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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 March 2007, 10:31 GMT
Volunteers sign up to build game
Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News website, San Francisco

Screen grab from Counter Strike
Counter Strike was originally created by fans
The world's biggest game studio has been created with the help of 20,000 volunteers.

Thousands of people have signed up to help develop a community-built massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMO).

Developer Dave Perry and publisher Acclaim are building a professional MMO with the help of ordinary people.

One of the users will be chosen to "direct" a future game and will receive any royalties earned.

"I want it to be a title they own and feel excited about," said Mr Perry, a 24-year veteran of the games industry.

Overwhelming response

The original goal was to try to develop a title faster than if it was done by professional developers alone, he said.

The project, known as Top Secret, is looking for artists, writers, designers and audio technicians from the ranks of ordinary gamers.

"With 20,000 people signed up we are already the biggest development team in history.

"We will end up with 100,000 people on this team. if 1% is any good, we are good to go."

Gamers have been able to sign up since last week and Mr Perry said he had been overwhelmed by the response.

"There is a real pent-up level of interest we didn't expect. We have touched a nerve."

There is a tradition of non-professionals creating content for the games industry. The 1998 PC game Half Life spawned an entire industry when fans created a modified (mod) version of the title, called Counter Strike.

Crowd sourcing

Dave Perry
Ultimately we are going to see that the games development industry is much bigger than we thought,
Dave Perry

Many firms offer tools to users to help them build content and mods but this is believed to be the most ambitious commercial project to date.

Mr Perry has worked in the games industry since he was 15 years old.

In recent years he has made the transition from lead programmer to studio head and is currently working on four other MMOs, as well as creating a games finance business and driving the creation of an open source, global map of gaming.

A professional team of artists, programmers, designers, and audio staff will build the MMO but the creative impetus will come from the users.

"We are not doing this for fun; this is a professional game we are trying to make. It's a business.

"I hope it will prove to us that consumers are useful."

Mr Perry is hoping to take advantage of so-called crowd sourcing or "accepting that the combined intelligence of all these people is far beyond your own."

"While we want to think we've got all the best ideas it's just not true," added the Northern Ireland-born, now LA-based, developer.

Back-up plan

MMOs have become one of the most popular gaming genres, with titles like World of Warcraft attracting millions of monthly subscribers around the world.

Mr Perry said successful MMOs kept gamers on a continuing path of new experiences.

He said he expected the volunteers to come and go over time, with some recruited by the games industry to work on other projects.

"I am expecting a lot of head-hunters, developers and publishers to be looking around and trolling through the responses and hiring anyone that is good.

"I also expect to see splinter groups; teams of three or four working together on other projects."

He said that the whole industry would have something to gain from the experience. But he also said there was a back-up plan in place, if the contributions from gamers prove disappointing.

"If they deliver zero, we can still ship a title," he said.

Mr Perry is also helping the development of an interactive map which will reveal the global reach of the games industry.

He has funded a programmer to help start the map and is now turning over its development to users.

"It has to be created by the people for the people - they have to have complete control."

The map will encompass games developers, publishers and colleges offering gaming courses around the globe.

"Ultimately we are going to see that the games development industry is much bigger than we thought," he said.

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