Build Your Own MMO
Oh what exciting times we live in. Ever felt like building your own MMO? Well with the recent news that six year old French MMORPG Ryzom has gone open source, you can. In fact, if you’re already a fan of the game, you could even build your own expansion or features for it and have it incorporated into the official release. Awesome sauce.
For those who aren’t familiar with the term, open source basically means that the source code (and in Ryzom’s case, the art assets too) used to create software is made freely available to the general public to do with as they wish. Often open source projects also allow proven developers to help contribute to the main code base and use the system as a way of driving their product forward and improving or adding new functionality. In the case of Ryzom, no doubt the developers will welcome the additional support to the core game that going open source will provide them but I get the sense that it’s not their main motivating factor; Winch Gate seem to genuiely believe in the principle of sharing code to let others benefit from it and hopefully evolve and benefit the MMORPG industry as a result.
Us bloggers often spend a lot of time debating how we have to pay for our MMOs and the pros and cons of subscription based or F2P models but we rarely think about how they’re made. I’m just an amateur observer but it’s always been my impression that the reason MMOs have such a low success threshold and demand such stringent payment systems is because of the huge amount of time and effort required to create them. They’re vast games that require a lot of attention and – feel free to correct me here – there doesn’t seem to be any sort of the off-the shelf MMORPG engine that developers can use to help get their games up and out in a timely manner.
I know the Unreal Engine has been used by a few games, such as Lineage 2 and Vanguard, but it seems like it still requires extensive modifications to get it working in a MMO environment and I’m sure it costs a pretty penny too. Plus when companies like Cryptic develop their own internal engines for knocking out MMO quickly it’s not in the financial interest of their backers for them share their toys with the rest of the kids. Open source is a great way to solve these issues though.
The big problem with open source however (as can be seen with the Linux community) is that without a capitalist drive you end up with lots of fractured developments, all lacking in single focus to challenge the big boys on the block. Although Ubuntu’s great, this lack of cohesion and cooperation is why Linux as an OS is never going to be able to stand toe-to-toe with Microsoft and Apple and challenge their domination because all of the developers want to build their own distributions instead of collaborating on one mega-product. This could quite likely happen with the Ryzom source code too and I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up with lots of small, fun MMO projects scattered about but none able to take on the “proper” MMORPGs.
However, there’s still plenty of opportunity to be had for the small, professionally organised indie companies out there who can use the Ryzom source code as a base for their own MMOs and thus shorten their development time and reduce their development costs. If this happens enough or starts a trend creating other open source MMO projects, us players may find ourselves with a heck of a lot more gaming options, freedom of choice and cheaper prices. That’s gotta be a win-win situation for everyone.