The FSF about Free Games

I have noticed a new FSF-bulletin-article via The Free Game Lag by Danny Piccarillo.
The article is about the lack of FLOSS games. It neglects the theory that Free Software would be an unsuitable method for game development. Free games will evolve like any other fields of software, but currently it is low-priority, because games are not that important. Seriously, the arguments of that article are null and void, it does not take specific properties of game development into account, I want to explain my thoughts about the issue:

Some time ago I thought it would be impossible for Free Software to conquer game development. It is a lot of work involved with developing a big computer game, but there are no people having a specific commercial interest in the development of them, thus selling licenses seems to be the only possible business model (in comparison many companies are interested in the development of Linux or Apache). There will not be any RedHat or Google or whatever extensively sponsoring development of free games, nothing more than some GSOC Wesnoth projects (that is much less than big game industry). What was wrong about my thought? Game development does not necessarily need such a “business-model” to be successful. First of all we should notice that there are sophisticated Free Software game engines, XNA or similar proprietary software is not needed, there are e.g. Irrlicht, Ogre3D, Blender or Panda3D, sophisticated graphical effects, physics etc. seem not to depend on proprietary software any longer. When looking at the development of major games one may notice that there are seldomly epic new concepts, most of the time it is new content, i.e. new graphics/artwork, new story, new characters, new items, new quests etc. It is a lot of work, but: it can be done by communities. Gamers have already created huge modifications in their free time, once free games have reached a certain level including good graphics etc., there could be entirely new big communities of gamers, and because community and cooperation are integral parts of Free Software, such games would not stop growing. But currently most “serious” gamers are only recognising proprietary major games.

But of course those major 3D-shooter/RPG/strategy/…-games are not the only ones, many people are also playing so called “casual games”, they tend to be very wide spread—and proprietary. One may argue that casual gamers do not want to spend time for contributing, but I think there is enough hope they may be interested in it, too. The Gluon Project, we all know about, seems to have some very nice approaches, it is trying to build such communities for free games, which are currently not present, supported by software (and hardware, but that is not that important). For 2D-realtime games it looks very promising. There are also some innovative approaches for turn-based games, e.g. short time ago I found out about Toss, it is a free research project combining game creation and general game playing (from AI point of view), I am sure it would be awesome if communities could be built around such a software as well (there is Zillions of Games, but it is proprietary).

When people ask you how gaming as we know it can exist in a free software world, you should open with your response with, “It can’t, but it can be better.”

That is definitely right, but there are specific properties which have to be taken into account. There are chances for free games, we should not forsake any hope just because it seems to be impossible with current business, we should hope that all those business (“big game industry”, “app development”, all using DRM etc.) will perish, although currently they seem to strengthen. Free Software and community can succeed when using entirely new methods.

What I have forgotten to write yesterday: crowd funding should be considered, too, why should ordinary gamers not pay for development instead of licenses if there are good chances that there will be some good results? That is often a good alternative to selling copies, especially unknown artists can benefit. Of course it should not be misused (that is often the case at, people receive such funding and have no risks, but then they create DRMed products, sell it in the app store etc., that is strictly against the street performer protocol ;)). Btw. supports donations.

5 Responses to “The FSF about Free Games”

  1. Says:

    F/LOSS cant into games.

  2. Trurl Says:

    You didn’t mark your post as a personal opinion, now people will think you are the KDE project!

    I see the following two main problems with free games:

    They require extreme love for detail, much more than office software, which is something FLOSS has its difficulties with. In a professional game, every pixel is done right, every GUI element is placed right (there are UI specialists involved who have decades of experience), every sound effect is done right, and so on. This requires extreme effort, achieved in a full time job of many people over several years: a commercial, “full quality” game is developed by a team of 50 to 100 people working full time over a period of 2 to 4 years. In a FLOSS game project, in contrast, people are happy if the engine just runs and does its job. In a professional game, however, this is nothing more than a basic prerequisite, because an engine does not make a game, not even a bad one. Game development is mainly about concept, not software. (For example, if you go to a game convention and want to present a new game to a producer, they will never ask you for a demo. They will ask you for a concept treatment.) This means, free games work, but are clumsy in almost every aspect except code. Of course, there are exceptions (I especially like OpenTTD — which took its concept from a professional game…), but the majority of free games won’t be able to win a single award. Too little effort went into the concept, the design, the artwork.

    In a professional game, artists are involved. By “artists”, I don’t mean people with “some” talented, but people with very much talent. Such people are rare. FLOSS games mostly only have people with “some” talent. This problem cannot be solved by a distributed, open development process: 50, 100, or 200 untalented artists don’t add up to one talented artist. They just remain a bunch of untalented artists. (Of course, they are still better than me, but this doesn’t mean anything, because I’m not even an untalented artist.)

    All in all, I think this are the reasons why free games are played only by enthusiasts, not by players. At least today, those games just don’t have sufficient quality, neither in terms of concept, nor in terms of artwork.

  3. The User Says:
    Thank you for this insightful comment.

  4. The User Says:

    You are certainly right about the engines.
    Well, the artwork having been created for Wesnoth or Blender project is quite impressive, I think there will always be some talented artists in a bunch of untalented ones. And when looking at the efforts of voluntary mod-developers for proprietary games, chances seem not to be that bad, too, e.g. for Oblivion there are replacements for major parts of the graphics and even huge additional territories with their own graphics etc. Of course it has not been done for any free game, because their was no such extensive foundation, no attraction.

  5. Kevin Krammer Says:

    I haven’t read the FSF article yet but I disagree that Free Software is unsuitable for developing games or that developing games is not popular among Free Software developers.

    Even in a community like KDE there are a lot of developers who started their contributions by working on one of the KDE games or game like programs in KDE Edu.

    Not even talking about the people contributing to game-only projects, e.g. Battle of Wesnoth, OpenTTD, Unkown Horizons, and so on.

    And those are just examples of games that started as FOSS, i.e. does not include games that had been started as proprietary but released into FOSS, e.g. ID games, games participating in the Humble Indie Bundle, etc.

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