Global Game Industry News Blog

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Damn I Need to Publish More...

So, I really hate not existing.

First thing this morning I saw Erin Hoffman's recent "The Escapist" article. Which had me feeling pretty good about myself. That this is a place where I have something to offer. Helping bridge the worlds of academia and the video game industry.

I felt useful and happy that someone who has worked in the industry is calling for a better approach. (More after the excerpt...)

The Escapist - Tighten Those Graphics
The commercial marked the vanguard of a disturbing trend in game education: advertised instructional programs so out of touch with actual game development they couldn't tell a sound effect from a polygon.
The bugbear, ultimately, is in the instruction of game design. While game art and game programming are distinct specializations with their own manifold quirks and details, it is possible to be a phenomenal artist and never work on games; it is possible to be a genius caliber programmer and never code gameplay. It is not, however, possible to be a game designer without making games. The notion is patently absurd.

Yet this is exactly what many private college instructors - and even, in some cases, faculty at major universities - are claiming they can do.
But that's not the gaming community. Gamers and developers alike were outraged at this commercial; almost curiously so. One YouTube user who posted the video, "randomgenius," was especially upset: "The hill to success is hard enough without money grubbing colleges who offer no true training, but so eagerly take your money." While the advertisement was clearly a marketing mistake rather than representative of what Westwood actually teaches, this sentiment is rife among those trying to get a job making games. That no one goes into games for the money is an accepted truth, and the corollary to that fact is that anyone truly serious about a game career must be intensely passionate about the biz.
A number of questions remain to be answered. Can a college really claim to be teaching game development if their faculty has no game development experience? Where does theory end and practice begin? Is it more important to be a strong communicator and teach solid skills, or to have spent time in the trenches? On one issue the industry is unanimous: There is no replacement for live experience. But experience making games does not immediately correlate to skill in instructing and inspiring students.

Time will have the final say - which is unwelcome news for current hopefuls. But the bright side is game instruction

in academia gets better every year, and this can only mean good things for the industry as a whole. Increasing numbers of programs, small and large, are bringing in developers as adjunct instructors, and game analysis itself is a tremendous skill growing in academia apart from its production-based siblings.

But then I see the following up on the IGDA website. Despite all of my activity with the IGDA, and my great efforts to speak about my research, I haven't actually published much. I've got a couple of things in the pipe, but nothing written.

Not good.

Despite a CV full of me being an anthropologist studying the video game industry, I've somehow managed to remain invisible to the rest of the academics.

Getting worse.

So while I'm sitting here trying to get the dissertation written, I'm realizing that what I need to be doing is publishing more smaller articles and talking less, because obviously that isn't working to well.

Coming from a discipline (if I even want to call it that) that specializes in how networks form in disciplines I should have realized that speaking wasn't enough, that something written on the page was necessary.

So I only have myself to blame.

Better get that Games and Culture paper finished...

IGDA - The Professional Identity of Gameworkers
Writing in Escapist magazine (issue 61 of September 5th, 2006), John Szczepaniak laments: “Few know the real truth about who creates videogames [...] It must also be noted with bitter irony that for a medium which is forever debated as being "art," the people behind it seldom get the acknowledgement deserved.” Beyond numerous blogs maintained by game developers and the occasional interview or studio profile in a trade magazine, little indeed is known about the people behind the keyboards. The situation is even worse at the level of academic research: even though studying games is incredibly popular among scholars and students alike, few professors seem to be interested in the professionals (and amateurs) who make the games they play.(1)

As researchers at Indiana University's Department of Telecommunications – where part of the graduate program is designed to train people for jobs in the digital game industry – we took up the challenge. We wanted to know not only who game developers are, but also what they do, how they go about doing it, and what their work means to them. Thus we set out to review the available scholarly literature on the making of computer and video games, reports in trade magazines and journal articles (including IGDA white papers), posts on group and individual weblogs of game developers. Then we went to the GDC of 2006 and 2007 and talked with lots of developers, attended IGDA sessions on Quality of Life issues, e-mailed our contacts in the game industry as well as (the few) colleagues studying gamework at universities all over the world. Put together, this material tells a comprehensive story about the key issues informing and influencing the working lives and professional identity of gameworkers.(2)
The ability for external organizations such as unions or industry associations such as the IGDA to influence, establish or enforce industry standards has thus far been marginal. The settlements by EA following the ea_spouse case of extreme workers' rights violations were followed by a movement of hundreds of workers from their Los Angeles based studio to studios in Florida and Canada. As many states (such as Texas and Washington) and countries (like Canada and the U.K.) provide tax incentives and other regulatory waivers to software companies, precedent has been set for game companies to cluster based on local or regional legal benefits and deregulatory frameworks regarding, for example, workers' rights. The South Korean government has even dropped the requirement of military service for those willing to work in the game industry, considering digital games key to the international export of Korean culture. Developer organizations, such as the IGDA, could be an adequate or helpful representation of developer interests but are largely powerless, and thus act more as advocacy groups. As organization structures shift towards outsourcing – an estimated 60% of game studios outsource today, primarily in the areas of localization, cinematics, sound design, game testing, middleware and artwork – and an almost exclusive reliance on contingent labor, the strong social networks needed to take collective action and participate in unions or advocacy groups effectively evaporate.
Considering earlier comments on the blurring of work and play among those who play games, as well as the “work as play” ethos in most game development houses, a picture emerges of an environment where the organization of work cannot be seen separately from personal preferences and individual negotiations. Yet such a conclusion runs counter to the signaled managerial practice of a militarized systematic division of labor (at least on paper), that models industry productivity based on milestones. This among a professional context that can be characterized by increasing corporate pressures to bring in significant returns on investment. In this system, the identity of professional game developers must be seen as inseparable from the products of their work – making clear crediting standards vital and all too often vague.

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Note to Politicians... Being stupid costs the taxpayers...

Yet another example of the hoped utility of my research rears its head. It seems like the NY Bill for ESRB oversight is an interesting one, and if handled well might actually mean something.

On the other hand if they're stupid about it, it is just going to end up costing lots of regular people lots of money, just like in Illinois right now. I think they should take the money out of Governor Rod Blagojevich's personal finances.

Gamasutra - NY Senate Passes ESRB Oversight Bill
The bill, S.5888, sponsored by Republican state senator Andrew Lanza would if passed into law establish an 'Advisory Council on Interactive Media and Youth Violence' targeted with recommending steps above and beyond the ESRB's rating system to limit access to 'adult only' game material.

According to the senate press release, the bill also calls for fines and penalties for all New York retailers and internet sellers who do not clearly display ratings on the game cover or website.

Finally, it hopes to establish a "Parent-Teacher Anti-Violence Awareness Program," which it says will "empower parents and teachers to work with students and children on issues related to violence in video games," including the ratings system and parental supervision, funded by fees collected from retailers who break the above rule.

Said Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, "Everywhere we look, violence surrounds us and it is unfortunate that our children are exposed to this explicit material, whether found in video games, movies or on television. Our children our spending too much time watching television and playing video games without any adult supervision, and we cannot sit back and allow them to be exposed to this senseless violence anymore. I applaud Senator Lanza for his leadership and we will continue to push the Assembly to take action against these issues."

GameDaily.Biz - Defeated Illinois Game Law Costs Taxpayers $1 Million
Remember Gov. Rod Blagojevich's attempt to ban the sale or rental of mature video games in Illinois? His unconstitutional law was quickly shot down in court and the state was ordered to pay the Entertainment Software Association more than $500,000.

Now a new report from Quad-Cities Online has revealed that Gov. Blagojevich spent nearly $1 million in taxpayer money to appeal the 2005 federal court ruling that his state was unconstitutional. Apparently, a House committee discovered the amount that was spent to pay lawyers just this week.

As reporter Mitzie Stelte wrote, for all the concern about violence in video games, "Gov. Rod Blagojevich's efforts to ban certain video games has done significant violence to Illinois' budget." In fact, the report exposed that the governor took money out of the public health department, the state's welfare agency and even the economic development department just to pay for this unconstitutional law.

"We had a strong suspicion that the governor was using funds appropriated by the General Assembly as his own personal piggy bank," Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, chairman of the State Government committee, said.

"It's unfortunate that the state of Illinois spent taxpayer money defending this statute. This is precisely what we told them would happen," added David Vite, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Yes, Joystiq, Politicians are Inconsistent

This is of course one of the impetuses for my research, in that all of the crap shuffling that is currently getting done with relation to games and the game industry doesn't really mean anything.

How can you legislate something you have absolutely no clue about? No one knows where change can best be implemented. But boy do politicians want a chunk of the cash. Rather than fighting over scraps they might want to pay attention a bit more.

Joystiq: Boston mayor wants more developers, but backs Jack Thompson
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino really can't seem to craft a clear message on the video game industry. Despite numerous attacks against the industry, including his full support to pull GTA ads on the T for purely political reasons and supporting a Jack Thompson drafted bill, he wants to bring more gaming companies to the city.

The city of Boston currently has no notable game companies within its borders. The best up-and-coming companies (meaning they aren't Blizzard, EA, Activision or Ubisoft just yet) like Turbine (Lord of the Rings Online), Harmonix (Guitar Hero, Rock Band) and Blue Fang Games (Zoo Tycoon) are all located outside the city in Westwood, Cambridge and Waltham respectively. Meaning they bring neither tax revenue or help "creative industries flourish" within the city.

Nothing to say. Just interesting. Next-gen business models are "embarrassing", says Brennan
The spiralling costs of next-gen games development are embarrassing, unworkable and an ego trip for publishers, according to Blast Entertainment CEO Sean Brennan.
"What a joke. What embarrassment. There's no way on a USD 20 million development project that you can break even on a game – not now in the cycle," said Brennan.
Brennan noted that US publishers are keeping development internal, so company's outside North America are unlikely to get a slice of the pie.

"With these big budgets, all these big American publishers are looking internally. Because when you're spending USD 15 or USD 20 million you don't want to trust an external developer with that sort of budget," stated Brennan.

"And they want the developer in America, first and foremost. A lot of the reason behind that is cultural. Since 9/11 American publishers have become a lot more insular. That's going to continue to be a key issue, it's a worrying factor."
"What the American's do better is the production values, which they can afford to when they're spending USD 20 million on a game - the games look sumptuous but don't particularly play so well. UK developers need to play to their traditional strengths," he concluded.

Game News Blogger Turns News Reporter

I first encountered GameJew in the flesh at this years GDC convention in San Francisco. Yes, this is the same guy who stalked Miyamoto (the creator of Zelda and Mario among many other things) and eventually tracked him down to sing him a song.

It is interesting to see his his experiences with the Mayday demonstrations in Los Angeles calling him in different directions. Sometimes life happens like that. I'm amazed by some of the footage that they were able to get at the event. I would not have wanted to be that close to guns with rubber bullets (rubber bullet kisses).

GameJew on Public Police Commission Hearing on the Events of Mayday

GameJew on Mayday Immigration Reform Demonstration

Friday, May 04, 2007

Despite Nintendo's Piracy Concerns...

It looks like the Chinese market is doing pretty well for the moment. The gaming cafe experience is something that I saw a bit of in India, but not nearly the social force that it seems to be in China and other parts of South Asia. I think one of the key bits that spells a major difference is the rise in sales of offline PC games, which would be the easiest for piracy efforts.

It is interesting that despite Nintendo's threat, I don't believe that officially the DS or Wii is actually being marketed in China. I could be wrong, but the fact that most of it is on the Grey market doesn't surprise me. The same was largely true in India with the notable exception of Microsoft who was investing in marketing the Xbox 360 heavily.

In related news, it looks like they're issuing similar statements to those made to China to Korea. Shape up seems to be the gist of it. Korea is a market where the DS is being pushed by Nintendo, so I can see their interest in protecting their margins.

Chinese game market explodes //
The report found that revenue from the overall video game market jumped by 68% last year, with the online gaming sector generating USD 995 million in revenue, an increase of 74% from the previous year.

Unsurprisingly, the report singled out China's booming internet cafe culture as the main driver for this growth. The introduction of free-to-play massively multiplayer online games - in which players pay for virtual items - has, according to Niko's managing partner Lisa Cosmas Hanson, further stimulated this trend.

"Chinese gamers pour into the cafes every day to play online and LAN games with friends. They spend money in the games on virtual gifts for friends, services for their characters, and virtual items to help with leveling," said Hanson. "The intertwined nature of China's Internet cafes, social gaming culture, and few entertainment alternatives at a low price point, will continue to be the basis for strong growth through 2011."

But the Niko report goes on to paint a picture of overall good health for the Chinese market. Sales of offline PC games, mostly from Taiwan, rose 28.5 per cent to 904,000 units in 2006. And alongside the 20 million PCs in China's 225,000 internet cafes are an increasing number of consoles, although these are all grey imports, console hardware currently being prohibited in China.

Hanson added: "If a game company can get an impressive game or console to market in China, the gamers there will embrace it. That said, getting a product into the market is not easy. The complex regulatory environment in China is still the greatest barrier to entry for foreign game companies."

Gamasutra - Nintendo Threatens Korean Pirates
Officials from Nintendo Korea have threatened legal action against anyone that copies, sells or distributes illegal game software in South Korea, with the release of a sternly worded statement aimed at discouraging the activity.

As translated by The Korea Herald, the statement reads: "'Nintendo will take strict legal action against businesses that are earning unfair profits by selling illegal copy machineries and downloading pirated programs.'"

Nintendo Korea has also threatened web site providers who allow illegal software to be accessed, while also threatening anyone who downloads the files with a police investigation.

Software piracy has long been a particular problem in Southeast Asia, while Nintendo has earned a reputation for vigorously defending its products from piracy – both in terms of copy protection and legal action. The statement is a first from Nintendo Korea though, previously one of Nintendo’s more neglected worldwide markets.

According to the Korea Herald, the success of the Nintendo DS has been catalyst for increased activity from game pirates targeting Nintendo products, with illegal copies of games for Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft formats apparently widely available in many electronics malls.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Maybe... Just Maybe We're Getting Smarter...

So, moments after I fire my big mouth off, seems like we might be figuring out what's really on the lines here with regard to DRM. It's not quite DeCSS levels yet, but this is certainly promising.

It also seems telling that the uprising is on a 'Web 2.0' kind of site. Makes Sense.

User revolt forces Digg copyright retreat
The move by, a 'Web 2.0' site that relies on users to act as editors by submitting and voting on news stories, came after the site's users staged an open rebellion by voting for stories featuring a 32-digit key that can be used to hack HD-DVD copy protection.


The rebellion, which briefly caused the site to crash, came after Digg attempted to comply with demands by Advanced Access Content System Licensing Administrator, a software that allows developers of optical media to protect content stored on HD-DVD devices, to remove the stories featuring the key.

On Tuesday, Kevin Rose, Digg's founder, reversed course and said the company would no longer delete articles featuring the encryption key, even though that might lead to the site being shut down by lawsuits.

"After seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you've made it clear. You'd rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won't delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be," Mr Rose wrote on Digg's company weblog.

"If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying."

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Rant: Taking DRM Even More Seriously for Games...

I love it when something that I've been watching for a while shows up in the mainstream press. I've been saying for almost a year now that Nintendo invented DRM back in 1985 with the introduction of the NES and the 10NES lockout chip.

DRM opponents actually completely and utterly piss me off. They piss me off because they are actually only concerned about the iPod (and they frequently level blame at Apple rather than the record labels). Now let's talk for a second here.

Games have locked you into a single platform for a long time too. So has software in general. The introduction of encryption just upped the ante. It didn't change the game. Microsoft and Autodesk and innumerable other companies have been locking you into their platforms like Office and AutoCAD and 3D Studio Max for years and you haven't peeped. We farted away our rights a long time ago. For some reason we just happened to notice with MP3, ACC+iTunes, Windows Media, etc.

We bought our games for the PC and the Console, perhaps even several consoles. We haven't bothered to say that this wasn't precisely a model we liked. Only the Mac users wondered why they had to switch to PC to play all the cool kid games. Those same Windows users whining about being unable to use their random MP3 players to play stuff from the iTunes music stores told Mac users to quit whining and buy a PC. Yes, you same people sold your rights long ago.

Now we want them back. Thankfully we've managed that to an extent, but have we extended the argument anywhere else? Nope. People are happily trading their rights for the newest version of Windows, Word, Blu-Ray, etc.

IT'S ALL ABOUT CONTENT CONTROL AND DRM. You know what the encryption is really about? It's about the DMCA. Assert your rights, go to jail. Well, not precisely. You can assert your own rights, but don't help anyone else assert their rights.

If we really want to take combatting DRM and platform lock in seriously we need to assert our rights more often, not only once in a while like now.

Locked Away: Do the death throes of music DRM mean anything for games?
It's not exactly been the loudest revolution of all time - in fact, it's been so quiet that you might have missed it - but there has been a genuine revolution in the music industry in the last fortnight. The old order has been overthrown, and it isn't happy; a new, upstart approach, widely lauded by the public and the grass-roots, is taking its place. So far, it's been a bloodless coup, although it's hard to say how long that will last once the financial results start filtering through in the coming quarters.

Actually, it's not entirely true to say that this coup has been bloodless. There's one head rolling in the basket beneath the guillotine blade; it's ugly, unloved, and it's called DRM.

DRM, of course, is something most people in the videogames market will be familiar with at this stage. At its most basic level, DRM is just a concept - it's the idea of using encryption software to control what a user can do with a piece of media they've bought from you.
A number of commentators - mostly out in the blogosphere - have opined that this decision must, logically, have a knock-on effect on games and movies. That's not necessarily true, because those mediums (and games especially) actually come with very different consumer expectations to music.

The average consumer is very used to the idea of being able to rip his music, listen to it on multiple devices, copy it between formats and even shuffle it around to create personal playlists. Those expectations, however, don't exist for games, and only exist for a very small (but growing) number of movie consumers.

Games, in particular, are seen as products which only work on one device, which cannot be copied and cannot be modified. Under those circumstances, DRM is far less of an issue than it is with music, and the same pressures which have forced the hands of EMI and Universal simply don't exist.

However, the revolution in music DRM still has important lessons for the videogames market. All too often, videogames companies have displayed a willingness to impose copy protection measures on their software which actually seriously disadvantage or inconvenience legitimate purchasers of the product.

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Is this BAD or GOOD for the Industry?

It's interesting that Todd Mitchell's analysis of Nintendo's success is labeled broadly as "bad or good" for the industry. I think the answer is probably more likely that it's good for the industry and bad for publishers. But really that "bad" for the publishers is good in the long run, because it's going to force them to think differently than they've been thinking for quite a while.

Of course the current generation of DS and Wii games coming out of Nintendo is going to sell well. It's some of the more innovative stuff showing up out there. Just like Little Big Planet is going to sell like hot-cakes or why Katamari or Shadow of the Colossus sold well. New and interesting.

Selling a derivative title on a system like the DS or Wii with all of it's available resources isn't going to entice consumers.

While this might "bode poorly for the publishers" right now, perhaps it will force them out of the current rut that they've fallen into lately. And of course Nintendo is going to have some lead time on everyone else. Isn't that why they keep it internal? It gives them some time to milk their product while everyone else catches up.

I'm not necessarily a fan of that model, but I understand why they're doing it. And long term, hopefully publishers internalize this new idea that thinking outside the box is good.

In the mean time Nintendo needs to do a better job of courting independents, getting them to bring new and innovative titles directly to them, because right now the big publishers just don't know how to handle this newfangled stuff.

Analyst: Are Wii And DS Good For The Market?
As reported, Nintendo's fiscal 2007 report showed 23.56 million DS units and 5.84 million Wiis sold, with 123.55 million units of DS software, and 23.84 million units of Wii software -- all far above original expectations from the company and analysts alike.

Much of that software success, however, came from Nintendo itself, with New Super Mario Bros. moving 9.5 million copies, Brain Age selling 8.1 million copies and Nintendogs pushing 7.0 million, with newcomers Pokemon Diamond and Pearl already selling 5.2 million in Japan alone. Wii software, too, was similarly first party dominated by The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and unbundled versions of Wii Sports.

All of this, says Mitchell, leads him to believe that "Nintendo's success with the DS and Wii bodes poorly for the publishers."

"Both [the Wii and DS] appear to be bringing new gamers into the market. However, this may not be a positive dynamic for the major video game publishers. Nintendo has not only increased the size of the market, but it has also re-segmented it in its own favor, in our view," he said.

"Nintendo is dominating software sales on its popular hardware platforms, leaving the publishers with a smaller slice of an only somewhat incrementally larger pie," added Mitchell, "Moreover, we feel that the likely shorter product cycles of Nintendo's platforms puts the publishers in a permanent catch-up mode."

Despite the ramp up of various third party publishers turning more development efforts to both the DS and Wii platforms, Mitchell concludes that Nintendo's domination of the software landscape isn't a trend due to end anytime soon, adding, "the upcoming releases of Super Mario Galaxy and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption will highlight this phenomena this holiday season."

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