Friday, September 24, 2010

The Dysfunctional Family of Open Source

So, I have had the honor this week of working with a set of some of the smartest, most cutting edge game researchers in academia this week putting together a research agenda for the National Science Foundation.

This has given me a chance to immerse myself in a world I normal only touch on the edges, and in the process something has struck me. It is one of many many places I have been where there is an institutional double standard on open source software.

One of my frustrations in life has been how badly we do information transfer in this country. There are all sorts of interesting research projects in our universities that could lead to either interesting one off games or potentially whole new tools or genres. That transfer however seldom happens and the reasons come down to economics. The researchers need funding to do their research. The universities need funding as well. But the game industry isn't like the telephone industry where a few big companies dominate the market and are brimming with money to throw at Universities. Even the biggest game houses are really just large collections of individually accounted for projects, each of which has to make an immediate decision about where dollars for the currently in development game goes. If it doesn't make THIS game cheaper or better NOW, there is no room in the budget for it.

But where is this double standard? The answers is that university researchers *love* free and open source game engines. They find them incredibly useful in doing their jobs. But raise the idea that they should in turn open source their software artifacts and you better duck.

This is not specific to academia. I've seen this double standard over and over. Lots of people use open source software today without any interest in returning the results of that use to community ownership. Big software companies will use open source components freely in their products, but have no interest in giving away the products of their own labors.

But it seems to me a fundamentally dysfunctional relationship. As a socialist revolution, it seems pretty one-sided, opportunistic, and ultimately unsupportable.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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