Evaluation of FOSS Video Games in Comparison to their Commercial Counterparts

Open Access
Clark, Jesse Andrew
Graduate Program:
Media Studies
Master of Arts
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
Committee Members:
  • Matthew Jackson, Thesis Advisor
  • Copyrights
  • FOSS
  • Video Games
  • Copyleft
The topic of copyrights and copyright law is a crucial component in understanding today's media landscape. The purpose for having a copyright system as outlined in the U.S. Constitution is to provide content creators with incentives to create. Copyrights allows revenue to be generated through sales of copies of works; allowing for works to be created which otherwise would not be created. Yet it is possible that not all large creative projects require the same legal framework. The so called “copyleft” movement offers an alternative to the industrial mode of cultural production. Superficially, “copylefted” works can be divided into two broad categories: artistic/creative works(which are often protected by “Creative Commons” licenses), and Free/Open Source Software. This thesis evaluates how open source video games compare to their commercial counterparts and discusses the reasons for any difference in overall quality. From this evaluation, this thesis attempts to evaluate whether copyright protection is necessary for high quality video games to be developed. This study finds that, in term of technical merit, FOSS games vary widely. The most sophisticated of these games, however, seem to be only a few years behind their commercial counterparts. A partial explanation for this disparity can be found in the fact that commercial games have significantly larger user bases, and these users contribute a large amount of value to commercial games in the form of free user modifications. This study suggests that FOSS games could be greatly benefited if they could induce more users to take part in developing modifications and levels for these games rather than for commercial games. The implication for copyright law is that, at least in some cases, strong copyright protection may not be necessary for the production of high quality video games.