Another Approach on MMO 2.0 – Outback Online Challenges Second Life

It didn’t take long for things to change after I wrote about Acclaim’s newest MMO project: that project will let anyone to sign-up to develop the game (although I don’t know how much contributions will make it to the actual game). Well, today I read about Outback Online, and I think we’ve now found what MMO 2.0 could mean: players getting more control over content. These guys are really making the development public: they will let players define the rules, the things to be done.

The Sydney Morning Herald covered an article about this project. Basically the developers are producing a virtual world using peer-to-peer computing rather than having centralized servers. P2P in massive multiplayer games isn’t technlogically new, but it hasn’t been much used in a larger scale. I’ve heard about some smaller projects that take advantage of P2P, but not any big ones. In Outback Online they seem to be using the technology to really take the next step in MMO genre.

Some quotes from the SMH’s article:

Outback Online is a virtual world system that will be on your computer 24/7, and we don’t yet know what changes that’s going to bring, but we’ve got an inkling that will be pretty profound,” Mr Leeb-du Toit says.

In the new world, an ‘outback’ is equivalent to Second Life’s islands – a hub for users.

It’s an environment in which one can talk, build and play. Yoick’s Phil Morle calls it “a huge box of Lego”. You can develop private outbacks for friends or a concert for 5000 visitors.

To me this sounds like combination of Digg, MySpace, or similar social sites and gaming – in a MMO play field. If these guys really successfully manage to handle this project, I think they’ve found a winner.

And they seem to be aiming high. Read how they commented the system compared to Second Life:

Second Life has 3.8 million subscribers in its thriving economy. But Yoick chief executive Randal Leeb-du Toit says Second Life is a village – and he’s nearly finished building Rome.

Unlimited, open scalable worlds – I think that sounds exactly what MMO games be in the future. I believe there’s probably lots of hype and lots of issues they need to handle. For example, technical problems need to be solved. What happens when P2P participants suddenly disconnect (in a really large scale)? What about security? Storing information? Viruses? Cheats? Then the business model: it’s not clear to me how these folks are going to monetize the system: will they charge fees from players? Will they have ads in the system? Will they license the engine/network/code/system? Will they do consultation? Will they write books? Will they sell the whole system to some big company after a successful launch? There’s also strategic risks involved: what if some big corporation has already been developing a similar system (or clones their system) and brings competing product in the market using a heavy promotion.

Nevertheless, I’m quite sure Outback Online or some other similar system will make their mark on defining the next generation massively multiplayer games.

For people interested in beta testing Outback Online, check out: outbackonline.com. I already signed up out of curiosity.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. Well, I personally cannot say whether they’ve built Rome or anything – but I saw the concept and liked it. When we see the results it’s time to evaluate how it went.

  2. 1) P2P for content delivery can scale elegantly by taking advantage of network effects/flash mobs, rather than in spite of NE/FM, whether the content is MP3s or video or (a-ha!) the virtual disco that Bob made called Phancy’s Phurry Phunworld

    2) So if an island is a server in 2L, a P2P MMO shifts the server cost to the end user, by making a dynamic collection of their PCs into the server, which can possibly lower infrastructure costs for the dev team

    3) beyond the possibility of lower dev costs (which is important to that group, of course)…Who Cares?

    WoW could be P2P for all most of its users care. End users care about the content, not the delivery mechanism, except in cases where the mech isn’t working. No one uses Skype b/c its P2P, they use it b/c the want the user-generated content, i.e. the phone calls, at certain price and quality points. They don’t care whether its delivered via P2P or cell or 5ESS switches into powder blue princess phones. They generally don’t know a wit about the underlying mech.

    I can imagine P2P being used to scalably deliver art assets, scripts, instances, user-generated or devteam generated, in all types of MMO environments. Its a useful tool for delivering files.

    I can imagine some additional uses of P2P, in the massively parallel/SETI At Home sense, depending on the specific MMO problem domain you’re in.

    (ok, so I just went thru the same thought process that occurred in some lunch conversation between the Outback Online developers).

    After that, marketing got a hold of it and then this is just the usual “Its a new technology! Its a panacea!” hypefest. See, e.g. the # of companies that used to trumpet “Our business model is awesome! Our product is awesome! Why? Because we use Java!”

    I’m also curious to see where this evolves, but that’s because I’m a code monkey “They did it with 3 space modulators instead of the usual 9. How clever!” and b/c I spend a portion of every day thinking about server farm and data center costs. “How much can I client parallelize out of the data center? That’ll lower my horrendous HVAC bill!” That’s a long way from “We’ve built Rome!”

  3. well yes, it might be “the next big thing” … thats why i signed up for
    more info in the future = those who dont follow will be left in dust ;o)

  4. @Sargon & overklokan: I absolutely wholeheartly agree with you two that not everybody can come up with doable ideas. I also don’t know how the system will work, and if there’s one huge world or several of them – but I like the concept. My first impression was that that this could be some sort of “virtual sandbox”, where developers would give lots of tools for people to use. I bet there will be lots of user generated content AND content by developers.

    Since the project is in beta phase I think it’s too early to judge (well, also too early to get too excited like… I am ;), but I personally think that this could be something big – and I want to be watching when (if) it happens.

    If we find out in the future that the whole project is a one big mess… then it’ll be a mess – and then we simply ignore it (or wait until they make it work).

    Nevertheless, I am curious to see where this evolves.

  5. im not sure i understood clearly so ill ask here = its about EACH player
    making his own world or all players making one huge world ??? with option
    for anyone to make their own world with ease i think no one will actualy play
    someones other world (except for stealing ideas ;o)

    in any case i agree with Sargon = some stuff should be left for the
    proffesionals ;o)

  6. I am not too thrilled about user content.
    I don’t want to sound arrogant, but some things should be left to the professionals.
    You can see it in second life, where users are creating their own content. Many times the content is only partially done, and its quality is low.
    Not everybody are artists or architects or musicians and etc.
    Again, I dont want to sound arrogant or looking down at gamers, but also gamers don’t always know what new innovative games they will enjoy.
    Gamers don’t invest a lot of time in thinking about new innovative games, they don’t have time for this. They don’t do this for a living.
    So I think most gamers won’t come up with great new innovative and doable ideas.
    I guess that most gamers will have ideas which are pretty much small improvements of existing games they really liked.
    I know I was and still am like that many times.
    And it takes special thinking, effort and experience to think about some new innovative concept.
    Some stuff should be left for the “proffesionals” or those who make it for a living.

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