Seven years ago WTactics began as an open source cardgame project with networking and parallel dev. teams in mind, each team spawning it’s own rulesest, all of us with collaboration and shared art assets in mind for the card art. The goal was to create a customizable card game that would play and look professional, and that was open source and free. Today we’re proud to declare that there is at least one playable card game game around as a result of that starting point, arcmage.org, and another coming along this year, gaia.li, both fully featured customizable card games in the tradition of Magic: The Gathering.
We have in different regards come both a long way and also nowhere at all during all these years. The original card game projects are under their way, with separate sites and developers. In addition to that, two other games (saga & tinytactics) in other genres for different target groups have also been created and released for playtesting to the world. They also stay true to our goals – looking great, offering interesting gameplay, being open source and given to all of you for free.
As WTactics served it’s initial purpose as far as it could reach we are now at a point where we wish to reform the site into something that is true it’s origins – something that is still aiming for the future development of more great board and cardgames that are truly free and open source. Games that are created by the players, for the players, and where the game creators and licenseholders empower their communities by giving the games to the world, allowing it to revise and further develop them.
free as in liberty: open source
2011 there were 31 million open source projects, spanning 2 billion lines of code, and forty-eight per cent of these projects are under the GPL, according to the Register that cite Google numbers. The amount of open source projects has been growing exponentially. Mårten Mickos, formerly CEO of MySQL at Sun, writes the following when he ponders on the question “How many people in the world actively participate in open source software projects?”
…my guess would be that there is a million (or a few) who have ever produced open source code or a patch, on the order of ten million who have actively participated in some other way, and perhaps one hundred million who have knowingly used or deployed open source software. As for how many end-users there are who have used open source software, the answer is easy: anyone who has ever been on the internet. That’s billions.
The guesstimations seem to be conservative, keeping the numbers realistic even for the skeptics out there. Open source also seems to be able to make people a profit, if it’s not mistakenly for a business model, which it isn’t: Red Hat had a revenue of about 2 billion us dollars the past year, mainly from service geared towards open source software. While a crushing majority of all open source projects won’t ever earn a single euro (because of failure of release, bad product, bad business model or bad marketing, or perhaps because they never tried to earn money to begin with…), the case with Red Hat and many other successful open source projects show that it is indeed fully possible, albeit not an automagically self-happening prophecy, to make a profit from open source.
free as in no price: gratis
The computer gaming industry has had it’s markets flooded with two very different things that are easily mistaken as one and the same at a first glance by the average end user: 1) The freemium games, and 2) the free to play games. To make things even more confusing the freemium games also usually tend to use false or misguiding marketing, presenting themselves as “free to play”, which is blatantly false compared to the truly free to play games, as will be examplified below.
Freemium games are games that are filled with various costs, often micro transactions, that, when unlocked and paid for, makes the game less of a demo and more of an actual game in the best case scenario. Even then they are of dubious quality compared to full featured games out there (pay once, get it all, play forever). The games are full of mechanics and designs that are there not because they enrich the game somehow, but because they try to lure a player into becoming a customer. For example, design a hard boss fight, and sell 50 x HP potions for 1€, or pay 2€ to unlock the ability to play unlimited amounts of turns per day instead of just x per day. All these limitations and so called “functions of optional convenience” are there just to milk the player. Freemium games are inherently a bad practice because they have bad design built into the game on purpose. Due to that general decision and main purpose of the licenseholders to opt in for that particular business model, they also tend to have a very shallow design. Hence freemium game are just conventional demos reshaped to the worse in an era of microtransactions.
Free to play games are in contrast to freemium games the games where you get the whole game and all of it’s features for free. Yes, truly for free. A free to play game shouldn’t be mistaken for a “free to try” nor a “free to play parts of”. Free to play games don’t ever charge a single cent for anything that they hold back from you as a player in order for you to play on the same terms as every other player, and in order for you to get the full gaming experience. Dota2 with it’s 13 million unique players is perhaps the most striking example of a successful free to play game, both in terms of revenue for Valve, and also in terms of active players and the sheer size of it’s community. In Dota2 you can’t buy a single advantage in game even if you want to pay 10 millions. What is for sale are pure vanity items, cosmetic stuff, pixels, that make the heroes look different, but that have zero game impact in terms of advantages, mechanics and stats. Valve earned about $18 million every month of Dota2, a free to play game, according to Venturebeat. That was back in 2015. Today the Dota2 playerbase is larger. The prize pot in the yearly championship tournament was a over 20 million us dollars 2016. If that’s the prize money, one may only speculate to what the actual profits are behind the scenes.
entrylevels, playing & wisdom
The worlds of free to play games and open source are many times intertwined: While a free to play game don’t have to be open source by necessity, many open source games are indeed traditionally free to play. Both the free to play games and the open source world have proven that it is possible to make a profit, should one hold that as a goal.
For most boardgame developers all of this may seem to be irrelevant, as the success stories of companies with hundreds of professionals and starting capital in totally different markets where something that is immaterial is distributed on a trendy digital platform can’t be directly transferred to what it would mean to succeed in the world of board- or cardgames. While it is correct that it isn’t replicapable, there are still a lot of things to learn and be inspired of from the success stories in the open source world and free distribution models. Wisdoms, principles and models which are yet to be explored to their full extent by the indie card- and boardgame developers.
Free to play and open source are conventionally associated to their immaterial forms and the virtually cost less reproduction of the projects: Once you have invested in a computer and pay your electricity and internet bills, you pay with additional time (and what you miss out during that) for every free to play game you engage in. It doesn’t require new bills to be paid, or new gear, granted you meet the requirements. When it comes to boardgames there are always some kind of costs involved for the player in the creation of the material game, be it paper and ink, gems, or wooden meeplets, if the boardgame developer hands out the game in a do-it-yourself-version. Even in the cases where you order a physical copy of the game from the developer you still have to get the package and wait for it some weeks, compared with buying games digitally online and getting instant gratification.
Furthermore, the playing of boardgames also requires you to be physically present in the same room as the final requirement – somebody else to play with, there, and at that exact time. Again, compare this with multiplayer online. Board games also need to be administered manually, and the rules have to be learned, in contrast to how digital games are administered and handle the rules for you. This all means that it is indeed a much steeper curve to facilitate a sessions of boardgaming, than it is to do the same within the realms of digital gaming. Put in other words – smartly coded computer games, even digital versions of boardgames, do away with much of the stuff that we would have to do ourselves, and let us focus on just the fun parts – playing.
Hence, boardgaming in real life requires more of the players than most digital games do seen from the perspectives described above. The entry curve, as well as the curve for the situation of “sit down and lets play now” to occur at all, are both higher in comparison with most digital games. Sufficient to say, this also means that the people that do choose to play card and boardgames, are often also individuals with an interest for it and that they are prepared and capable of overcoming and meeting the requirements in place to partake in a boardgame session. This in return suggest that they are capable of putting together do-it-yourself games, or place an order from someone that has done it for them already.
future: beyond PnP
We believe that the world already has a fair share of infrastructure and meeting grounds for digital open source developers. We are happy the the open source communities are around and we are firm believers and supports of the free culture movement. We are, and were long before this project, ourselves part of those movements as coders, activists or happy end-users. What we miss is an open source initiative and organized movement among the card- and boardgame developers in the world. There is a long tradition of indie developers releasing their boardgames as print-and-play on the net, but a vast majority copyright their games in such ways that they undermine all the benefits which open source bring.
We think that we as indie card- and boardgame developers have a lot to gain from following the open source guidelines. That we have much to gain by collaborating as developers, sharing knowledge, sharing our resources, playtesting and having healthy discussions. By uniting, instead of competing.
That is why we at WTactics are reforming into becoming a meeting place for developers that are interested in creating open source card or boardgames. A meeting place for developers that also don’t mind sharing their creations with the world for free, and that believe that a profit isn’t central to their work or at least that it can be made by selling something else than the core game itself.
At the same time we also hope to attract all the dedicated card- and boardgame players out there that are interested in do-it-yourself games or the indie scene. Lastly, we also hope to enable the players that want to become a part of a an open source community around a game to get in touch with the developers that appreciate such a contact with his/her fanbase, to facilitate the meeting between players and developers so they can meet and the players can support, contribute to and develop the game further, or maybe even bring their own interesting versions to the world.
We hope we will be able to achieve this over time. As the internet is already a deeply fragmented place and it is many times hard for us as developers to gain a following or reach out to the world with our creations, we believe that there should be a common ground where we may all meet up, where we know we can find other like minded developers with interesting projects, and where we know that the players will come looking.
That place is us, in a future near you.