A post about the post that never was

This week, I had intended to write about “Why School is Boring and How Games Can Fix it”. I had intended to link to Sir Ken Robinson’s TED-talks about our out-dated school paradigms, how school was built for an industrial world while we today live in an increasingly computerized, creative world with loads for distractions. I had intended to suggest something along the lines of what Robinson suggests, perhaps more detailed (his suggestion is really broad but vague). I also wanted to make the arguement why we need more of the creative fields (painting, sculpturing, game design) as well as rethorics, private economy and programming from day 1. Then put some more arguments why programming would be a super-good idea as a school subject.

Alas, I got cold feet. Politics tends to be controversial (there’s no better way to have disagreements than to discuss politics and religion), and could distract the reader from what currently needs to be the core topic (Video Games). I’ll probably return to this in the future, one way or another. But rather than be quiet, and have one of those long, creepy pauses again, I decided to at least write what I wanted to write about and why I did not. Hopefully I’ll find something video game related during this week! :)

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On Violence in Video Games

Last year, a debate took place regarding the level of Violence in Video Games. In May, The E3 press briefings in general got Nathan Grayson on RPS to react, and The last of Us in particular managed to get Kris Graft on Gamasutra to react with  “If you were an average Joe who strolled into one of these E3 press conferences, and saw hundreds of people hoot and holler when a guy’s face gets blown off in high-resolution detail, you might think you walked into an ancient Roman coliseum.” Towards the end of the year (or, rather, this January) Leigh Alexander, also on Gamasutra, wrote a more nuanced article about when it might actually be good sometimes.

So you could think all has been said, especially since these people are a lot better with words than I am. However, violence in video games has been a topic I’ve been thinking about for years, and I wouldn’t like the debate just pass by without speaking my mind.

Read more of this post

Politics is Game Design

It’s all a matter of scale, really.

I’ve always had an interest in game design. I didn’t know that’s what it was called at first, I just found it fun to draw fictional maps on paper, imagining boss-battles play out in my head and – more often than not – imagine what game X would be like if I got to make a game like it. After playing World of Warcraft… no, that’s wrong.. after nudging Interface Elements within an Interface for more time than actually playing the game, just to throw the Interface away for a new one as soon as I finished… I realized what I was doing.

Meanwhile, in a completely different part of the head between my shoulders, some brain cells started having opinions. And a lot of them. And discussing the topic of politics back and forth.

And, suddenly, I was knee-deep into student union politics while studying games design. And felt like both parts benefited for the other. I believe I now know why.

Ask yourself, what is politics, really? Some likely say “a bunch of people who know and do nothing but talk”. Others may say “Game of Thrones, but less action (and sex scenes)”. I guess they’d both be right. But, really, isn’t politics about acting on a core belief and, together with like-minded people, draw or adapt the rules that governs society? I would say it is, and I’ll build the rest of this reasoning upon this premise.

Now ask yourself what game design is. This usually has as many answers as there are self-proclaimed designers. Some focus on the artistic and the creative, comparing the task to that of how a film director uses all channels of stimuli movies bring to send a message. Others focus on the technical side, saying it’s to mathematically construct the a logical rule-set that creates a system. I’m going for a premise somewhere in between these, saying game design is to mathematically construct a rule-set and use all channels of stimuli to create a system that send a message.

Do you see a similarity here? Maybe all I’ve done is imply it, so let’s make it more explicit.

Politics is about connecting with people – like-minded or of a completely different opinion – and either have one side convince the other or, more commonly, find an agreement both parties can accept. This to create rules, incentives and punishments to encourage a desired behaviour. Game Design is about connecting with people – engineers and artists, producers, business, marketing and other designers (one or more of these can be the same person) – and either have one side convince the other or find an agreement all parts can accept. This to create rules, incentives and punishments to encourage a desired behaviour.

In other words, politics is game design. And, very often, the game designer plays a game of politics (see? The “Politics is like Game of Thrones” had a point – although I’d say the latter was about the former than the other way around), navigating between the interests of artists, engineers, designers, producers, business and marketing.

Basically, they’re both about communication – convincing, debating, defining, change.

It’s just a matter of scale, really.

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

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: When 3D printers become commonplace…

I should really go to bed (I’m actually just off), but I’ve been thinking lately and suddenly this really big insight crashed down upon me and I just have to write about it. Not just a small Facebook update. That won’t do, this is bigger than that. The head-line gives half of it away.

As 3D-printers become more advanced, they’ll be able to do more things. They’ll also likely become more wide-spread. Let’s play with the thought they’ll follow the route of the computers. As they’re basically for physical objects what computers are for information and data.

When 3D-printers become commonplace, a physical object of printable material will be about as valuable as information. Because it will be information. And here’s where it gets fun.

When physical objects become information, everyone can create them. The programs for doing these things virtually are partially already there – Autodesk’s Maya and 3D Studio Max, Mudbox and the Open-source Blender and similar already lets you create 3D-objects. Or, rather, they can create a nice shell. This is enough to cause a real uproar. Porcelain and simple furniture doesn’t need much more than that to be digitally constructed. Tools for creating hollow objects, or objects with interacting parts, such as a watch, will have more time before the interfaces and programs become advanced enough to recreate these things.  This means everyone able to build something in 3d can create new objects! It will be many times easier to build something to try out. An “open-source” movement might take off for physical items to improve its design (“this new box is more robust than the old box”).

When physical objects become information, people will be sharing it. Imagine the piracy-problem entertainment and software media has been fighting the last decade, but move it to every other industry producing items. That’s a lot of people. In fact, it’s pretty much all the industry in the world. The intellectual property rights/integrity fight that’s been going on the last few years might seem like a slight breeze.This will pose a problem

When physical objects become information, industry will forever change. As “file sharing” gets an entire new level of meaning, industry will have to seek proven solutions, which so happens to be where entertainment and software-industries in general, and gaming in particular, happen to be today. But although they’ll be able to take some ideas (such as Digital Distribution, Freemium/Free 2 play/subscription fees), they’ll have new questions that are unanswered. Gaming has managed to decrease appeal by doing peripherals or merchandise. What happens when this, too, can be downloaded?

My point is, we involved with entertainment or software – or, with gaming, both – are the pioneers of how the world might spin in the future. And that’s a responsibility we shouldn’t take lightly.

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.