Depression, crowdfunding and open source emulators
First, a nice story
I have been around in the emulation / open source communities for some time. I spent my early teenage years playing with epsxe and Project64. Soon I joined the emudev club with chip 8 and gameboy. My favorite console was Dreamcast - I could not afford to buy one growing up. I spent tons of hours on the local computer shop playing the demo discs. Inspired by project such as Icarus (DC) and pcsx2 (ps2) I decided it was time to switch focus to Dreamcast myself. After fooling around for some time, I met ZeZu and PsyMan in #emudev and nullDC was born in the following months. We did our first release in 2007. We always loved to share the source with friends and other emulator developers, and eventually the project went open source in 2010. A few years later, Reicast evolved as a reincarnation of nullDC, with a slightly different team.
Makes for a good story, no?
The truth is however more complicated. I intensely contributed to nullDC during my late teenage years, often hacking for days without sleep. As I was busy doing “important stuff” I failed university exams. Twice. I gained unhealthy amounts weight that I still struggle with. By my late teenage years, paying for expenses was becoming harder. I further cut down on socializing. I avoided distractions such as parties and friends to focus on what is important. Open source communities often have a fear/hate relationship with economic transactions, so I didn’t see a way to make an income from this kind of work. I didn’t see a reason to. As I further slid into depression, doing anything seemed impossible. The open source release of nullDC was me admitting I can’t take this any more. I needed help.I decided that I deserved to be happy.
I started attending a pretty bad technical university. I started making friends again. I got a gastric band surgery to help me lose weight. I got into the psp scene, porting nullDC over. I resumed my freelance work. I opened a facebook account. I met my first girlfriend. I got a driving license and brought a cheap motorbike. I had my first breakup. I started a freelance company. I released reicast, and kept lightly working on it for some time. I started travelling again. Greece was really collapsing at that point and I decided I didn’t want to go down with the ship. I met some nice swiss guys in the colab of Athens (now bankrupt) and they helped me relocate to Zurich. That was two years ago.
People often assume that projects magically “appear”. That they are entitled to have them for free. Developing costs. Costs in time, costs in resources. A senior developer costs around 150K to 200K euro/year in Zurich. A manager usually costs more. A project needs both to be managed, and developed.
A year ago I was out of my contract and touring Europe (Amsterdam is a pretty nice play to live!). At that point I was toying with the idea of crowdfunding reicast and using that as my primary income stream. I was thinking that projects, especially open source ones, need to be well funded. Developers deserve to have a healthy, happy life. Just like everyone else. At that point NVidia snatched me up for a pretty interesting gig and I had to put all those thoughts to rest. It felt weird to work for a big corp aka the evil guys as seen from open source. Curiosity and a guy named Gav won me over. After working in Switzerland for some time I started to doubt that all companies are evil. I do still have my own freelance company and I don’t think I’m evil myself, after all.
Now, more than ever I’m thinking of crowdfunding. I have been reading a lot of interesting articles. Open source funds are starting to appear. And I feel like enrolling for university to study economics, history and public administration. Which could translate to having some spare time to work on open source projects again.
Last time I did the calculations we’d need 80K-120K Euro to run reicast for a year. That’s nowhere near enough to assemble a good team and run it with fair salaries, but most open source developers (myself included) are fine to work for less than fair wages. For now at least. And we can tap on the community for help in many ways. I’ll be gauging interest at 33C3 in December and we’ll see where it goes from there. I also need to decide on project governance and structure questions, as well as figure out efficient taxation.
Reicast has an active userbase of 100K-200K people. To reach our target, we need everyone to donate at least one euro. That is highly unlikely though. The average donation on Kickstarter is around 20 euro. We need ~ 4000 backers to get there. Looks plausible to me.
Plus, there are other, more popular projects that I am familiar with and are in need of development, such as an android port of pcsx2.
What say you?
Is it possible to develop public projects in a sustainable way? Am I just daydreaming? Is the world a horrible place where people only deserve to suffer?