Video Games as Free Software

Aug 27, 2017

I can not completely follow Richard Stallman's strict software methodologies, but I generally agree with him. I try to use free software whenever it provides a similar feature set to proprietary software. Instead of Google Chrome I use Chromium. In place of Adobe Illustrator I use Inkscape (which is a more recent switch I've made).

There is a segment of computing that has no free software alternatives. A freely-licensed video game is a unicorn in the industry. Considering how video games are art, this is especially sad. A cursory search shows no results for free software on Steam. The only freely-licensed games I could find are the likes of tuxracer and freedoom.

This seems to be an odd contrast to the strong influx of DRM-free games produced by indie game developers. I'm glad that many video game developers are fighting the malicious pattern of DRM-infested, always-online games many AAA developers are releasing. But when you're no longer enforcing your distribution methods through software, why not also empower your end users even further by freely licensing your game?

I sympathize with developers who have poured their lives into their games. It would be scary to not just remove software protections, but also legal protections against copying of their software. However, indie game developers rarely if ever sue pirates who steal their games. In fact, with or without DRM in place people will pirate video games that are popular. At that point what is to be lost by giving users of the game the essential software freedoms?

Piracy is always an option. The only thing holding someone back from getting a game for free is the convenience of a platform like Steam and their conscience. Both of those would remain with a freely licensed video game.

Were someone to freely-license a video game and release it on Steam/GOG they would receive a significant amount of support from the free software community. FOSS zealots like myself would likely pay for the game regardless of our interest in its content.

Were I to license a game I'd made, I would make use of the Apache license. It grants users of the product access to the source code and the right to adapt and change it. But the license also protects the creator's trademarks. In the case of a video game this means its title and logo are secure. Were someone to fork the game they would not be able to keep their fork under the original title. This avoids potential confusion.

As a measure against outright clones of a game the developers could also license their auditory and visual assets under a license granting only non-commercial use to others.