[MUD-Dev] Open Source Online Gaming

Bryce Harrington bryce at neptune.net
Mon Mar 13 16:21:42 New Zealand Daylight Time 2000

On Mon, 13 Mar 2000, Aaron Mitchell wrote:

> Hello everyone on Mud-Dev,
> Something I am interested in working on is a MUD style game similar to
> AC, EQ, UO, etc.  Technically speaking, there are a set of tasks that
> have to be tackled to start a project like this.  

That's an understatement.  ;-)
> First of all, has anyone heard of or built a successful business model
> in the online gaming industry centered around an open source project?
> I like the idea of open source products, especially the community
> development aspects, but still would like to develop a commercially
> viable product.

No, not yet.  This may merely be an artifact from the lack of completed
open source online games, however.  The commercial aspects have been
found to sometimes get tangled up with the community aspects; working
for free to help someone else earn money is sometimes seen as unfair.
> I know companies like RedHat maintain a completely open source project
> that they do pretty well charging for, and it seems that in the online
> gaming industry, it would be easy to extend this strategy to include a
> membership fee structure.  The membership fee could be associated with
> use of the product on a specific set of servers, and the product could
> be sold on CD or downloaded for free.  There would most likely be a
> host of free servers out there, since the server software (or maybe a
> portion of it?) would be open source as well.  Would the availability
> of free servers destroy the commercial potential of pay servers?

Technically, I believe the product that RedHat bases its sales on
pre-existed the company, and the open source projects which they fund
are not the single income source.  Establishing and maintaining an open
source project, especially one large enough to support a company, is
very hard, especially if you must by funding limitations do it on your
free time.  

I agree with you that availability of free servers hinders the potential
of commercial pay servers, however it is important to recognize that
valuable commodity in online gaming is not the use of the software (or
access to proprietary graphics or sound), but access to the community
and to the world's plot.  So, I wouldn't rule out the potential of
building a business around otherwise completely free game software.

I suspect though, that the openness makes it very hard to resist
competitors making inroads.  Having funded (to some degree or another)
initial development of the software, is there any way to avoid another
company from sailing in and undercuting your margins by not having to
pay off the development investment?

> The things that I imagine would help pay servers remain desirable over
> free servers is most importantly bandwidth and low latency.  I doubt,
> unless some sort of online connection limitations were implemented,
> that many popular free servers could be indefinitely maintained
> without an income to pay for bandwidth and server costs.  Another edge
> pay servers would have over free servers is an abundance of high
> quality digital artwork and graphics.  A company maintaining a
> profitable server could keep 2d/3d artists on staff to continually
> develop the visual aspects of the game, which I would think are very
> important to alot of mainstream gamers.
Personally, I have my suspicion that this Law of Open Source
Medialessness is erroneous, and am working at manually disproving it.  I
doubt anyone's interested in hearing my theories, but could talk on for
hours about them...  ;-)

> Does anyone know of any companies with plans similar to this? I'd also
> be very interested in hearing if any companies have thought about this
> but already ruled it out for whatever reasons.  Most importatnly, any
> feedback on the potential problems or obstacles a project like this
> might face would be very much appreciated.  Thanks,
Check out Loki, they do some amazingly cool open source work while still
maintaining a (profitable, I think?) game development company.  I
do not know if they have any online game projects under way but to date
most of their projects have been ports of existing games to Linux.

Bryce Harrington
bryce @ neptune.net

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