Finally in 2012 an Open Source MMO appeared. As late as 2009 the entire field was littered with the corpses of failed and abandoned projects. With a few exceptions, like Panda3D , very few Open Source MMO platforms have made any lasting impression.
However, now the long wait is over. Dream World has appeared. Dream World combines the good ideas from a number of proprietary projects that have gone before, but has opened up the world to players and non-programmers.
Free or Pay to Play
The first decade of the 21st century saw an explosion of Free to Play MMOs. Of course the leader, WoW showed that millions of users were looking for the MMO experience, but many weren’t ready to shell out the $15 per month to play the game. Guild Wars, and possibly other games, had a free to play model once you had purchased the game. This model has proved profitable and we have seen two sequels to Guild Wars.
By late in 2010, the single player or single campaign game was largely extinct, except in the hand-held market. Dragon Age: Origins was one of the last of the single player genre and soon spawned a true F2P MMO. Even in the hand-held market the hand-held computer, which used to be called the smart-phone, has spawned many online games as well.
The primary motivation for the ubiquity of MMOs is based on economics of the game company as well as the interest of the players. The game companies have discovered that they will make more money over time if they build a loyal player base and the way to do this is to build a long-lived game, as WoW and its ancestors have proven. The game designers are kept gainfully employed with constant upgrades to the game as the players grind on through the levels, engage in epic battles, dress up in boutique armor and weapons and buy and sell loot. The income from the micro-transactions for buffs, mounts, vehicles and costume armor provide plenty of income to sustain the servers, and the designers.
Finally Dream World
Late in 2009, a dedicated group of software designers began putting the parts of Dream World together from the corpses of other OpenSource games and new code. By late 2010 the game showed promise as a platform, and during the next year the releases came fast and furiously as the platform gained momentum. The Open Source nature of the product and the promise of being able to move characters between worlds caused the most interest as the platform took its final form.
Some of Dream World’s features include:
- A world builder based on the general ideas of Unreal Ed, the editor for the Unreal game engine, but with a more intuitive interface.
- The ability to import map as well as model geometry built in popular tools like 3dsMax, Maya and Blender to build new maps, characters, NPCs [non-player characters] and monsters.
- The ability to define new character classes, complete with character models, cosmetic customizations, experience level path, behavior animations, skill trees, skill animations, armors, and weapons.
- The ability to define new buffs and candy, which apply within a class or across classes.
- The ability to define new monsters to kill, including all their attributes of resistance, health, experience, attack type and damage. Also monsters are defined with loot dropping, mobbing, re-spawn times and wandering behaviors. Boss monsters are easy to define.
- Any character [account] can contribute any map, character, item, or monster content to the game. This contribution is done in the context of the game and may be subject to review of the management or a peer group of characters before being released to the entire population.
- New content is downloaded and cached on the local machine as it is accessed, this technique was pioneered by Guild Wars. A large game wide client update is not required to continue to play in old content areas. New content is downloaded incrementally as it is accessed. Deferred update occurs when a new character or new character content appears so that a novel character may appear as a gray blob for a while until it’s content is loaded.
- Characters can play in PvE, PvP and PK [Player Kill] modes and can avoid all types of play. Most worlds enact automatic behaviors which punish repeated harassing of other characters including “jail time” and large fines of in-world currency.
- Skills and tasks can be defined to enhance game play or to allow non-violent characters, skill trees or whole worlds to be created.
- Worlds can optionally define real-world currency exchange. Gateways to PayPal and other online payment services allow the game currency to interact with real-world currencies as Second Life has pioneered. Each world sets it’s own exchange rate as either a fixed number or based on a currency exchange.
- Characters can find, craft or import game objects from the outside world into the game world and then sell them to other characters to make money. The sale of loot or crafted items is limited by in-game creation or farming, but sale of imported items are not limited. This allows the game economy to interact with the real-world in all the ways that Second Life has pioneered.
- Public Key encryption techniques can be used to “sign” created items, so copyright can be enforced for items sold by characters in the game. Copies of items do not pass the authentication test for their creators. Items can be forged but on close examination, their creation date will be shown to be later than the original, so the forger can be identified.
- The items for sale by the game designers are indistinguishable from the items for sale by other players. These sales are the micro-transactions that can provide income for the server farm and salaries for game designers. A small sales tax can provide additional income for the game designers.
- Web portals for sale of game items provides a more convenient method of finding those in-game items than wandering all over the in-game world to check out the many store fronts.
- Some characters “own” game land for store fronts or houses, but most game players are wandering mercenaries who are too busy leveling their characters, and engaging in epic battles to spend time gambling or engaging in sex play. While castle building and sex play are possible, they are a minor part of the game rather than a large part of the game as in Second Life.
- Streaming of in-world music, video and in-game voice communication is provided by a variety of means. The open source nature of the software allow a variety of best of breed methods to be used for this communication. We no longer are killed by monsters while we type in a chat window.
- The game behavior is controlled by the game server rather than the client, so that while the game is open source, a well controlled server is not easily subject to hacking. So while game players may modify their clients, this does not allow taking advantage of other players in the game. The open source nature of the software means that bugs that cause crashes or allow hacking are quickly fixed.
- While many of the progenitors of Dream World are medieval RPG games, the platform has spawned worlds of every flavor: WWII battle fields, Planetary Warfare, Anime style RPGs, Corporate and Educational meeting and educational venues.
- Since characters can move among worlds with ease, medieval RPG characters often appear in educational contexts where students are showing off the characters they have worked so hard to build.
With many different worlds running the Dream World software, it is now possible to migrate your character between worlds and servers. When a new world appears, you can now visit or join that world with your high level character from another world so that you need not start off at the lowest level of existence in the new world. Those who find the new world exciting can decide to play the copy of their character in the new world as well as the old world, or to move back into a previous world while merging their enhanced attributes, skills and loot. As characters, we are no longer trapped in one version of cyber-space, but are free to move between cyber-worlds. At long last, our cyber-selves exist outside of any particular cyber-world.
The following gallery shows photos from a Dream World based on Guild Wars.