NASA: Developers should pay for online game

NASA wants to create a massive multiplayer online (MMO) game but doesn’t want to pay for it.

The space agency wants a game-making studio to develop the game, which would be used to teach students about technical and scientific work. However, that company would most likely have to sign a nonreimbursable Space Act Agreement, meaning that there would be no funds exchanged between the space agency and the developer.

MMO games allow hundreds of users to interact in a virtual world. The biggest of these games, World of Warcraft, has 10 million players worldwide.

NASA wants to harness that collaborative environment to get students interested in science, technology, engineering and math. The game would also teach players about the agency's mission.

Daniel Laughlin, NASA’s project manager of learning technologies, said a wide range of people and institutions have expressed interest in working with NASA on such a game. A mid-January request for information received 168 replies. When NASA officials published an RFI two years ago for another game-related project, they received only four responses.

NASA only budgeted $3 million for the project, but Laughlin said the low level of funding is no different from the way games are normally made.

“Most games are not developed by going to the government and saying, 'Give us $100 million to build the game, and we don’t care if it’s profitable or not because we have $100 million already,' " Laughlin said. He spoke at the Games Gateway DC serious games meeting May 22.

However, many top MMO games boast budgets of at least $100 million with additional costs for information technology support and maintenance. In a request for proposals made in mid-April, NASA officials cited popular games such as "World of Warcraft" and "Everquest" as models for the project. Both those titles have hefty resources to maintain them.

Laughlin hoped that companies would be willing to handle those expenses in exchange for cooperation from NASA subject matter experts and use of the agency's logo. He said the promise of those resources caught the attention of heavy hitters in the video game industry.

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