Open Source *Game* Programming?

Ben Tilly ben_tilly at
Wed Jan 17 20:33:59 UTC 2001

Henningsen <peter at> wrote:
>I would like some advice on what to do in my situation. I am developing
>artificial intelligence modules for computer games, and model games to
>demonstrate and test them. I would like to do that in an open source
>environment, and would like my code to be used widely in other open source
>games. However, the only chance I have of ever seeing my creations in a
>first class game is if they are picked up by a commercial publisher who 
>will have to pay about a million dollars largely for graphics to get the
>game up to AAA standards. If I publish under the GPL (as I have done) or 
>of the other open source licenses I have seen and understood, a publisher
>could simply take my work, add modifications to my code (to which I would
>have access, since they would have to be open source also), add his
>copyrighted graphics (to which I would >>not<< get access to use in my own
>versions of the game, because graphics that goes with code is not covered 
>open source licenses), and then he could sell it without giving me either
>royalties or proper artistic credit (credit in the source files and the
>Readme file is worthless in a game). I don't think this would be fair, and
>therefore I will not release my work under a license that makes this 

IANAL but I think the general reaction would be that the
graphics are part of the overall work and said game company
would then be obliged to also give away the graphics,
which you would then have access to.

This would limit their ability to achieve revenue.  The
most viable model that I can think of off-hande would be a
shareware model.  In fact I have never seen commentary on
it but I suspect that it indeed *would* be viable to market
GPLed software as shareware.  As long as you only got
reminders to pay but were not crippled, there is no problem
for them asking all they want for people to pay them money.
Sure, someone would post a version without the messsages.
But pirates do that all of the time anyways.

And no, you would not get royalties from that.  OTOH you
and their competitors would get to peek and borrow from the

Still a small company might find that viable, if only for
the publicity of having done it.

>The type of license I am looking for is one that is basically like the GPL
>for non-commercial users, but that requires commercial users of my software
>to acquire a license from me (which implies that I will be paid and get
>artistic credit). Or else, a license that would force any graphics bundled
>with my code to become freely available, and that would ensure that I get
>proper artistic credit. So my questions are simple:
>Is there any open source certified license that meets these criteria? If
>not, is it possible to write one? Does anyone in the OSI have an interest 
>addressing these specific problems faced by most open source *game* 

I would recommend the strategy that Sleepycat follows with
Berkeley DB.  Dual-license.  Give the code away under a
license which commercial developers will generally not want
to follow, and also offer to sell commercial licenses.

>And a more philosophical question: If it is against the spirit of open
>source to require commercial users to buy a license, why is that? I think 
>is perverse to require me to offer my work as a donation to Microsoft and
>other game publishers just so I can use SourceForge. Remember, the
>modifications a publisher might make to my code are worth nothing. The
>graphics is what is valuable.

As I just spent some time in another thread explaining,
the purpose of open source is to give protections to all
users of open source software.  The main thrust of these
protections is to avoid the possibility of being tied to
a vendor which can use legal tactics to discourage
competition in the free software market.

Not only are companies among "all users", as big potential
customers they are often key to making it possible for a
competitor to get started...

Get your FREE download of MSN Explorer at

More information about the License-discuss mailing list