Saturday, March 23, 2013

Fork Games!

Today I want to talk about a controversial word in the free software community, Fork!

Most software projects don't really need forks.  How many word processors, web browsers, cd burners etc do you need?  Probably one or two is more than enough.  But when it comes to games, gamers tend to collect hundreds to thousands of games given enough time.  They at least try them out to see how they play.  I tend to play one or two things for a long time and get all I can out of it, but over time I have played quite a few different games starting back when I was a kid. 

Proprietary game companies frequently come out with a game, and make more and more sequels of this great game.  Gamers like this because they know if they liked the first one, the next one will be similar so they will be more likely to buy then next one.  Thus you have popular series such as Ultima, Final Fantasy, Heroes of Might and Magic, Super Mario etc. 

Free software projects on the hand, are afraid of the Fork! If there is game one in the successful free software games, one of two things will happen.  The original team will keep trying to improve it, not just mantain it so it continues to run on newer computers (like when libraries get out of date) So eventually with all the new features it will play like a different game.  (example, crossfire, battle for wesnoth) Or even if it doesn't play different, it will look significantly different and have features and game balance changes the original did not have.

On the other hand, they often just abandon it, so it get forks, multiple forks, many of these forks don't even work on the platform the game originally worked on, and then there is the question of what is the real fork if people didn't change the project name. (IVAN, also known as iter vehehims. ad neccam)

The other problem with free software games is the dead projects that don't compile and run and never did.  Well, maybe they compiled on one person's system at some point, but no one else can get it to work, and the original developer cannot be contacted.  You can find a lot of this type of project on any popular free and open source software hosting site.  While this is not a problem in and of itself, you keep wondering if perhaps the original developer should have forked a project that already worked properly and changed a few things, if they might not have a better game that people would actually care about and play.

In my next post, I will propose an alternate universe where free software game development thrives and surpasses proprietary  game development using the fork.

1 comment:

Ioannis A said...

Have you *ever* managed a project? Forks are almost always a disaster.