Life-note: Going to GDC, looking for meetings

In addition to my intended post this week, I wanted to throw in an important note.

And if you actually got that, we should totally meet. I have no idea what the Tank or Healer is, but I am probably both those guys?

LFM DPS to GDC! Got key!

I will be going to San Fransisco (which, as a note, is literally half a world away) to talk about, show and play Cloudbuilt. So, let’s babble a bit to justify this as a “Life Note”. It’s the first time to the Americas, I’ve been looking forward to going to GDC for years now and… yeah. It’ll be great.

But I don’t run a blog to talk about my life (I’ll save that for my retirement, if the world cares… hah, who am I kidding, this is the Internet!), and I don’t post this just to express happiness. I want to reach out for finding meetings. I would love chatting with press, of course: Being a small indie studio, making news is our best option. We make news only by having a cool game. And do we have a cool game! Which of course is super-subjective, and I of anybody have some kind of self-interest to claim so; but, honestly, having played the game for months I still find it fun to try new challenges and revised levels. But, hey, don’t take my word for it (especially in these days of preview controversy); let’s meet up and have you play!

We’re working on a new trailer, which is likely to be a lot better than that half-a-year-old-from-Alpha thing you’ve seen so far. We’ve also made – and let me finish this sentence – collage level using bits and pieces of actual levels without spoiling the fun of those actual levels. So… game! Play! Yay!

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On Pre-orders

Rawr!
In the wake of the release of Aliens: Colonial Marines, the debate about previews re-surfaced. Total Halibut made a 20-minite case for why previews are anti-consumer and generally hurts the industry. Jim Sterling of the Jimquisition made a very verbal case, as well, calling profilic developers “liars”. A colleague linked the latter, whereon I decided to write a post about it. Not having thought as much about this topic in advance as I did for last week’s Violence in Video Games, I had to do some research. And I found this is kind of a thorny topic, but one well worth investigating.

After these two videos, surely we can claim lock-in previewing a bad game on false premises is a problem. Let’s begin by finding the source of  and, rather than focus on what the gaming press or consumers can do to solve it, which Halibut and Jim seems to have done so well, let’s focus on what the games business can do itself.

Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are my own, and not necessarily those of Coilworks as a whole. I may have a voice, but I’m just one voice. I will not dictate what we think, but will hold open discussions with the the team as a whole.

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Finally, Breakthrough

Maybe they should call themselved "Cirkus starter"?

Cloudbuilt got announced last week, and this picture, used as Rock Paper Shotgun’s header image, turned a small story into a big circus. Click to reach their story.

Wow, what a week!

Last weekend, we at Coilworks uploaded an announcement trailer for our game Cloudbuilt. A colleague expressed an expectaton of at least 500 views, which I found optimistic. We had worked hard on the promotion for Ovelia: The Wake, reaching just a few hundred, so how would we reach that when most videos on youtube reach next to no-one? Oh, how wrong we turned out to be.

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Initial Thoughts on Second-hand Sales Rulings

The European Court was recently requested by the German federal court to answer the following questions (shortened for readability, full quotes can be found through sources liked at the bottom):

1.      Is the person who can rely on exhaustion of the right to distribute a copy of a computer program a “lawful acquirer”?

2.      If ‘yes’: is the right to distribute a copy of a computer program exhausted […] when the acquirer has made the copy with the rightholder’s consent by downloading the program from the internet onto a data carrier?

3.      If 2 is “yes”: can a person who has acquired a “used” software licence for generating a program copy as “lawful acquirer” […] also rely on exhaustion of the right to distribute the copy of the computer program made by the first acquirer with the rightholder’s consent by downloading the program from the internet onto a data carrier if the first acquirer has erased his program copy or no longer uses it?

In which the reply was (again, in shortened form):

1.     … the right of distribution of a copy of a computer program is exhausted if the copyright holder who has authorised … a right to use that copy for an unlimited period.

2.      … in the event of the resale of a user licence entailing the resale of a copy of a computer program downloaded from the copyright holder’s website, […] the second acquirer of the licence, as well as any subsequent acquirer of it, will be able to rely on the exhaustion of the distribution right […] , and hence be regarded as lawful acquirers of a copy of a computer program […] and benefit from the right of reproduction provided for in that provision.

In other words, they deem a sold digital copy as being legal, although note this isn’t a legislating decision as much as an answer to the german federal court.

Rock Paper Shotgun – whom shall a huge thanks for finding this, spreading it and being a generally awesome site to read – then spins this as “all distribution sites nowmust allow re-selling”. This is based on the paragraph of the ruling’s press release, which writes:

Under that directive, the first sale in the EU of a copy of a computer program by the copyright holder or with his consent exhausts the right of distribution of that copy in the EU. A rightholder who has marketed a copy in the territory of a Member State of the EU thus loses the right to rely on his monopoly of exploitation in order to oppose the resale of that copy. In the present case, Oracle claims that the principle of exhaustion laid down by the directive does not apply to user licences for computer programs downloaded from the internet.

Which sounds as going a bit contrary to what the ruling above say. If we take the most central line of this phrase, “A rightholder who has marketed a copy in the territory of a Member State of the EU thus loses the right to rely on his monopoly of exploitation in order to oppose the resale of that copy“, and read it in a very literal sense,  doesn’t mean they are forced to allow re-sales. It means they can’t actively oppose owners to re-sale. This may sound like making a double-negation for argument’s sake, but it’s really worlds apart. Rather than “everyone is able to re-sell their games super-easy now!”, it means “if you make it through the hazzle of sending the copy, recieving the money and removing your copy (otherwise it’s copying), they can’t stop you”.

In any case – given that consumer pressure, or demand, makes sites like Origin or Steam open the gates for gamers to re-sell, what would this mean for gamers and for the business?

The gamer may see only up-sides to this, at least initially. The physical stores have long made a fortune re-selling copies early and at a cheap price, meaning gamers may see reduced prices even on digital games. However, with the ecosystem of regular mega-sales and price-points going down as far as to 5 dollars/euro, you could ask if the demand would be the same for second-hand small games.

For the indie game developer, this could be anything from a slight inconvenience to a major problem, depending on the game you’ve got going. A free-to-play service or a game with loads of replay value may not take too much damage. A short-but-sweet single player game, however, will have to do some major convincing to hinder people from getting a nickle back of their dime (for others to save, what, 2 bucks?). On their side is the image of being the small underdog. As long as the indies as a group and the developer as itself can maintain the feeling of true-to-it’s-soul artist, they are way better of than…

… the big players. Who are likely to have the biggest problem with this, money-wise. They may be more financially secure, and have spread their risks more, but a major investment into a PC game is about to be a hard sell again for single-player pay-up-front games. Especially if they only hold, or are designed for, one play-through. As if the pirates weren’t enough.

Luckily, an ability to re-sell digital games could mean somewhat less piracy. Attempts have been made for years now from various media businesses to “stop” pirates, but that’s been as effective as stopping water from pouring in to a boat with a leakage. As people smarter than me have already said, piracy is a problem with a lack of proper options – as consumers and digital natives, we want stuff easy, fast and preferably cheap or even free. If you get us caring, however, we can pay a lot. That’s pretty much why free-to-play work while Collector’s Editions also does. And being able to buy a game super-cheap, and be able to sell it on from there could make it very cheap to try a game out you’re not sure about.

I pretty much started writing this as Coilwork’s Skype channel got ablaze with discussion. They were, to understate thing, worried. I think they – and anyone else worrying – can relax. You should really take this change into consideration when finding your business model for a game, but it’s not the End Of The World. It could actually be a change for the better!

By the way, for the last year I’ve become increasingly politically active and concious about it. I don’t want to write two separate blogs, though, and this blog isn’t as active as I want (besides, “[my name] on game design” sounds arrogant and cheesy as hell). So I guess this is as good a time as any to merge this “game design” blog with my old Oh-so-insanely inactive politics blog. The two topics are very much alike, in my opinion – but that’s a matter for another post.

And, in case any reader wonders, it’ll be leaned towards liberalism, feminism (in the “free people of both genders from our own oppression”-style) and, to some degree, (secular) humanism.

Source: http://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2012-07/cp120094en.pdf (via http://www.rockpapershotgun.com) – full source at http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=124564&pageIndex=0&doclang=EN&mode=req&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=2613954

A rightholder who has marketed a copy in the territory of a Member State of the EU thus loses the right to rely on his monopoly of exploitation in order to oppose the resale of that copy

E3 – what it is, and what gamers want it to be

My old university pal, and newly-become level designer at Coilworks, had prepared. With a pal, he’d bought energy drinks, pop corn and potato chips to survive a long night of E3 pre-conference briefings. They were both very prepped up for it – their excitement was notable – as they awaited the first conference…

At the university game dev club, a few-year-old tradition of gathering for the briefings was about to take place. Like how Swedes gathered (and, to some degree, still gather) around the television at 3 PM every Christmas Eve for Disney cartoons, these 20-odd gamers gathered to follow their Cristmas…

They were expecting cool new games. Sequels to long-hibernated series of old and a lot of entertaining quotes to shake things up. They were excited about this like kids are excited about Christmas.

When I left said level designer today, after the media briefings were over, they were very dissapointed. Almost a bit crushed. The briefings hadn’t been like they expected at all. Rather than getting the presents they wished for, they got all of those things you know you should thank for but really didn’t want in the first place. Like games that weren’t for them. Or the obvious cynical follow-up to last-year’s hit (and every other year the past 10 years, at that).

They had checked their gamer forum, I had followed my tweet feeds, and we were all very much on the same track – this wasn’t what we looked forward to, or had expected.

Which leads me to ask – why is it that these conferences fail to entertain year after year? I’ve been watching the 3-5 E3 pre-conference briefings for three years straight, and the only magical thing was the reveal of “Natal” with “Milo” (which the company later renamed and cancelled, respectively).

Who are they really targeting? It can’t be the games media, because judging twitter (where I’ve started follow as many games journalists as I can), they weren’t too impressed. It can’t be the gamers, because we already know they want state-of-the-art production values and gameplay depth rather than minigames or exercise games. And it’s not likely the investor’s either, because they already attend the quarterly and yearly financial presentations. Could it be “mainsteam” media (if there’s such a word?), who they want to send a good face? Then why are the highlights (beginning and end) often super-violent stuff?

Big wigs, please – do make the presentations into amazing spectacles and cut the act (like “playing” the pre-recorded videos and read-off-a-prompt-because-I-never-learned-the-script). The ones watching your briefing streamed are your core consumers, and they want a Christmas with everything they wished for. Even if you can’t deliver, at least give the impression you do. The broad market will catch on later – you’ll market it until their ears bleed, anyway.

Thinking: What is a video game?

When doing these “thinking”-posts, it’s usually about a thought that just arrived in my head and which I have to print down quickly. This one has gnawed on my head for awhile – education kind of does that to you. For those finding this via Google, this won’t be a definition rather than an exploration. This piece will cover what the game, in itself, is, and sometimes touch what the medium is, but I don’t intend to cover what play is or what gaming is.

A video game, as far as I’ve been thinking, is in a position in the middle of a Venn-diagram of four areas: Games, Culture, Technology and Business. I’ll explain them in that order, even though they all affect each another. Read more of this post

Thinking: File-sharing and selling

It was way too long since last time I wrote, so it’s getting time to write again. I’m in the middle of something like four parallel school-projects at the time, so that’s one important reason I haven’t written as much as I should have to consider this thing “active”. Anyway, I thought I’d bang my head a bit on a really hard nut to crack: File-sharing, specifically the illegal branch of it, and how it can be dealt with. Note that I’m making a stand saying “deal with”, and another by not using the word “Piracy”. I’ll come to why later on.

So, File-sharing, or – as this text will focus on – the illegal file-sharing not followed by payment to the creator. It is very accepted among those I know of, and seems to be fairly accepted on the ‘net, as well. So it will probably, in some twisted way, be controversial of me to argue against it. And I risk breaking the radio-silence I’ve preferred to move around in with this blog (to keep expectations and problems away). But, as I want to do this for a living in the future, it will be vital you can make some money on development. And then you get to the question “how do we deal with the file-sharing”.

I think the answer must be found asking “why do people share files illegally?”, rather then “how do people share files?” followed by comments that should lead to “how do you make people stop voluntarily?” rather then “how do we make them stop?”. I don’t think that most of us suddenly turned into cold-blooded thieves for the sake of taking stuff. There should be, must be, other reasons as well, so I’ve been trying to find some, and then see if there’s counter-measures.

One reason is “I want to know if the game is good”. You could think demos are for this stuff, but we all know Demos are just to make the game look good, not giving an accurate picture. Often, one of the better missions in the middle-early game is taken which is not very complex but still not a tutorial. I ask – why? Wouldn’t just sending three or so of the early missions both give an introduction, give an accurate picture *and* make the game look good? And, as for multiplayer, let people play with each other and full-game users, but only something like one map. Give the complete picture while yet give a reason to buy the full game should be the mantra, not just the second half of it.

Another argument tends to be “it’s cheaper” or “the real product is too expensive”. And they’ll be right. Games are too expensive. But why don’t the prices lower? Because those in the other end of the piggy-bank thinks that’ll give as many buyers but less income. I’m having a feeling a lower price would instead make the game more affordable, and perhaps win over some of the people of this group. But that pretty much requires a *large* group of the potential buyers takes it from the ‘net, or the reduced price per unit won’t justify the difference in amount of units.

So, to why I’m not using the word “Piracy” in this text. It has to do with the “you’re customers aren’t thieves”-thinking. Using the word “Piracy” equals calling the potential buyer a criminal, and that’s more likely then not to make him/her one. Stuff like a ton of security-checks on the game falls into the same thinking. I’m not sure if removing all those would repair the damage, but I’d sure like to test it with a minor title that wouldn’t kill the company if it fails.

I think it’s getting time to conclude. The whole idea is “meet their expectations” or top them. It’s really that fundamental. It’s just that it’s not in the product, but in the treatment.