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Open source game development is now just mobile game development

Of course I'm still observing the open source game development scene (which is mostly nonexistent, but this is not the topic now) and noticed a clear trend towards mobile game development, so much that almost everything looks to be just geared towards the mobile market. It seems to have been an easy transition, since the open source game development scene was mostly 2D or retro game development anyway, but now the rise of the mobile market has given it so much justification that basically everything is just mobile game development now and nobody tries to do something real anymore. Before people complain, that most of those games are released on PC as well, to those I say, that is not what I mean with mobile games, mobile games I define as games that are released for mobile as well or can be released on mobile or web browser or look and feel exactly like mobile games.

So what are the problems with this? Well very simple:

1. Mobile games do not equal open source games

2. Almost all mobile platforms are completely incompatible to open source

3. Lower quality of games, since they have to be primitive enough for mobile platforms and audience

4. Open source game development is dead

 

I wonder why almost nobody gets even the basics of the open source philosophy, why would you develop open source for a platform that is closed? Well you can't, there is no way. Some people may argue you can jailbreak those devices and run them with free software, yes that may work to a degree, but you are never sure how jail free you really are and how long it will stay that way. The companies designing those platforms don't want them to be open and if you open them up, they will just try finding ways to prevent you from doing so and they have countless of lawyers and zillions of money and you don't, so don't even bother with that. If you have devices that need to be jailbreaked it means they are designed to be a jail for you and you should not be using them in the first place.

When I tell people those things they almost always come with the same non-argument like "Oh but you are using Windows" or cherry pick any other non open source software you use and if they cannot find any flaw in you, they will just start philosophical arguments, that you can never be really free etc and therefore it is no problem to be using an 100% iPrison device all the time. People will try to find a flaw in you and even if you use 90% free software, they will point to the other 10% and say "You are a hypocrite" and use that "argument" to justify using 0% free software themselves. I often wonder how people cannot see how illogical they are with their arguments, pointing a finger at someone elses flaw does not change anything in your own flaws, absolutely nothing.

Basically all their argument is like "Oh because you cannot be 100% perfectly free 100% of the time, it is justified to be 100% perfectly a slave 100% of the time." - This is just pure insanity.

Frome a sane point of view, any progress is better than no progress or even regress and the point that you cannot get absolute perfection instantly should not demotivate you doing something, since then you would never get anything done.

This mobile hype is not just bad for open source,  but also bad for quality of games (and all other software). So the result is, you are getting less open source, less progress, worse software, less freedom, less privacy, less fun, less life etc. Mobile games should be a niche product, something you can play in the waiting room for the doctors (or whatever place you should not be to begin with) and not make up 99% of the indie game dev market and more than half of the total games market (Yes I don't know the exact numbers, but I know the numbers are high).

The mobile market just makes people go corrupt and many developers just abuse the open source content creators to make the most money with the least efford. I once talked with a guy who claimed to make six figure income per year just taking free content and make simple games with it. When I looked at what he produced it was just simple mobile games, like default quality, full with microtransactions of course and all for the extremely proprietary apple market. Of course strictly speaking it is legal to do that, since the content is open source, but it is still not a nice move, though such creators are a bit more limited in their choice, since many open source licenses do not allow such use, or better to say, the proprietary platform they use does not allow it. I don't want to trash that guys work, I mean he seems to know what he is doing and his games had average quality, if you ignore that he was not creating any content himself, but why would anyone play such a game. Those kind of games were like what you had around 20 years ago, but now on a mobile device with lots of microtransactions. Why would anyone play that? You can play games like that on the PC for free all day long, having better visual quality and better controls etc.

Many people like to go with the flow, like that new super open source game engine that is newly developed that seems to flourish only because of the mobile market hype, since I know a much better game engine that existed far before that gets no hype at all. That specific popular game engine seems to target the mobile market, as it is designed exactly to produce those kind of games efficiently and support those mobile platforms well. The big problem I have with that is that it basically motivates people to develop closed source games for closed source platforms, large parts of the previously open source game dev scene even switched to straight proprietary engines only to develop their indie games.

On some parts it may look like the open source scene is growing, but the primary reason is always that it grows because it can be abused for easy money making in proprietary products on proprietary platforms. Well and this means that basically everything goes to shit.

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Are proprietary developers better for open source, than open source idealists?

Well this is mostly from my experience in the past, but now I think I got enough confirmation that I can formulate this as a theory, at least regarding game development:

Proprietary developers benefit the open source development more, than the idealistic people dedicated to open source development.

 

In the programming world, there are different camps with different ideologies, like conservative people who do it for money and make proprietary software and different open source communities, from BSD philosophy to GPL philosophy. So a little backstory, when I began game development ( with Torque 3D ) I thought now that this great engine is open source, probably a lot of people from the various open source communities will use it, since it was the best open source game engine ever to be released in computing history, but I was wrong, almost nobody came. Not only did nobody came, even when I tried to encourage people or talk to them for help regarding programming problems, they never were helpful. Quite the opposite was true with the regular community that was with the engine before, they were engaged and motivated and also willing to help, even though they were all doing closed source proprietary projects. Not only were those proprietary developers more friendly and more helpful to newbies, they also were more liberal about their help regarding licensing than almost any open source idealist, since they did not even bother to add a license to their work or demand attribution.

It seems to be quite common even in the proprietary commercial work to just reveal your secrets, even big companies often release paper on their technology and how they did it, of course they are not releasing everything, but the basic mechanic. The algorithms are basically public domain, I mean you would need patents to protect those things anyway, regular copyright cannot protect a way to do things. One proprietary developer once said, that it is not a big deal to tell how it is made, the work is in the implementation and if you can write an implementation and optimize it, you can have all the credit.

In communities around a software like a game engine in my case, it also seems to be normal to contribute back to the community, which then is basically public domain content, or in my case it will become the same license as the original software, so everyone who owns the software also owns all the add ons and contributions towards it from the community, which in case the original software is open source as well is pretty cool, since you never need to buy anything. However also with proprietary products this mentality is common, since user contributions will enhance the value of the product for the company, so the company is interested in as many contributions as possible and the contributions have to be as liberally licensed as possible, so people can use them, which results in everything being basically public domain, if you own the original product.

If I watch the open source communities now, their policies seem to be quite different and their end results as well. The first thing most open source idealists ( especially GPL people ) think about is the license and who gets the credit and who can use it how, why and what you cannot do with it etc. The difference is basically the open source communities bother with licenses first, the other proprietary ones bother with licenses last. This results of course in many cases, that nothing gets ever done and even if, the quality and quantity is bad and on top of that, the license added to it is worse than what you get with proprietary software ( if you ignore the little restrictions that the base product is proprietary ). Yes many open source idealists may complain now like "But the proprietary stuff is proprietary and not really free" - Yes that is correct ultimatively, there is a copyright barrier that restricts you, since of course the company tries to bind their customers to their products and services, so there has to be some kind of restriction. That is the tactic of user lock in, they try to keep their users in a sandbox, but within that sandbox everything is much better and more liberal as people within the sandbox share much more.

Well in my case such a proprietary sandbox as a whole got open sourced, so the initial copyright barrier that locked users in got removed and what was left, was all the benefits without all the drawbacks. Well back to my theory, I think that still, even though there are always some barriers to lock users in, aka make them unfree, that what is left is still more beneficial to open source as a whole, since even commercial companies usually producing only proprietary stuff, sometimes give something back and if they do, it is much better than the open source idealists, who often already fail at the production stage, so they are often not even left with anything that they could contribute. Another case is that companys fully fund open source development, since they need it for their business, or a company goes bankrupt and then source dumps everything, so it at least survives as a product and gets maintained.

However my initial point was, that I experienced people comming from the proprietary world producing proprietary commercial products, seem to be more friendly, helpful and especially more productive towards open source software development, than the open source idealists ( probably due to the open source idealists being nonexistent for the most part ). This is kind of an add on regarding my article about why I'm not for GPL license, showing how unproductive it is in reality. The other open source factions are more productive, but still less productive than the proprietary world. Of course there are big exceptions where open source development is very productive and high quality, but this is mostly due to big commercial companies donating all the money for it, since long term people usually do not work for free.

The other exception are of course art assets, since art assets are usually proprietary and no proprietary developer ever shares them as open source, they are liberal with sharing relatively often, but then only under certain license conditions that are not open source compatible. The art is what makes their products image, at least in case of games so they will not share it. Sometimes they will share base material, but hardly ever finished assets. So in this case the open source community is clearly better regarding sharing free art, but I was focusing here on the programming side, since with the exception of games programs do not need much art assets. But regarding the usefulness of open source game art, I also wrote an article, which conlcuded that it may not be that useful at all.

It seems the proprietary developers are always the leading factor and the most productive, even for open source software, since even their leftovers are better than what most open source idealists produce. The most obvious factor why this may be is probably money, since money makes the world go round (and if you GPL your project, you get no more money). But there are also other factors and that is hierarchy and leadership, commercial companies are total dictatorships, the leader tells the direction and then everyone focuses on achieving that goal, while the open source community is mostly disorganized and anarchy, so everyone splits off their own projects when someone disagrees with them and you are left with lots of small branches of a project that never get big in quantity or quality, since there is just not enough manpower and direction.

It may sound a bit depressing to realize that the open source idealisms do not work for the most part and the open source community has to be satisfied with only the leftovers of the big players. However I'm quite okay with it at the moment, since it is better than nothing at all and the best thing for open source would probably be for companies to be a bit more liberal and not attach to their copyright forever, but open source it, when they made the most of their profits, which is what copyright was intended for initially anyway. Copyright was invented for book distribution in the very old days, where it took very long to distribute it around the world and it was only intended so the author can make a living out of his work and after that everything becomes public domain, but now as the time needed to distribute ones work is vastly reduced the copyright time should also be vastly reduced. This little change will probably benefit open source more than all the whining about ethics and morals.

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A closer look on the usefulness of game asset stores

After my article on why most open source game art is useless I wanted to also take a closer look on the usefulness of game asset stores. Since they are quite common now and an essential part of most game engines, people might think they are very useful and a great invention, so let us break down if that is true.

First I want to say that commercial asset stores are completely useless to me, since I'm making an open source game, to which all proprietary content is incompatible to, but I want to make a general analysis, if they are at least good for what they are intented for.

Use the original article for reference since I will address the problems with open source game art now, if they still exist with commercial asset stores: https://duion.com/blogs/why-most-open-source-game-art-useless

Problems:

1. Not enough content of a certain kind or style was available

-This problem still exists with asset stores, but less intense, since content creators usually create more content in the same style, but you will face the problem again, if you need assets of a different field, that the certain asset creator you buy from does not offer, which forces you to buy from other asset creators that produce what you need, if they exist.

2. Too low quality content to be usable

-This problem is solved pretty well, since most people selling in asset stores know at least the basics, so most content you buy is at least somewhat usable, depending on the store and if they do content curation. Only on higher quality levels you will run into problems, but the baseline of quality is much higher for the most part.

3. Unfinished content that would require significant work to finish

-Not that much of an issue since most products on asset stores are obviously finished products, only in rare cases, people sell unfinished art for example as "prototyping art"

4. Inconsistent art style, since every artist has his own style

-Similar to problem 1, somewhat better than in the open source world, but if you are forced to buy from someone else the style will no longer fit, but since general quality is higher, it is not that big of a problem.

5. Restrictive licenses especially GPL (who the hell applies GPL to art and how is that even supposed to work?)

-Commercial licenses are usually much more restrictive, so here is where open source game art scores obviously, but GPL like licenses are even more restrictive if you want to do something commercially, so commercial/proprietary licenses are better in that case. There is also the case where open source licenses do not allow the use of DRM ( digital rights management ) , in that case the open source licenses are also worse than the commercial ones. So it really depends on the case which is better.

6. Incompatible art created for another purpose

-You will not find that issue much with asset stores, since asset stores are usually tied to a specific engine or purpose, so it is mandatory to produce compatible content.

7. Total incompetence of the creator, resulting in a major mistakes that make the art asset useless, even if it looked good

-This also does not happen that often, but in rare cases it still exists, I knew cases of assets from asset stores that had textures that were not power of two. So maybe not total incompetence like it is common in the open source world, but average or slight levels of incompetence are normal in humans it seems.

8. Illegal content, many release content as open source that is incompatible with open source or downright stolen

-This is also a problem with asset stores depending how much they care about it. Some asset stores are free from that and others are filled with stolen content and the site does not care, since they make money from it. If you use them in proprietary projects it is often less of a problem, since the licenses allow that, while proprietary licenses do not allow the use in open source, which makes the use of those assets illegal by default in that case. So if used in a proprietary closed source project, it is harder to prove that the asset was stolen or they are even legal to use, since many assets primarily textures are partly free, you just pay to get more bandwidth for downloading them. Overall if a store is tied to a specific game engine, it is probably very safe to use and if not, there is someone caring about it, general asset stores or those where general users contribute are still potentially dangerous to use.

9. You could do it better yourself, which removes the necessity to use open source entirely

-In commercial asset stores the content is usually created by professionals, so it is not very likely you will be able to create better content yourself, if you are not yourself a skilled artist with many years of experience. Though there is a point here which is more about consistency and style, which I will get more into later.

 

So overall an asset store seems to score in most cases versus content that is available as free and open source, which is kind of obvious since it is professional people making money with it.

Capitalism clearly wins as it seems, but I have some major critique points that address problems with the philosophical paradigm of having asset stores in the first place.

The major problem is game asset stores arose with the upcoming of game engines marketed to the end user, claiming they could make games, without needing the skills to create the necessary content, which is obviously a marketing lie. Even if it was possible for the end user to really create working games, how much worth will they have, if they all use the same assets? It either will result in a flooding of the game market with so called asset flips, where people just buy assets and release them as a game, thinking they have achieved something, or result in people buying the assets and never really producing anything with it, which is basically just wasted money. So no matter how it turns out, the result is bad and you cannot really tell which outcome is worse, they seem to be both just equally bad. So overall I think asset stores primarily target the so called dreamer customer, selling them a lie. They rely on those customer base, since that is the only way they can make profit. Imagine only serious game developers would buy those often cheap assets and they will use them in a finished game, first of they would sell a very very tiny amount, resulting in them making no profit and the market gets flooded with asset flips or at least games that use the same assets, which is fine for a few times, but the more they are used the more obvious it gets. So overall I think the asset stores, even though they offer quite good content overal are immoral to begin with, because they target dreamers and sell lies.

You cannot really make a full large scale game using only asset store items, there is simply not enough. I did browse some asset stores just theoretically, looking if I could fill all the necessary items I would need for a full scale 3D shooter with asset store items and even using everything the store had to offer, I still could not fill all the spots I needed, there is just so much you need, textures, levels, terrains, scenery models, trees, plants, grass, characters, animations, weapon models, sound effects, music, ambient sounds, particle effects, GUI elements etc etc. So you almost always end up with something missing and then you need to start learning how to do it yourself, which exposes the lie of the game engine marketing that you can make a full game without having the skills to produce everything on your own. Alternatively you can pay artists to make content specifically to your needs, but this will blow up your budget by quite a lot, since asset stores that are mass produced and sold to a lot of customers are often cheaper by orders of magnitude. For example a weapon model may cost you 100 to produce, if you pay an artist, but on an asset store you may get 10 weapons for 10, so people get a wrong idea on how much things really cost and the 100 for a weapon model is already very cheap, it could easily be much higher.

Another reason why you cannot make a game with art bought in an asset store is obviously the style. Art ist defined as something unique, if you copy it, it becomes a knockoff, so asset stores are degrading art to knockoffs on a grand scale. If you make a game, your art style has to be unique, if you are serious about it, there is no way around it. Games are an art form and if they are not art, well then they are not art anymore and the way art becomes non-art is by copying it. You are allowed to use ready made content to some degree, but you have to add your own art style to it, at least something to make it unique, which requires you to have the skills to do it and if you have the skills to do it, why not do everything on your own? This is the same as the problem with open source art, if you don't have the skills to make the art, there most likely will not be enough freely available for your needs and if you have the skills yourself to do it better, why bother with the ready made content?

Let's face it, no serious developer would ever buy their art in an asset store, the reasons should be obvious, just imagine the same characters that make up your game show up in another game completely out of context, it just just make everything ridiculous and you will likely be shamed publicly. Imagine you could buy Star-Wars models in an asset store, where are you going to use them? It would appear ridiculous in anything that is not a sequel or parody to Star-Wars, you cannot really do anything with them. Luckily asset stores mostly do not sell iconic items, but this will leave your game to be totally generic without character, which no serious developer would ever do.

 

In short my problem with asset stores in general are:

1. They run on a marketing lie and selling to dreamers that will never succeed in what they are promised, which is immoral.

2. Same problem as with the open source game art, which is you will most likely not find enough and needing you to learn to produce it yourself, which limits the use of ready made content to begin with.

3. If you use copied or mass produced content, it is not really art anymore by definition.

4. Flooding the market with low quality asset flips.

5. No serious developer would use them, leaving the market to unserious ones, producing unserious products.

 

Thats my summary with asset stores, yes point 1&2 and 3&4 are quite similar, but I listed them separately since one is more the moral aspect and the other is the practical aspect.

My advice would be that you better look into buying better tools or content creators, this way you get the benefits of both worlds, you get the time savings of asset stores and you still have unique content, that you produced yourself and in the long run your money investment pays off more in work saved and you also will improve your art skills, kind of a win win situation. This also seems to be the trend in the serious gaming industry, selling high quality tools with lots of templates that reduce the workload by a lot. To be honest this can result in the same thing like having asset flip like games, since most people are probably too lazy to change the templates from the tools, but I think the mere fact, that you at least have to put in some work yourself, to create the content, will filter out most of the incompetent people. Another exception is raw materials or raw models, like things you cannot really change much or add your own style to it, since they are just a representation of reality, like phototextures or object geometry. I think you can even use asset store items sparingly without it being too obvious, if you put significant work into it yourself, though you probably should try to avoid it, since if you get caught using asset store items, it automatically makes you look dubious. Yes some games I will not name here are getting away with using lots of bought assets and people not really care that they get an inferior product, but just because some get away with poor corrupt company politics does not mean it is good.

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