The game development industry just got hit by a tidalwave of free. Unity 5, Unreal Engine 4 and Source 2 all give away their flagship product for free now. They’re all different brands of “free”, but who cares? The average game developer certainly won’t. The little guy now has access to more tools than what could be mastered in a lifetime. There’s absolutely no excuse any longer: Go make that game!
But.., what about open source? What about it indeed. Glue a Stallman beard on me and call me an idealist, but I actually believe there’s no stopping open source (in game development) at this point. Open source is a feature, and an incredibly appealing one as such. When you start competing to be “the most free”, open source is the inevitable end-game.
So supposing that’s where the behemoths are headed, where does that leave us? Are, are we still relevant?
pffft, of course we are, and here’s why.
We keep the big guys honest
This just in: Physically Based Rendering isn’t dark magic, cross platform publishing is not the thing of fairy tales, and a solid asset pipeline is not exclusive to a million dollar budget. They’re not easy; faaar from it. But as long as we can show that these things can be accomplished by a part-time hobbyist just for the heck of it, the end user gets a fair price (i.e. free!), and our fellow hardcore misfits will continue trying to solve the most difficult problems the industry has to offer.
Open source done right means “everybody wins”
If this exciting new thing called “free” keeps going in the right direction, everyone still in the race gets a leg up.
A lot of big words have been tossed around in these recent announcements.
Deep in Unity’s culture is the principle of Democracy. The goal is to price in such a way as to reflect our principles. Democracy is the principle we were founded on, and it means we do our best to put Unity in the hands of developers, Indies or Pros, that may not have the resources to pay for it. Its about enabling most everyone to create with the best tools we can make.
Whatever your development aspirations, Epic stands with you, both as a technology provider, and as a fellow game developer counting on UE4 to power our own games.
These are people who decided to make a living by making games. They’re geeks; I know where they’re coming from; I believe them. I just wish they wouldn’t completely downplay the fact that this is also damn good business.
Jabs aside, fellow game developers, let’s democratise game development! You came together behind Vulkan, the next generation of OpenGL. How about tackling these next?
- FBX – a closed, proprietary format owned by a company that sustains itself by monopolising digital art creation – is the industry standard exchange format(!). This is ridiculous. Either get behind OpenGEX or try make something even better (the former is preferred).
- Video playback is a copyright-riddled mine field. I don’t really know where to start… Get cozy with Xiph.org/Mozilla maybe?
- Graphics card drivers are a mess. Huge props to Valve for making great strides in this department. I guess just follow Valve’s lead and try do even better.
The democracy you speak of is already in place. You just need to give vote for the right candidates.
Games must never stop being weird
If Unity and UE are the Legos of game development, jMonkeyEngine is the crazy uncle who just gives you the key to his entire toolshed with its powertools and lose wires and just says “try not to get yourself killed” (we actually care a lot about UX and our users praise our support — extreme analogies are just more fun to write). Many kids will be intimidated by that level of freedom, but some odd few will make things that could not have been conceived within safer confines.
Plot twist: “the most free” isn’t the end game
Web development is currently setting the gold standard for open source. From your CMS all the way down to the server it runs on, all the best-of-breed technology is completely open source. Facebook’s React and Google’s Angular are facing off against Ember and Meteor on (relatively) equal footing. They’re all competing to make the best free framework. Why? Because (very simply put) if they woo the best developers, their technology stack will progress faster, which means faster moving products, which means a competitive advantage. It’s a classic open source win-win-win- ad infinitum.
So what do these frameworks do to attract more developers when they’re all basically at feature parity? They compete to be the best open source citizen. Best Transparency. Best Community. Best Workflow. Best Documentation. It all just keeps getting better!
Game development is lagging behind in this race, but we’re definitely part of it, now more than ever. And small time indies like jMonkeyEngine have an easier time being exemplary open source citizens. We can speak more freely and make tougher decisions in the name of software freedom. We encourage the big leagues to take as many pages out of our playbook as they’d like.
This is where I believe game development is headed. All that remains to see is how quickly we can get there. In the meantime, jMonkeyEngine is and always will be unambiguously free. Down to the last byte.