[linux-elitists] Open Source Games or the Lack of Them

Shlomi Fish shlomif at iglu.org.il
Mon Sep 21 04:10:17 PDT 2009

Hi all!

I originally posted this message on the Linux-IL and other mailing lists:


After I mentioned that we should demo some high-quality open-source games in 
the demonstration and someone E-mailed me in private saying they were not as 
good as their proprietary equivalents. I've edited this message a bit before 
posting it here.

I may eventually post it on my tech blog or whatever, but right now it's an E-
mail. All comments are welcome.

Reason: Proprietary Games are OK.

If you read Joel on Software's 
http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/FiveWorlds.html , you'll see that 
commercial games play by different rules than what Joel calls "shrinkwrap" 
software, which is software (whether open-source or proprietary) that is 
distributed or used in the wild by many different people. A game must be 
perfectly right the first time, most games are failures, and generally games  
require much more effort than just coding the engine.

Richard M. Stallman was quoted as saying that "game engines should be free, 
but approves of the notion that graphics, music, and stories could all be 
separate and treated differently (i.e., "Non-Free.")":


Since a typical game nowadays costs a lot of money to develop, and requires 
the collaboration of many people, it seems unlikely that we will see many 
open-source games that are up-to-par with commercial offerings. When we work 
on FOSS alternatives to commercial apps: Firefox, Thunderbird, OpenOffice.org, 
Inkscape, GIMP, Audacity, etc. we can expect the first versions to have some 
bugs and that some features will be missing even in the contemporary versions, 
because either they don't matter much to people or because we will eventually 
catch up with them. But we cannot afford to do it in most games.

My hope is that eventually either game engines would indeed be open-source or 
at least close (because the amount of work done on the engine is minuscule in 
comparison to the rest of the game) so they can be ported to Linux, or that at 
least game companies will start supporting Linux better once it gains 
marketshare, or that wine, cedega, etc. will allow better support. 

Reportedly, Blizzard has been using GNU/Linux internally to develop their 
games (World of Warcraft, etc.) and test them, but has not released an 
official version for Linux yet, or supports it.

Someone replied saying that people had been saying that a C compiler would be 
impossible to do as open-source, a kernel would be impossible to do as open-
source, or that a desktop environment would be, etc. However, just like saying 
that "We have achieved space travel, so we will also achieve time travel.", 
which is wrong because for all we know some things may prove to be impossible 
and some have already been proven so (e.g: The Halting Problem, or Gödel's 

As a result, it is not inconceivable that commercial-like games in the same 
volume as the commercial ones will never materialise.

Reason: Graphic Artists are unwilling to contribute

For some reason or another it seems that talented graphic artists do not 
volunteer to contribute to open-source/open-content, whether games or other 
software. You can see some discussion of it here:


And scrottie later continued it in this blog comment to a post "where a 
graphic designer expresses moral outrage at being asked by Google to 
contribute design work to Chrome in exchange for thanks, not money"


While there are probably fewer professional graphic artists than professional 
programmers (since many classes of programs require very little graphics 
design), I still think that a much smaller percentage of them contribute to 
open-source than programmers. 

I don't know which percentage of programmers contribute to FOSS on their free 
time, and there was something that people asked after the 2001-2002 recession, 
when many programmers became unemployed, why we don't see a flood of Israeli 
programmers to FOSS projects, where they can gain some esteem, experience, 
knowledge, and also have something to do in their free time. Nevertheless, 
there are still enough programmers to make a difference and to even pose a 
significant competition to many commercial offerings.

I don't know the reason why graphics artists are so reluctant to contribute. 
But I think we can just assume that there are probably not enough to donate to 
even one large scale open-source game, not to mention that there are many 
fractured efforts for creating such games which fight for attention of a 
limited mind-share.

Reason: Web-based games are posing a significant competition:

Recently I've noticed that there many good games on the web: in Flash, in 
JavaScript, etc. See for example: http://www.brainbashers.com/ . These games 
are not as rich as the ones sold in stores or that run from the local 
computer, but they are still pretty nice with attractive graphics and usable. 
As a teenager with a DOS computer, I used to play mostly puzzle games and 
adventure games, and then could feel empathy and sadness having read this:


So playing these great web games, I've been feeling that it's a new 
renaissance for such relatively low-budget, not too high-quality but otherwise 
great playability games. Most of the people who make these games probably 
don't get rich, because the web has a very low revenue model, but I think the 
fun is the important factor here.

There was also an xkcd about it:



In short, I don't see the situation with open-source games improving in the 
future, because there are good reasons for it not to. However, what can 
improve is the availability of non-free games on Linux and other free OSes and 
compatibility with Windows-based games. Some hard-core Windows gamers may also 
opt to dual-boot, use WINE, or use other solutions if only to gain the other 
technical and ideological advantages of Linux.


        Shlomi Fish
Shlomi Fish       http://www.shlomifish.org/
Original Riddles - http://www.shlomifish.org/puzzles/

Chuck Norris read the entire English Wikipedia in 24 hours. Twice.

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