Radically open game development?

Since I made SNAKISMS earlier this year I’ve moved toward an open-source version of my games as much as I’ve been able. v r 3 was a challenge because it included proprietary assets I’d paid for and because I’m dumb at Unity, but in general I’ve been trying to release my code when I release a project, including all the commits etc. (It is also making me hyper-aware of how absolutely terrible I am about commenting my code lately - really must fix that.)

To go with the basic availability of my code (under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License), I’ve also used GitHub to host other elements of the development process (examples here are from It is as if you were doing work):

  • Diary and To-Dos: My usual practice of writing a development diary and the to-do lists I create and work through while writing the code itself are part of the distribution
  • Screenshots: I’ve also included screenshots taken as part of the process of development (usually of stages of the visual progress of the game, sometimes of funny bugs or mistakes I’ve made).
  • Correspondance: Emails I’ve sent back and forth with testers (when permission is given) are available. (Spoiler alert: it’s almost always my parents.)
  • Press Kit: Although I’m a huge fan of presskit(), I’ve taken to having my press kits be part of the code repository as well, for an “everything in one place” kind of feeling. This is all greatly facilitated by markdown, which I am deeply, romantically in love with.
  • Press Files: As press rolls in for a game (or, more often, trickles in, or, frankly, just doesn’t come in at all) I put links to coverage in the press kit and have now also taken to capturing the articles themselves off the web and including them in the press section. (The death of Kill Screen Daily was a wake-up call there, as they were major and appreciated supporters of my work.)
  • Social Media: As of It is as if you’ve been doing work I’ve also been trying to capture social media reactions to the game by saving Twitter search results as well as tweets directly to my account
  • And I keep planning (though not following through as yet) on including scans/photos of my notebook pages pertaining to the particular game.

Obviously that’s quite a lot of information to package with my games themselves, and it’s in no small part so voluminous because as someone working as an academic, I’m working with my colleagues (notably Rilla Khaled and Jonathan Lessard) toward a method of game design and development process analysis. (We’re calling this Games as Research. That website will have actual information at some point.)

However, with both SNAKISMS and It is as if you were doing work one thing that came up I wasn’t expecting (for reasons I don’t pretend to understand) was that people were interested in engaging with the work ‘as software’ by writing fixes for bugs in a game or improving a game by adding functionality like making the game installable on Android!

This makes me wonder about a couple of more “extreme” avenues that are entirely plausible with something like GitHub as the central repository of my games (usually)…

Real-time visible development. At present I make my game repositories private until I release the game, at which point I make them public for people to look at whatever they want. It occurs to me that I could develop games “in public” the whole time such that people who gave a shit (this could easily, easily be nobody) would actually be able to keep track of the game as it developed, play incremental builds and generally watch me being terrible at game development. Live! The obvious reasons I haven’t done this as yet are that a) I’m self-conscious about how shitty my development actually is, b) I’m self-conscious that nobody would care, and c) there’s some (probably dumb) fear that if the development were open, people would lose interest in the final product when I actually released it. None of those reasons, at this moment, strike me as great reasons not to just do it anyway. The primary reason probably being: “who even cares?”

Real-time visible radically open development. It’s only a short step from having my code repositories open while developing to accepting the idea that random strange might want to randomly contribute to the game itself. It’s easy to imagine, for example, somebody randomly populating an array of job titles, say, with their own ideas, or editing the list of inspirational slogans, or adding a whole other kind of dialog box. (Or not, of course, I’m not saying people would actually want to do this, just that they could.) This one troubles me much more significantly because, well, I’m already not the best collaborator in the first place, and the idea of “random collaborators from the internet” gives me chills. On the other hand, if it’s just people suggesting additions/subtractions to the code base, there wouldn’t be any harm in this and it could be pretty interesting.

In the end I suspect it might be good to have the development in public to see what happens (while being aware it might change how honest and open I feel able to be in, for example, my diary). The question of whether people might want to interact with the code itself during development is just something that could be explored as it happened (or didn’t happen). It’s certainly a weird and interesting idea. So, let’s see. Maybe.

7 July 2017
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