NASA Wants An MMO – For Free!

by Alphaville Herald on 20/04/08 at 11:22 am

RFP asks developers to create a game for fun

by Pixeleen Mistral, National Affairs desk

Friday, NASA released an RFP seeking a partner to help create a massively multiplayer online game to help teach science and engineering. The project has been seen as an exciting opportunity since it was initially announced in 2007 – a promised $3 million budget could have something to do that. The level of interest was such that rumors of over a hundred responses to an RFI issued in January of this year seem credible.

But joy in the metaverse development community was short-lived, after it was clear that NASA’s MMO development partner is expected to create and maintain the MMO for free – or to use NASA’s language a “non-reimbursable Space Act Agreement (defined as one with no exchange of funds)”.

Of course, the development partner will get something from the experience – as the RFP points out, “In exchange for a collaborator’s investment to create and manage a NASA-based MMO game for fun and to enhance STEM, NASA will consider negotiating brand placement, limited exclusivity and other opportunities”.

This would suggest that the ideal development partner will be able to pay employees not with dollars, but with fun.

As one source put it, “NASA is not putting any money into this project at all. They will be graciously granting the rights to demand certain conditions be met by whom ever they choose, and yet will be providing no money. None for development, none for support. What ever happened to that $3 million we read about a year ago?!?”

We have to wonder – if there is no money changing hands – does NASA even need an RFP? Since this is all about having free fun, perhaps NASA should let anyone participate – the more the merrier!

19 Responses to “NASA Wants An MMO – For Free!”

  1. Ayem

    Apr 20th, 2008

    Hello I am looking to employ some fine writers for my new virtual worlds newsblog, I would be glad to pay you in fun.

  2. Foo

    Apr 20th, 2008

    Yea, like maybe in big ass fonts along the side of the rocket it will say, “SPACEX _ PRIVATE LAUNCH COMPANY” and there’s a NASA logo on the space toilet seat. The money has to come from somewhere, and if not from NASA then that means NASA will be a lower priority at all times. Unless of course one finds a funding stream that can match NASA’s goals, which isn’t exactly impossible. The US Govt. National Science Foundation does this stuff, as do many museums.

  3. Croquet Hax

    Apr 20th, 2008

    At a guess, the money was reallocated to manned spaceflight (the eternal money suck) or was eliminated alltogether, probably by Congress. I suspect that the RFP was done to satisfy some internal obligation and no one expects a realistic response. If they get a sucker on the line though, they’re not going to complain….

  4. Doctor Zee

    Apr 21st, 2008

    This isn’t that surprising. I’ve worked on NASA-funded research, and this is more or less the way they do things; as in, disorganized, top-down edicts, ignoring practical solutions in favor of political grandstanding or making hollow but superficially impressive pronouncements… Part of the problem is a deeply-entrenched culture of multiply-redundant beaurocrats, where good scientists sometimes manage to achieve wonderful accomplishments in spite of their system, not because of it. NASA today can do some amazing things, like the robotic exploration missions of recent years, but only after exhausting and depressing struggles against the bloated paper pushers who run the agency.

    To be fair, part of their problem is the same one facing all other federally-funded basic research in the US…. shamefully inadequate funding. Despite all their administrative problems, I’m sure NASA would love to fund more projects to educate the public about how critical science is to keeping the US in the technological lead, but they just don’t have the money. Congress and the White House want manned missions, and they want a pointless charade of a space station, both of which just waste billions that could be used for real science. The National Science Foundation isn’t in much better shape, fiscally speaking, although at least they tend to have more operational freedom to direct their funding allocations. And yes, the war is partly to blame, but only partly. Science funding in the US has been declining ever since Reagan ripped the solar panels off the White House, gutted funding for renewable energy, and raised taxes on graduate student stipends (because living on $10,000 a year while training to become a scientist is living WAY too large…).

    It’s too bad NASA has made such a sad joke of this idea. Promoting science literacy always pays for itself in the long run. The US used to understand that, but not anymore.

  5. Zenrat Nedattev

    Apr 21st, 2008

    Ayem – any way of contacting you?

  6. OpticsJockey

    Apr 21st, 2008

    manned missions, [... which] waste billions that could be used for real science.

    That’s right. The human race is done exploring; from now on, we just look.

  7. Croquet Hax

    Apr 21st, 2008


    Human Race != United States.

    The Chinese and Russians will be glad to keep exploring. It’s just going to be done in a language other than english and with longer time horizons.

    My complaint about NASA’s Manned Spaceflight division has more to do with their truly awesome inefficiency than anything else.

  8. Ed Zahurak

    Apr 21st, 2008

    I wonder how long until Medicare decides to pay Health Care providers with “fun,” too. It’ll be all well and good, provided that my bank will let me pay my mortgage with fun.

  9. twttt

    Apr 21st, 2008

    Not surprising.. every is FREE in the tech geek meme of today…

    and NASA will get what they pay for…

    how many O rings will this cost.?


    Apr 21st, 2008

    They just STOLE LINDEN LABS business plan!…

  11. Tyler

    Apr 21st, 2008

    I actually think this is a great idea. People ought to be investing in these sort of projects because it’s the right sort of thing to invest in, not for profit motive.

  12. Daniel Laughlin

    Apr 21st, 2008

    The premise of the NASA MMO RFP is that the development partner should be able to fund their work out of the potential to generate a revenue stream from the project. Proposals are expected to include business plans that reflect that. Not included in the RFP but announced at the RFP workshop is NASA Learning Technologies intention to fund an education partner to work with the developer and NASA subject matter experts to contribute content.

  13. Rip

    Apr 22nd, 2008

    Nasa should look to the opensim community in Metaspace!

  14. Anonymoose

    Apr 22nd, 2008

    Old news is old.

  15. Bill Mueller

    Apr 22nd, 2008

    I am the only person to have actually developed a reality based, space-themed commercial video game in collaboration with NASA through a space act agreement. It is called SpaceStationSim and I spent $3.5 million on development, much of my personal funds.

    I have also invented a number of software products for NASA’s Constellation program. My teams latest effort is called SIMConstellation and promises to improve NASA’s ability to visualize and convey extremely complex trades data for the Orion and Ares vehicles.

    I was at the meeting yesterday and have been in contact with the Learning Technologies group for many years. I know that if they could have done so, they would have funded the development. I also doubt that there will be many takers for this offer. However, I will make myself and my team available as consultants, since we know where the bodies are buried and how to get at them.

    Best Regards,


  16. Ashok Saraf

    Apr 24th, 2008

    Why not start a project on sourceforge and enrol volunteers with NASA T Shirts given by some sponsorers for enhancing the fun ?

  17. Jonathan

    May 2nd, 2008

    This headline is sensationalism at its worst, because it’s misleading and untruthful. For more information, see here:;title;11

  18. krutj

    May 2nd, 2008

    Great catch, and interesting article, Jonathan. Thanks.

    With all due respect, it seems that it’s Dr. Laughlin who has misinterpreted what’s being said in this headline, and repeated widely in the game community.

    Dr. Laughlin’s quote: “NASA says you have to build a game and give away for free.”

    That’s not what people are saying, either semantically or contextually. What people are saying is “NASA wants you to build a game for them, but they don’t want to pay you anything to do it. They want to control the process and supervise the content. They want first and final approval. But, sorry, you’re on your own to figure out how to make money with it. They’re not putting up any seed funding.”

    After reading the interview top to bottom, that seems to be exactly what Dr. Laughlin is saying. He acknowledges that other fed groups (esp. the Army) have paid to have games developed. And acknowledges “similarities” between the Army project and NASA’s.

    But at the end of the day, he doesn’t really say anything that refutes the content or the spirit of the headline on this post.
    Premise1: NASA wants a game.
    Premise2: NASA doesn’t want to have to pay for it.
    Conclusion: NASA wants a game without having to pay for it (aka for free).

    I don’t know how we could reach any other conclusion (about the NASA part of the deal) than exactly what our esteemed headline writer has provided.

    The fact that NASA is leaving some wiggle room for a very well-funded developer to put up their own $20 million (or whatever the number may be) and create innovative business models that result in cash flow doesn’t change the basic truth. NASA wants somebody else to carry the development part of the load.

    btw, While we’re on the subject, does anybody else know why NASA doesn’t just boost its SL presence to accomplish the same thing this MMO will supposedly do?

  19. chris

    Oct 17th, 2008

    could someone please give me the link to download it

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