A new company from the creators of the Godot game engine sets off for a piece of the $200 billion global video game market — and to do so, it follows a cue from commercial open source software giant Red Hat.
Godot, for the uninitiated, is a cross-platform game engine that was first released under an open source license in 2014, although its initial development predates several years. Today, Godot claims some 1,500 contributors and is considered one of the world’s best open source projects by different statistics. Godot has been used in high profile games such as the Sonic Colors: Ultimate remaster, published by Sega last year as the first major mainstream game powered by Godot. But also Tesla apparently used Godot to power some of the more graphically intensive animations in its mobile app.
One of the founders of Godot is Juan Linietskywho has served as the head of development for the Godot project for the past 13 years and who will now serve as CEO of W4 gamesa new venture that aims to take Godot to the next level.
W4 quietly left stealth last week, but today the company headquartered in Ireland released more details about its goals to grow Godot and make it accessible to a wider range of commercial applications. In addition, the company told londonbusinessblog.com it has raised $8.5 million in seed funding to realize its mission, with backers including OSS Capital; Lux Capital; Sisu Game enterprises; and – somewhat remarkably – Bob Youngthe co-founder and former CEO of Red Hat, an enterprise-focused open source company that IBM acquired in 2019 for $34 billion.
But first… what exactly is a game engine?
In simple terms, a game engine provides the basic building blocks developers need to create games, and can include everything from renderers for 2D or 3D graphics to scripting and memory management. It’s basically a software framework that developers can use and reuse without having to redesign the wheel with every new game they create.
“This allows developers to use out-of-the-box functionality common to most games when creating their own games, and only create the parts that make the game unique,” Linietsky told londonbusinessblog.com.
While many companies, especially larger game studios, develop their own engines in-house as games and their associated development processes have become more complex, third-party general-purpose game engines have become increasingly popular. This includes established companies such as Unity, developed by tech powerhouse Unity Software, which is currently in the process of merging with IronSource.
One reason a studio might use a third-party game engine is to reduce internal development costs, but a tradeoff here is that it then has to work with a massive code base over which it has limited control. And that’s why Godot has gained some fans over the years – as an open source project it gives developers a kiln-baked game engine that they can adapt and refine to their own needs, with improvements pushed back to the development community for everyone to benefit from. .
“The result is lower development costs and more freedom to innovate,” Linietsky said. “Godot brings the gaming industry the same benefits that enterprise software has enjoyed [open source software] for decades.”
The open source factor
Anyone who has even remotely considered the technology sphere over the past decade will have noticed that open source is now big business. Companies like Elastic and Cockroach Labs have built multi-billion dollar businesses thanks to open source projects, while Aiven recently received double unicorn status for a company that helps enterprises get the most out of open source technologies in cloud environments.
But Red Hatarguably remains one of the open source world’s greatest success stories, selling premium enterprise support and services for some of the world’s largest community-driven projects, from Linux to Kubernetes.
“Companies like Red Hat have proven that with the right commercial offerings on top of that, the appeal of using open source in enterprise environments is huge,” said Linietsky. “W4 plans to do the same for the gaming industry.”
It’s certainly an interesting parallel, and one that seems pretty obvious when you get a comparison like that. Linux’s open source credentials made it the leading operating system for web servers, while Android’s dominance of the mobile market share can essentially be attributed to its Linux kernel base. Elsewhere, other open source projects, such as Kubernetes, are driving enterprise adoption of microservices and container technologies.
In reality, Godot is nowhere near the kind of impact in gaming that Linux has had in the enterprise, but it’s still early days – and this is exactly where W4 could make the difference.
“We expect Godot to follow the same path in the game industry as other open source software in the company, which is slowly de facto standard,” Linietsky continued. “It is very difficult for proprietary software companies to compete with the huge talent pool that popular open source projects have, and it is unattractive for software users to give the freedom to use software as they wish to a third party.”
Moreover, having one of Red Hat’s original founders as an investor can only be construed as a major coup for a startup that is only eight months old.
“Bob is an incredible human being who helped create a whole new type of business that no one expected was possible,” Linietsky continued. “He identified the opportunity for Godot and W4 as very similar to Linux and Red Hat two decades ago, and has been very kind in sharing his wisdom with us and becoming an investor in our company.”
Support and services
W4’s core target market will be broad – targeting independent developers and small studios, as well as medium and large gaming companies. The problem it ultimately aims to solve is that while Godot is popular with hobbyists and indie developers, companies are hesitant to use the engine for commercial projects due to its inherent limitations – currently there is no easy way to get technical support, the development roadmap discuss the product or access another type of value-added service.
But perhaps more importantly, although Godot is touted as a cross-platform game engine that spans the web, mobile and desktop, it hasn’t had direct support for game consoles until now. The reason for this is that if an open source project served under a permissive MIT LicenseGodot cannot support consoles because it would not be allowed to publish the code needed to communicate with the proprietary hardware – game studios developing for consoles must sign strict nondisclosure agreements. In addition, console makers only work with registered legal entities, which Godot is not.
Simply put, Godot cannot be a community-driven open source project and support consoles at the same time. But there are ways around this, which is why W4 hopes to monetize it by offering a porting service to help developers convert their existing games into a console-compatible format.
“W4 will offer console ports to developers on very accessible terms,” said Linietsky. “Independent developers don’t have to pay upfront to publish, while for larger companies there are commercial packages with support.”
Elsewhere, W4 is developing a range of products and services it’s currently hustling, with Linietsky noting that they’ll most likely be announced at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in March in San Francisco.
“The purpose of W4 is to help developers solve problems that developers may encounter when using Godot commercially,” Linietsky added.
It is worth noting that there are already a handful of commercial companies, such as: Lone Wolf Technology and Pineapple Works, which helps developers get the most out of Godot, including console porting. But Linietsky was keen to highlight one key difference between W4 and these incumbents: its expertise.
“The main distinguishing feature of W4 is that it was created by the Godot project leadership, the individuals with the most understanding and understanding of Godot and his community,” he said.
Of Godot’s approximately 1,500 donors, 10 are more or less permanent hires, paid for through community donations. Likewise, W4’s current team of 12 is largely made up of long-standing Godot contributors, spanning eight different countries in America and Europe. This is very similar to how other companies built on an open source foundation started out, including Red Hat and WordPress.com’s parent company, Automattic, which was one of the most well-known “distributed” companies long before the revolution in the field. from remote work. along in 2020.
Indeed, distributed work is one of the key defining features of open source software development. For example, Linietsky is based in Spain, while co-founder and COO Remi Verschelde works from Denmark. The other two founders, CTO Fabio Alessandrelli and CMO Nicola Farronatooperate from different locations in Italy.
But every legal entity has to choose somewhere as his business residence. And like many other tech companies, W4 chose Dublin, Ireland as its official headquarters – although this presence is really only on paper.
“We are based in Ireland because two of the co-founders have settled there before, have relatives and are very familiar with the Irish ecosystem,” said Linietsky.