Nonfree DRM'd Games on GNU/Linux: Good or Bad?
by Richard Stallman
A well known company, Valve, that distributes nonfree computer games
with Digital Restrictions Management, recently announced it would
distribute these games for GNU/Linux. What good and bad effects can
I suppose that availability of popular nonfree programs on
GNU/Linux can boost adoption of the system. However, the aim of GNU
goes beyond “success”; its purpose is
freedom to the users . Thus, the larger question is how this
development affects users' freedom.
The problem with these games
is not that they are
commercial. (We see nothing wrong with that.) It
is not that the developers
sell copies; that's not wrong either. The problem is that the
games contain software that is
(free in the sense of freedom, of course).
Nonfree game programs (like other nonfree programs) are unethical
because they deny freedom to their users. (Game art is a different
issue, because it isn't software.) If you want freedom, one requisite
for it is not having or running nonfree programs on your computer.
That much is clear.
However, if you're going to use these games, you're better off using
them on GNU/Linux rather than on Microsoft Windows. At least you avoid
the harm to your freedom that Windows
Thus, in direct practical terms, this development can do both harm
and good. It might encourage GNU/Linux users to install these games,
and it might encourage users of the games to replace Windows with
GNU/Linux. My guess is that the direct good effect will be bigger than
the direct harm. But there is also an indirect effect: what does the
use of these games teach people in our community?
Any GNU/Linux distro that comes with software to offer these games
will teach users that the point is not freedom. Nonfree software in GNU/Linux
distros already works against the goal of freedom. Adding these
games to a distro would augment that effect.
Free software is a matter of freedom, not price. A free game need
not be gratis. It is feasible to develop free games commercially,
while respecting your freedom to change the software you use.
Since the art in the game is not software, it does not need to be
free. There is in fact free game software developed by companies, as
well as free games developed noncommercially by volunteers.
Crowdfunding development will only get easier.
But if we suppose that it is not feasible in the current
situation to develop a certain
kind of free game — what would follow then? There's no good in
writing it as a nonfree game. To have freedom in your computing,
requires rejecting nonfree software, pure and simple.
You as a freedom-lover won't use the nonfree game if it exists, so
you won't lose anything if it does not exist.
If you want to promote the cause of freedom in computing, please
take care not to talk about the availability of these games on
GNU/Linux as support for our cause. Instead you could tell people
about the libre games
wiki that attempts to catalog free
games, the Free Game
Dev Forum, and the LibrePlanet Gaming
free gaming night.