…this isn’t rocket science guys. Get your story straight.
I was at the NASA MMORPG Workshop held on Monday of this week at the BWI Marriot, so I’m speaking from first hand experience. The first thing I’ll tell you, is that everything you have been reading (like Slashdot, Gamasutra, Second Life Herald and even Wired are all wrong. Absolutely. Like, what happened to doing accurate reporting? Or even checking sources?
[Damn, even Wired goofed this?]
I’ll explain how and why these sources (and almost nearly everyone else there) has it wrong. First, most of the people that actually attended the workshop ignored the first rule of the world of technology. RTFM. Or, in this case, the website, documentation, materials, and everything else. Heck, I’m starting to think that the majority of the people that went didn’t even bother to pay attention during the panels or even read the powerpoint slides.
To make my point:
“but our thinking going into the RFI is that NASA and the partner would each fund their own participation in the development of the MMO, and that the partner would commercialize the end product.”
Yeah, right from the MMO FAQ page.
Mega FAIL for the game industry, and everyone “reporting” on it. You all suck.
* There IS a $3M budget for the project. However, this will be used for what NASA is contributing to the MMORPG, not for the partner/developer. Everyone reporting that the budget is gone, zero, or whatever, is WRONG.
* The “only reimbursement” for the developer for creating and maintaining the MMORPG is not limited to “NASA consider negotiating brand placement, limited exclusivity and other opportunities”. The developer gets to MAKE MONEY on the game…some of which (negotiable) goes to NASA. This isn’t any different than making a game based on a Hollywood license, except the developer will get better terms, more creative control, and probably some sweet technology out of the deal.
* Some of the attendees were bitching about not understanding the business model or seeing how this could make money (I’m looking at you Electric Sheep), and a few were even outside the hotel complaining about wasting the trip if NASA wasn’t going to fund any of the direct development. Duh, I knew about this BEFORE I went, mostly because I actually READ the stuff that NASA provided. I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t clear about the funding (if at all) even as far back as the RFI stage.
* There were plenty of questions about educational requirements…a few people asked about meeting grade specific curriculum requirements (wtf?). NASA folks repeatedly stressed that the goals of the MMORPG are “it MUST be FUN” and “it MUST be educational” and “it must be realistic” (so as not to spread misconceptions or false science facts). Duh, nothing in there about having to meet educational requirements to graduate high school or earn college credit. Remember “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego”? How about “Sim City”? Both rather educational AND fun, no?
The point about “negotiating brand placement” was in regards to NASA’s logo. They have very specific and restrictive rules about how, where, and when the NASA logo is presented. Most large companies have similar rules, but NASA is REALLY picky about it. The logo can’t be used in such a way as to imply that NASA endorses a particular product or political stance, or whatever. They were quite clear about their willingness to try to work around this a bit and make it work.
NASA is contributing “subject matter experts”, which means the developer partner gets rather nice and direct access to all sorts of NASA engineers and scientists…normally a nearly impossible thing to get, and even harder if you needed to find people of these skills on your own. Part of the NASA budget pays for their time.
NASA is contributing deep and rich access to media, archives, data, and so forth. Probably at an unprecedented level of access. This might not sound like a huge deal, but it actually is. Much of that could be used to make a really kick ass game, or at least some really interesting simulations. Think about some of the NASA projects and the data those projects are streaming back to NASA…and then think of how that data could be used to seed a simulation of some sort.
The bit about limited exclusivity and other opportunities was in relation to some of NASA’s wicked awesome technology (it isn’t just about the space shuttle folks, NASA does a lot in many other areas…just think for a moment about getting access to some of their visualization tech…).
So anyway, 160 people responded to the RFI. Over one third of those were from “Joe Gamer” (or people that read about it on Penny Arcade). There were about 200 people at the Workshop, and I’m guessing that more than half really “didn’t get it”. (lolzors, I predicted this would happen)
NASA is partially to blame for not making things a little more clear and being a bit aggressive on their timelines, but there is a pretty solid opportunity here for any smart developer that can put together an interesting proposal and find some funding for it. NASA hinted at a few sources that might consider forming a consortium and providing funding, but as I said before, half of the audience stopped paying attention after “NASA will not provide the partner any funding”.
If Lucas offered the Star Wars license, and full access to all the movie sets, archives, scripts, and face time with the actors for a new MMO, but wouldn’t provide any funding, would the developer community have responded in the same way? What if Lucas insisted it have educational value? Actually, just switch out everywhere I said NASA and replace it with LucasArts. Tell me if the reaction would have been different.
Everyone that left the workshop with a negative opinion wasn’t paying attention and probably would have made a crappy proposal to start with.
Anyway, maybe this will keep the craptastic virtual world companies from making a stab at it…can you imagine the level of suck if this was built using the SL engine or one of the open source VW platforms?
I’ll keep my fingers crossed for a small dev team with a vision to make a sweet ass game that is fun and educational. Sure, it may be targeted at High School folks in an attempt to attract them to careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) but it has the potential to be fun as hell for the rest of us.
Oh, by the way, the attendee list is supposed to be published. Almost everyone there wanted to know who *else* was there (to gauge the competition maybe?). It will be posted on the NASA MMO page. I don’t know when that is going live, but you should go look so you can make fun of the people that attended and guess who blabbed to the “press” with all the wrong info.
Geez. And to think I was going to rail about the CEO of Realtime Worlds whining about not being able to make an MMO for less than $50M (at least he didn’t say $500M like that noob Kotick). Seriously folks, I could do THREE for $50M. Yeah, and they wouldn’t suck asphalt either. No, I’m not bragging. If you are trying to do a MMO for more than $15-20M you are burning cash unnecessarily. If you are looking at funding an MMO or building one and you want me to back up what I’m saying here (maybe so you can re-evaluate your plans) feel free to call me. My consulting rates aren’t that bad. Especially if I save you a couple million, no?
This also isn’t rocket science folks. Seriously.
My name is Robert Rice, and I stayed at a Holiday Inn last night.