ZyngaCocos2D.com Domain Registered

On May 13, 2011, in cocos2d, by Steffen Itterheim

Zynga

Appears to have hand registered the domain names ZyngaCocos.com and ZyngaCocos2D.com

It’s from a DotWeekly Discoveries post which was reported by reader indy on my last blog post Zynga and Open Source.

According to WhoIs the domain was registered by MarktMonitor, a company that protects brands and manages domains for large companies, effectively hiding who truly registered the domain. But it’s hard to imagine that anyone but Zynga would register such a domain name.

What does that tell us?

Not much at the moment. People and companies register domains all the time. However, if this domain was indeed registered by Zynga, it at least expresses intent to establish a website or even a brand labelled ZyngaCocos respectively ZyngaCocos2D.

We know that Ricardo is the trademark owner of “Cocos2D” and there has been a registration certificate issued on April 12th, 2011:

Zynga acquired “certain assets of SapusMedia”, that could mean they also acquired the trademark. If so, that means they could exert control over all ports of Cocos2D – either the developers agree to certain terms in order to continue using the trademark, or they will have to remove all trademarks of Cocos2D and rebrand their engines. Which I don’t think they’ll do because a behavior like that would create lots of negative responses and bad PR.

Rebranding Cocos2D?

Given the new domain registration, I believe it is more likely that they simply plan to re-brand Cocos2D (for iPhone) as their own: ZyngaCocos(2D).

I’m sure that some of you will immediately suspect this to become a commercial version of Cocos2D for iPhone but unless they get permission from all contributors, they can’t change the license or would have to remove the code from all contributors who don’t permit them to use their code under a new license. If they do plan to make a commercial version of Cocos2D they would have to essentially rewrite the engine. Or buy out the contributors as well. But it’s not very likely because it would be a difficult process and selling a game engine is not very lucrative – in relation to Zynga’s cash flow of course.

If it is going to be just a simple rebranding of the cocos2d-iphone engine, I’m a bit confused by what they said in the initial announcement after having hired Ricardo and Rolando. They ascertained that the cocos2d-iphone.org website and community will remain independent and administered by Ricardo as he’s done in the past. So that leads me to believe that if there’s a ZyngaCocos2D, it’ll be somehow different and independent from cocos2d-iphone. Unless that was only said to avoid a negative first reaction from the community, and to keep us in the dark.

But I find it hard to imagine that Ricardo would give up his baby only to see it slowly die or let go of it entirely. Now, if you consider Ricardo’s strong connection with cocos2d-iphone and the open source movement and his integrity, I don’t expect a commercial version but one that is open source. And I don’t expect a slowly rotting public version of the cocos2d-iphone engine either, unless ZyngaCocos2D is somehow different from cocos2d-iphone.

I’m really interested now what they’re planning to do. There’s been very little information (in fact: none) revealed about what the future of cocos2d-iphone will look like, and I don’t expect any answers (not even from Ricardo & Rolando) until Zynga make another press release. This leads me to believe there’s only two options:

  1. Something big will happen, and they want to make sure it’s going to be a big bang announcement. Eg Zynga indeed making a commitment to open source game engine development.
  2. We won’t like the news, or there really aren’t any, so they’d rather not stir up a fuzz or create false expectations.

I think I’m going with #1 for the time being while expecting the worst. What do you think is going to happen?

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Zynga and Open Source

On May 12, 2011, in cocos2d, by Steffen Itterheim

I did a little research to figure out more about Zynga’s involvements in open source projects. The research is not comprehensive nor conclusive but provides a little more insight. At least as much as is possible from a corporation with PR departments.

Membase

Membase is a NoSQL database.

This article reports on Zynga’s involvement as follows:

Casual-game provider Zynga found that its efforts to manage the load of its database operations dovetailed with work being done at NorthScale and NHN and decided to contribute research findings and to the open-source community, as well as sponsoring continuing efforts to maintain and enhance the software.

Sponsoring efforts to maintain and enhance. Sponsoring means there’s money or manpower going into the project. Zynga looks forward to advancing Cocos2D. Notice the difference.

Another article on the same subject quotes Zynga’s CTO Cadir Lee:

“Zynga’s objective was simple: we needed a database that could keep up with the challenging demands of our games while minimizing our average, fully-loaded cost per database operation — including capital equipment, management costs and developer productivity. We evaluated many NoSQL database technologies but all fell short of our stringent requirements. Our membase development efforts dovetailed with work being done at NorthScale and NHN and we’re delighted to contribute our code to the open source community and to sponsor continuing efforts to maintain and enhance the software.”

All except one project on Zynga’s github repository are related to Membase: moxi (forked from membase), zstored, mcmux and pecl-memcached.

In an interview, the Zynga country manager for India Shan Kadavil, refers to Moxi:

Our developers have been involved in various open source projects, including development of open source tools to bug fixes. An example is the Moxi project–when we were looking at scaling our infrastructure, we needed a technology that could help us scale horizontally, add new Web servers as when needed without being bottlenecked at the storage layer. Having examined and scrutinised all the proprietary options, we looked towards open source and found the Moxi project, which worked like a load balancer for the caching layer. We helped scale the Moxi project specifically by adding modifications to handle large cloud computing environments.

This statement did make me wonder what those other open source projects are that Zynga has been involved in? It’s hard to find anything because submitting a code change rarely causes a press release to be issued.

FontLabel

The FontLabel project was released as open source by Zynga. It enables you to render any truetype (ttf) font on the iPhone, not just the built-in fonts provided by Apple. It’s not to be confused with bitmap-font rendering, instead it behaves like UIFont but allows you to use non-system fonts.

FontLabel was added to cocos2d-iphone in September 2009.

To be honest, FontLabel is not the kind of project that would have stopped the world from spinning. But it’s a kind of project that benefits from many developers using, and thus testing it. So making it open source makes sense.

Others OS projects?

It’s hard to find references of Zynga contributing to open source projects, because usually there won’t be a press release issued when a coder submits a fix to a more or less obscure open source project.

I was only aware of one other OS project, that was FontLabel which was actually started by Zynga. If you know an open source project that Zynga contributed to and that I missed, please mention it in a comment, thank you!

But if that is the entire involvement Zynga has with Open Source, then it doesn’t give me the impression that they’re open-source friendly. They support it when it makes sense, for PR, for free beta-testing, or if they need open source technology and want to play nice. In that regard they are no different than any other big company.

Zynga’s view on Open Source

The interview with Zynga’s country manager for India published over a year ago provides some clues.

We think of open source as a movement and not as a particular project. The success of the projects using open source is possible only when multiple people contribute and when the industry endorses them.

Which means that without industry support (read: finances, manpower, marketing) open source projects can not be successful. At least not by their definition of success.

The next statement makes one hopeful:

We have multiple models to involve the community. We have had members from the open source projects work commercially for us to build a platform or tool for us. To that end, we gave the entire output back to the community.

This is practically identical to hiring Ricardo and Rolando. However, I think this statement refers more to contracting agreements rather than employment.

I suspect that Ricardo and Rolando were already working as contractors for Zynga for the past months. From Ricardo’s commits to the cocos2d-iphone project over the past months I always wondered what kind of secret project he was working on. To me the commits looked like by-products of a different, bigger projects. Some commit phases included many smaller changes, not something that you’ll spend your entire day working on.

Before actually moving from continent to continent you almost certainly have to have worked together in some way or another, if only just to get to know each other. So I can imagine something already being developed in secret on a contract basis. The question is, if this is true, what it is and when or if we’ll be seeing it.

The statement following the last one:

Second model is the non-commercial model that involves us getting into open source threads, sharing ideas and work collaboratively with the community with our code fixes.

Ok, so that “model” is basically what any developer does at some point in time. Making code fixes is definitely the easiest way to get something contributed to an open source project, and we all share ideas and collaborate (speak: posting in forums). That sentence made me laugh. Because you can’t really call it a model – it’s what we all do.

How Zynga Germany came to be

By chance I came across another acquisition Zynga made in September 2010. They bought german startup Dextrose (at the time located less than 20 km from where I live) to get ahold of their Aves HTML5 engine and have them become Zynga Germany. Paul Bakaus is co-founder of Dextrose and a jQuery core team member (jQuery UI creator), and now CTO of Zynga Germany.

The interesting aspect here is the Aves engine. It was supposed to be licensed as middleware to other game developers and publishers. But after Zynga’s acquisition it became a proprietary engine and won’t be licensed. All websites of Dextrose and Aves as well as their social networking accounts have since been removed, and Zynga Germany relocated by 80 km to Frankfurt/Main: the city with one of Europe’s busiest airports and many direct flights to overseas. Obviously to make Zynga Germany more accessible for corporate.

Have a look what the engine is capable of and you’ll understand why Zynga had to have it. And why they wanted no one else to have it.

Meaning?

I don’t want to read too much into this, but I’m skeptical. For most corporations, doing good for the community is just not in their program – except of course their PR department. I haven’t found any indication that Zynga is any different. Although they like to be the “google of games”, they’re a far cry from google when it comes to open source projects it seems.

It’s clear that hiring Ricardo and Rolando is providing value for Zynga first and foremost. If it were any other way, the two would not be moving to San Francisco but would be working on a contract basis. Zynga could not possibly buy cocos2d-iphone, so they simply “acquired” the next best thing, which means hiring its key contributors. The cocos2d-iphone project remains untouched, but I worry the emphasis is on remains.

On the other hand, Zynga apparently registered the domain ZyngaCocos2D.com … so maybe there do have bigger plans for cocos2d-iphone?

I assume you’ve heard the news: Zynga hired the cocos2d-iphone lead developer, Ricardo Quesada.

I’d like to try and shed some lights on the open questions that arose. Of course this is my opinion and speculative, so take it with a grain of salt.

What does “acquisition of certain assets of Sapus Media” mean?

Sapus Media products have been bought by Zynga.

In fact, Sapus Tongue Source Code and LevelSVG are no longer for sale. All “buy” links have been removed and all references on the cocos2d-iphone.org store too.

These products may be gone for good, or they may be released for free as a concession to the Cocos2D community.

Why did Zynga buy these products?

Buy-out.

It’s the cash carrot of the deal. Generally you can expect to receive somewhere around 2 years worth of revenue from a software product as buyout price. Whether Zynga wants or uses the products is irrelevant. It’s the price they paid in order to hire Ricardo and Rolando.

It’s common to bring in new employees by acquiring their legal assets. This keeps the new employees focused on the company’s interests rather than their own, and they no longer have to spend time maintaining and supporting their products. After all, they should focus all their efforts on their new job.

It’s also insurance for the company. By removing in the buy-out what once provided the daily income, the new employees are less likely to leave and more loyal to the company.

Did Zynga also acquire cocos2d-iphone?

I don’t think so.

The cocos2d-iphone engine is a product of Sapus Media. It may be a free and open source project, but legally speaking it has always been an asset of Sapus Media. This means that the copyright of all the cocos2d-iphone.org source code originating from Ricardo or Rolando could have been transferred to Zynga if it was part of the acquisition.

But I think it’s more likely that cocos2d-iphone was merely separated (legally speaking) from SapusMedia, making it an independent project which is owned by those who contributed to it.

The fact that you can still donate to cocos2d-iphone seems to validate this. If cocos2d-iphone were entirely Zynga’s now, I’d expect the donate button to have been removed as well. It would be bad PR for Zynga to take donations from the community for a project that they own.

Why can we still donate to cocos2d-iphone?

Likely to cover running costs.

Zynga did not acquire the cocos2d-iphone.org website and its assets (eg the website design, technology and content). That means donations don’t go to Zynga, and may be used to cover the website’s running costs.

It might also mean that it’s an incentive to keep working on the cocos2d-iphone project, like so many other open source project’s donate buttons.

Whether donations are even necessary, and how much money is needed, we don’t know. Unless there’s more transparency regarding expenses I wouldn’t feel comfortable donating at this point.

Cocos2D Podcast #3: Tools for Cocos2D

On May 10, 2011, in cocos2d, podcast, by Steffen Itterheim

I almost forgot over the Zynga & Cocos2D news today that the next episode of the Cocos2D Podcast went live. It’s all about Cocos2D tools this time.

Cocos2D Podcast #3: Tools for Cocos2D

Cocos2D Podcast on iTunes

By the way, if I haven’t mentioned this in the Podcast I wanted to let you know that one of the new book chapters added to the second edition of my Cocos2D book will be introducing three of the new tools that came out after the first edition of Learn Cocos2D was written. Namely those will be TexturePacker, Glyph Designer and PhysicsEditor.

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Zynga hires Ricardo Quesada, Cocos2D Lead Developer

On May 9, 2011, in cocos2d, by Steffen Itterheim

This is hot off the press. According to Gamesbeat, Zynga has hired Ricardo Quesada (lead developer of cocos2d-iphone) and bought “certain assets of Sapus Media”. An official blog post by Zynga validates this news.

The community site cocos2d-iphone.org will continue to be run independently. Cocos2D users are discussing the move in a thread called “cocos2d is now Zynga’s?” on the cocos2d-iphone.org forum.

Apparently the deal includes a relocation of Ricardo from Argentina to San Francisco, according to Reuters: “Under the agreement, the developers, Ricardo Quesada from Argentina, and Rolando Abarca from Chile, will work at Zynga’s San Francisco office.”

The first response from Ricardo does not add anything to the news.

Cocos2D will remain free IMHO

I don’t expect a commercial version of cocos2d-iphone to appear considering that cocos2d-iphone grew mainly because it was free and open source, and also considering that Zynga is a game developer, not a game engine company. It does not make sense to assume Zynga wants to make money off the engine, that’s not the market they are active in.

I doubt that the “little money” you can make with game engines plays any role in the decision for Zynga, whose games are significantly more profitable than any commercial game engine, or possibly all of them combined.

The wording in Zynga’s official blog post leaves little doubt that cocos2d-iphone will see no change except that the developers are now being paid by Zynga to work on the engine. Whether we’ll see all of the future developments to be published with the open source version however is a valid question.

Better tools?

Hopefully we’ll see better support for 3rd party tools, or just as good: really awesome 1st party tools. I think that the latter is hinted at in the blog post, where it says “Ricardo and Rolando focused on developing professional tools for mobile game developers”.

I haven’t seen any of those professional tools yet, and the statement is not referring to the Cocos2D engine itself. If they mean the Sapus Media products however, then that could simply be a regular marketing overstatement. I don’t think they meant the Sapus Media products though, they’re not what developers would consider to be “tools” per se.

Ricardo said over half a year ago that the Mac OS X port will allow him to work on a “cocos2d world editor”. Although that’s the last we heard of it, I’m sure it has been in development, and could possibly have already been in use by Zynga or it’s development sponsored by Zynga. That is speculation but I wouldn’t be surprised if either or both of that were true.

However, in the Reuters report Zynga’s Chief Technology Officer Cadir Lee said that “We will be paying them to continue to develop the platform, as well as work on tools for Zynga, to make sure we can leverage the (platform) in the best way possible”.

This does raise the question whether the tools developed will remain Zynga’s in-house tools and won’t be released to the public. After all, it would be in Zynga’s interest not to give other competing game developers targeting the iOS mobile platform and using cocos2d, like ngmoco or Atari, the same tools for free.

Trademark Ownership?

Cocos2D is a registered trademark in the USA. Thus far, other developers have been allowed to create open source game engines based on Cocos2D’s design philosophy to use the Cocos2D name in their projects, but only if the project is and remains free and open source. The question here is if Zynga now owns the trademark and whether this policy will change.

Congratulations, I guess

I think Congratulations are in order for Ricardo’s personal and professional future. Working for a big company like Zynga will surely provide lots of new and positive experiences, and hopefully as little negative ones as is possible for someone who used to work on his own terms.

For the cocos2d engine and community as a whole, I’m not going to congratulate just yet. I first like to have an idea what this acquisition brings about for the Cocos2D users and supporters. I worry that future developments of Cocos2D will be geared towards Zynga’s requirements, which may not align with what the Cocos2D users want or need. Or a significant portion of the work might remain proprietary, leaving Cocos2D to be supported as a “after-work-hours” open-source project with correspondingly slow progress.

What about you?

What changes this move will bring remains to be seen. What do you expect, worry and hope?

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Learn Cocos2D Book 2nd Edition Started

On May 5, 2011, in book, by Steffen Itterheim

Today, after several delays I finally got around to start updating the Learn Cocos2D book to its second edition. The second edition is due to be published in summer, likely in July/August.

I decided I’ll easy myself into it and start by updating the first chapter. There’s no code and relatively little to change. The biggest addition here is the list of popular Cocos2D game engines I wanted to add. Here’s a screenshot of the comparison table I added:

Note: the link to cocos2d should have been http://www.cocos2d.org

The list doesn’t include all of the cocos2d ports, just those that are mature, stable and relatively up-to-date. I also completely removed the paragraph about Section 3.3.1 because that topic fortunately is no longer an issue.

Errata Corrigata

Next I started to go through all of the 108 erratas that were posted on the Apress site. If you’re interested, here’s the errata list as xlsx or as csv file with emails and names of reporters removed.

I knew that there were duplicates but I didn’t expect over 50% of the errata to focus on only two things: the mixed up images 3-1 and 3-2 was by far the most often reported errata. Following that were two packs of spider variables either not being declared or not being initialized in chapter 4. Those led to compile errors in one case and non-dropping spiders in the other – if you were typing in the code straight from the book.

After I had removed all duplicates I was left with 28 unique and usable errata items that I’m going to look into, and 14 of those I was able to fix today.

Once I’m done with those I’ll be going through the painstaking process of updating no less than 72 Xcode projects from cocos2d v0.99.3 to v0.99.5 to cocos2d v1.0. Or maybe I’ll just wait a couple more days for the final v1.0.

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iTileMaps: TMX Tilemap Editor for iPad

On May 3, 2011, in tools, by Steffen Itterheim

iTileMaps developed by Vsevolod Klementjev is a Cocos2D app for iPad that allows you to edit tilemaps in the TMX format, the same format used by the popular Tiled Map Editor.

Although built with Cocos2D the tilemaps created with iTileMaps can be used with any game engine that supports loading the TMX format. To get ahold of the tilemaps created with iTileMaps you can export them directly to your game or send them via e-mail. Great for designing levels on the road!

Check out this fast-forward movie to see it in action:

Check out the iTileMaps website and/or get it on the iTunes App Store.

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Extended Line-Drawing Easter Sale

On April 27, 2011, in Marketing, by Steffen Itterheim

I’ve been told that some of you won’t be able to purchase the Line-Drawing Starterkit during the 50% Easter Bunny special sales period if it ends as planned on April 27th (today). I extended the 50% off coupon code event during Easter until May 3rd, so that you’ve had time to cash in your paycheck and/or return from your Easter holiday vacation.

Check the Line-Drawing Starterkit product page for the coupon code. It’s (almost) impossible to miss.

PS:

Seriously, what kind of game developer are you if you’re going on a holiday vacation? For a whole week! Aren’t you supposed to be working yourself to death trying to finish that Quadruple-A game in time for Xmas? And this year you’re really, really going to finish it – not like the previous two years? It says so in your contract.

Sheesh, the kids these days. No idea what working hard means … 😀

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