Global Game Industry News Blog

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

New Media and Society Essay: Free/Open Game Development

I decided over the weekend that it was high-time to move my old essay from Flow TV, "The Wii-volution will not be Televised" into the academic arena. In particular it was several recent (not so recent now) articles about Sony "opening" up the PS2 that seemed to push me over the edge. While I have not decided upon a particular venue for this essay yet, though my initial estimation is with New Media and Society.

In part this was due to watching several people at conferences in my relatively recent past talk about precisely what I had written, as if it hadn't ever been mentioned before. I have actually written about it twice now, once in Flow TV and once in my dissertation, but if my words fall in the forest and no one is listening, apparently it doesn't really make a sound or matter.

So, with that in mind, I've decided that given the significant amount of data that I have already gathered on this particular topic that I need to update and think a bit more about. Not to mention that I've seen a handful of recent articles about how Sony is "opening" up PS2 development. At this point I remain largely unconvinced. That isn't to say that a lot has changed in the last couple of years. However, most of the "open" consoles require either the same old licencing/NDA crap (Wii-Ware) or they largely lock you into proprietary languages and tool-chains (XNA Express on the Xbox 360 or the iPhone). I am continually bothered by the "same old stuff" being talked about as open or different, because it certainly isn't. I cannot go to a Sony web page and download an SDK for the PS2. I don't blame Sony for this, but I don't expect to be downright lied to.

Then there is probably the most insidious, which I have to wonder if it will ultimately rear its head in the upcoming Global Game Jam, is the use of proprietary NDA covered technologies that ultimately prevent education and industry wide learning andadvancement . Sony has "opened" the PSP or PS2 in such a fashion here in the US, but those agreements specifically go against any sort of pedagogical ideal that learning is connected with sharing and collaboration.

Still mulling, but pulling things together.

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Digital Distribution and the Death(?) of Rentals and Sharing

I have been thinking a great deal lately about what the rise of digital distribution means for the videogame industry. I have also been thinking about what it means, culturally, for videogamers. It is something I've been thinking about for a long time, because I've heard many game developers talk about how much videogame rentals and videogame resale hurts developers by depriving them of much more frequently needed funds.

I have also been thinking about my childhood, growing up as a moderate gamer who went on to be both part of the videogame industry, but also that academic industry that now generates people capable of thinking critically about and creating videogames. Seems like those aspects of the industry that encouraged me to pursue work in the videogame industry might have influenced others to do so as well.

One of those experiences was riding my bike to the video rental store where if I rented a game on Friday afternoon, I could keep it until Sunday morning. For a working class family without a lot of money, $4.00 for a weekend of fun was much more manageable than $40-50 for a game that I may or may not play for more than a weekend. My friends and I also took games over to one another's houses. It was a chance to see different games and play them for a short while. It was also an opportunity to perhaps demonstrate how far you had progressed in a game.

Now, here I am in 2009, thinking about all of those Wii-ware games and Xbox Live Arcade games that I have downloaded to my consoles. None of these games are sharable. I couldn't take an SD card over to a friends house and show them how great Lost Winds is. I could take my Wii over, which doesn't seem so daunting, but dragging a bulky Xbox 360 or PS3 seems another story. Not to mention that it just doesn't make that much sense. Of course I understand that with digital distribution comes the possibility of piracy, but what I'm talking about isn't that. It is a shared gaming experience of gaming with others.

Rentals become even more problematic. Presumably digital distribution means reduced costs and an opportunity for developers to sell games for less and sell more. I understand that many developers see videogame rentals as lost revenue, but that really isn't true. As a kid, I COULDN'T have bought any of those games. Perhaps instead my parents would have given me $4.00 per week to save for a new game. This would have meant that I could play 5-6 games per year instead of many. Playing all of those games gave me the background and vocabulary to be a game developer. Not having it would have meant my trajectory would have been very different.

So while I read articles saying that, "Digital content is the fastest-growing portion of the videogame industry," I have to wonder what the consequences of that will be ultimately.

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

A Blast from my Academic Past...

My Google Alert for "Casey O'Donnell" or Google Ego Monitor notified me this morning of the re-emergence of my essay for the IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication. I wrote an essay entitled, "Making an Open Source Case for Offshoring." Because the essay was shorter, short on data beyond my own observations, and a bit risqué, it was labeled a "Commentary" piece, which I was not opposed to. It was a spin off an elaboration on an earlier essay that was somewhat schizophrenic, which was published in First Monday. That piece was titled, "A Case for Indian Insourcing: Open Source Interest in IT Job Expansion." That essay was published along with several other essays from a 4S Meeting in Paris, France. Because it was schizophrenic, I broke it into two separate essays. One of those was the IEEE Commentary and the second was published in the IGI Global edited book, "Handbook of Research on Open Source Software." That chapter was titled, "The Labor Politics of Scratching an Itch." In the end, breaking the essay apart and expanding upon each section made each piece work better and I'm happy with the way it turned out. It is just funny what a Sunday morning Ego Alert will cause you to go back and investigate.

Actual citations are posted below, if desired.

O'Donnell, Casey. 2007. "Commentary: Making an Open Source Case for Offshoring." IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication 50.2:85-87.
O'Donnell, Casey. 2004. "A Case for Indian Insourcing: Open Source Interest in IT Job Expansion." First Monday 9.11.
O'Donnell, Casey. 2007. "The Labor Politics of Scratching an Itch." pp. 460-467 in Handbook of Research on Open Source Software: Technological, Economic, and Social Perspectives, edited by Kirk St.Amant and Brian Still. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

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