January 3, 2007

Free Ryzom loses battle, continues war

Author: Bruce Byfield

The Free Ryzom campaign failed to acquire the rights to the Ryzom Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG), but is refocusing its efforts on developing or acquiring another game. However, what strategy a new campaign will take and what support it will be able to attract remains unclear.

As we reported last month, the Free Ryzom campaign was organized in November in the hopes of buying the rights to Ryzom during the bankruptcy proceedings of Nevrax SARL, the company that developed it. By the end of the campaign in late December, the project had managed to raise more than €170,000 in pledges, including €60,000 from the Free Software Foundation (FSF), which saw the campaign as a chance to attract more users to free software, as well as a way to help convince video card manufacturers to release free 3-D drivers for GNU/Linux.

News of the failed bid was posted to the campaign's mail forums by Xavier Antoviaque, the organizer of the effort, on December 21. In court, he explained, two other bids for Ryzom were submitted, and both involved "keeping more employees than we do, and offer[ing] more money." The successful bid was made by Gameforge, a German gaming company.

Almost immediately, Antoviaque began a new thread, asking supporters what to do next. "Should this vanish into nothingness, only remembered as a failed attempt of a few bearded hippies to buy a game? Or should we seize the opportunity to create a free software organization, dedicated to try, and try again, until we succeed?"

Antoviaque suggested that the campaign was in a good position to reorganize. "Even if a conventional company is winning the bid here, the campaign is still a success," he wrote. "It has made a lot of noise on the Net, it has been covered by mainstream medias, we have found two FOSS investors, we have got the backing of the FSF, 170 K€ of donation pledges have been registered, and -- perhaps the most important -- we have found we were not alone dreaming having of own our A-Grade MMORPG, our own world."

A second effort, Antoviaque went on to say, would be more likely to be successful. "We would have time to prepare, which was the biggest issue here," he said. "We would be able to gather money over a long period, and not only pledges. We would also have the experience, the contacts, and the credibility we had to earn on our first attempt."

An on-forum poll taken by 86 forum members showed that 80% of the campaign supporters were interested in a renewed effort, and suggestions about how to reorganize were quick to arrive. Antoviaque suggested, "We could try to convince Gameforge to release Ryzom as Free Software. We could try to buy Ryzom again, if Gameforge [were] to get into the same troubles as Nevrax. We could look for other [games] out there, and see if there is one meeting our high quality standards, and which we could buy."

Other supporters suggested contesting the court decision, making an offer to Gameforge, or joining forces with other online gaming efforts. One poster went so far as to suggest that Nevrax employees involved in the campaign should post the code illegally -- an idea that was quickly dismissed by others.

However, besides the uncertainty about how to proceed, another question is how much support the revived campaign can expect. At least some of the original campaign's supporters were apparently interested only in continuing Ryzom, and do not appear to be primarily interested in a free software game. In another thread on the campaign forum, many withdrew their pledge, or asked to hear a specific proposal before they continued their support. Others made plain that they would not care to support particular strategies.

Moreover, the FSF, which made the largest pledge to the original campaign, announced that it is definitely withdrawing its support. "What was unique about Free Ryzom was the opportunity to acquire a complete game for free software," Peter Brown, executive director of the FSF explains. "We wish them luck, but now, unfortunately, Free Ryzom is only one of thousands of projects that deserve our attention."

Despite such uncertainties and setbacks, Antoviaque continues to explore the possibilities. Noting that the Free Ryzom campaign was no longer appropriate, he has started another site, the Virtual Citizenship Association, to coordinate any new efforts.

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for NewsForge, Linux.com, and IT Manager's Journal.

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