Our journey to building an indie MMO

July 3rd, 2023

Building an MMO game is hard. Doing so with a small team is harder – and something people frequently ask us about. We want to both acknowledge those difficulties, and share more information about how we are building an MMO as an indie gamedev studio.

If you haven’t heard the term MMO before, it stands for Massively Multiplayer Online, and often is used in the context of MMORPGs, a Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. Some of the more well known examples are games like World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy 14, or New World, which are all AAA games with enormous teams behind them.

Loftia is not aiming to be a game on the scale of these behemoths, as that would be an unrealistic goal for a team of twenty people. Rather, our goal is to build a persistent cozy world you can enjoy with all your friends, with great gameplay and lots to do. We want to provide a place where you can meet new people, collaborate with the community to change the in-game world, and watch it grow over time without having to worry about hosting servers yourself. Just log in, play, and let us handle the rest.

The ‘Massive’ part of Massively Multiplayer is often poorly defined. At what point does it stop being simply a multiplayer game, and become massive? 100 concurrent players? 1000? Or is it more important to have a persistent shared world, that grows and changes over time? It’s hard to say. What we do know is that out of all the terms that exist, “MMO” is still the most succinct and precise description of Loftia, even if it isn’t perfect.

Cozy games like Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing are some of the main sources of inspiration behind Loftia. Their delightful charm lies in their wholesome gameplay, skillfully blending together stress-free exploration, personal creativity, and more, all in an immersive and relaxing world. However, their multiplayer capabilities are severely limited, with difficulties in reaching more than a few players at a time, as well as restrictions on the activities that can be enjoyed together.

Today’s market of existing MMOs, on the other hand, are primarily focused on competition and combat. Whilst we play and love these games ourselves, we also yearn for different kinds of worlds – ones where we can explore, in depth, a more chill side of gaming.

With Loftia, we are aiming to merge aspects that we love from both of these genres, into a single cozy, enjoyable experience that can be shared with others. We love games that can be played together, with loved ones, friends, and the wider community, without jumping through hoops and dealing with basic limitations – and that is exactly what we are hoping to deliver with Loftia. Moreover, our core game loop heavily depends on the collaboration of a “massive” community, and whilst we can’t reveal too many details just yet, we can confirm that group socialization and collaboration is a core part of the game.

We’ve talked about what MMOs are, and how large-scale MMOs are incredibly difficult to build. And even though we aren’t building a AAA-level game, we still have a long and arduous road ahead. So what makes us think that we’re going to be able to do it? Well, here is why:

  • Better tools – Technology is ever advancing. The tools and hardware available to us today are leaps and bounds better than what was available to teams in the past. Cloud-based infrastructure is essentially powering the entire internet at this point, and can scale to any size that we need. Many of the incredibly challenging engineering tasks that faced MMO development teams in the past can be greatly simplified with what is available to us in the modern cloud. Our game engine, Unreal Engine 5, continues to deliver new and better tools to empower small development teams.

    It isn’t just the Loftia team trying to build all this on our own – we stand on the shoulders of giants like Epic Games and Amazon, who built the infrastructure foundation we rely on.

  • It’s prototyped and tested – We already have implemented and tested much of the MMO-specific infrastructure to demonstrate to ourselves that it is possible. We wouldn’t be promising you that we can build it if we hadn’t proven it to ourselves first. All the functionality for using the cloud to handle player data and move players between servers has been built and has been rigorously tested. We have run tests with hundreds of concurrent clients, showing our ability to scale to at least this level. Players moving around, chatting, farming, decorating their houses, swapping levels, the whole deal! Tests run this early in the development cycle obviously cannot be perfect indicators, but they are enough to prove that our approach works.

  • Loftia’s game design – Loftia isn’t a game like World of Warcraft, or any of the other AAA MMOs. When the server has to track the location and state of tens of thousands of monsters in the world, and replicate that to every player while they are performing fast paced combat actions, that adds a ton of complexity to the problem. A game like Loftia that does not have combat simply has less state that needs to be managed, which allows us to support more players.

    The in-game world will not be a single, monolithic map, where players seamlessly travel from one corner of the world to another – rather, each sky island is it’s own self-contained world. Talking to NPCs or turning in quests has minimal impact on the server, and network replication rates for moving players aren’t gameplay critical like they are in other genres. We store players items, quests, and everything else in Amazon’s DynamoDB, and host different areas of the world on different servers in the cloud. As a player goes from the main Loftia City to a different sky island for an Adventure, they swap to a different server and we re-load all their player state from the cloud. This limits the number of players each individual server needs to handle.

  • Our team – Loftia’s dev team includes senior engineers who have built and managed large scale cloud based projects – experience that is integral to building an MMO like Loftia. Our founder was an engineering manager and team lead on a successful cloud product that has more than 100 million users monthly. And our lead engineer is an experienced software architect, who spent his career leading and guiding teams of hundreds of developers on large-scale projects. Other members of the team have many years of experience working specifically in Unreal Engine, shipping multiple games and products, all of which gives us the ability to really grasp the scope of the challenge ahead of us.

Roadblocks are essential to acknowledge – even though we strongly believe in our ability to deliver on our goals, the possibility does exist that we simply can’t cram in a thousand people per server and still deliver a gameplay experience you all deserve. But, in the case that that happens, it would simply mean scaling down the number of players per server. Instead of a thousand players per world, the game will still be playable with a couple hundred. This won’t change the core game itself, and the pieces that really make an MMO an MMO, will still be there. No matter what, Loftia will still be a shared, ever-growing persistent world, where you can farm and complete quests with friends, go on adventures and meet new people, and explore all Loftia has to offer.

We are working hard to ensure we can deliver the full dream of Loftia to everyone, and we have a clear plan in place should we encounter unexpected problems and roadblocks. Most of all, we want everyone who supports us on this journey to feel like they are in good hands, and to know that we are staying vigilant and working to minimize all risks to Loftia.

As always – thank you for your continued support for Loftia! If you’ve got any questions about the above, or generally about the project, feel free to drop them in a comment below, or hop onto our Discord server!

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