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September 02, 2004

Open source for game developers ?

While reading this article on slashdot today I actually posted a reply because I think some people don't understand the difference between Open Source and all the other things that go into developing a game.
In this specific case I wanted to point out that making an open source racing game over the net does not automatically excempt the authors from obeying the law. The rights to cars, drivers, racing tracks, logos, etc are all owned by their respective owners, and their rights must be observed. You cannot go out and make an F1 open source game and expect to get away with it, nor can you make an OS Shrek game, or even a "My dinner with Andre" game.

But thats a distraction from the real question, which was: "Is Open Source an advantage for game developers"
Simple answer: Yes
In fact I've used open source in games - our most recent (Transformers) used an open source JPEG library (properly credited in the manual). We've also used other open source in the past (usually stuff that has absolutely no licensing requirements so that the lawyers are kept happy)
There are some wonderful OS bits and pieces out there that can be used to further games development, but since the sourcecode is such a small part of games development (monetarily speaking) it does not solve the question of cost, which is what many OS advocates assume it fixes.
The cost of making a game can be roughly broken down into (in no particular order):
- Code
- Art (often more expensive than the code)
- Sound (nobody spends enough on this)
- QA
- Project Management
- Licensing (sometimes the most expensive part)
- Marketing (usually the most expensive part)
- Admin
- General business running costs (rent, power, water, beer&chips, etc)

While code isn't cheap (we have ~25 programmers) it is by no means the most expensive part - in fact even if the code was free the overall development costs may only drop by a small percentage (it does depend on the platform and title obviously).
Don't expect Open Source to magically solve all your money problems, but DO look around to see whats out there, especially if you are a startup company with limited resources - sometimes the wheel has already been invented. Just make sure you hand the licensing agreement to your lawyers.

Edit: The guys at Motor-sim do understand the legalities of using licensed stuff :-) but I suspect many readers wouldn't realise the issues.

Posted by Zaph at September 2, 2004 08:46 AM

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In case you missed it on slashdot... We're going to create an encyclopedia of cars that willing manufacturers can contribute to if they so choose. If not, there is no way we can prevent people from adding cars to the game. Racer is a quazi-open source project and has hundreds of cars available for download, just not from the author of the game.

The courts have recently ruled [com.com] that "peer-to-peer software developers were not liable for any copyright infringement committed by people using their products, as long as they had no direct ability to stop the acts."

If Ferrari comes after us because some guy creates a bit torrent link which contains a bunch of unofficial cars they will be thrown out of court. I've heard there is a pretty fat fund setup to help out OSS developers being pressured by leagal tomfoolery. If car manufacturers have a beef with a car they're going to have to sue individual users which will bring plenty of bad press and simply push the "content trading" underground.

Maybe if our project gets big, they'll see it as a free marketing opportunity instead of something that cuts into their revenue. I'm not exactly hopeful about that prospect though as accountants are notoriously myopic.

Posted by: Kirk at September 2, 2004 09:11 AM

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