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With the growing interest in Linux in all sectors of the IT industry, games were bound to follow suit. It's inevitable. Every couple of days, amongst all YRO and Science news items on slashdot.org, there is a little post about some website having an article on games under Linux. Why the sudden interest?
In August last year, I was sitting in the pub when I started chatting to some American "tourists". After a while, the conversation turned to computers (it always does in the Hobgoblin). To my surprise, the people I was talking to were not tourists, but were infact employees of Interplay (developing Star Trek: New Worlds) in the UK on business. After chatting about the new game I asked them their opinions on Linux as a gaming platform. (By the way, Doug, if you're reading this, Andrea says "Hi")
Their reply at the time went something along the lines that while they weren't interested in developing Linux titles in house, they may have third party companies such as Loki port them (which is happening now with Descent 3).
Now, many people are under the illusion (delusion?) that Linux games are a recent phenomenon, although large software houses were aware of the platform a year ago, which is a long time in the software industry. But why is the mainstream press only becoming aware of it now?
With several successful Windows games being ported to Linux, such as Quake III and Descent 3, people outside of the Linux community are taking an interest. The interest generated puts Linux on more desktop PCs, and as a result, gamers want games for their brand new OS. But where are they? Not usually in your local games stockist, that's for sure.
One of the problems is the lack of original commercial quality titles on Linux. But this problem isn't only limited to games. The majority of large Linux products aimed at the desktop/home user are replicas of Windows software. However, Linux was built on the philosophy of taking another product and making it free. Because of this, the elitist Linux users out there refuse to allow any non-free products onto their coveted platform. This is what is holding back the platform.
I'm sure I'll receive many flames for saying this, but free isn't always the way. Large scale OpenSource games have a much larger development time due to the lack of funds. This would change if publishers were willing to sell free games (kinda how companies sell Linux distributions), but publishers tend to be vultures, wanting to keep as many rights to the software as possible. OpenSource is a threat to this philosophy, but we as a community cannot change their way of thinking.
While some of you may be thinking that games such as Doom and Quake have become OpenSource, this is only because they are no longer a viable source of income. Everyone who wants Quake has already paid for it, so there's no more money to be made there.
Another aspect where money comes into play is gaining artists and musicians for the games. While many programmers prefer making their source code available, artists generally don't follow the same rules (not that there's anything wrong with the lust for money). They want to get paid for their work, and their work is needed.
So what can be done? Well, earlier I mentioned Doom and Quake. While the source code is available, the datafiles aren't. You can make the code freely available, but if you keep the levels and artwork closed, people will still pay you money for it. This is the approach Lionhead are taking with Black & White.