THE BUSINESS OF WORLD-MAKING
While the first synthetic worlds were built by individual coders working alone or in pairs, they are now being produced by large teams working within their own sector of the entertainment software industry. In some ways, this parallels the development of the video game industry, where production now most closely resembles that of a major motion picture. As with a film, building a video game requires having a large group of people move several distinct deliverables through a pipeline. Building a synthetic world requires much the same, except that, unlike films or ordinary games, production does not stop when the product is finished. Many industry insiders say that the real work only begins when the design is finished, for when the design is done it becomes a world that real people spend time in, and it therefore turns into an ongoing service that needs to be provided on a 24/7 basis. Producing and running a synthetic world is not an easy thing to do; it takes quite a bit of organization, and quite a bit of money as well.
This chapter gives an overview of the supply side of the market for synthetic worlds. It will go over the current state of the market, the major corporate players, and the common production methods and pricing models. Then we will consider market forces that are likely to affect production in the future: boom-and-bust cycles, the likelihood of market concentration, and the possible entrance of noncorporate competitors.
The current market structure in this industry is the classic combination of a small number of dominant firms facing off against one another, while an army of small, innovative firms push in from the outside. The major players in Asia appear to be the Korean firm NCSoft and Chinese firms Shanda, NetEase, and Webzen