Open source can juice the video game market

Open source can juice the video game market

Summary: What shocks video game mavens is something we have known here for some time. Opening old code leads to new interest.


Video games, as a market, have always made the Mac look open. Closed platforms are the rule. Digital Rights Management (DRM) is considered a mandate.

But the good times are no longer rolling. Sales plunged in April, for both hardware and software.

There is a second trend. Gamers continue to get older, more reflective. My own son is 18, has played all his life, but now finds himself drawn to "ancient" games, games made in the 20th century. He has even messed around a bit with scripting.

Could open source be the answer? The Humble Indie Bundle, having hit its financial target with the strange idea that people should pay for games what they want, is fulfilling its promise to release the code, under the GPL. (Here's the code repository.)

(One of the games being released is Penumbra: Overture (above, right) along with its HPL Engine.

What shocks video game mavens is something we have known here for some time. Opening old code leads to new interest. People add tweaks, first to improve their own game play, and pretty soon you have communities dedicated, not to game play tips but to the code itself.

Writes developer Jeff Rosen:

Within hours of releasing the source code to Lugaru as part of the Humble Indie Bundle, people are already creating patches to help out! Remember how we mentioned that the Windows project wasn't working yet? 'bash' got it working within a few hours: you can check it out here. Similarly, 'King_InuYasha' and 'losinggeneration' created a CMake system and set up a Google Code page. There were other improvements, including repaired PNG files, system libraries on Linux, and dynamically linked libraries on Windows.

Energy that was previously wasted trying to break Digital Rights Management (DRM) is now going into making games better, he adds.

Isn't that the basic idea?

While I don't expect any hot new games go open source any time soon (Betty White won't be hacking her Wii Fit) the open source process can bring new life to old games, and turn veteran gamers into developers, without really costing the industry any money at all.

Just think of it as open source in action.

Topics: Open Source, Mobility

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  • Allegiance, Ultima Online

    Both games have open source releases (I cannot officially say UO has). Sure UO still has their paid servers, but you can join modified ones that all change to skills and other features that the main systems doesn't allow.<br>Allegiance released the source code, now under Free, there's additional races, more ships, etc. For now, when a company stops supporting a game, but the public still enjoys it, the company might release the code so there are OPEN servers for the masses to log into.
    • RE: Open source can juice the video game market

      Digital Rights Management (DRM) is now<a href=""><font color="light&amp;height"> about it</font></a> is bank that <a href=""><font color="light&amp;height">website</font></a> attacked from the <a href=""><font color="light&amp;height">site support</font></a> from any soldier <a href=""><font color="light&amp;height">site</font></a> to the light <a href=""><font color="light&amp;height">home page</font></a> is great going
  • Perhaps at end of life

    An interesting idea, but like in all things, timing would have to be impeccable. Games are like books, and most of their value comes up front. They aren't like engineering programs or productivity tools where they are able to provide literally unlimited value. Once you've played them, it's time to move on to something new.

    Thus, for older games, releasing the code might be a fantastic way to breathe life into them. But for newer titles, it would probably just canabalize sales. But then, since most game sales happen within 18 months of the original release, I could see a smart development house using this strategy to develop a robust community around their brand.
    Rob Oakes
    • Your argument is against FOSS, not all OSS.

      They could make it open source from the get-go, just not licensed under something like the GPL, and require people to pay for it.

      The only thing stopping anyone from pirating a closed-source game is morals anyways, not technical difficulty, so the "but then it'll be easy to pirate" argument falls flat on its face.
      • Ease of access

        @AzuMao Not really. Ease of access changes the game. The gamer who is not the techie would have a door opened that would not have been as enticing otherwise. Think how Napster put pirating into the hands of many who would have not otherwise done it.
      • @happyharry_z You don't need to be a techie to double click an icon..

        Which is pretty much all the pirates had to do to get Spore before it was even officially released, even though it was closed source [i]and[/i] had the most restrictive DRM available at the time.
  • RE: Open source can juice the video game market

    Open source works in game development in certain cases. It worked out great when Doom released their source and we've seen a number of improvements to the original game, however most of those have just been hobbyist programs. But still fun to play if you want a bit of old school 90's game play. One problem with it is that everyone thought they could make a FPS after that and flooded the market. Add all the open source tetris games too, just a bit too many.
    Loverock Davidson
    • How is choice a problem? You don't have to play all of them.

      The ones that suck are unlikely to ever become popular, and thus you're unlikely to even hear of them unless specifically looking, yet alone be forced to play them.
  • Unreal Tournament "easy-to-mod" similar

    If anyone remembers the popularity of mod communities for games free and easy to mod like Unreal Tournament, you'll remember that many of those mods also went commercial. Proving that having people able to work openly within that dev environment and releasing new content could be even financially successful (look up Tactical Operations: Assault on Terror).

    As for "classic" or "ancient" gaming, it's a known fad that in gaming circles, we all go back games that we squeezed every drop of fun out several years ago, even the ones for LAN or online play. A lot of that is nostalgia however and doesn't necessarily mean that we're into buying "new old games".
  • What is the income model?

    Open source is all well and good, but what is the income model without DRM?

    It's clear that if people don't have to pay for things, they won't. They often won't even if they do, but at least some do.

    I certainly hope it doesn't go like the Internet did - turned into Prodigy with the screen separated into adds and free browsing.

    The last thing I want is for some grunt in a game to turn to me and tell me all about what Maxi-pad he prefers.

    That's why I pay for games - I want the full screen immersion, and I don't mind paying for it.

    == John ==
    • The income model is selling it.

      Making something closed source and DRMed results in less sales, since it is just as easy for the pirates (they downloaded cracked executables anyways, not compile from source), and pisses off legitimate customers.
    • RE: Open source can juice the video game market

      @jgwinner: None needed.
      It's a bunch of hobbyists doing what they love, and you would be supprised by how many brilliant programmers there are out there that share their code for free.
      It's all about spending some free time on doing something they love and sharing it.
      • Income model

        That's all well and good for hobbyists, but professional game development costs millions. The art budget for World of Warcraft alone was hundreds of millions.

        Do you want to write the check and see who pays? :)

        == John ==
  • Ahhh....But....

    Just how much is the "community" paying for this? The answer is nothing which leads to the next question: How much money is the game company going to make from it? The answer is that it is equal to the amount the "community" is paying which is to say zero. The business model used for other open source software (i.e. most of the money comes from support contracts) doesn't work because who wants to buy support for a video game?
    • Did you reply to the wrong article, or just misunderstood the terminology?

      This one is about open source. As in distributing bin and src instead of just bin. Nothing to do with whether or not it costs money. There are plenty closed source products available for free and open source ones that cost money.
  • RE: Open source can juice the video game market

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