Why are most games close-sourced?

This question came up during one the discussions in my New Media class. We had recently talked about GNU and libre software and how it grew into Linus and the OpenSource movement etc., etc. I had a lot of Game Art students in there but it was an Industrial Design major Heitor who asked that question. And I think this is because the situation has become the de-facto status quo. If one tried hard enough you could find some open-source games┬ábut those are all on the periphery, nothing on the scale of GNU/Linux or Apache or Firefox. I’m gonna try to list all the arguments that came up and then my own view of the situation.

One of the positions was that a large-scale major-release game is to big and complex to manage and requires a team of managers and coordinators to complete. It is very similar to the rebuttals┬áthat Richard Stallman offers, even though he doesn’t directly address the need for a management support. Maybe it’s closer to Eric Raymond’s definition of the ‘cathedral’. But then Linux would require an even bigger coordination team – and so would numerous other open-source projects. So that’s not it.

Another suggestion was that programmers are the only ones who embrace this libre/open-source hippy nonsense, but game development requires a lot of other professionals to finish a game. They don’t care about the free software ideals and want to get paid for their work. I think there is a something to this argument, and yet I have the following objection. The art and design industries are arguably at the forefront of unpaid labor practices. Internships for experience, work for exposure, – you’d think that artists would be used to not getting paid.

I think that this status is quo is simply institutionalized. The GNU and open-source movements grew out of the academic world. It has been embraced as a viable business practice, for various reasons, but the tradition is deeply rooted in the academic culture of sharing the knowledge and the accomplishments with the colleagues. Game industry grew out of the entertainment business – the same business that was charging customers $18 for a CD while paying an artist less than a dollar from that money. So there is no tradition of sharing and openness there and to change that would require overhauling the whole entertainment industry.

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