"Onlookers, too, may sneer at these little games as 'not serious money.' But there are different ways to define 'serious' - for example, how much money a given developer personally earns as take-home pay. A rank-and-file animator or designer at Blizzard earns basically the same salary whether World of Warcraft has 2,000 subscribers, or 200,000, or 20 million. Revenue from a successful boutique MMOG would be a rounding error for Blizzard, but it all goes straight to the game's small development team. With a player base in the low five figures, a single boutique developer can, over the medium to long term, earn personal income that dwarfs the Blizzard employee's - and yours."
Allen Varney peeks under the hood at "little" games making a big splash.
One game I play is called CyberNations. www.cybernations.net
You build a nation, and trade and war with other players.
Here's the official spiel:
Welcome to Cyber Nations, a nation simulation game. Create a nation anywhere in the world and decide how you will rule your people by choosing a government type, a national religion, ethnicity, tax rate, currency type, and more in this new geo-political, nation, and government simulator. Build your empire by purchasing infrastructure to support your citizens, land to expand your borders, technology to increase your nation's effectiveness, and national improvements to build your nation according to your choosing.
Declare war on others and purchase from a wide variety of military options including soldiers and tanks used to defend against and attack your enemies, cruise missiles to bomb their cities, and nuclear weapons to bring wrath upon those who dare cross you. View your nation on real world maps and watch as your borders expand (or recede) over time
People have got Alliances and some take it to extremes.
For example - The Alliance I was with was taken over in a coup. Not entirely sure what happened, but I had to go sign up to another website and all kinds of crazy stuff.
I'm not into that much... I log on once a day and see if I've been attacked, and that's about it...
I have had bad luck with one such game: Fantasy Master Online. While it was a great game for a while, there was (and for all I know, is: I haven't been back in over a year) no way for money to leave the economy, resulting in extreme deflation (the cheapest you could buy anything for was about 10K, and with earnings of a couple hundred a day, tops).
Perhaps I should try again, but I'm into a couple second rate MMOGs (the mentioned Puzzle Pirates and the unmentioned Minions of Mirth)
This article reminded me of Nationstates to some extent. More than that, though, it got me thinking how well-equipped am I to try something like this? Not just in terms of web hosting, I mean, but also my capacity to develop something enjoyable and appealing and run it all myself (or with friends who will allow me to pay them with profit sharing instead of a proper salary).
Appreciate the mention. I'm impressed that you tracked down so many great examples. One thing that I noted back when I wrote the article on village games (I like the term "boutique MMORPG" as well) was the fragmented nature of the market. It isn't like WoW where you have a unified gamer press all discussing the same game. Every month that passes, I end up hearing about new titles that had existed for years, but for some reason I had never heard about. That delights me and give me great hope.
Market consolidation generally leads to the emergence of standardized product offerings. Niche games targeted at niche audiences are like a hundred petri dishes, each brewing their own particular gameplay potion.
Such companies may not create the over the top productions that you find in AAA titles, but they can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that that new mechanics, new social systems and new business models work. These working examples do far more to get big, risk averse money flowing (albeit slowly) towards new ventures than the most well reasoned pitch docs.