The open-source game market is a growing segment of the video game industry. According to OpenGameArt, there are currently over 6,000 open-source game projects in development, ranging from small experimental games to full-scale commercial releases.
Open-source games only use free content. Adopting an open-source approach means only using software, graphics, music, and other assets that have been released under free licenses.
Revenue generated by open-source games is generally lower than major commercial releases, but there have been instances where they have successfully raised money:
The 80 Level Research Team interviewed 5 developers from the most popular open-source games to gain insights into the inner workings of these projects and explore the potential for the future.
Tracking of Contributors
The number of contributors varies depending on the project, but there is usually a group of "core contributors" ranging from 1 to 15 people, as well as "active developers" numbering up to 50 people. The number of people "participating in the community and modding" varies greatly.
Tracking the developers' contributions to the project can be done automatically and manually. The most well-known method of tracking project contributors is GitHub. Project managers can monitor who is active, making comments, issues, or pull requests, and contributing code, art, or translations. GitHub has insights tailored for open-source projects, such as a breakdown of users and their contributions, including the number of commits or lines of code added/removed.
However, not all contributors may be trackable through GitHub, especially those who help in different parts of the infrastructure or do community outreach programs. Additionally, it is only possible to assess the qualitative impact of a particular person's contribution to the project manually, which is handled by a project leader.
Andy Parkhouse | Project Lead, OpenTTD
There are about 10–12 core contributors who are the most active in the OpenTTDproject. There are also around 50 contributors listed on GitHub, but the level of their involvement varies from only a few commits to more active participation. Additionally, there are 10 to maybe 100 people involved in the content and modding community.
The easiest way to track contributors of an open-source game is through GitHub. The community polls feature allows for the tracking of contributors, their activity, forks, and other contributions. The wider modding community is harder to track as people come and go, with some making only one contribution and others making many.
Monetization & Revenue Distribution
According to interviewees, open-source games have not been successful commercially. Since the games are already completely free, there is often nothing to monetize. It's very common for successful open-source games to cover operating costs via donations from the community. Many projects have a loyal player base who are often against the pay-to-play model, and monetization may cause players to feel alienated.
Developers of open-source games come across the challenge of distributing funds received through donations because their contributors are based all over the world (and the complexities of making payments and paying taxes come into the picture). To avoid potential disputes over revenue-sharing based on individual contributions, interviewees recommend either hiring developers under a contract or using services like Bounty Source, where contributors can set an amount of money for specific tasks.
Webster Sheets, Technical Lead | Pioneer
The primary funding model of Pioneer is through donations, which can be made through our website. However, donations only cover the cost of domain names in a good year.
Building a system to distribute revenue for contributors to open-source games is a complex topic, in part due to the initial hurdles of setting up a revenue stream when the content of the game is already available for free.
However, it might not be wise to incentivize contributors to compete against each other for revenue as it could lead to egos getting in the way, resentment, and even destabilizing the project. Instead, there is a model like the Godot engine, where there is a significant revenue stream and enough donation revenue to hire contributors to work full-time.
Rafael Galvan, Lead Administrator | Rigs Of Rods
Rigs of Rods like many other open-source games are worked on by volunteers in their spare time preferring for working on it as a side project rather than a commercial venture.
Cloud Gaming Distribution
Developers have noted difficulties with cross-platform access to games due to the technical configurations of each individual game, difficulties in coding for iOS, optimization for mouse and keyboard input which makes it challenging to port to mobile platforms, as well as a lack of capacity for developing ports to different platforms.
Developers are open to the possibility of distributing their projects through cloud gaming. This could significantly increase the game's user base by attracting new players who can play on devices that are not currently supported.
Outcomes & Opportunities
The interviewees believe that while open-source games are a niche market and require dedicated contributors, they have a bright future with the potential for growth and increased accessibility. Developers see the use of middleware engines such as Godot and new distribution methods like cloud gaming as factors that could contribute to the popularity of open-source games.
Stanislas Dolcini, Project Lead | 0 A.D.
This is very important to find people who are willing to invest their time in such a project, as there is no financial incentive to work on an open-source game — but the experience can be valuable for building a resume.
Beherith#9646, Lead Administrator | Beyond All Reason
The current community of Beyond All Reason is not closed and anyone can join, but developers want to polish certain aspects of the game before pushing for a larger audience. We express optimism about the growth of the player base and the positive feedback that have received from the community, which gives momentum and joy in developing the game further.