Why Richard Stallman is Wrong

I listened to an interview with Richard Stallman, and I truly believe he is wrong regarding the ethics of proprietary software and especially the fundamental beliefs behind computer and Internet usage.

Fundamentally, he assumes incorrect things. He says that people should be able to use computers for free. That doesn’t mean that having people pay to improve the experience is evil. I can decide to gnaw through a tree on my property for free, but I can obviously pay to have it cut down. Similarly, a user should be able to do anything they want for free, but should also be able to pay to either improve the experience, do it faster, or change the feel. The point at which you start getting involved with morality is when the development of proprietary software begins to interfere with the development of open-source software. However, I think that if proprietary software was somehow banned, the rate of development of open-source software would not increase by very much.

Stallman is fine with software developed for a single client, where the developer is paid for the development of free software, rather than the software itself. However, that is fundamentally the same as distributing proprietary software. The cost of the proprietary software represents the effort that went into making it, as well as upkeep for the company including other worker salaries and continued research and development. I do agree that such costs can get out of hand and that a ridiculous amount of money can end up going to those higher up on the corporate ladder. However, that is a necessary evil to keep high quality proprietary software pumping out at a rate faster that free software can be developed.

Although he demands that the functionality of ebooks mirror that of books, he doesn’t seem to make the same connection regarding proprietary software and its real world parallel: non-free services. Although you should be able to live in a house and use public transportation for minimal costs, you almost always buy furniture and hire services to make your life more comfortable. Similarly, proprietary software allows users to improve the aspects of their experience that they want to.

As I said before, Stallman discusses ebooks, and how you should be able to do the same with an ebook as you can with a regular book. However, as a completely different medium, you can’t just demand something like that. Suppose I demand that JPEGs be viewable in the same resolution as the paintings at a museum, for free. That doesn’t even make sense. Being a completely different medium, we need to approach ebooks in a completely different fashion. It would be nice to be able to easily share ebooks or sell them used. However, for an ebook to exist in an economic and material singularity similar to that of a paper book, proprietary software is absolutely necessary. Using Stallman’s logic, I can say that if you want a book to be freely available, write it yourself!

In some ways, open source philosophy (or at least Stallman’s) is like Communism. Everybody pools their resources and in return everybody gets the same, free software. However, as we see with many actual implementations of Communism, somebody who contributes resources may not need all the products. If I spend time coding, I want a video editor, not a database manipulator. The obvious solution is to have both developed and then have those who want the video editor to give their share of resources to that developer, and those who wanted the database software to the other.

Starting a Game Studio

How do game studios get started? We always hear about game studios releasing a hit game and being boosted to fame. But whence do they come? I suppose most large companies and studios start as some guys in a garage or in a basement. Nowadays many companies are funded by the groups of venture capitalists, waiting to hit the next media goldmine. But in terms of game studios, are there still grass roots talent being formed and emerging? Or has the market environment become too hostile, and now new talent is forced to hop into the large studios as an insignificant piece of a game producing machine?

With most mainsteam games coming from the huge studios that have been bought up by corporate syndicates, there has been an increase in indie games recently. With the increased popularity of Valve’s digital distribution platform, Steam, fledgling studios don’t have to sign onto a corporate distributor to get their game noticed. Tiny, 5 dollar stocking stuffer games are now feasible to distribute, since releasing on Steam costs virtually nothing. Gone are the costs of creating discs and advertizing.

Studios still have to come from somewhere, though. I guess college is a great time to form a game studio. People are already there and live relatively close together, they don’t have a job, they have been studying their trade and want to apply it, and they have the time and motivation to accomplish something. I would go about creating a core team of one writer, and two coders, one or two artists. I would be a coder, but also keep the group coherent. Although 5 people may seem a little big to get off the ground, there would only be 3 people actively involved at one time on average. We would also need a couple voice actors, but that is outside talent and can be dealt with on a one to one basis.

After assembling, we would create our first game. No doubt it would take a couple iterations to get something desirable, but as long as something gets made, we’re fine. The game would probably be built on a pre-existing framework to speed up the development process. Once we have our first game out, we can bring one or two more people on board, and improve our infrastructure with the money from sales. After a second, larger game, we could probably get some investments and move into a building once graduated from college. As a standalone studio, it would probably be tough to make ends meet, but as a lead producer, I think I could keep projects on task and on time, yet still deliver an exceptional product. Perhaps we would eventually be bought up, but we could certainly argue a large amount of freedom in our contract if our games did exceptionally well.

Being the head producer of a studio would be great. It is your job to make sure good games are made, which means checking out and guiding every part of the process, from writing to coding to art design. It is your job to make sure people are working together, working quickly, and doing quality work. Such a job would suit me, as I have an interest in all aspects of game creation, an ability to hold a grand vision, the ability to help people communicate and work together, and the ability to split up an idea into steps and develop a timeline.

Another side of being the lead producer at a game studio would be dealing with management. If you belonged to a larger company, you would have people above you that don’t really understand or care what makes a specific game good; all they are dealing with is sales and other numbers. It might come down the chain of command that I should implement a certain system in my game, because it increased sales for these other games. Of course, my game is completely different and incompatible with that system. So it is up to me to please the management but still make a good, undiluted game. That sort of challenge is what makes producer an especially appealing job to me.

Writing Sprints

Sometimes I like to write tiny excerpts in small amounts of time. I don’t try to link them to any other piece of writing. These stand-alone prose pieces can be any size from a couple sentences to a few pages. The only requirement is that you write them in one sitting and that you just let it flow. The point of the exercise is to skim off the thoughts bouncing around on the top of your brain. Here are examples of some of mine:

A provolone melt on white bread with tomatoes and slow-roasted ham. Buffalo burgers with avocado slices on a toasted bun with a side of mashed potatoes.

“The Creators were vast spirits. They spread their harmonizing energies across the lands. But the lands didn’t want harmony. So the lands refused. In the end, the Creators left behind little as they slipped slowly into the ether. Their only legacy… was us.

We are the timeless. We are the created. We are the protectors.

We are the god-spawn of the land, able to do what the Creators could not. We shall bring order to the land. We are the final homage to the lands, to the Creators. The marks we leave shall be forever.”

The Created carried a legacy of glass. The great hellpits, formed when the Creators departed to the Ether, filled with lava, were the home of the Created glass forges.

“So we’re supposed to restore order to a whole star system?”
“Only one of the worlds is settled. The others are in preliminary terraforming stages.”
“So whats the situation on the capital world?”
“Capital world is an over-statement. The government that bought up the system has control over only a quart of the land mass, although most of the rest is uninhabitable.”
“Yikes. What do we have? Rebels?”
“Probably. there have been a running of terrorist attacks. Could be connected, but general unrest is high. The government is colonial, wit ha ruling singularity. Population mostly works int he mining industries.”
“Incomplete tectonic formation. Rich oceans and air.”
“The terrorists could be trying to dominate the market.”
“Unlikely. Its probably political.”
“We’ll go investigate tomorrow.”

Status Report

At the beginning of this month I declared that I would post once a day to this blog. Admittedly, I’m pretty proud. I posted 22 days out of the 29; I started out strong, and only began to falter right at the end. I’ve stuck around long enough to get a few views, but most importantly I’ve developed a habit of trying to post something every day. Speaking of which, I was going to post this yesterday but I accidentally fell asleep early.

For March, I’m going to do two things: start a private log, and start posting more videos. In terms of videos, I think I will start a series of tutorials covering the basics of Hammer and the Source SDK. I’ve already started recording some, but mostly just to get the kinks out of my production cycle. I have 2 scripts done, and a third in the working. So all I need to do is refine my style. Mainly, I need to stick to the script and be more concise. A tutorial is about informing people. I can’t focus on making something look nice, I just need to explain the very basics and then move on. I tried to think about the tutorials I watch, and what annoys me when I’m watching a tutorial. Unfortunately, I’m not very good at analyzing things like that. Looks like I’ll have to rely on Youtube comments.

I’m going to continue posting, but only when I have something interesting to say. I will post at least once a week, however.

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