Description of collaboration/licensing activity
Yes, you can be an astronaut based on the south pole of the moon! How? With NASA Moonbase Alpha (link opens new browser window), the first installment in NASA’s massively multiplayer online (MMO) game. NASA released the game in July 2010 on Valve’s Steam network (link opens new browser window). Developed in partnership with Virtual Heroes, Project Whitecard Inc., and Army Game Studio, Moonbase Alpha is part of NASA’s “Astronaut: Moon, Mars, and Beyond” MMO—a game that is not only fun but also inspires kids’ interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).
Discussion of challenges faced
When NASA first announced its Request For Information for the MMO learning game, potential gaming partners assumed it would be business as usual; i.e., the government would award a contract and then hire a company to create and deliver the finished product. But this program required a unique business model. NASA needed a partner completely invested in not only the collaborative creation and development of the product, but also in the marketing process.
To meet that goal, a non-reimbursable Space Act Agreement was put in place that allowed NASA to partner with external companies without any exchange of funds. For this project, NASA entered into a cooperative agreement with education and evaluation teams to create curriculum support materials and to assess the game’s impact on learning. In-house subject matter experts are also being recruited to ensure the quality of NASA-based content. NASA’s partners -- Virtual Heroes/Applied Research Associates, Project Whitecard, and Wisdom Tools -- have collectively budgeted $10 million to develop, produce, market, sell, distribute, and maintain Astronaut: Moon, Mars and Beyond.
Description of key lessons learned
About the Game: Players of Moonbase Alpha assume the exciting role of an astronaut working to further human expansion and research. In the game, NASA has once again landed on the lunar surface with the goal of colonization, research, and further exploration. Shortly after the return to the Moon, NASA has established a small outpost on the south pole of the moon called Moonbase Alpha. Solar energy and regolith processing have created a self-sufficient moonbase, and plans for further expansion are underway.
Suddenly, a meteorite cripples life support. With precious minutes ticking away, you and your team must repair and replace equipment in order to restore the oxygen production to the settlement.
Team coordination along with the proper use and allocation of available resources—including player-controlled robots, rovers, repair tools, etc.—are key to players’ overall success. There are several ways in which you can successfully restore the life support system of the lunar base, but since you are scored on the time spent to complete the task, you have to work effectively as a team, learn from decisions made in previous gaming sessions, and make intelligent decisions in order to top the leaderboards.
The game won top honors in a serious gaming challenge held Nov. 29-Dec. 2, 2010 at the annual Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference in Orlando, Florida.
A demo game, Moonbase Alpha, was released in July 2010. The full MMO game is expected to be released in 2011.