It has been an interesting week in the world of Linux games—really in
the intersection of Linux and commercial games. First was the announcement of
the release of the source
code that underlies the Ryzom
massively multi-player online role playing game (MMORPG). In addition,
though, is word that the Humble
Indie Bundle, a collection of cross-platform games being sold using a
novel method, generated over $1 million in a week's time, with roughly a
quarter of it coming from Linux users. It has long been said that
there is no market for Linux commercial games, but these two events may
shine a light on different business models that just might be successful.
Humble or successful?
The basic idea behind the Humble Indie Bundle is to take five (eventually
six) games developed outside of the major game studios ("indie"),
package them together, and allow the customer to set the price. All of the
games (World of Goo, Aquaria, Gish, Lugaru HD, Penumbra Overture, and
Samorost 2—the latter was donated to the bundle a few days later) are DRM-free: "Feel free to play them without an internet
connection, back them up, and install them on all of your Macs and PCs
freely." They are cross-platform for Linux, MacOS X, and Windows as
well. But sponsor Wolfire Games and
the other game creators took it a step further and split the proceeds with
By default, whatever price is chosen will be split seven ways (five games
plus two charities), but the buyer can change the allocation any way they
choose. The two charities are Child's Play, which provides
toys, games, and books for children in hospitals and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
Assuming an even split, each organization and game developer has brought in
more than $150,000 since the promotion started on May 4.
Linux buyers account for around 14% of the purchases, but, interestingly,
account for 23% of revenue as reported
on May 7. Wolfire Games has been a strong advocate of cross-platform
games, as it believes
there is money to be made from Mac and Linux games. While the success of
the bundle may not be repeatable exactly, it should give hope to game
developers that there is money out there for cross-platform games, and to
players on non-Windows platforms that there will be more games available.
A quick look at two of the games showed them to be fairly interesting,
certainly worth looking into further when some grumpy guy isn't yammering
on about some sort of deadline. One of the two, Lugaru has been released
as free software under the GPLv2. Anyone lacking an
"anthropomorphic rebel bunny rabbit with impressive combat
skills" in their life is encouraged to check out the source or the game itself.
The Ryzom MMORPG has had a history of, almost, becoming open source, starting
back in 2006, when the Free Ryzom
Campaign tried to buy the assets of the original developer, Nevrax,
which had fallen into bankruptcy.
Then in 2008 it looked like
there might be another opportunity to acquire Ryzom via bankruptcy
proceedings, but that didn't happen either. But on May 6, the current
owner, Winch Gate Properties Ltd, announced that the server and
client code, along with thousands of textures and 3D objects, were being
released under the Affero GPLv3 (code) and Creative Commons
Attribution-Sharealike (artwork and objects)
According to Winch Gate CTO Vianney Lecroart, after acquiring Ryzom, the
company first focused
on getting it up and running: "We just
had 30 hard drives and we had to scan all them, buy servers, configure [them],
reconnect everything, it was very hard and long process." At first,
Ryzom was free to play, while Winch Gate got the billing system working,
and then switched back to a "pay to play" model. After that, it spent some
time making things more stable, reworking the "starting island to
make it easier to understand" and adding the Kitin's Lair area for
more experienced players, he said.
The reason it is being open sourced now, Lecroart said, is because "we wanted to
focus first on players", and now that is done, so it could turn to
freeing the code. He continued:
We really think that releasing data and code can be only positive for us. We
have nothing to lose and everything to win.
It's less than a week since the announcement and we already have lot of
support from the free software community, they are very excited [and] motivated.
In addition, in just a week since the release, there have been patches
submitted that Winch Gate applied "as fast as we can". The
roadmap on the development portal shows a release
expected in July that will concentrate on build tools and packaging, and
another in November that will focus getting the current Windows-only client
working for Linux and MacOS X. The current client will run under Wine and
the roadmap mentions a Linux native version that has been compiled and
None of the Ryzom world data is part of the release, so those who want to
run their own server—already available for Linux—will need to
create their own world. Existing players could be harmed by the release of
the world data as it would give others a potential leg up on the locations
of interesting places or, more importantly, loot. There might also be a
"spoiler" effect that could take away much of the fun of playing the game.
But lack of world data does make it rather difficult to get
problem is that the world building tools are all Windows-only and, because
they use Windows-specific libraries and APIs, will be difficult to port.
Currently the roadmap shows those being available as web-based tools in
Winch Gate has put up a small instance of the Ryzom server, OpenShard which is
free to "connect, tweak, and hack [on]", Lecroart said. In
addition, the current state page
lists various community members who have the server up and running. "It's now up to them to add some content or do what they want on their
server", he said.
The Free Software Foundation, who had pledged $60,000 to the original Free
Ryzom effort, applauded the
release and suggested ways that free software developers could get
involved. The 13G of textures and 3D objects was of particular interest
because they "can be adapted and used in other games". In
addition, the FSF suggests that making Blender and other free software 3D
modeling tools work with the Ryzom engine would be a worthwhile effort.
The "Help Us" page
does not mention any kind of copyright assignment being required, nor does
FAQ. Given the history of Ryzom—bouncing around from company to
company, typically via bankruptcy—it's good to see that there won't
be any organization that can make a proprietary fork. The AGPL also
ensures that anyone using the engine to provide a service—game
world—is required to release their code changes back to the community.
Linux and games
It is clear that Winch Gate hopes to gain some publicity—and Ryzom
players—by freeing its code. It also seems like it is genuinely
interested in what the community will do with the code, artwork, and
objects. One would have to guess that the Ryzom player community is fairly
small, given the various upheavals along the way, so the risk to Winch Gate
is quite low. In the meantime, the community gets a chance to play with a
professional MMORPG engine; it's anyone's guess where that will lead.
Perhaps Winch Gate is hoping someday to run contract servers for
world created by the community.
The Humble Indie Bundle has certainly raised the profile of Wolfire and the
games that were included. World of
Goo has made something of a name for itself in the Linux world—perhaps partially
because Ted Ts'o mentioned
it during the ext4 delayed allocation mess—but the others were
flying under the radar. No more. It will be interesting to see where that
leads as well.
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