Every piece of software I make has been Open Source (under the GPL) for quite some time now (most of it was, previously, Closed Source)… because I like Open Source. But there is a problem that I am trying to figure out how to solve. And I could use your input. Here it is in a nutshell:
When my software was Closed Source, and development was funded in the old-school way of selling copies, updates were pretty frequent (typically multiple version updates per month). The proceeds from the sales went directly into funding dedicated development time. And that worked out fairly well. Not 100% ideal, but the software moved forward at a good clip.
Now that the software is Open Source, we’re looking at less than $200 per month in donations. Effectively making it so I can only afford to spend, say, a few hours on the software per month. Which is barely enough to test a build and package it for release (and certainly isn’t enough to develop any new features worth noting).
So, in a nutshell, development coming from me has all but stopped (out of necessity).
But I opted to leave the software as Open Source in the hopes that others would dive in and help push things forward by contributing time and energy.
Unfortunately that hasn’t happened. One rather cool dude helped out with some packaging for various Linux distros. But, really, that’s about it. In fact, nobody has even expressed interest in doing active development on any of these projects.
And now the downloads have actually dropped off as well. Significantly. Let’s look at what the change is like visually.
This accounts for the total number of downloads for all of my software (games, dev tools, everything). Worth noting:
1) When Closed Source (and sold as “Shareware”), the downloads are quite good.
2) When Open Source (and made available completely free of charge), the downloads drop to roughly 1/30th of what they were when Closed Source.
3) Interestingly, downloads for Linux versions took the biggest hit (dropping to, roughly, 1/50th of what they where when the software was “Closed”).
Monthly revenue also took a pretty dramatic hit. Here’s what we can take away from these numbers:
1) When Closed Source (and “Shareware”) the sales were large enough to fund full time, dedicated development.
2) When Open Source, the funding (primarily via donations) dropped to, I kid you not, just a hair over 2 percent of what the average monthly sales were when Closed Source. 2. Percent.
Now, I can certainly see the logic in the revenue drop. The software is now available free of charge — thus taking away the incentive to actually pitch in money. What I don’t understand is the significant drop in downloads. Perhaps there is a psychological effect at play there.
So, the question is, what do I do about it?
If I let the software sit as Open Source, as I am right now, it will stagnate completely.
I suppose I could attempt, yet another, method of funding Open Source… but that is feeling like a bit of a lost cause, to be honest. I love Open Source. Love it. I could cuddle with it all night long. But there aren’t exactly a lot of success stories about how small, indie devs can earn a living with Open Source without becoming a part of a larger corporation (that is, often, funded by either Closed Source sales or enterprise level support contracts — neither of which make any sense at all for the software I built).
I could always return the software to a Closed Source license for future revisions. This would, at least, provide the revenue necessary to fund actual development — that funding could be used to hire folks to work on it (either part or full time). But then… it won’t be Open Source.
It’s a difficult problem. One that I don’t see a clear-cut solution for.
The plus side for me is that I am not reliant on software sales (and/or donations) to make my living at this point in my life (writing fills that need nowadays). Which takes the stress off. But, just the same, I’d hate to see this software — which, at least when it was Closed Source, was in use by tens of thousands of people — fade away. I made this software because I, personally, wanted it. And it would bum me out to see it die off.
So… what to do? What would you do in order to ensure that this sort of indie software continues to be regularly updated? If you’ve got ideas, I’m all ears. Let me know on G+, Twitter, email, etc… links are on the right.
[There's already a good discussion going on G+ about this if you'd like to join in...]