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Made-in-Malaysia MMOG

MARKET research firm IDC Malaysia has reported that the online gamers in seven countries – Malaysia, Singapore, Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Australia – paid US$533mil (RM2bil) in subscription fees last year, and this figure is expected to grow as the number of Internet users increases every year.

Of these online gamers, 55% played Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs), 32% played realtime strategy (RTS) games and 3D shooters, while the remaining 13% played casual games (such as Chess), arcade and other types.

The top online gaming service provider in Asia Pacific, South Korea’s NC Soft, raked in US$109.6mil (RM416.48mil) in revenues last year. Over 100 companies are actively developing games in Korea, and the market is expected to be crowded soon. Online games have spun off merchandising, advertising and publishing revenues too.

Revenues made by Malaysian companies were negligible compared to the South Koreans, and the market here is still in its infancy.

But we have to start somewhere, so 27-year-old Stephen Yong ([email protected] ) has developed a Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG), Galactic Conquest (www.spacefed.com and www.galacticconquest.co.uk ), and he’s inviting Malaysians to have a go at it.

The game is on
Galactic Conquestwas mainly influenced by Star TrekStar Wars and other similar space operas, spliced with his own ideas, says Yong.

The concept would hopefully appeal to many moviegoers, adds Yong, who is working in the IT line.

“Who doesn’t want to govern a space empire filled with ideas from movies?” he says. “In Galactic Conquest you’ll be able to create enormous fleets to conquer or to explore the galaxy, and you might even be able to build vast empires spanning many galaxies.”

“You can form alliances with friends to keep your empire safe from other envious empires or to expand your own,” he adds.

Galactic Conquest is a realtime strategy game, although users receive a number of “turns” for a set amount of time. But the game progresses in realtime and there is no “end turn” in Galactic Conquest, according to Yong.

“Turns” are required to perform specific tasks such to attack, research and build ships, he says.

There are many features that place Galactic Conquest apart from other MMOGs, and one of them is that the game is free and does not require software purchases or subscription to any paid services.

“Because you play it from a browser, there is no need to download a large client the size of a few hundred megabytes,” says Yong.

But there is an optional client for Galactic Conquest if you prefer one and it is about 1MB to 2MB in size, he adds.

Many Malaysians would be happy to note that the game can even be played on a very slow connection of only 9.6Kbps – other MMOGs require much faster connections.

And Yong promises a fast-changing and evolving universe; so far there have been five patches that have added new content and features since he first uploaded the game.

Starting point
Yong decided to create his own game after playing a Korean game in 1999 – Magewar pitted him against thousands of other players.

“I found it very interesting and exciting, compared to playing against a computer, because the human element injected more intrigue,” says Yong, who also enjoys travelling, going to the movies, working out at the gym and playing snooker.

In an online game people can, and will, cheat and betray you, although there are others who will be loyal to you, he says.

“And some players even become good friends over time,” he adds.

But Yong only started seriously working on his game in December last year, and it didn’t take him long to finish it, even though he worked on the game mostly during weekends and in his free time.

Three months later, in February this year, the game went online officially.

“The hardest part in putting the game together was in balancing the game to make the system as fair as possible,” he says.

Galactic Conquest was developed on the Macromedia ColdFusion web applications development platform, and the data collected by the engine is passed to a Microsoft SQL database.

It is one of the few online games developed on ColdFusion, says Yong, who adds that to his knowledge, there are fewer than five games on the Internet developed on that Macromedia platform.

To keep Galactic Conquest exciting, he keeps adding bells and whistles, and this requires him to spend an average of six hours a week on the game, he says.

“Six hours might sound like a short time to some people, but I don’t believe in doing all the work myself – the computer should do most of the work,” he says.

“I have developed an application that allows very rapid coding and development, and this ‘software assistant’ of mine helps me write most of the codes,” he claims. “I have improved on this technology over time and it has worked very well for me.”

But it’s the constant request for new features and improvements by more than 900 registered players that keeps him going, making him work regularly to update the online game, says Yong.

“I just find it satisfying to observe people having fun. And yes, I monitor the game universe all the time,” he says.

One of the improvements that Yong has planned includes introducing more aliens to add variety to the game – this will see light by the end of next month.

It didn’t cost anything but long hours of programming to develop the game, says Yong. However, he adds that he spends an average of RM2,000 a year to maintain the domain names and to pay for hosting services.

The future
Some time in the future, Yong plans to have premium accounts for his game so that he can charge money for it.

“For premium accounts, I am in the process of talking to some interested parties both in Malaysia and outside. These companies are ISPs (Internet service providers) that are in the entertainment line,” he says, declining to reveal further details.

However the option to play for free will always be available, he adds.

A site that requires users to subscribe can make a lot of money, he acknowledges. “Imagine – if a user is charged RM20 per month, then the site can rake in RM20,000 a month if it had 1,000 users.”

Popular sites hosted by large companies expect to have over one million subscribers, which would amount to millions of dollars in revenue, he says.

“This is one of the reasons why I still believe in e-commerce even after the dotcom crash – there are still opportunities for money to be made,” he says.

The requirements are small – the know-how and extremely low capital – but the reward at the end of the day can be very big, says Yong.

Your chance
Creating your own MMOG is simple and it just takes a little creativity and a little tinkering with various programming languages, says Yong.

Research is important and scouting other sites is a good way to get a feeling of what is required for an online game.

A critical aspect is having to manage the deluge of data that will come when more people join the game, says Yong. “You have to find ways to handle the data without overloading the network or the server, and that is no easy task.”

Reading books on web programming, computer graphics and networking can also give you insights on how to implement certain functions in an easier or better way.

Don’t worry about having all the right skills or experience, and just “jump into it,” says Yong. “Remember, it must be easy because others have already done it. So why can’t you do it?”

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