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i have an unreleased product i believe to be of great commercial value due to its algorithms. in the future, i intend to do four things in this order:

  1. release the source of the software to customers without conveying any freedoms.
  2. release the source of the software publicly without conveying any freedoms.
  3. relicense the software so that other people's derivative works may be published without restriction.
  4. relicense the software so that other people's derivative works may be sold without restriction.

the software is a video game and the valuable algorithms involve original work on AI. i looked over patent and trade secret law and concluded that patenting the algorithms would only stifle quality derivative works in patent-relevant jurisdictions, while doing nothing against ripoffs like the many Minecraft competitors in existence. (however, it seems that Minecraft has not lost many sales to any game but Terraria.)

there are historical cases of these four liberations on this page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_commercial_video_games_with_available_source_code. i looked through these briefly and concluded that none of these are games that were selling well at the time they were open-sourced and open-licensed, so they do not answer the question "how much will open-sourcing hurt the height of sales for a product?".

  • About your 3. and 4. steps: Should this just apply to derivatives of your work, or also to your unmodified work? – unor Jan 19 '18 at 22:43
  • @unor the difference seems miniscule. is it not true that 'derivative' status may involve trivial changes? – ambidot Jan 20 '18 at 6:21
  • Exactly, just wanted to make sure that you’re aware of this. If you were to only allow derivatives, it wouldn’t be open source (and it wouldn’t be on-topic here). – unor Jan 20 '18 at 19:08
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It is impossible to answer the question of how much your sales will be impacted by making the source of your game available.

However, there are a number of consequences that can be linked to the steps you intend to make.

  1. Making the source code available, even without any freedoms, means that competitors can easily reconstruct your innovative algorithms and re-implement them in their own games. This reconstruction can be done without violating your copyrights, even if you don't give away any freedoms, by doing a "cleanroom implementation".
  2. Many people have the mistaken idea that if they have access to the source code, that they also have the right to modify it and publish their changes. Unless you have a way to verify that the recipients of the source code understand what the can and can not do with the code, publishing source code without open-source freedoms is an economically hazardous operation, because you will be constantly fighting against illegal copies.
  3. Making commercial software open-source means that you effectively can no longer make money by charging an X amount for each copy of the software, but you have to think of other ways of making money. If your game uses a central server for (part of) its operation, you could think about monthly fees.

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