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Cyberspace in the 21st Century: Part Five, Stability Before Security
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Cyberspace in the 21st Century: Part Five, Stability Before Security

December 26, 2000 Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next

What is your unique talent? Is it shifting boxes? Providing a service? Or is it perhaps creating entertaining works of art? "You think that's air you're breathing?" Wake up and challenge what you've accepted for so long you think it's critical to survival. Don't do what you don't need to do.

Distribution, marketing, customer support, maintenance, etc. may be exciting to some, but games developers only need to develop games. There are many other areas that risk being thought of as part of the games development process, including technological, so even coders are not entirely innocent of an occasional pre-occupation with incidental concerns. Consider the following two points:

  • The Open Source movement is introducing the revolutionary concept of a 'global community' taking responsibility for developing, maintaining, and supporting technology that everyone uses — rather than selected organizations or governments.
  • One of the biggest overheads facing massive multiplayer game companies today is that of support costs for the IT, system maintenance, and customer/community support. This includes protecting the system against cheats, exploits, hacks, and anything else considered detrimental to the player's experience.

To make all our lives much easier and far more focused on producing entertainment rather than meeting marketing schedules, maintainability, bug-fixes, etc. all we have to do is let the community look after everything except the game - we work on the fun, and the punter plays with our work and pays us for it.

Many of you will either think that that's the current situation, although expressed in a rather simplified form, or that it's a patently obvious statement (and miss my point completely). If you know where I'm going, bear with me.

If you're not convinced…
Let's say we're creating a massive multiplayer game (50,000 players). It's going to have a back-end server software component, and a front-end client component. It'll also have some content that defines the game together with its glorious scenery. The money minded would probably require some kind of subscription revenue model which would require another load of system software for collecting payment, authentication, digital rights management, and any other administration that players (carbon-based money dispensers) might need.

So, which bit is the game?
Let's rule out everything apart from the essence of a game…the back-end and front-end can be developed by the global Open Source community of people fanatical about such things (and where would we be without fanatics eh?). If that kind of thing grabs your attention, you can roll your sleeves up and join in. The fact of the matter is, the world of gamers benefits by enjoying the continuous development of more enhanced game infrastructures. This is something Microsoft hasn't been slow to notice, given its production of DirectX. OpenGL is a similar kind of thing, and there are Open Source equivalents bubbling under. We're beginning to realize that there's not much point to these common infrastructures being closed and owned tooth and nail by a few corporations. Sure, the corporations are hoping to get some money out of their efforts, but the rest of the world doesn't care if they go bankrupt tomorrow, it only cares for the quality of the game (and thus indirectly the infrastructure) — not that it should necessarily be free of charge. It's just that Open Source is beginning to look like it can produce a better product (even if in some areas it's not quite there yet).

Unfortunately, quite a few companies want to turn into Microsoft and so it's difficult to wean them off the pursuit of developing yet another proprietary technology in order to obtain the supposedly vast monopolized rewards. If you're in a company like this (especially if it's one of the few that might actually be successful), you have an uphill struggle turning them away from this path. You're faced with arguing against many sacred cows, saying no to patents, no to closed source technology, and no to closed communication. That's all the baggage that encumbers the dinosaurs of the industry. However, if you look at it closely, you'll realize that you don't need it to make and sell games.

Therefore, we end up concluding that the game is just the content — that nebulous informational entity that determines the graphics and gameplay. Everything else, while a familiar sight in the game industry, and sometimes perceived as part of the game by its consumers, may not actually be directly critical to the game development process.

Produce a game and sell it — what could be purer?
If the game's infrastructure is Open Source, then it enjoys free distribution, free support, free maintenance and free enhancement. The icing on the cake is that you're not responsible for it either. If Napster was produced by the Open Source community, and you (like some musicians) just happened to beneficently drop one of your own recordings into it, who would be responsible for the fact that less scrupulous users might drop copyright albums into it? I'll give you a few minutes to think about that one…

Note that I'm not advocating the creation of technology in order to deprive artists of their just rewards; I'm just using this as an example where owning technology can be a double-edged sword. If you provide yourself as a target for litigation then you'll surely become a target. If a technology provides a revolutionary facility then there's no reason why you should become a scapegoat for that part of industry that would rather see the revolution delayed for a few years.

If everything except for the game's content is public domain, then the only thing you can sell is the game. Let the players support themselves. Let the players petition the Open Source community to improve the stability and security of the infrastructure. Let the players pay their ISPs to deliver the software and host the servers. Do you really want to do all this yourself? Do you really want to be obliged to thousands of players to provide them with happy times?

Sure, money can buy a game, but it can't buy guaranteed fun playing it. I'd suggest that you seek to create a game that can be fun (for most people), but try to get out of that deal as soon as possible. As long as your game has a reputation for facilitating fun then you're ok, but you can't hope to hold each player's hand each month and ensure they have fun. Running a massive crèche is a much bigger job than making a game, and a tear-free experience is not something I'd recommend anyone contract to (have you heard of a tear-free crèche?).

So, is anyone mad enough to try this business model? Well, I don't know much about them, but Nevrax ( appears to be trying it, i.e. develop the game infrastructure Open Source, but obtain revenue via the content — the game itself. And yes, naturally, there are a quite a few conventional and not so conventional revenue models you can choose from (some depending upon copyright or encryption, some not).

Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next

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