Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Open Source Game Development: Partnering with Whom?

I'm sure it is tiresome for everyone involved, but I can't let slide without comment the posts over at the MacArthur Spotlight that are full of happy rhetoric about equality, inclusiveness, openness, etc. and based on proprietary software. In the latest installment, Colleen Macklin responds:

PETLab’s prototyping efforts focus not only on XNA/XBOX but on a wide range of gaming and design platforms, some commercial, some open source, some somewhere in-between. We are interested in developing relationships with a diverse set of companies and organizations in an effort to understand how pro-social themed games can enable different forms of learning.

The problem is that, while open source software development is deeply collaborative, the only thing you're going to get from your "partners" is code and maybe some moral support. You aren't going to get cash money. Microsoft will give you money. EA will give you money. The Python Foundation? Not so much. These projects are as dependent on income as any business; they have to chase the money.

The reason I nag about this stuff is not because I think it is clever or charming, but because in the long run there will have to be a reckoning. At some point, the foundations have to realize that it is a bad deal for them to underwrite projects based on proprietary software, even though corporations are willing to pick up some of the up front cost.

One of the reasons I'm having a little trouble taking simple pleasure in using my XO is because how that plays out, and in particular whether or not Sugar really works, will have a huge impact on how quickly this change happens. It is easy to imagine in three, for or five years people looking back at this period and seeing on one hand, MacArthur's investment in Second Life (unlikely to still be important), the XBox (third place gaming system), and various other forgotten non-commercial, non-free projects, and on the other hand, the OLPC Foundation's investment in Sugar and a subsequently explosive ecosystem of free software from around the world. Hopefully it will be obvious who is the model for the future. The possibilities just magnify my anxiety about Sugar's evident warts.

Later... It occurs to me that I should note Red Hat's investment in OLPC and Sugar. There are many examples of corporations contributing to open source development in general, however, there is no open source gaming industry, so it is particularly unlikely to happen in gaming research.

No comments: