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New Details Emerge on “Project: Top Secret”

March 15, 2007

The tens of thousands (soon to be capped off at 100,000) signed on as “developers” for Project: Top Secret recieved further details today. Specifically, we now know a bit about how the business model will work:

We’ll be making a very relevant massively multiplayer title. (Meaning hundreds of thousands of players, but to keep things under control, they’ll be playing in 6 person groups, with up to around 3,000 players per server.) The game will be free and yes, we will let you have builds along the way to experiment with.

[…]

Making a business model from selling items is actually quite an interesting design challenge (as you will see later.) This is how games in Asia are made, but you must understand that people only buy them after they like the game. If the game isn’t great, you won’t sell anything. (So this is a tougher business than just selling Console Discs or Cartridges. At $60 less than today’s games, I believe this model will be very popular in the future.)

The comparisons to SL are a obvious: a free-to-play game funded by corporate sponsorship and the transaction of in-world items. I don’t mean to imply that this is any kind of replacement for Second Life, but there are financial parallels here that may help us to understand how to take advantage of the SL environment a bit better.

The numbers are rather significant considering what the major complaints about SL are. We generally worry about not being able to fit more than ten people into a sim before suffering major lag, but here is this “major MMO” proposing 6 people at a time, tops. Granted, they’re talking about running the equivalent of 500 sims per server, which is a major expense, but it does begs several questions:

  1. Have we seen the limits of what can be accomplished with a full-sim game yet?
  2. Is it feasible to run a full sim, or a series of sims, supporting a low number of players if we could guarantee full occupancy?
  3. Exluding casinos and RPGs, are there any full-sim game spaces (sims exclusively for play) maintaining a profit in SL at all?

I’m going to be conducting a major census of games in Second Life soon (check back on the blog), which may help to answer these questions. In the meantime, what other questions should we be asking? Are there other lessons to be learned here?

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