Ryzom: a free MMORPG?

Short URL: http://fsmsh.com/1955


MMORPGs, or Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, are fairly popular in the proprietary gaming world. Rather than playing a game all by yourself on a computer in your own dark room, you could be playing a game all by yourself on a computer in your own dark room---but against thousands of other people who play the same game on-line along with, or against, your character in the game, adding an intriguing social edge to the genre. Unfortunately, no such game currently exists in the free software world. Not yet, anyway.

Nevrax and Ryzom

In 2000, a French company called Nevrax set out to develop a MMORPG game, called Ryzom. Part of their toolkit, known as NeL, for Nevrax Library, is already available under the GPL. The company, however, has a dual-license policy which allows third-party proprietary developers to develop proprietary software based upon NeL (similar to how MySQL operates); and the Ryzom game itself is not free.

For a while, all went well. The game is rather popular amongst fans of the genre, as evidenced by the fact that it won the Reader's Choice for "Best Story" on the MMORPG.com website. One of the features is an editor that allows fans to easily develop their own little stories in the game, and have other players play them. An innovative idea, indeed.

But unfortunately for Nevrax, business is hard, and not even a successful product is a guarantee for a successful business. Today, Nevrax is filing for bankruptcy, and the product is up for sale. And this is where it gets interesting for free software advocates and enthusiasts.

The plan

A group of Nevrax employees has started the Free Ryzom campaign, which aims to buy the company's intellectual property. To do so, and to get the agreement from liquidators in charge of the bankruptcy proceedings, they need to raise €200.000, which is approximately US$260.000.

While this may sound like an awful lot of money, it really is not too unrealistic a number. Ryzom has a loyal fanbase, many of whom are glad to spend a little money if that means preserving the game they love. There are many free software enthusiasts out there who would be just as glad to spend a bit of money if that means a great piece of software will become free because of that. And it is not exactly without precedent, either; in 2002, Blender, a powerful and popular 3D editing and rendering engine, was made free software through a similar procedure in only seven weeks. And if that wasn't enough, as of this writing the Free Ryzom campaign has received pledges totalling €153.615, or more than 75% of the required amount of money, in part due to a US$60.000 pledge made by the Free Software Foundation.

Does it look as if the campaign will succeed in raising the required amount of money? Given the above numbers, I'd say yes. Unfortunately, raising €200.000 alone is not enough; the final decision will involve a number of other factors. Because this is a liquidation, there may be other bids for the company's assets, which may or may not be higher than the bid by the Free Ryzom campaign. The money has to be raised in time, before the end of the bankruptcy proceedings. If you would be willing to help this campaign by donating a bit of money, then doing so now would be best, as opposed to waiting a few weeks. Also, because of the uncertainty that is a normal part of the bankruptcy proceedings currently going on, and to avoid having to spend a whole lot of time and money trying to pay everyone back should the offer eventually not be accepted, you don't have to actually pay yet at this time; you only pledge to do so.


If you think free software has any actual meaning in this world, and you think that it's worth paying some money for, now would be a great time. Whether you play computer games, MMORPG or not, doesn't really matter; repeating the Blender success story would not only get us a free software MMORPG, it would also reaffirm to the business world that the free software movement is a force to be reckoned with. Not to mention the warm and fuzzy feeling you will get in your stomach that comes with doing a good deed.

And the rest? Well, I guess we'll see that in a few weeks...

Disclaimer: the author is in no way connected to the "Free Ryzom" campaign, except that he also did his part and pledged a bit of personal money.



Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

"Unfortunately, no such game currently exists in the free software world. Not yet, anyway."

Actually there is a MMORPG called planeshift and it is free software. www.planeshift.it

Anonymous visitor's picture

"free software movement is a force to be reckoned with"

It makes you wonder how developers are going to make money by making their MMORPGs free. I'm not sure if planshift does this, but Shadow of Legend is a free mmorpg that will most likely make money by putting advertisments in the the game. I think WOW is starting to do this. Anyways, we'll have to wait until the final release is out to find out just HOW they do it.

Hrrm... seems like the html link isn't working. Here's the raw link if you want to learn more about how free mmorpgs are going to make money:


Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

They are only purchasing the game code itself and the right to develop it. But they've maintained that even if they do meet their goal and acquire the game, the game play itself will not be free. They will still charge a monthly fee for upkeep and server maintenance of the game.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

See RO, or WoW, the diference is that the free servers would not be pirate as the WoW ones, and you could make your own server in your house and invite friends and they will invite new friends and you will be happy.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

They need to fulfill the obligation to existing customers by keeping the existing servers running. The idea seems ot be that commercial servers will continue running as long as people want to subscribe. They fully expect that free servers might also exist. There is no licensing arrangement to prevent it. So if you have a problem with comercial servers put your rysom server (on line) where your mouth is.

I have no complaint with this arrangement. Licensing this as GPL would not prevent people from making a business out of providing commercial games servers. This is the way GPL is ment to work. The idea is to prevent having a game server company from going under and thus removing any possibility of the customers being able to continue using the product they paid for. In this case the customer can begin providing a server if the continuation of the game is important to them. This does not mean that we must exclude comercial servers.

Wouter Verhelst's picture

The intent was to make the code itself free; the servers would remain for-pay. But that's okay; free software doesn't necessarily mean 'free' as in 'beer'. If this was a problem, it should also be a problem for all those people out there who make a business by running websites on GNU/Linux.
Unfortunately, all this is moot now anyway, because the Free Ryzom campaign did not win the bid. But at least they tried

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Who is going to write the *nix client?
Perhaps the lack of such is the cause of bankruptcy?

Wouter Verhelst's picture

There was no unix client yet, no; but part of the idea of making the hole thing free software in the first place was that so it could be ported more easily.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Planeshift.it is "free software", but it depends on non-free graphics and non-free text and non-free other stuff to make it work.

You could rip the code away from all the non-free stuff -- then you have a large amount of work to do, to reproduce this "free" game with a slight modification.

It's a scam. It's much more like the proprietary Ryzom -- it's a proprietary game, with a bit of free infrastructure inside it.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Here are some other mmorpg's that are free software such as:

Stendhal, using the free software Arianne framework
and a few others that I have forgotten

The ones above aren't modern in appearance, but it's worth watching linux gaming websites to learn more about them and others.

Author information

Wouter Verhelst's picture


Wouter is an independent contractor specializing on Free Software. In his free time, he contributes to the Debian Project as a Debian Developer.