children, as well as a bad language filter.

Marketing & Advertising

Most of your budget will probably be spent here. Unless people know about your game there’s no way they’ll visit and try it out. Online advertisement is probably your best bet and your costs will vary depending on what kind of advertising service you use. Pay Per Click (PPC) in my experience yields the best results. Pay Per View (PPV) may be more costly depending on the type of exposure you want your game to receive unless you’re using a fairly high bid on PPC advertising.

Newspaper and magazine advertising is also expensive. Expect to pay as much as $1,500+ for one large ad to run in one issue or as little as $200 a month to run a small (really small!!!) color ad. The cost depends on the magazine you advertise in and how much it’s in circulation. You can typically get a cost break if you decide to advertise in the magazine for the whole year.

TV and Radio advertising is even more expensive than print advertising. The costs are at least double and depends on the length of the commercial you’re running, the time slot it’s running in, and whether or not the station is creating the commercial for you.

Customer Support

Despite your best efforts your game will bring in a slew of emails. If you expect to answer all of these yourself you better have a programmer working for you. Sometimes I receive as many as 80 emails a day. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to answer all your email and program/manage your game. Hiring someone to answer email for you is an easy solution but it will cost you as well.

Payment APIs

While payment APIs like Paypal and 2Checkout are great sources of revenue they also cut into your profits. Expect that any payment API you use to process payments in your game will take 2-5% of each transaction you’re generating. If your game uses micro-transactions make sure you check with your payment API to see if they support specialized plans for such cases — this will save you some money.

SSL Certificates

If you want to seamlessly integrate payment APIs into your game you’ll need to have SSL certificates in place. SSL certificates are a yearly fee and who you purchase them from makes a difference in their safety assurance ratings and encryption levels/techniques. Expect to spend anywhere from $100 – $800 for one of these.

Traffic Reporting

Sure it seems mundane but you’ll want to know how long your members are playing, where they play the most, and how active they are on the website. With a flash game it’s harder to track these things because a lot of the code runs client side. There are several good traffic reporting APIs available for flash software that will save you time of creating something yourself. In addition resources to compute the traffic aren’t done on your servers, freeing them up for your members to use.

Site Maintenance

You might design your game to pretty much run itself but there will always be some type of maintenance involved. While this may not cost you anything if you’re programming the game yourself it also means money out of your pocket while you’re fixing things instead of adding new features, maps, characters, items, quests or events.