The Azimuth Project
Experiments in massive multiplayer online games for economic and political change

This text is part of an essay on randform


MMOGEP stands for massive multiplayer online games for economic and political change

The problems with tackling climate change and other environmental problems are quite rooted in the ways the world’s current political and economical systems are structured.

It is thus to be asked to what extent the basic economical and political structures could be changed in principle.

The principal idea of the project MMOGEP is to use massive multiplayer online games (or MMOGs for short) to help to investgate this question.

The main focus of MMOGEP is to find a working scheme for a more socially and environmentally balanced political and economic landscape than the present one by implementing “toy political and economic landscapes” within a game environment.

The plan, its motivation and other background is described in a blog post at randform.

The project was presented at the open knowledge conference 2011 in Berlin, July 1st 2011. The slides of the talk: openkno2011talk.pdf?

The idea seems to have recently been picked up for the Global Participatory Platform of the 2013 Flagship proposal FucturICT

“Global Participatory Platform in Practice - Crowd sourcing and interface The main idea behind the GPP is to allow the stakeholders - scientists, policy analysts, software developers and the ordinary citizen - to harness the knowledge and creativity of multiple minds as the communication, coordination, cooperation and the social, economic and political participation of citizens is promoted. By building on the principles of Wikipedia and Web 2.0, this will go beyond what is currently possible through existing eGovernance platforms. The goal is to engender a beneficial human-information symbiosis, with the GPP featuring mixed reality systems, where it will be almost impossible to distinguish between the real and virtual world. The GPP use techniques employed in multi-player online games; for example where scientists will be able to explore simulations for different designs of shopping malls, airports, or city centres in addition to trying out different financial architectures, or voting systems.”

The project FuturICT was a however not chosen as a Flagship project.


For the purpose of simulating global economical and political sytemes via games the principal environment has to be flexible enough. It has to be assessed whether existing game engines could be used. Eventually a combination of MMOG middleware and customized software would be appropriate.

Massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) are technically already rather complex. The need to assess and adapt game rules may eventually make extra efforts necessary.

Likewise it is a general question wether P2P networks and cloud computing shall play a bigger role. In the case of scientific collaboration this had turned out to be sucessful like e.g. for the case of cosmological N-body simulations using the software Gadget (2005) within the Virgo Consortium. Especially scientific grids (see e.g. the european grid infrastructure (EGI and the DEISA and their colloborations ) may provide a strong technical backbone for semantically sophisticated MMOGs. Note that for certain investigations it may be enough to use MOGs (multiplayer online games) instead of MMOGs, i.e. here multiple players may gather on one server for playing a game round. The possibility for such downscaled games should be included in MMOGEP. An important question is also wether the used environment should be proprietary or open source, such as the open MMOG game environments worldforge or Arianne. Licencing issues may impair development.

In particular the discussion of scientific findings within a MMOG game or within an MMOG game-like economic set-up make the intensive use of a collection of collaborative networking tools necessary. That is the information from a game project has to be gathered, assessed, discussed, analysed etc. and presented within the game network itself and for a possible “audience” (a kind of more or less passive type of participant).

The game environment needs to incorporate various projects at the same time, at multiple locations and for various types of participants. The scientific character of a project like MMOGEP would make a high connectedness to scientific workplaces like universities and research institutions necessary.

Possible gains of connecting the scientific community in a semantically coherent way were indicated in Kutz2008. In particular it was argued that the current stage of global scientific data access, storage, processing and distribution, especially with respect to a public visibility, could be improved. Since 2008 networking tools have improved. Universities expanded their services. New tools and networking sites, which adress the scientific community emerged. However the main scopes of the proposal have yet not been fully adressed. So for example social networks for scientists are usually connecting researchers within the network(s). They are mostly intended for enhancing the scientific workplace, rather then for communicating with a public audience. Moreover providers of social networks for scientists are often companies, which host the data of the corresponding researchers. Privacy and data security of social networks are increasingly becoming a concern. In particular the availability of the researchers data depend on the resources of the company/organisisation. Consequently there are currently tendencies to look for options of social networking where the control of user data is more in the hand of the user like e.g. in the project Diaspora2010. The flexibility within such scientific networks depends on the flexibility of the corresponding company/organisation to incorporate new features, i.e. the user has usually a rather restricted freedom of design. Likewise tools as well as networking features of a private company are usually subject to economic constraints. If e.g. a tool displays only a limited economic scope then it’s further development may be abandoned by a company (like e.g. happened in the case of google wave.) Similarily a non-profit organisation without secure funding may need to abandon such a project. Wikipedia hosts a good list of social media sites. In October 2008 the World Data System (WDS) was found through a descision of the General Assembly of the International:

“The WDS concept aims at a transition from existing stand-alone WDCs and individual Services to a common globally interoperable distributed data system, that incorporates emerging technologies and new scientific data activities.

The new system will build on the potential offered by advanced interconnections between data management components for disciplinary and multidisciplinary applications.“

A Data Portal Prototype has been established, which (will) allows for retrieving data from at least part of the WDS. Interoperability with other platforms and networks is (going to be) implemented, in particular a major goal will be the integration with The Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) framework, in particular with its GEOPortal:

“The ‘GEOPortal’ offers a single Internet access point for users seeking data, imagery and analytical software packages relevant to all parts of the globe. It connects users to existing data bases and portals and provides reliable, up-to-date and user friendly information – vital for the work of decision makers, planners and emergency managers. For users with limited or no access to the Internet, similar information is available via the ‘GEONETCast’ network of telecommunication satellites.”

Here a powerful data network for various scientific data has been created which could not only be further connected as a repository and informational portal but as an integrative component in collaborative platform.

A game environment like MMOGEP could in principle function as another possible component for such a scientific plattform. That is the scientific data and other input could be fully or partially managed via the scientific plattform. Similar to the way online games can be accessed via social media, a hub to a game project could be embedded into the interfaces of such a plattform. Likewise the visibility of certain scientific work could be made more visible via a scientifically supervised and assessed game.

Another application for such a plattform could for example be a link to eco-tools, like a comprehensive database which is deep-semantically linking to relevant materials libraries, life cycle assessment tools etc. For example scientifically up-to-date assessments about the economic costs of environmental damages could be a valuable input in an economic game. The discussion of eco-tools is however beyond the scope of this article.

The above made visible that it is an interesting challenge to manage the different semantic data. In particular the discussion about possible plattform applications and their needed features may fuel the new standards of the semantic web, notably the development of HTML 5 and XHTML 5 (or eventually the inclusion of other means of serialization) and their related API’s. Having concrete applications at hand one may even discover that semantic specifications such e.g. as microdata may eventually need to be extended.

Concluding, for the development of a game environment one has not only to keep the possible game types (like e.g. 2D, 3D etc.) in view, but also the interfaces which are needed to control the scientific projects and in particular the handling of scientific data.

The current approach in this draft is to roughly discuss concrete game proposals in order to get a feeling for the needed features.

The commercial game SimCity may eventually allow in future versions for modding.(-> see e.g. randform blog post)

Game design proposals

Design proposals

According to Francois Laramee a design proposal for a game is ‘a quick discussion of your product’s unique features and target audience’. The description of a game serves thus rather as a preliminary idea before starting with the development of a so-called preliminary design and design. These two steps are way more detailed see e.g.

List of game design proposals for MMOGEP

category: experiments