Commercial games and Linux
Almost two years ago I wrote an article about how the Open Source ecosystem can interact with commercial game developers.
I decided it was time to write an addendum to that post. Why?
Last month, Valve Software finally revealed that they are in the final stages of porting their Steam client to Linux, news that was highly anticipated after Phoronix mentioned this for the first time. This Steam client for Linux will be accompanied by the port of a tripe-A game: Left 4 Dead 2. Valve opened a dedicated Linux blog which was so swamped with enthousisast comments that they had to define a new comment policy. Great news and it deserves a great deal of respect.
Commercial enterprises getting themselves invoved with the Linux platform… that was bound to provoke reactions. And indeed , Richard Stallman wrote a post where he critizizes Valve’s effort. The core sentence there is “Nonfree game programs (like other nonfree programs) are unethical because they deny freedom to their users“. I beg your pardon?
I really wished he would have been able to distinguish between the GNU/Linux ecosystem and the applications which can be used on top of that. The two are separate, Richard!
I am of course well aware of the philosophy behind the GNU project. It has given us a wealth of first-class software and I agree that without GNU, we would not be free to choose the OS we want to run on our machines. I work for IBM, and I realize all to well how a total vendor lock-in can not only smother your clients, breed arrogance, but also cause that vendor to buckle as a result of its arrogance. Read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_IBM for instance – where you also find how IBM managed to re-invent itself and start committing itself wholesale to Linux by multi-billion dollar investments into the Linux developer scene.
But I am straying off the path here.
I have never been comfortable with zealots who claim that they alone hold the truth. Therefore, Stallman’s article made me sigh rather than angry – it was all so predictable. There is nothing unethical about earning money. There is also nothing unethical about earning money on the Linux platform. Look at Redhat, they made a billion dollars on Linux! People can be driven to great achievements but everyone’s motives are different. I am glad there is diversity. Valve is driven by a desire to produce a first-class game playing environment and create the games to match. That they want to earn money from their efforts is good. Triple-A games require a tremendous monetary multi-year investment. Too many well-respected game studios are closed these days because the financial returns are not making up for the investments. I want Valve to flourish, so that they give me the freedom to buy games that I like! Suppose for a second, that they would go bankrupt – that would take away a large potential for cool games. It would take away some of my freedom of choice.
Suppose they would cease their Linux involvement as a result of the opinions of people like Stallman. That would limit my freedom to play games on a platform of my choice. I do not want to have to install Windows to play my games. I use Wine currently and that works well enough for Steam, Valve games, Diablo III and such block busters, but it would really help if we had native releases for Linux! It is a bit unfortunate that idsoftware’s John Carmack does not share Valve’s view on the viability of Linux as a gaming market, but really this is all about getting momentum. Someone had to decide to take the plunge. Nothing against John’s opinion, I respect him for all he does (in particular for opensourcing most of idsoftware’s previous game engines and games and doing great speeches) but I hope he will come back on his view sometime. We need these games to prove to people that Linux is not just for geeks. We need more game developers to take Linux seriously.
Oh… I am straying again.
I have different ideas of what defines “freedom” than Stallman has. I hope that the disaster called “Windows 8” will actually do Linux distros a favour by further diminishing the MS Windows market share, thus allowing growth of the Linux market share. Remember again why Windows 8 is bad? Or rather, what evil can result from Microsoft’s plans for Windows 8 on the ARM market? Read a bit about Secure Boot, you can start here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_8#Secure_boot . Dual-booting Windows and Linux? No can do! Now there is a real example of limiting my freedom!
You see, the word “freedom” is not all there is to it. It can and will be used out of context in a zillion ways. What really matters, is freedom of choice. If you are really concerned about freedom, you should sign up for the news letters of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and support them in their cause.
I can’t wait to package, install and use the Linux Steam client on Slackware. In the meantime, I think I’ll watch a video about freedom from choice… come on, join me: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jVoroHx3IU