NASA now looking for someone to create and maintain MMO game for free

At the beginning of 2008, the NASA Learning Technologies Project Office issued a request for information (RFI) on the development of a NASA-based massively multi-player online (MMO) learning game.

The goal of such a NASA MMO would be a training tool similar to what the U.S. Army intended to accomplish with the game. “Virtual worlds with scientifically accurate simulations could permit learners to tinker with chemical reactions in living cells, practice operating and repairing expensive equipment, and experience microgravity – making it easier to grasp complex concepts and quickly transfer this understanding to practical problems,” NASA wrote in its original request.

After supposed hundred-plus responses to NASA’s inquiry, the next step that the administration is taking proposals for partner after its release of an RFP (PDF). The interesting development is that NASA is looking for someone to complete this project for free, as written in the RFP: “It is intended that this request will result in the establishment of a non-reimbursable Space Act Agreement (defined as one with no exchange of funds) that will define the full roles and responsibilities of NASA and the proposing organization.” (Bolded parts from original source.)

NASA described its proposed project as something comparable to World of Warcraft and Second Life, and noted that it should “Present real NASA engineering and science missions in a medium that is comfortable and familiar to the majority of students in the United States today.”

The development and upkeep of an MMO, especially one that would be comparable to the titles NASA used as examples, is not an affordable affair, making NASA’s request for a deal that’s not monetary in nature seem rather unrealistic in today’s game development landscape.

Such a developer partner won’t be completely empty handed, however, as NASA noted in its RFP, “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”

As pointed out in the Second Life Herald, it was originally expected that NASA would devote $3 million towards an MMO project, which has seemingly evaporated.

Nothing in the RFP prohibits the potential partner company from including in-game advertisements, or charging users a subscription fee. However it's now clear that NASA does not intend to fund an upcoming MMO in the same spirit of America's Army at all.

That is, assuming there are any takers at all.

"Well, we didn't have anyone in line that got shot waiting for our system." -- Nintendo of America Vice President Perrin Kaplan

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