A few weeks ago, LEX developer Simple Machine took the unusual step of making the code for it open-source, thereby enabling anyone with the knowledge to manipulate the code in whatever manner they wished.
At the time Kurt Bieg, CEO of Simple Machine, explained their reasoning in doing so: “we believe ownership is becoming obsolete, this is our way of inspiring young and old people to read, learn, and ultimately manipulate code that came from a studio known for taking chances and innovating puzzle games.”
A few weeks into making LEX open-source, and given the rarity of this occurring, we thought we’d take the time to follow up with Kurt and see how things have progressed.
One such outcome was this:
Simple Machine’s ‘dream outcome’ according to Kurt, with coder Bill Kendrick having played LEX then used the source code to create a variant for the 8-bit Atari system.
“We don’t have any quantifiable numbers on how many people read it or anything, but this made it real for us. The first point to point cause and effect. Now we just have to buy an Atari for the office so we can play it,” explained Kurt.
Enlightening us on their motivations, Kurt told us about Chupamobile: a site where you can buy game code, press publish, and effectively make money with little effort.
“I was horrified at first, then I showed some of the team, and one person, Anne Peng, our community manager at the time who has since moved on, actually thought it was a good thing. Insta-curious.
“The team ended up having an hour long discussion about the depths of open sourcing our code or not. We talked about the Threes/2048 controversy, the 1982 Pac-man/K.C. Munchkin court case, and overall where everything in this whole crazy planet is heading.”
Kurt went on to compare the situation to the Napster/Metallica issues of early 2000s. “We are moving towards an ownerless society, and the current “clone craze” in games is a path where the lines between who owns what are visibly blurring. What you have is an amazing new way for games to be distributed, where the code is available for everyone to read and learn from. Not everyone has the best intentions, that’s for sure, but we feel like it’s very parallel to the Napster/Metallica issues of early 2000s. Here we have a band that grew to popularity by people copying their songs on blank tapes off the radio, only to sue their fans for the very same behavior a couple decades later. In my view, we’ve been moving towards this sharable culture for quite some time, only now do we have the technology where it has become mainstream.”
Kurt felt particularly invigorated by their decision when a vote of confidence came in the form of Elon Musk of Tesla opening up their patents to the public, suggesting that Simple Machine are onto the right idea when it comes to shareable culture.
One significant issue, however, is the financial aspect of open sourcing. How is Simple Machine planning to stay financially solvent if their code is available to everyone?
Kurt explained, “The answer is, we don’t have an answer yet. We believe that Simple Machine is about being a window to new ideas. With each game we try innovate in some unexplored area, like The Outcast for instance. Open source has huge benefits for everyone involved. I can’t say that we’ve seen any profit lost from doing it. I can say that our hearts are warm after seeing some one interpret LEX and demake it for Atari. You could maybe draw a line and say that open sourcing has connected us directly to more fans and that our reputation has grown in a new direction.
“Overall, we’re happy some people are finding inspiration from our code and that it makes the overall developer/customer experience more than just a money transaction. It’s a bit more of a two way street, and that’s our ultimate goal.”
It’s certainly ambitious and ultimately very positive and selfless of the folks at Simple Machine. It’ll be fascinating to see how things turn out in the long term for them and, of course, we’ll be keeping an eye on their progress and future titles.
Thanks to Kurt Bieg for taking the time to answer our questions. LEX is available now from the App Store, priced at $0.99.