[WF-General] Non commercial clauses in licensing

Bryce Harrington bryce at neptune.net
Sat Oct 21 02:33:54 PDT 2000


On 21 Oct 2000, Aloril wrote:
> b) No major mud allowed commercial usage > 5 years ago. So commercial
> companies where forced to start from scratch instead of taking free
> code base and contributing them. Result is that all commercial 'muds'
> currently are totally proprietary.


The above is an *extremely* important point.  Before I joined
WorldForge, I had been considering ways of turning Circe into an online
game system, and spent a good deal of time analyzing why MUDs stagnated
so badly, and why they never evolved into the large scale free gaming
systems that everyone wished for.

The reason aloril has concisely stated above is *exactly* the conclusion
I drew.  Because commercial players could not use the code, they had to
start from scratch.  And of course, *they* had no incentive to release
their code back, and so didn't (and indeed, today, even mentioning that
they should make it open throws them into tizzy fits - yes, I've tried.)
Online roleplaying gaming is a big market, but not big enough;
developing the code takes a long time - perhaps even longer than other
forms of games.  And bandwidth and hardware is expensive, and price
competition fierce.  The thought of giving up even the slightest edge -
the IP itself - is ludicrous to them.  "Why, if anyone had access to the
code and could run competing game servers, we'd have to compete on
customer service, or hardware reliability or *shudder* story quality or
some other rubbish like that!"  This will only get worse for them - each
generation of game systems must outdo the previous one in feature
quantity - this is one area of game development where simply taking
advantage of the advance of hardware may be insufficient to ensure
sales.  For a new guy to get into the market, he will have an
impossible list of features to implement.  

I suspect online gaming is different from "regular" computer gaming in
that there exists an incentive for everyone to own and play the same
game - because your friends will be on it.  And I suspect this means
that there is a potential here for a monopoly or oligarchy.  We had an
incentive to all use the same operating system (so we could share files
reliably), and we know what happened there!

I am a firm believer that online gaming *needs* to be free.  At its
heart, online gaming is a specialized type of online community.  I
shudder to think what would happen if one of the most enjoyable forms of
online communities became under the sole control of the iron fist of a
few megacorporations.  Ptew!

Also, I don't know about you, but doesn't it seem like the vast majority
of computer games seem to be just variations of the same proto-game?
"Slap new paint on the whore and send her back out."  They are actually
*quite* good at this...  Unlike in open source gaming, in the commercial
world artists are cheap labor.  Sad, isn't it?

Long, long ago it was possible for one guy in his garage to produce a
game pretty much on his own, or perhaps with a couple friends to provide
music and artwork.  Those days are *long* gone.  I've visited a few game
companies...  they're real production houses.  Big teams of people toil
away for years doing all the work needed to create even the most trivial
of games.  

Even the production of the game-editors and file-compressors require the
dedicated attention of their own teams - and yes, they're buggy editors,
but no, don't even think about suggesting these tools be open sourced
and shared with others who need them.  NIH - Not Invented Here - rules
game companies even stronger than other areas of the software industry.

MUDs did okay back in the lone-developer days, back when there was no
competition for players against the well-funded, professionally
supported, heavily marketed proprietary games.  When the Internet was
still just a geek paradise, MUDs were *everywhere*.  (In some respects,
MUDs *were* the internet - Usenet, uuencoded pr0n, email, and MUDs!)
And today we can still see a bunch of MUD-like, small-team open source
efforts out there.  One or two or three guys, an ambitious dream, and a
lot of will.  Some will think they have a chance competing with the
established online game companies, IP up their code, and take a shot
(and, inevitably, fail).  But most will realize the formidible magnitude
of the task and give up in futility.

This is where WorldForge comes in.  

We will pull online roleplaying gaming back under the control of the
gamer community.  We will do this by making it infeasible for commercial
game houses to compete - we will drive the quantity of features required
to justify their prices so high that they will no longer be able to
afford the cost of developing and maintaining proprietary game code by
themselves.  Once we hold control over the code, we hold control over
the industry.  Then they will have no choice but to listen to their
customers.

We will provide a free forum where even the wackiest game concepts can
and will be fostered and nourished into being.  Where a sole developer
can have a *chance* to complete his game in his lifetime, by taking
advantage of a ready assortment of free media, libraries, map designs,
and so forth.  If things work out the way I hope they should, within
five years the computer game field will be infused with many diverse
kinds of games.

But much as I hate to say it, in order for us to be as successful and
widespread as we want us to be, we will *need* the help of commercial
entities.  There are some tasks that are vital to a successful game, yet
which few volunteers would really wish to do.  Unsexy grunge work.  Or
stuff that costs real money.  Or things that are just too damn annoying
to do unless you're *paid* to do it.  A company that can only
differentiate itself from its competitors by quality of service, will
make damn sure to maximize the *hell* out of that.  Free or non-free,
reliable high quality gaming is something we *all* want, right?

And I think it is incorrect to jump to the conclusion that existing
commercial game companies are going to take advantage of this.  Remember
that NIH syndrome?  Yup, I betcha those big companies are simply going
to be too arrogant and stuck in their ways to do something as
revolutionary as tossing their code and using ours.  More than likely,
the first WorldForge-dependent companies will spring from our own
community.  We will be the first beneficiaries of this.  Perhaps cyanide
will press a few thousand Mason 1.0 CD's and sell them to Australian WF
fans for a few bucks profit each, and thus afford to take a week or two
off work to work on STAGE.  Maybe David and Adrian will put together a
collection of WF songs on a CD and sell for $8 each, using the profits
to buy high quality MIDI gear for key developers.  

Big companies are used to being "sold" an idea before adopting it.  And
they're extremely suspicious of anything that is *too* radically
different from their traditional means of doing things.  If we are able
to handle the commercial-oriented tasks among ourselves, then all we
need to do is *not* try to sell them, and let them blinder themselves
into non-existance.  

Now, money is not bad.  Some of you probably would like the opportunity
to earn enough to support additional time into your hobby.  Some of you
may even wish to one day make a career out of doing free game
development work.  Allowing a toe hold for commercial entities now,
opens up these potentials for later.  Macy's might wish to set up a
"Macy's World" using our technology, and would prefer flying a half
dozen of the WorldForge developers to get it up and running ASAP, to
handing it to otherwise-clueless generic programmers to try to figure
out.  How does $200/hr for a couple week's work sound to you?

If we are successful enough to warrant commercial exploitation, then
history shows that we will stand to benefit in big ways.  Look at any
field.  It begins with a few hobbiests working essentially for free,
because it is fun.  Their ideas are too radical and impossible to take
seriously - that is, until they accomplish them!  Railroads, aircraft,
roleplaying games, personal computers, AC/DC electricity, networking,
chemistry, and even toilets all started off as gee-wiz
wouldn't-it-be-cool wacky hobbies with limited-if-any commercial
intentions.  Yet once proof shows itself, money is quick to follow.  The
innovators - if they're wise - can stand to pick up a tidy sum.  More
importantly (to me at least), the innovators get their names in the
history books.

Historically, sometimes the innovators get screwed over, either due to
their own bad decisions or because they lack the resources to fight for
what they deserve.  Hopefully, the WorldForge organization will also one
day give us a way to protect ourselves from harmful commercial usage.  I
think one of the reasons why so many open source technologies have
experienced misadventure is for lack of a tied-in watchdog organization
for the community to unite behind in time of trouble.  

Being well organized and having a realistic and mature acceptance of
commercial usage of our products will help in another way.  Corporate
users of software *like* to have someone to go to when they have
trouble.  Many people will say that the value of a company is the IP it
holds, but I think a large part also rests in the services it provides
supporting its product.  A thousand dollar support contract is cheaper
than letting a developer spin his wheels at $50/hr for a week or two on
a problem that the experts can solve in a few minutes' time.  If
WorldForge were organized enough (say, as a non-profit organization) to
be able to provide support contracts, then it's my suspicion that
companies will be less reticent about adopting WorldForge software, and
at the same time, kids really familiar with installation and
customization of the software could spend their summer working on
WorldForge instead of at McDonalds.  ;-)  I think once we have world
editor software, young people who get skillful at using them are going
to find themselves with kick ass summer jobs.

> I suspect same holds for art: no bigger free repositories of art
> existed a while back, so only real route is proprietary... instead of
> taking existing and contributing necessary additions back.

In all of the above prattle, I've spoken without much reference to
artwork, because here again I think aloril has concisely stated the
heart of the matter.  But let me add some prattle here too.  ;-)

It has always been my belief that, even if we gave the media out as
*completely* public-domain-style-free, commercial game producers would
STILL want to rip it out and replace it with their own.  As mentioned
above, for commercial entities, "slapping new paint on the whore" is
easy and cheap.  Easier and cheaper than for us.  So placing proprietary
artwork into the game is the *easiest* way for a company to
differentiate themselves from the Free Games.

So regardless of whether we use the OCPL, GPL, or Joe Friendly's
License, more than likely the commercial game companies would rip our
content out totally and replace it with their own trademark-burdened,
intensely copyrighted stuff, anyway.  This is one of the reasons we
chose the OCPL license in the first place.  The artists liked this
because they weren't terribly keen on the notion of someone making a
buck off their work to begin with.  And the rest of us overlooked the
realities:

  1. Today, a game is *mostly* art.  In many cases, the code is simply a
     lever to push graphics around.  The quality of our games will be
     judged based largely on the quality of our art.  The rest will be
     judged on our gameplay and story.  Some may judge us based on how
     well we tech support the game.  A dismissibly small number of
     people will judge us on code quality.
  2. Artists (and I bet musicians, too) absolutely *hate* to see their
     work reduced in quality, just to save storage space or download
     bandwidth.  And to achieve #1, we *must* obey the media producers.
  3. To provide as rich of game play as our world, rules and plot people
     want, we are going to have a lot of data that will need to be
     thrown at clients.  That much bandwidth means big servers and big
     data pipes, even if we limit playerbase size to "only" the
     hundreds.  We ignore our content producers' advice at our own
     peril; see #1.
  4. In order to provide for the needs of item #2, we need to provide
     for distributing on CD or DVD or the like.  Producing and mailing
     permanent media costs money and is a grunt task that will get old
     really quick, unless there is some profit to be had.
  5. In order to provide for the needs of item #3, we need to allow for
     at least a few people to set up high-bandwidth servers (T3 class
     and up).  That costs money.  Even those of us with big salaries
     can't justify giving away that kind of money just for goodwill.
  6. The world is filled with assholes.  Some of them play online video
     games.  Providing tech support with assholes around constitues a
     Major Hassle.  There will not be enough community goodwill going
     around to offset all the headaches that ungreatful troublemakers
     will cause.  Even otherwise well-meaning community members can
     cause enough stress in the admin to make him throw in the towel.
     Money trumps Hassle.

Any one of items 4, 5, or 6 would constitute commercial use of the game
system (including the artwork).  Whether the money comes from fees,
advertising, or some other mechanism is irrelevant; it would still be
commercial.  Yet we can also see that our community's free games are
going to be hitting those items pretty hard.  It's ironic that for us to
have free games that we'd have to allow for commercial use of the
artwork, and even more ironic that the primary benefit of allowing this
would be *us* and not the big companies (they'd rip the art out anyway,
remember.) 

> We hope to change both things: Make free code base and free art
> repository. We have already relatively big free art base, thanks to
> good artists (especially Pegasus has been prolific contributor).

It's my personal opinion that, when all is said and done, WorldForge
will be known more for its accumulated art and music than for its
codebase.  Face it, in the free software world, code is cheap.  Media,
on the other hand, is hard to get (mostly because there isn't the
widespread tradition of free sharing among artists that there is with
programmers.)  I hope to change this, by working hard to educate and
prove to musicians and artists that GPL'd music and art is Good.  

Typically, when talking about free media, we think of an individual
piece.  An animated sprite, or a 3D mesh, or a song.  And we can talk
about the philosophy of "information wants to be free" and all that
other touchy feelie stuff.  If this email wasn't already incredibly long
(even for me) I might touch on some of those, just for completeness.
But let's cut to the chase:  Games take a *crapload* of media.  More
than any single artists or musician can provide.  And so rather than
think in terms of individual nodules of media, let's consider the work
as a whole.  Just as a piece of software can be comprised of code taken
from a hundred commonly licensed places, so too could we imagine games
built from hundreds of commonly licensed media collections.  

And this is why WorldForge-only license caveats are a *bad* idea.  There
are tons of people out there who agree in principle with us about game
freedom, but for one reason or another don't want to be "under"
WorldForge.  Yet they too suffer from scarcity of media, and would be
silly to shy away from our repository should it be available.  By using
the GPL and GFDL, we make clear and obvious what they can and cannot do
with our media - they must give us the same rights to use whatever media
they combine ours with.  And, more subtly, we encourage them to produce
their own media in style and format consistent with our own - making it
much easier for us to take advantage of their work for ourselves down
the road.

Uta doesn't want to see Micky Mouse proprietarily strolling across her
grassy fields, unless that means she can use Micky too.  Zzorn doesn't
want his wonderful trees used in a Batman scene, unless that means he
gets to stick the BatCopter into Mason2002.  If a company wished to make
a commercial game using our art, *all* additional art combined with ours
would have to be GPL'd too, which means more media for us.  And this is,
I think, the most important point for an artist to remember when
speaking of allowing commercial use of a nodule of media under the GPL:

    "Sell a free song today to buy ten songs tomorrow."

Okay, enough blabbering from me!  :-)

Bryce





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