(Another) blog revision

After the last update, I suddenly felt like starting this again. So, after going through the layout, the blog name (it was really cheesy), fixing a good category system that should include most of the stuff I want to write about and categorizing all archived post, I’m ready for another run. And I so want to begin with Why Politics is Game Design.

Before I do that, I’ll just reflect on two things: First, I’ve already said this very same thing on this very same blog at least three times the last four years. It usually hasn’t worked. Will it now? I don’t know! I guess it’ll keep up as long as I find this fun (rather than something “I should do”, get bad conscience about, and then avoid). Secondly, this blog name has been used before. Despite it being called “a flood of thoughts”, that flood has often dried out before I’ve even opened the mind dam. It probably connects to the “feeling bad about not updating”-thing. So I won’t promise I will actually keep that title’s trueness this time.

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

Internet – The Social Metaweb

I sometimes get the feeling that the Internet is starting to become just a network of social networks. Sure, I know there’s so much more, but they all feed into a social network sooner or later. Myself, I already use a number of these networks and services, that all link to each other. Initially just to clear my mind, I assembled this map basically only showing how I’ve connected all these social networks into… a network. In other words, my social metanetwork.

Social Media Forwarding Map

Of course, this is a rough prototype – for any formal use, I would give it more thought (and make it pretty), but it drives the point home. By writing this post, I’ll show it on no less than three networks by only forwarding stuff back and forth. The same goes with any activity on Foursquare or Youtube.

It’s not that I don’t like it – it’s a great way to stay active on the web, reach more people and save time doing it. I’m just baffled I need to create a map to know where all my posts will be shown to avoid multi-forwards and circle-forwarding as it grows more complex. I’ll be adding services, and I want to forward content on them, so more complex it will get.

Update 1/7-12: I got some interesting discussion on facebook about this, basically boiling down to “Facebook and Twitter are two diffrent media, so don’t force link them”. To explain it, let’s compare with film. Facebook is your 1,5 hour movie, while Twitter is your 10 minute short film, or sketch. A short film or sketch could deliver a point quickly, or be a good laugh. However, as we’ve too often seen, the same story, character or scenario doesn’t always hold for a full-length movie. The other way, a full-length movie loses a lot of it’s nuance and investment in character when you reduce it to 10 minutes (“Titanic in 5 seconds“, parody as it may be, makes the point).

–>

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.

Distractions

While I studied, I believed starting your own would be some kind of short-cut to having a job. After all, all you have to do is start it and no-one can filter you out!  I sure missed an important aspect of it – you want to be paid to really call it a “job”. And getting there takes a lot of time and a lot of work.

Thankfully, we’re fortunate enough in Sweden to have government-funded university education for up to six years of studies. Which means, you can start that company and study to get the money you need. Drawback, of course, being you have to spend time studying. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Here in Skövde, we’ve also been fortunate enough to have an “entrepreneurship education”, a one-year program teaching very basic economics, marketing and project leading, all while writing a business plan. And the best part have been that it basically leaves you loads of time for that company you’re working on!

But, as I mentioned, that means you sooner or later will need to put time aside to study. Like a weekend. Like right now. And, as with all students who have to study something difficult to motivate, it’s easy to get distracted. By, like, writing this blog post. But it’s personal marketing, so can I use that excuse?

There’s other distractions, too, such as updating a trailer with (placeholder) gameplay footage. Nordic Game Conference is next week (I have to remember the phone charger this time, so you can have pictures!), and I’ll be busy pitching Ovelia: The Wake and Coilworks to various people. Because of that, May’s been stressful, but it’s going to pay off next week.

This past week, I’ve also been approached to test an app called “Dosemem”, which lets diabetics (such as myself) to easily store data about blood sugar, insulin and use that to set goals, search documentation and so on. So far it’s been very useful, so I’ll give the inventor Agneta Toresson some deserved credit. Hopefully she can get it through testing and let any diabetic friend of yours (who understands Swedish) try it out!

I’ve also made slight progress on the strategy board game prototype (which I call “project homecoming”, but thinking about switching to “alien home”), and should probably assemble some first play test soon. There’s just so much other stuff to do, as you may have noted.

Finally, some game-y stuff: I’m been playing Uncharted 3 at a friends house with another friend. It’s interesting how sharing a single-player experience through taking turns and watching each other changes the experience to something a lot more social. I wonder if you could encourage that somehow – it’s something I think many gamers miss out on.

A secretive life

As promised before, here’s the first by-weekly blog post about running a start-up dev studio.

During these weeks, I’ve been booking meetings for Nordic Game Conference, prepared a company pitch for Connect (a company serving as a meeting place between entrepreneurs and venture capitalists), visited the Start-Up Day 2012 in Stockholm and made a major change of course on our first project. Trouble is, I can’t go into the details. Not because it’s boring to read (I’ll make it fun to read!), but also because I perhaps should guard the details for now.

Which is a shame. Running a new business requires lots of time (and I’m far from the one spending most hours at work), yet there’s not much to talk about regarding it. Very much because of this, “a secretive life” has become a recurring phrase in my mind the two last weeks, knowing I had to write something here. I’d have liked bringing pictures, too, but I sadly didn’t. Maybe next event…

Well, that’s for the day-to-day work (I’m at a computer, like so many other people). I could write about the start-up day for a bit, though, because that was a fun event.

Very much because of this, “a secretive life” has become a recurring phrase in my mind the two last weeks, knowing I had to write something here. I’d have liked bringing pictures, too, but I sadly didn’t. Maybe next time.

Also, I realize this is a week late, so I’ll type down a few on-my-mind words about Batman: Akham City, or actually about parallell story lines. I started playing it the other day, and so far it’s great. However, the game features short chapters of Catwoman between the Batman chapter. Even though Catwoman has some really fun gameplay, I don’t like the decision to have their storylines alter between them. So far, they’ve always ended in cliff-hangers, which means I’m very exited about a character’s plot when it ends, only to be thrown back to a character whose story I, at that point, don’t care at all about. Just to have the same thing happened once I’ve build that care. I see this so often in all manner of media it feels like some kind of “writer’s best practice” (in which case, I beg to differ). If someone could explain to me why you’d do this to a story, I would be grateful.

Revision to the blog

This is kind of embarrassing.

I started this blog back in… 2007, I think, in an attempt to post once every week and show the world how much I knew in time to have been running for a bit when I would need to find a job.

It didn’t really turn out that way.

The last post is from early 2011 – in other words, I haven’t written anything for a whole year! So I’m not even near one post per week. However, I have no wish to try – I’ve been doing a lot of useful things since then. I made myself a job, as CEO (and producer and designer) at the start-up Coilworks. For a 2011 summary, you could just as well read the Coilworks 2011 retrospective. There are some episodes I’m not adding there, which I may or may not wish to write about in the future.

However, leaving this blog behind wouldn’t be that smart of me. Now I’ve got several brands to build (my own, my company’s and the company’s game’s), so that mean I should use this more rather than less. It also mean I should have what I use cause some effect.

For starters, I’ve recently made my facebook feed public for followers. I usually post links to all manner of things that interests me (games, tech, science, politics, thinkers), and although some private stuff can go through, I’ll try to minimize it. My twitter and youtube activity can also be seen through that feed.

This also means I my regular days could be interesting to people. What does a CEO/producer/designer of a small but ambitious start-up do for a day? My 2007 self would probably love to know, so I’m thinking of doing something by-weekly about it. That way, we can focus on the more exiting things and ignore the dull (shuffling papers and such).

This doesn’t mean I don’t want to keep writing reflections, but those will take more time (something that’s been kind of scarce, and sure will be). I’d like to write a documentary about playing Mass Effect from the first scene of the trilogy to the last in “one life allowed”-mode and without the “easy-way-out”-choices (“charm” and “intimidate”). I’d like to write an analysis of dialogue system design and their implications by comparing several modern conversation-RPG:s. I’d like to write a lot more, all stored in a digital post-it on my desktop, so I hope I’ll get time for it.

To round up, let’s just say that the maxim “the more you learn, the more you realize how little you know” applies – My 2007 self might’ve thought he knew a lot, but my 2012 self know there’s still loads to still learn (although that 2007-self had a few nice views).

// Johannes (of 2012)

Goals of 2010: Part 2 – rounding up (already)

Here we have a good example of why you should think a few more times than one when starting a series of posts. In this case, I found out many of these points were half-finished, although they could be considered “finished” if you tweaked the goal a bit. So instead of writing one post for each, I’ll write this one post, and then be able to go on with other ideas.

The “Learn UDK or Unity” point was pretty much fulfilled. I did learn the UDK level editor with their BSPs (geometric shapes) and Terrain tool, Kismet (a “visual scripting language” i.e drag and connect boxes of conditions/actions and logic) and, towards the fall and winter, made a half-working HUD, menusystem in Scaleform and applying it to UDK, as well as a loading screen and splash screen.

The “Learn Photoshop” point was pretty much fulfilled. Although what I initially implied was “learn to draw”, what I did learn was how to use photoshop is used with pretty bad drawing skills to create something nice anyway. Sure, the menus and interface may not look amazingly super-good, but they do look quite alright. I suspect I should put a screenshot up to let you be the judge, but I’ll make do with simply looking back and give my own impression of the result.

The “Learn lua” point went beyond expectation. I initially wrote this point to make sure I finally took the time to learn this language so I could start scripting or perhaps do a UI-mod to World of Warcraft, but as summer came I stumbled upon the course “programming for World of Warcraft” which taught these very things and then some. I still got some complementary work before the course can be formally closed, but it totally meets this goal.

The “make some small games” point failed miserably, no matter how you bend it. I didn’t even start doing a first game. Booo! :(

The “build a map in Warcraft 3 or World in Conflict” point is sort of fulfilled. I drew some flow chart maps for the levels, and made a quick draft in the WC3-editor, but never iterated on it. Boo! However, and even better, I did make a map with UDK, and did so in an iterative manner. By “doing a map”, I’m only considering the geometry, spaces and connections between them, not any fancy shaders or special effects (or, sadly, scripting). I started out using geometric shapes to build as close to a final level as I could and when we were happy with that I used the terrain tool to build a height map for the level and placing out the major props of the level (the minor props weren’t made as far as I’m aware). This is, perhaps, for another post.

The “lead something well” point was part failed, part done way more than I could anticipate. When written, I only intended for the project that was currently going. However, just weeks into the year, I was elected chairman for the Skövde game dev student association known as AGES (“Academic Game Environment – Skövde”, for those who wished to know), a task I’ve put energy into and is fairly sure I’ve done well (I’ll have to ask the board and the members afterwards to be sure, though). Towards the spring, I got another leadership position in our school project “Wheelchair Racer”. Although the game became way less then we wanted it too, and didn’t at all take the direction I was initially wishing it for due to compromises in very early stages, I believe I did a fair enough job. The group had very little drama and we shared the vision (note: we were only two people when said compromise was made, the others joined later on), but I could’ve done more to know what the designers wanted personally and how they were doing during the project. So that project is at my minus-account for this point. However, just a few weeks after the project I got recruited on a new one to design and lead. Among this new team were some members of the old, and afterwards I learned the previous project had influenced that decision to pick me up. So I suppose I can’t have done as bad as I believe. This fall project went smooth, although shut down mostly due to lack of programmers on the team.

I could have written in length about this, but I decided not to. It didn’t go that well as to be worth writing ten posts publicly about, but it went well enough to write something about.

The development of a business card

Some may wish to say this story is way beyond the scope of what its story matter should entitle. I say this story is the end-point of a development where I get to speak about it, its intentions and results. It’s about a business card, but it’s just as much about design and development (note that there’s no “game” in those two words).

The problem I wanted to solve was this: Game Expo “GameX” was approaching, as well as the industry summit Nordic Game Stockholm Summit, and I wanted to gain new contacts and make an impression. I wanted the impression to be remembered and show that I was a clever designer. I also wanted it to have a professional quality.

Read more of this post

Goals of 2010: Part 1 – introduction

Some people make promises for the new year, such as “I will start training” or “I will heat healthier”. Fun thing is they never seem to hold, and I’ve only taken one once (I was around 11 and decided to not use any bad language – it held until February when I thought a class-made had flushed my glove). I think it’s pretty silly, but after I decided to not continue with the Student Union-activity in December last year, I set up eight goals which I wished to fulfil with this new-found spare time to direct my efforts. Funnily, life sort of made me fulfil seven of those eight goals in perhaps not the way I intended, but still with acceptable interpretation.

I intend to list those ten goals and how life fulfilled them for me. It’s game related, but primarily it’s because there’s a few fun stories in there and it allows me to show off some actual work. However, listing the thinking behind each of these points would take an insane amount of text to deal with, and no-one would really bother reading it all. So I intend to split it into several parts.

Here’s the goals:

1. Learn UDK and/or Unity
2. Learn Google ScetchUp
3. Build a GUI, preferably in WoW
4. Draw something nice in Photoshop
5. Learn Lua
6. Make five “completed” games for portfolio, prefferably in Game Maker or Unity
7. Build a map in Warcraft 3/Starcraft 2 or World in Conflict
8. Lead a game project or the AGES-board well

I so far haven’t completed 6. There’s still 2 months to go, although it feels unlikely I’ll be able to make five games in two months when I’m already full-booked between 8 and, depending on the day, 17 to 19 or even 22 every working day. Unless I knock it up a notch and make all five during DreamHack (which is four days, but pretty much dedicated to gaming… or game-making). That’s unlikely, however.

Update: I actually haven’t completed 2 or 7 unless you sort of bend the goal a bit. But I’ll talk about that later.

So, with that said, there’s a lot of fun stuff to post about in the coming weeks!