Help needed: MA on open-source game development

Help needed: MA on open-source game development

Postby XGhost » 15 Sep 2020, 13:41

Hi there

My name is Julian Schönbächler, I'm a programmer and professional game designer from Switzerland working at Koboldgames, a small Swiss game studio. I am currently doing my Master's degree in Game Design at the University of the Arts in Zurich and I would kindly ask for your help. I hope I am posting this in the right place, as it would be great for me to reach a fair bit of the community.

TL;DR - In my research work for my MA thesis I focus on open-source game development, its structure and hierarchy as well as the motivation of the people involved in the project. I try to explore how game design processes function on games that are developed in the open and how collaboration on a project might serve an educational purpose. If you got 10min on your hands to fill out a survey on this topic, I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you! To the survey...


I believe I first came into contact with open-source games in my early secondary school days, when I was searching for free games on the internet to play on our old and slow Mac computer. SuperTuxKart is one of the games that still has a special place in my heart. To this day, it is a free and open-source game that receives a good portion of attention and is in active development. The open-source gaming community was also the place where I took my first steps in my game design career. An environment that provides you with free access to source code and assets, techniques and tutorials. One that actively encourages people to become contributors and joining a community. For me that was the best insight into how game development works and all the aspects it consists of I could ever get. Eventually, even though not really intended, years later I found my way back to the art of design and did my studies in the field of game design.
I am still lurking around in many of the open-source communities I once actively contributed to and maybe I will have time at hand to become more engaged in some of them. But over my whole engineering journey free and open-source software along with its development played a big role in my personal growth.

Now back to topic. Design and development of open-source games looks different compared to how it is generally done in the industry. Note that I would like to differentiate between game design and game development. While game development is often used as an umbrella term for all the specialized fields that the creation of a video game requires, design however is focusing onto the ruleset and mechanics as well as the balancing and the motivation design. The open-source games community as I experienced it is often more driven by the development aspect. Combined with other differences e.g. of having no fixed deadlines or compulsory feature requests, the design process is quite interesting and unique. The feedback loop tends to be more direct, the community as a collective can drive a project and participate in shaping the result.
Besides, actively developing on a game project in the open is a whole different experience. The motivation on working on a project in your spare time can range from fun-seeking to the eager of learning new things. I want to explore this kind of development deeper and maybe shape the future of free and open-source game development a little by giving back some design knowledge I have learned back into the communities (eh, every student dreams big, right?).

So for now, I am in the need of data. Because researching something I only halfway understand will not work here. That is why I prepared a survey with questions about your personal experience with open-source game development, the projects you are involved in and the hierarchical structures under which they are developed. It consists of:
  • Basic demographic questions
  • Questions about your education and background
  • Your open-source engagement
  • Experienced project structures and hierarchies
  • Your personal involvement in open-source game projects

I would be very happy if some of you could take the time (around 10-15 minutes) to fill it out as your experience and knowledge is extremely important. It does not matter if you are one of the projects core developer or a member of the community who mainly contributes to discussions. Consider yourself involved as part of the game project and answer the questions as best as you can, any perspective is relevant. Thank you so much in advance!
You can find the survey here: https://survey.julian-s.ch/limesurvey/index.php/918477

The survey software used is FOSS (LimeSurvey) and self-hosted on my personal webspace. Participation in the survey is completely anonymous, answers are encrypted and no personal data will be permanently stored in the database. At the end of July 2021, all the data will be cleared and analysis and results published under the GPLv3. The survey ends on the 15. October 2020.

That is all from me for now,
Cheers
Julian


Additional note to the @moderators: If possible and of course agreed upon, it would be fantastic if you could pin this topic also to the featured open-source game projects here. :heart:
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Re: Help needed: MA on open-source game development

Postby smcameron » 15 Sep 2020, 17:10

On this question: "On which communication channels do you most interact with the community of the projects?"
You have "mailing list" as an option, but not just plain old email. So I put "other" (but there's no way to explain what that means.) People still use plain old email, you know.

Eh, well I tried to fill it out, but at some point the survey crashed. Maybe it took too long for me to answer. Oh well.
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Re: Help needed: MA on open-source game development

Postby smcameron » 15 Sep 2020, 17:10

On this question: "On which communication channels do you most interact with the community of the projects?"
You have "mailing list" as an option, but not just plain old email. So I put "other" (but there's no way to explain what that means.) People still use plain old email, you know.

Eh, well I tried to fill it out, but at some point the survey crashed. Maybe it took too long for me to answer. Oh well.

That being said, I'm not sure what you hope to learn from all this. I can tell you how it typically goes, esp. for small to medium sized projects. Most of the time there is ONE PERSON that does most of the programming work. It's rare to find one guy that can do programming, art, music and sound effects though, so often the art, music, and sound effects will be done by other people or with the help of a few other people. Usually a small number will do the majority of it. Then, there will be a few people will contribute some content to the game in the form of "level designs" if the game has such a concept. The more popular the game, the more of this type of contribution there will be. Then, there will be a long tail of "drive by" contributions, where some random person finds one, or two, or a few very small bug fixes or improvements to contribute, and then disappears never to be seen again.

Peculiar to open source games, as opposed to more "work related" open source projects, you have what I call the "not my baby" problem. If someone is capable of working on an open source game in a significant way, why would they contribute to another person's project ("baby") instead of just working on their own project which they can drive in exactly the way they wish? Very often the answer is "no reason", and so they start their own instead of finding one to contribute to. In my own projects, the only times I've had a significantly large fraction of the project done by someone else were in cases where a knew the person in real life beforehand, and interacted with them frequently and we would help each other out with projects when it was fun and interesting to do so. Other contributions from people on the internet who I don't know, while adding significant value that I am grateful for, are very small in terms of the total volume of work.

I have only very rarely contributed to other's game projects, and then only very small things. For much of my professional (non-game dev related) career, I contributed more than trivially to a few open source projects because it was either part of my job to do exactly that (linux device driver stuff), or I contributed to projects that I used directly in my work (e.g. CVS in ancient times, or fio).

You can dig around on github under "Insights" / "Contributors" for various projects and get some nice data e.g.: https://github.com/smcameron/space-nerd ... ntributors to get some idea how the volume work is distributed among contributors (though I think it's counting commits per contributor, so if someone is making many small commits and another person is making a few huge commits it can possibly be misleading, though I don't know how likely such patterns are.) In any case, poking around a few projects and scrolling through the graphs will reveal the common pattern of few people doing the lion's share of work followed by a long tail of small contributions.
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Re: Help needed: MA on open-source game development

Postby XGhost » 15 Sep 2020, 21:05

I can't disagree with your points, they are really accurate and the typical scenario you describe here is already well-known. What I like to do here is nonetheless comparing the results with data from other sources. You mentioned the repository statistics of git projects for example, that could be one option. There are of course other data sources and scientific papers that did field studies in a similar area.
One interesting thing I see here, is the fact that there is always a difference between the personally perceived project structure in the community and the amount of work or support actually contributed by the individuals. In the evaluation process I will eventually see which parts of my approach and research are flawed and why. Worst case, I'll learn something on the way. But I have to start somewhere to better understand these different dynamics. And some critique along the way will teach me and keep me grounded. It's nice to be in a spot where I can learn from people here with more experience than I currently have.

Other points that concern my research.
  • Active open-source game projects keep on having communities that stick with the development of the project over many years. Even if not contributing physically/artistically by developing code or assets, these people contribute socially. Providing feedback and are often crucial to the motivation of the few that carry the project. Something not seen when dumping repository statistics.
  • Sometimes your actual contribution to a project is minimal, but your learnings you take out of it are huge. Project leaders or core teams of open-source projects are probably not always aware of how deeply their project and work directed the educational path of allegedly insignificant community members.
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