Let’s get Ron Gilbert on our side

Let’s get Ron Gilbert on our side

Ron Gilbert can’t find any support for his new game project. Who’s to blame? Well, Gilbert cites unimaginative publishers who are too short-sighted to appreciate his concept. Perhaps it’s time that Gilbert considered the alternative to proprietary game development. Perhaps it’s time we offered him this alternative.

Ron Gilbert is easily one of the world’s best game designers. His classic Monkey Island series defined the “Lucas Arts-style” graphical adventure game, with its intuitive interface, witty humor, memorable characters, and clever puzzles. Gilbert is also known for the earlier Lucas Arts game Maniac Mansion, which has attained a significant enough cult following to warrant an excellent fan-made remake. (Don’t look for it now, though—Lucas Fan, the development company, succumbed to legal threats from LucasArts and disinherited their wonderful series of remakes).

Considering he calls himself Grumpy Gamer, you’d imagine Gilbert to be less-than-content with the industry that brought him fame. After all, anyone wanting to play his games today is likely using SCUMMVM, a virtual machine licensed under the GPL (I’m surprised LucasArts hasn’t shut them down as well). Terry mentioned SCUMMVM in his great game post and even confessed that it was his favorite genre!

Would Gilbert’s new game be an opportunity for FOSS? I’m not sure what Gilbert’s standard arrangement is with publishers, but I assume he gets an advance and royalties. My guess is that he’d be fine with the GPL licensing as long as he felt he was properly compensated for his efforts. Perhaps the equivalent of this for FOSS development would be an upfront sum and some kind of donations structure. Perhaps one of the larger FOSS companies could step forward here and scoop up this gold nugget. At any rate, though, I’m sure that a Ron Gilbert original running exclusively on GNU/Linux could be a defining moment for the platform. There are droves of people I know personally who would install the free operating system if it were the only way they could play Gilbert’s new game.

If nothing else, a Gilbert exclusive would be a “trophy” for FOSS and a chance to do something really fun for GNU and the community. Plus, if the project were a success, it might lead other “disenfranchised” designers like Gilbert to the movement. Here’s a thought: Let’s act on this.



Terry Hancock's picture

It can't really be a 'trophy' of GNU/Linux if it is free software, because it'll get ported to other platforms.

What you're proposing is a "collective patronage" agreement, not unlike the "Elephant's Dream" presale concept. We need better tools for doing that -- this is basically what my Narya Bazaar concept was all about doing (too bad I haven't done anymore on it :-( ).

Matt Barton's picture

Yes, tht's precisely the kind of arrangement I had in mind, Terry. I'm a bit curious about your tools comment. Are you talking about software tools or some sort of legal apparatus? What kind of tools do you think would make this easier? I'd love to hear more of your opinion on this.

Terry Hancock's picture

I'm talking about software: financial protocols. Whenever you inject money into a situation, you have to start thinking about everyone's motivations, and you have to come up with a model that does what you need without introducing loopholes and scams into the mix. That's pretty tricky, because there's always somebody trying to figure out how to scam whatever system you come up with.

I feel that better tools are needed, and (in my linked article) I described one possible protocol to solve a particular kind of problem that occurs with free hardware (essentially, how do you get prototypes or production models built once you have a design?). This has many different levels of coarseness -- in some situations, such as electronic design, the components and engineering methods are so well understood that you can actually design a whole circuit board on the computer with nothing but simulations to check your design, and then just send it off to be built.

Most engineering is not so clear cut, though: it's iterative, and you have to spend a lot of money on building prototypes and doing experiments. That money has to come from somewhere, so in a free-licensed design situation, it's a problem. Most of the traditional ways of solving the problem (such as having up-front business or government financing) shoot the supports out from under the bazaar development strategy, and the whole thing collapses. You're right back in the conventional "cathedral" development model.

However, I don't think this is inevitable. I just think we need smarter protocols that make savvier choices about how to take advantage of this new kind of marketplace and development model.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I love that question from the interview.

Oh, God, I hope he does manage to save innovation. He deserves it.


- http://kroms.blogspot.com/

Author information

Matt Barton's picture


Matt Barton is an English professor at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. He is an advocate of free software, wikis, and the Creative Commons. He also studies and writes about videogames and computing history. Matt also has blogs at Armchair Arcade, Gameology, and Kairosnews.