Open Source/Freeware Wargames--A Future Trend?

Will wargaming migrate from Desktop Publishing (DTP) to true Freeware/Open Source designs? We see this with VALOR & VICTORY, a squad-level WWII tactical ground combat system that's been out on the internet since 2008. I have no idea how many people have played the game or built their own game sets from the PDFs on the website. But I like the idea of collaborative wargame design, development, and playtesting. Is this a future trend?

I don't know how many of you are LINUX devotees; I've been somewhat hesitant to dip my toes in that particular direction, although I am sorely tempted. I will confess to have downloaded Sun Microsystems OPEN OFFICE onto my PC and my iMac and feel like I never need to have MicroSoft Office again. Freeware. Open Source code. Many have hailed that as the future of computing. Its devotees border on the zealous--certainly the advantages are clear if you are willing to overcome some mental hurdles. I don't know--I've had Open Office for over a year and never had a problem with it. Or felt the need to tinker with it. I just enjoy using a free word processing, spreadsheet, and graphics package (haven't explored the other applications on it yet).

Certainly the VASL and now VASSAL "map cabal," CYBERBOARD aficionados, and other online gaming support folks are going in this direction. We all benefit from it, certainly. The question is, are we going to see the same thing happen in the design and development of games, much as we see with VALOR & VICTORY? Could this be the tip of a looming iceberg? What might this mean for traditional game publishers?

Some may run the other way from this. For me, I think it should be embraced. I imagine companies working out a deal with the authors of V&V to make professionally printed components for the game for those who don't want to print and assemble their own. Those of us who have seen what Tom Cundiff has done for variant counters in his OLD SOLDIERS magazine know what the art of the possible could be. Imagine "print on demand" components for VALOR & VICTORY. I'd be tempted to put in an order.

What do you think? Could this be a future direction for wargaming? If so, why? What would get people interested in it/excited by it? If not, why not?


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Comment by Pelle Nilsson on April 26, 2010 at 2:41pm
There is an important difference between Freeware and Open Source worth mentioning here. The difference is often refered to as the difference between "free beer" and "free speech".

Freeware is free as in free beer. V&V is in this category. You can download without having to pay anything, but that's it.

Open Source is free in many more ways. When you download something that is open source you are also allowed to make modifications and redistribute the game in original or modified form. There are no (or few) limits on how the game can be used (including commercially).

I think the latter can be the key to a very interesting future for wargames, including wargame publishers. Spreading out development effort on many companies and player groups, having sets of free series rules that anyone can improve on and reuse (even commercially), sounds like a much more effective way to do develop rules in a niche market like wargaming. There could also be reuse of graphics, like on http://www.opengameart.org.

Open source computer wargames probably would make even more sense. There are very few and small companies in the business of wargame development these days anyway. They seem to rely quite heavily on large groups of players working for free producing high quality scenarios, "mods" and other add ons for the games to keep them alive... Would make perfect sense to just short-circuit the game companies and for the players to make the game engine as well. Or the game companies could stay in control of the free source code, but make money from selling high-quality scenario packs etc (sort of how Matrix Games makes money from Steel Panthers while still giving the core game away for free (free as in beer that is, without source code)).

The iPad is a bit of a dead end though, considering Apple controls it. No open source there. But we'll see plenty of clones soon, and many will probably run Android or some other more free OS, and then there will be open source wargames. I know that almost for a fact since I have some code written already. ;)
Comment by Eric Walters on February 16, 2010 at 8:07pm
Found another one--free solitaire squad-level wargame online--this one is Sci-Fi. Entitled SPACE INFANTRY, you get the basic set plus an additional module of a new enemy type. Check it out!
Comment by Kazunori Iriya on February 12, 2010 at 10:30pm
Hi Eric,

> The question is, are we going to see the same thing happen in the design and development of games

Yes, I guess so. I am supporting some of open source/freeware projects for PC and am wondering whether it can be possible to expand to those who are involved in the design and development of war games in the front in pledging or whatever. Recently non-package distribution is getting more popular and anyone can distribute over the net, so I believe a number of such game development projects will increase in the few years. iPad-like device might be one of driving forces.
Comment by Defense Linguistics on February 9, 2010 at 4:42am
I've recently printed and built "To the Last Man." I was able to play the game and get an idea of its look and feel beforehand thanks to BGG and Cyberboard. It's an excellent game, one well worth the bother.

I _hope_ it is just by unfortunate accident that it didn't get picked up by a publisher, but then again maybe it is time to submit designs like this to a production middleman specialized in game. I think game publishers risk becoming irrelevant to the hobby very soon. R&D, marketing, and even design, can be effectively outsourced. Few people are in the hobby for the money. Fewer still make any.
Comment by Jim Werbaneth on February 8, 2010 at 9:26pm
I'd love to see more open source work, but I'm especially thinking of computer games. That would allow not just designers, but the developers, to look "under the hood" to see what makes a good game work. Even if that education is taken to commercial games with out open source's transparency, I think it would make for better products.
Comment by John Kranz on February 8, 2010 at 9:19pm
What I think will be coolest about the concept is the use of touch displays to pick up and move counters, etc. and swipe the display with a finger to quickly scroll and view the map. All this while having a live chat window or audio option to talk to the player at the other end. Of course most of this is already possible today, but I'm more interested to see what this experience will be like on a mobile device and/or large tv-like unit.
Comment by John Kranz on February 8, 2010 at 9:16pm
I have a feeling I'm going to be doing some sort of live, hot seat playing on an iPad-like device within the next few years...should be interesting.

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