Making Indie MMORPGs Work: Server Franchising

Can an independent developer create an MMORPG? That question has been poised, and was addressed at least in part by the recently held Indie MMO Game Developer Conference. One key issue, however, with rolling out any MMO game is server usage. MMOs are highly demanding, obviously, and typically require multiple servers as the user base expands. Depending on the connections available, these servers may need to be strategically distributed ad various points across the US and in other nations worldwide to avoid issues with lag that take away from the gaming experience. To date, this has either required a significant investment by the developer/publisher or volunteers with varied servers. A concept that has not yet been rolled out, accordingly, would be a franchise-type system for servers.

Franchising is what has brought a McDonalds to every nation of the world, among other things. The basic concept is this: A franchisor develops a business model, a “system,” which they license to franchisees. In return, the franchisee runs the business according to the model and pays a license fee back to the franchisor. Through this system, the franchisee bears an individual risk of loss smaller than the company would bear for rolling out the system to so many locations at once. Conversely, the individual franchisee stands to make substantial profit but does not have to generate an original business model or develop the brand.

This concept could be applied to MMORPG servers. Before I begin the outline of the system, I must emphasize that before anyone considers actually proceeding with a model such as this that they absolutely must consult an attorney because the Federal Trade Commission regulations on franchises are very specific, and no one wants to be caught in violation of those regulations or the corresponding state level regulations.

To simply state the model, an indie developer created an MMORPG. They then license the server end to various server providers at strategic locations in the US and/or other countries to minimize player lag. The server would collect the billing for its players, and in turn pay a percentage back to the developer. The developer has then earned the license fee and the royalty (the percentage of the sales) while the server owner is earning the remainder of the monthly fee.

Under this model, the developer could be free of the burden of maintaining servers on a day to day basis and could focus on additional development of the game. Conversely, someone with available server space could get an income stream for the future without having to develop the software. Moreover, a well crafted agreement could include options on future software, allowing those who enter in early the potential to secure a spot on sequels and new series by this developer.

There are many finer points to the exact agreement that would have to be worked out, but this structure, properly created, could be hugely beneficial. Rolled out on a larger scale, a publisher of indie MMORPGs could use a server franchise network to roll out multiple games at once. In any case, it is a possible way to rapidly deploy an MMORPG that is not backed by a mega-corporation with an existing server network.

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About Mark Methenitis

Mark Methenitis is an attorney in Dallas Texas. Mark received his Juris Doctorate and his Master of Business Administration from Texas Tech University and his Bachelor of Arts from The University of Texas.

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