Multiverse opens doors for indie game designers

A year into recruiting online game development teams to its platform, the company has 100 working on a wide range of projects.

AUSTIN, Texas--More than 5,000 online game development teams have lined up to become part of a network based on a platform that makes it cheap and efficient for nearly anyone to create a new online game.

Known as Multiverse Networks, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company behind the platform has been lining up developers interested in building on its platform, and already has around 100 teams doing so in a private beta. Those teams include one of the most experienced creators of 3D virtual worlds, a forestry researcher, one of the most influential experts on online game economies, and many others.

Multiverse, which plans to open up its public beta this fall, is the talk of the Austin Game Conference here, an annual confab dedicated to the development of online games and virtual worlds. In the year or so since publicizing its platform, the company has become seen as one of the best choices for small development teams seeking to build virtual worlds but who lack the tens of millions of dollars it can often take to create stand-alone titles.

"We asked several senior people in the industry, and learned that Multiverse is viewed as a solid virtual world middleware product with strong backing and a solid future," said Edward Castronova, an associate professor of telecommunications at Indiana University. His Arden Institute is building a virtual world based on the works of William Shakespeare. "Its services and pricing were perfect for the group I run: talented, enthusiastic student volunteers with little experience and less cash, but plenty of time and no market constraint. It's a good product for people who want complete creative freedom and have the labor to pursue it."

Indeed, Multiverse's business model is very much what will attract academics, government agencies and other teams without major funding: Its tools are free to use, and its income will come only as part of revenue sharing when its customers make money.

"Multiverse seemed to be the right combination of software, people and business plan," said Mike Sellers, CEO of Online Alchemy, an Austin-based developer. "If you're a studio, whether just getting started or trying to get funding, you can't do things based on needing a half-million dollars if you don't know you're going to get a half-million dollars."

Online Alchemy is building a new virtual world outside the auspices of giant publishers like Electronic Arts, NCSoft or Sony Online Entertainment. The company has been finding that Multiverse gives it the right combination of tools and support after looking at other middleware developers' offerings.

Sellers, the lead designer on "Meridian 59," the first fully graphical 3D massively multiplayer online game, said that under a traditional development model, creating a new online game would take 12 to 18 months just to get the technology up and running. Once that is done, he said, creating the game itself would take at least another six months.

By comparison, he said, Online Alchemy got its demo up and running using the Multiverse platform in just four weeks.

To Corey Bridges, Multiverse's co-founder and executive producer, the plaudits the company is getting from its earliest customers is exciting, but perhaps not so much as the diversity of those customers' projects.

"We have a wide range of customers," Bridges said. Those include people who are using the platform to build things from traditional massively multiplayer online games to business collaboration tools to academic resources to socialization spaces, he said.

For now, Mutliverse's private beta has about 100 developers. None has come to market with projects, but that should change soon. And Bridges said the group is small because the company wanted to be able to devote a lot of attention to its earliest users.

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