Build Your Own MMO

PHP stands for Hypertext PreProcessor. This is what happens when you let geeks name programming languages.

PHP stands for Hypertext PreProcessor. This is what happens when you let geeks name programming languages.

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.


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  1. Scott M. says:

    PHP stands for PHP Hypertext Preprocessor. You forgot the initial bit of recursion.

  2. Carson says:

    “feel free to correct me here – there doesn’t seem to be any sort of the off-the shelf MMORPG engine”

    There are a couple. Some friends of mine work at BigWorld Technology – – which sells an MMO engine which has been used a by a number of games, mostly in Asia. There are a few titles at that you may know.

  3. dickie says:

    Its nice for people that want to break intothe industry as well. Gives them the tools to create something and show it off as a “look what i can do” proof-of-concept.

    I see good things.

  4. One problem with using open source as a springboard for a commercial game is when there’s the requirement to share your modifications with others. This can be a benefit as people can share their modifications, but it can also reduce the incentive to put a lot of effort into making modifications if potential competitors can benefit from the changes. Security is a mixed bag: it’s easier for people to find and perhaps even add in security exploits in a patch, but it’s also easier for someone to fix them. Plus, the most profitable business models for open source are based on services, and ideally people should treat MMOs like a service instead of a product.

    I worked on Ryzom for a bit as a contractor several years ago. It wasn’t particularly elegant code, as I remember it. A bit hard to work with given their funky tools and database structures. But, better than nothing in some cases.

    I think what’s been written is probably accurate: we will probably see a lot of smaller games spring up, most of them will probably be abortive attempts and not very interesting I suspect we’ll see some people get their chops by hacking on the code and playing around. I highly doubt we’ll see any notable commercial projects out of this anytime soon, though. We’ll see.

    • Stabs says:

      It doesn’t have to commercial to be notable. No game designer has been paid for Chess in 3000 years and it’s still a notable game.

      I’m sure we’ll see some pretty amazing things done with this. The Aliens mod for Doom remains one of my favourite gaming experiences and Counterstrike began as a Half Life 2 mod. Those weren’t, as far as I know, done with any expectation of being paid.

    • Gordon says:

      Yeah, I reckon it will appeal to amateur developers who just want a bit of fun although it would be great if an indie developer used it to build something great. At the end of the day though, it’s a fantastic step in the right direction.

  5. Stabs says:

    Thanks for the heads up, Gordo.

    I’ll definitely look into this, I’d love to be able to make my own MMOs.

  6. Adam says:

    “… 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 …”

    While what you say is true, I’ve always thought it was because MMO’s are games based on a popularity contest. A game like Dragon Age Origons stands alone – you buy it and play it, game over. But in an MMO, your gameplay experience is directly effected by how many other people are playing the game. And it can be very dangerous for an MMO if a game begins to get even the slightest whiff of death, as players will be very reluctant to sink money into purchasing the game, as they are considering the fact of whether or not they will be walking around alone in a virtual world in a few months time.

    While providing valuable experience for people wishing to break into the industry, I doubt very highly if anything substantial would come out of this code being made open source.

    • Gordon says:

      Public confidence is definitely a factor in the success of a MMO and I agree that no one wants to play one that’s sinking. It’s why it’s so important for developers to gauge their words and estimates properly and not make sweeping statements like *cough* “the game needs 1 million subs to be a success”. Being modest and “successful” even with only a small number of servers is going to attract a lot more players than being bragging or setting unrealistic goals and then having to close servers two months after launch.

  7. Bri says:

    Sorry I’m late to the commenting party here.

    The Unity engine is free for indie projects and is capable of running an MMO. It integrates seamlessly with Blender, an open source 3D modelling tool. I’ve been working with the Unity engine for some time and I highly recommend it for anyone considering making their own game.

  8. Wiqd says:

    One of the engines I checked out was Hero Engine. It looks pretty cool, but is INSANELY expensive. Like close to a million bucks I think, for all the bells and whistles. Way too much money. Haven’t tried Unity yet, but I may someday.

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