Big Idea: improve libre game awareness with an online video series that illuminates different libre games.

Note: This is part of my Big Ideas series, a backlog of ideas that I would love to execute but cannot right now because of current projects. I may get to them someday, but I encourage you to beat me to the punch!

Background

Gaming videos on YouTube are varied and extensive. To illustrate the point, here are all the different types of gaming-related video categories I could think of.

  • Let’s Play – an entire game is played start to finish while the player narrates.
  • Speedruns – a player attempts to finish a game under a set of restrictions. Usually the goal is to finish the game in world record time, but it could also be finishing the game with the least button presses, or collecting the fewest coins. Games Done Quick (GDQ) notably hosts conferences, and streams footage of people speedrunning.
  • eSports – players compete head-to-head or on a team at a convention center to win prizes. This is most common for fighting games like Street Fighter, first-person shooters, and real-time-strategy games like Starcraft. Various conventions host competition footage on YouTube.
  • Reviews – a game or series is discussed in detail and compared to other games. This can be subjective and decisive (the reviewer’s personal experience) or clinical, fact-based, and left up to the viewer to take it at face value.
  • News & speculation – upcoming titles are speculated about using released trailers, screenshots, and interviews as evidence. Eg GameXplain on Smash Bros Ultimate.
  • Trivia – interesting, lesser-known tidbits about a game or series are revealed. Did You Know Gaming? comes to mind.
  • Game world theories – the lore of a particular game or series is speculated about. These are often inconclusive or outright baseless, but fun to consider.
  • Collections – a personal collection of gaming merchandise or rare games are shown off. Eg, Nintendrew; what a dedicated fan!
  • Unboxing – game consoles, or games with promotional packaging, are unboxed and the quality of the packaging is reviewed (including inserts such as manuals or other promotional items).
  • Game design theory – game design as an applied philosophy is taught through examples. Game Maker’s Toolkit is a notable example, as well as filmed presentations from the Game Developers Conference (GDC).
  • Game industry history – stories about the people behind games, lawsuits between companies, and the industry itself presented as an educational video. Gaming Historian, for instance.
  • Game industry musings – speculation and opinions about game companies, the desires of players, the direction of the industry, and the effect this has on games. For example, Arlo.
  • Technical analysis – a highly technical aspect of a game or games is explained at depth. This could be a glitch explanation, a computer science concept taught by referencing a game, or an explanation for how music and graphics work in games. Retro Game Mechanics Explained.
  • Code, art, & music tutorials – tutorials for code, art, or music (skills needed for game development) are presented in the context of game development. 8-Bit Music Theory explores music, and GDQuest is game art tutorials.
  • Fandom analysis – information, speculation, and opinions about the cultures that develop around certain games, such as the Earthbound or Sonic series. Rpg Monger covers this subject a few times.
  • Game soundtracks – game soundtracks are shared in video format, usually with a still cover image throughout the video. This might be an official soundtrack, remix, chiptune, or otherwise game-inspired instrumental. SilvaGunner uploads a lot of official soundtracks.

There are thousands of videos in each of these categories on YouTube, with videos in each category having hundreds-of-thousands of views, and with some YouTubers earning thousands or even ten-thousand dollars per month from Patreon supporters. It’s a huge niche! People seriously enjoy watching this stuff for entertainment and knowledge, myself included.

However, all of these videos have something in common: they are focusing on proprietary games.

Proprietary games and free software

When Richard Stallman started the free software movement, he was concerned with operating systems, artificial intelligence, compilers, and programs. He does not play video games, but nevertheless spoke out against Steam on Linux.

The problem with these games is not that they are commercial. (We see nothing wrong with that.) It is not that the developers sell copies; that's not wrong either. The problem is that the games contain software that is not free (free in the sense of freedom, of course).

Nonfree game programs (like other nonfree programs) are unethical because they deny freedom to their users.

–Richard Stallman (source)

FOSS advocate Bryan Lunduke, on the other hand, has a more complicated relationship with video games.

I have, of late, become rather inflexible in my demand for Free and Open Source Software in all aspects of my life. […] But I do seem to have one weakness. One thing that keeps pulling me back to the warm, yet constrictive, embrace of proprietary software: Games.
[…]
Limiting myself to a strict diet of only Free Software games is the equivalent of only allowing yourself to see Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith… and no other Star Wars movie. Ever. Yeah. Let that sink in for a moment. Sounds horrible, right?
[…]
Ah, bag it. Sometimes you just need to have a vice, right? Closed Source games can be one of mine. Time to go play Minecraft with my kid.

–Bryan Lunduke (source)

Many free software advocates who grew up playing Nintendo find Lunduke’s sentiment relatable. Very few high-quality libre games seem to exist, and we yearn for something better. That said, there actually are a surprising number of great libre games that have unfortunate barriers of entry for players.

One major issue is a technical barrier. It may be difficult to download, install, or play the game. Non-technical users get stuck, and technical users may still turn away to do something easier.

Another big issue is more simple: discoverability. Libre game makers tend to be hobbyists, and maybe even solo developers. Marketing the game takes time the developers may not have, leading to low discoverability of libre games; a feedback loop which hurts libre gaming.

Finally, libre games lack mainstream culture. Everyone knows who Mario is, but SuperTux seems like a cheap knockoff. What if more people knew the lore behind Battle for Wesnoth, or had casual discussions about the themes explored in Sleep is Death?

Solving these issues will make libre gaming more accessible to end-users, which could make libre game development a more economically viable option for developers, and help reverse the feedback loop.

A libre gaming channel

This is why I suggest creating a video series called Libre Game Spotlight. This series would focus on a particular libre game in each video and seek to illuminate that game to the public. Each video could hit upon the following topics:

  1. A brief explanation of what the game is.
  2. Who created (or is creating) this game, and why.
  3. Gameplay footage with commentary.
  4. Background: information about the game’s history, community, websites, repository, development, tools, license, etc.
  5. How to install the game.
  6. Closing thoughts.
  7. Suggest donating to the author (by link).

I’m envisioning a series with high production quality (like Game Maker’s Toolkit), and entertaining commentary that’s relatable to mainstream gamers. The goal of each video would be to,

  1. Increase the amount of people playing and talking about the game.
  2. Improving funding for the game.
  3. Normalize libre games as part of mainstream culture.

The videos themselves would also be distributed under a free-culture license (like CC BY-SA 4.0) with a free platform like PeerTube as its main channel. This would benefit PeerTube as well, by bringing entertaining and original content to the platform.

(That said, it makes practical sense to also mirror the series to YouTube since the whole point is about discoverability, and videos on PeerTube will be missed by a general audience. The YouTube uploads can refer users back to the PeerTube channel.)

Games to feature

There are many great libre games, and ideally this series would cover a lot of them. Without having thought too deeply about it, these games are the first that come to mind.

  • Tobu Tobu Girl – a modern game for the Game Boy, complete with a physical release! Yes, a physical release for the Game Boy in 2018, and it’s completely free software. It’s extremely novel and polished, making it a great piece to highlight.
  • Pink Pony – this 4-player splitscreen exploding horse game is a blast to play at parties. It’s so unintimidating that even non-gamers will take the controller, and it’s so simple to learn that they will have fun, too. It’s no masterpiece, but let’s not underplay the social impact of a game like this.
  • Battle for Wesnoth – Slant users rate this game a 96/100, and consider it the best libre game available. It’s a turn-based strategy game, which is not super mainstream-friendly, but why ignore ignore the highest rated libre game?
  • Hexoshi – this game’s resemblance to Metroid makes it relatable to gamers. The game’s tight controls and solid gameplay may be a good stepping stone for people.
  • Xonotic – fulfills the need for a competitive online first-person-shooter game. This original game has a thriving community filled with friendly people who are happy to show newbies the ropes.

Further reading

Cover image is from the libre game Hexoshi.