On my return from Hong Kong, I wrote a piece on Virtual Worlds, customising Open Source (or more accurately partially permissive) licences and a note on welfare economics and free software, originally published on my sun/oracle blog. I have republished it here as at the original date in July 2016. I have repaired (or deleted) the links, particularly for Project Wonderland, which I am pleased to see survived. The article starts by reflecting on Sun’s Project Darkstar, which was designed as a MMORPG platform.

During the meeting, we considered the opportunities around Project Darkstar. This is a shardless gaming platform operating environment, written in Java, and inspired by Sun’s extensive experience in building mission critical enterprise computing platforms. MMORPGs seem to be even more popular in some of the far-eastern countries than in the west and its possible that by offering a programming platform Sun can create new conversations with game authors/developers. Make no mistake, Darkstar is a game author’s offering. This allows Sun to offer lessons from mission critical computing and its efficiency and predictability requirements, not to mention an understanding of the difference between a game world and business collaboration. It should be noted that networked virtual worlds are seen by both the EU Commission and Gartner as important computing platforms of the future.

eve online, missile disruptors

One of the more interesting derivations of Darkstar is project wonderland, built on top of ‘Looking Glass’ an experimental three dimensional desktop, which has led to the creation of a business/collaboration orientated networked virtual world.

The Darkstar code has been published under the GPL v2.0 and talking and thinking about the implications for developers with my colleagues led to my considering Bioware’s experimentation with post royalty licenses. This interests me because together with the second life license which explicitly ensures that authors own their intellectual property, they both illustrate that the lawyers (or license designers) can ensure that licenses explicitly target both collaborative and and monetisation behaviour and reinforce the business models of the original license authors. The GPL uses sharing as a gatekeeper condition, while as noted above Second Life license protects author’s intellectual property, hence encouraging the development of virtual property within the “world”. The Bioware Aurora license ensures that purchaser’s of the Bioware games get the free right to use all community content. Bioware’s Aurora license with which they licensed Neverwinter Nights and its kicker modules ensured that any user created content had to be distributed under the Aurora license. This ensured a no-commerce clause, for the binaries, and the requirement to run the modifications using a licensed version of the runtime. This both protected Bioware’s license income and meant that external authors created additional demand for the original game, tools and runtime.

There is a growing economic theory about the “optimum welfare price” of software and/or information, which I have promised Dominc Kay that I will write up. Copyright and monopoly ownership are legal distortions that inhibit this price occurring in a market. It is however generally the case that most inventors/authors intellectual property rights are fully asserted and freedom only licensed. However, the economic theory is for another day.


Originally published on my sun/oracle blog. I have republished it here as at the original date in July 2016.

MMORPG, making them massive
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2 thoughts on “MMORPG, making them massive

  • 5th July 2016 at 9:17 am

    It looks like Nicole got the Wonderland code out, although the blog has expired. I did get this working on one of my machines later on.

  • 5th July 2016 at 9:26 am

    On re-reading this in July 2016, while Darkstar & 2nd Life seemed exciting at the time, there was massive confusion in Sun on how to turn it round. Darkstar addressed some very difficult distributed computing problems (scalable messaging & persistance) for which it took the industry another five years to have usable answers and longer for these to work at scale. These projects were incubated in the Labs which allegedly had a 5-10 year time horizon and were managed on a portfolio basis, i.e. it was recognised that some of these projects would fail. Today, Virtual Worlds have no compelling use-case, but the base technologies/algorithms in Darkstar we see in twitter, google and Facebook.

    Many of the Labs projects, even those that succeeded didn’t address Sun’s basic business model failure, systems hardware was commoditising and Sun didn’t want to go there, nor let go.

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