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Know-How: from Community Driven to Community Created Games – Based on Grandroids and Ryzom stories

Know-How: from Community Driven to Community Created Games – Based on Grandroids and Ryzom storiesHello and sorry for the absence of new posts during the past week, playing both RIFT and Vanguard at the same time took it’s toll on me :) But I have found an interesting topic to talk to you today about: games that have gone from “community driven” to “community created” state of an existence. “Community driven” means that a game’s fan base has some influence on that game’s development and evolution, but is it possible for us, players, to take the next step and make the games we want? Recently i wrote a post about Minions Of Mirth – “Forging a Dream: How a Two Person Team Has Created the Best Indie MMORPG Out There”, but that story shows an example of a small team of dedicated people, not a community. This time i’m going to tell you how The Saga of Ryzom MMO community has literally saved the game from an inevitable end and supports it on its own, and how after an 15-years-long absence of sequel fans of Creatures game series fund a new game’s development on their own.

The Saga of Ryzom, a Fantasy/Sci-Fi P2P MMORPG – currently renamed to just Ryzom – has rich history. It was developed by a French team named Nevrax and released back in September, 2004. The game was featuring a world of Atys – a giant planet-sized tree, so large, that it has its own atmosphere, ecosystem and humanoid races. The game has a new kids of AI that made the different living species act like real animals – to herd, migrate and attack each other “for food”. It was an interesting game with beautiful graphics and outstanding story that got MMORPG.com’s 2005 Reader’s Choice Awards in “Best Story”, but in 2006 Nevrax has stated that they’re going to bankrupt and sell Ryzom to someone else.

Saga of Ryzom Ryzom’s fans had started a fund-raising campaign to buy the game and release it as a free software, and Free Software Foundation has pledged to donate sixty thousand dollars for that case (proof link). Ryzom’s assets were sold to Gameforge AG, who set all Ryzom subscriptions to “free period” and kept refraining from any further communications with players, until in October, 2007 Tribunal de Commerce Paris declared that Gameforge France is going bankrupt too. I was playing Ryzom somewhere around that time and it really felt like the game has some kind of a curse on it. The servers were going to be shut down in a few weeks but remained online for much longer, and finally we learned that GameForge haven’t even fully paid for Nevrax assets, so they were returned to the original liquidator. The servers then were shut down. But all hope was not lost yet!

Saga of Ryzom After six months of silence suddenly Ryzom services were returning back online and everyone were offered to play the full game for free for quite some more time. In May, 2009 it became known that a Cyprus-based company called Winch Gate Property Ltd. were in the process of bringing Ryzom back and were going to reinstate pay to play subscription later in May. This company was made of Ryzom fans who gathered some funds together, bought off the game’s assets, made them available under GPL license and kept working on the game from then on. It’s 2011 now and Ryzom is still online and is being upgraded with new bug fixes and content from time to time, there are people who still playing it and people who help to develop it using game assets repository set up at Free Software Foundation.

You may ask, if that was such a good game that its fans finally bought it, why its original developers got bankrupt in the first place? I honestly don’t know. Maybe they were just bad at financial management, who knows? But how many games have you seen going that way – being shut down by its developers and brought back by its fans?

Another example i mentioned in the lead is how Creatures game series fans are funding a new game’s development on their own. These games weren’t online, but they are setting an even more outstanding example that Ryzom did – Creatures series is what is called A-Life games, Artificial Life genre. The first game was released around 15 years back and featured a living world of Albia, inhabited with animals, plants and creatures called Norns. It was a virtual model of a real eco-system, and Norns had many features inherent to real living animals, including DNA, biochemistry, brain model and even a capability of learning – the player could teach them to do stuff and listen to simple sentences typed from keyboard.

A distinctive feature of the game was its open architecture – using in-game script language called CAOS game’s fans were able to create from scratch literally anything, from in-game items and new Norn breeds to new in-game zones or whole total conversions, or even a 3rd-party software that would work as a part of the game. Creatures 2 was released in 1998 and Creatures 3 – in 2001. It had a very strong fan base of people who played all the games and modded them for years, and everyone were waiting for the next part. But it never came out.

Original developers team called Creature Labs and led by Steve Grand (an English computer scientist and an internationally recognized roboticist), due to a “creative management” has got into a big debts and went bankrupt, all the money stolen by managers and most of the assets taken to Gameware Development, who did nothing with them except for declining offers to sell the franchise or allow other teams to develop a game under their license. For 10 years Creatures fans kept playing and creating new stuff for the game, every year they’re holding a Creatures Community Spirit Festival to keep each other’s hopes up, in case that a new Creatures game would be released someday…  I’ve been playing Creatures 2 since 1999 myself, go figure. For 10 years we were waiting and finally it happened!

Steve Grand - lead programmer of Creatures and creator of GrandroidsSteve Grand was working on a theoretical problem of simulating a living creature in a virtual environment for many years now, but last week he stepped out of the shadows and created a Kickstarter project for Grandroids: Real artificial life on your PC. The project was meant to raise a fund of $27,000 in 40 days, the money meant to fund the development of Grandroids. The project was meant to raise the funds in 40 days, yes, but it took only around 4 days to gather the sum. The Creatures community has come to help and fund their – our – dream of a game, and right now (with 32 more days to go) we have gathered $37,747 – over a dozen of persons donating $500-1000 or even more. I don’t have a 500 bucks to spend right away, but i pledged what i could spare. How many developers or games do you know that get THAT sort of a fan base devotion?
As the description of Grandroids project states: “Imagine that someone has discovered alien creatures on a nearby planet and is planning to import them to Earth to sell as pets. Would you want to buy one? I can’t promise actual physical aliens from another planet, but I can offer you real ‘alien’ life forms who can live in a virtual world on your computer. And I do mean real. I’m not talking about a computer game designed to simulate lifelike behavior; I mean genuine artificial life. I mean virtual creatures constructed from complex networks of virtual brain cells and biochemical reactions and genes. They’ll learn things for themselves and have their own thoughts. I don’t program them to behave in a certain way – they make their own decisions.

You make your own decisions too – maybe, if some game’s fans weren’t so passive many good games could have been saved from shutting down like Ryzom was, or had a new installment, like the one Creature fans are making for themselves right now.

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