Partners Push Open Source Model for Video Games

A deal between CollabNet and Indrema will push the use of the Linux operating system into previously uncharted territory -- that of open-source gaming and open-source multimedia standards. While neither company would release financial details of the partnership, both cited sufficient interest from serious gamers and big name game makers and voiced hopes of eventually competing with the likes of proprietary players Sony, Nintendo, and Sega.

Following a series of agreements with Sun Microsystems, Oracle and others, CollabNet will provide the platform and a series of tools to help developers collaborate on game production.

In the case of Indrema, the San Francisco-based company hopes to give smaller players a chance to succeed in the highly competitive video game market, in addition to facilitating a development process that could decrease time to market and reduce the number of bugs in the games.

CollabNet, which includes Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen on its board of directors, recently concluded its second round of financing and managed to attract cash from investors including Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Intel Capital, Niku, Novell, Opus360, Oracle, Sun, and TurboLinux.

Bernie Mills, vice president of marketing for CollabNet, has said that his company's approach gives partners access to a platform for developing software, a marketplace for the distribution of the code, and consulting services to help bring the finished product to market.

"The mission of the company is transforming the software economy," Mills said.

For Indrema, CollabNet will take its SourceCast software development platform and work on creation of a game production community. The platform allows network collaboration on software projects permitting people throughout the world to work on the same project, make changes to the code and maintain the confidentiality of the effort.

On the Indrema side of the things, the San Francisco-based home entertainment company will sell a console that enables users to download games from the Indrema website and then play them on the company's own multimedia machine.

A spring 2001 target date has been set for the availability of the first model of the console which is planned to contain -- in addition to a controller and the video game playing capabilities -- a DVD player, MP3 jukebox, and both an Ethernet and dial-up port. The unit is projected to be initially priced at around US$299.

The company expects to sell less than 500,000 of the consoles to serious gamers rather than mass market users by the first half of next year. John Gildred, chief executive officer for Indrema, said that he expects widespread consumer use of the product as the open-sourced approach to gaming catches on and as the console moves toward the high-end with Personal TV available and a more robust DVD player.

"The current console is focused at the core gamer," Gildred said, "They want the latest functionality."

Initial deals have already been made with some of the major players in the game making industry, Gildred said -- with at least 30 titles ready upon the completed launch of the site. Shortly thereafter, Gildred expects a fair number of gamers to make available their own titles via the CollabNet project.

Users and developers will have the choice between paying for titles and acquiring some for free. The user goes to the Indrema site, downloads a game and then has the title of the game registered to the console. Whether or not the user needs to pay for the game depends on if the manufacturer seeks to make profit. For groups trying to make a name for themselves, a game may be available at no charge with the hopes that publicity could lead to future sales.

If the user chooses, the registration code of the game can be released to another console which gives a user at another location a chance to try out the game. Only one person at a time, however, can play the game.

One industry observer noted that, "the Indrema model is a radical plan." He said that game makers must make different sets of code for the same game in order to have it play on all of the competing consoles. It takes a team of developers considerable time to create the varying codes, and the quality of games tends to fluctuate between the proprietary systems. The Indrema model, he said, will work if the large game manufactures can be convinced to jump on board with a relatively unknown player.

Gildred, however, feels that the unique qualities of his machine along with the already expressed interest should make the project a success.

"The big guys see the potential," Gildred said, "They are willing to take a chance."

For CollabNet, the open -sourced approach seems to be leading the company in directions never previously expected. The company agreed that enthusiasts will probably be the first to express interest in this type of project but does not fear that a lack of immediate success would do much harm. CollabNet's Mills said that his company wants to make an early jump into markets that others have yet to consider fully.

In the past, the company has announced deals with its investors that showed interest in moving toward the open-soucre market. HP, Sun, and Oracle all came to CollabNet's aid in second round funding. Announcements with other investors, including Dell, Novell and Intel, are expected in the near future, said the company.

The target date for the co-branded game developing site has been set for October 1.

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Ashlee Vance

PC World

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