id’s Todd Hollenshead has told Eurogamer that they will no longer be licensing out their tech, starting with id Tech 5, for third-party developers. Unless their game is published by Bethesda. While it’s perhaps not unusual for a publisher to hold onto their own tech, it seems a long way from id’s past to keep their new middleware to themselves. The company has a rich history of not only licensing out their engines, but then releasing them as free software after a few years. However, this change comes after the company was bought by ZeniMax, owners of Bethesda, in 2009.
Hollenshead told Eurogamer,
“It’s going to be used within ZeniMax, so we’re not going to license it to external parties. It’s like, look, this is a competitive advantage and we want to keep it within games we publish – not necessarily exclusively to id or id titles, but if you’re going to make a game with id Tech 5 then it needs to be published by Bethesda, which I think is a fair thing.”
It seems like perhaps an ideological shift for a company that went to great lengths to license their current tech, and make their older technology available for both modders and developers, as free software. Although, of course their not licensing now doesn’t mean they won’t share in the future. But this does still seem to demonstrate a change in attitude. When I spoke to id’s John Carmack for PC Gamer in July 2008, before their acquisition, about their releasing their previous tech as free software, he told me:
“Well that’s really been my pet thing since the very beginning. For a long time it was very much the rest of the company shrugging, throwing up their hands, saying, ‘Well, John wants to do this, so I guess we’ll do this.’ But I was really happy several years ago when Kevin Cloud, one of my old partners, finally came up and said, ‘You know, that probably all was a good idea.’ Everybody had the doom scenarios of, ‘Oh, that’s helping our competitors, they’ll take things, it’ll make it easier for them to compete with us in the future.’ And I really don’t think there was any of that. The people that are our competition, they’re smart enough to do things on their own. So I do think it wound up being a purely positive thing.”
While it make look as though Carmack’s comments contradict Hollenshead’s regarding competitors, Carmack was of course talking about their previous tech – letting the competitors have access to the source code to see how it was made – while Hollenshead is talking about the current tech.
It of course also means there’s to be none of the exciting creativity that’s resulted from the popularity of Epic’s Unreal 3 engine. We won’t be seeing any Make Something id Tech 5 competitions, for instance. It seems a real shame to lose out on all that potential. And an odd choice by ZeniMax who will be losing out on all those piles of licensing money.
Does this change anything for the release of Doom 3 code? Presumably since it was developed before the company was with ZeniMax (which always sounds like it should be big pharma to me), id will retain control over it. And it was certainly Carmack’s plan to release it if he could. The quote continues,
“There are so many cases of people who learned programming like that, or worked on doctoral theses based on that, or used that as resumes to get into the industry, or just created wonderful things. I am very happy that several other companies have done similar things with their source code. If anything it’s getting a little bit more challenging these days, as the budgets of the titles get larger, everything consolidates under larger corporate headings, and you get the lawyers involved, there is a lot more worry about what if somebody said, ‘You infringed on our patent, and here’s proof. You owe us a whole ton of money.’ But I can say it’s almost certain we will wind up releasing the entire Doom 3 code base once Rage ships. So unless I’m somehow forced to abandon the practise, it will continue.”