Archive for March, 2012
I’m in the process of writing up a hopefully coherent opinion document on one of my favorite topics, the video game community. It’s essentially a “mega post”, so if you’re one of those tl;dr’ers, then this particular output will be the last thing you’ll want to encounter. Although it’s not a work of sanctioned psychological science, recent activities on the Internet have been brought to my attention which fit perfectly into my framework. They will be included therein, but I wanted to present a short form discussion on these recent events before the document is complete because A) it’s important to stay topical, and B) I don’t expect too many people to make the trek up to the summit of Mount Verbiage once the document is complete and posted. So here’s a kind of abridged version based on events “ripped from the headlines!”
It started off with an article on Forbes.com entitled (I use that term with very specific connotation) “Dear Fake Geek Girls: Please Go Away” In this article, the author attempts to reinforce the delineation between “geeks” and what could charitably called “poseurs” who have co-opted aspects of geek culture and who lay claim to the label of “geek”. A counter-point to this article was brought to my attention shortly after. Here, the author opines that defining oneself as a “geek” shouldn’t be important as adults, that caring about labeling oneself at all is “so high-school”, and that adults should define themselves using adult touchstones – and not in the way we may have defined ourselves when we were younger.
Well, both are kind of right, but I think both are far more in the wrong.
The author of the original post defines herself as a geek by listing off her “credentials”. There is absolutely nothing wrong with her claims in any way, shape, or form. It’s not a protective mechanism. It’s not a holdover. It’s not pathetic. I’m not a psychologist, but I’m pretty sure that there’s a mountain of studies done on early human development in social societies, and like it or not, where we fall in the social pecking order early on can affect us for the rest of our lives. For geeks like the author of the original piece, being a geek before being a geek was “cool” isn’t just a lifestyle, it’s part of her definition that she values. Her argument stems from her desire to maintain what she considers to be a part of her identity, which she feels is at risk of being diluted by mainstream culture that didn’t “pay the dues” that the socially unacceptable geeks did when it wasn’t cool to be a geek. There is an undeniable difference between those who aspire to geekdom, and those who have had geekdom thrust upon them.
The problem, however, is that no one appointed this woman as the gatekeeper of geek culture. Yes, Elder Geeks – elders of any kind, actually – look upon the upstart generations with stink-eye, but there’s little to nothing that the elders can do about it. There’s no membership ritual, no licensing board, no annual fees that can be used to accept or reject applicants. The fact that geeks were originally ostracized and forced to create a sub-culture outside of their control carries with it a sense of “we built this out of a bad situation” vibe, but in 2012, commoditization is a powerful incentive, and like nature, business opportunity hates a vacuum. Geekdom is being packaged and sold outside the walls of it’s little kingdom, and there’s nothing us Elder Geeks can do about it except to ensure that it’s actual, honest geekdom that is passed along the to the next generation, and not some watered down, shrink-wrapped stereotype that is the favored shorthand of Madison Ave.
As for the response article, I repeat much of what she says here: it’s not a geek’s place to “police” the sub-culture, the recognition of cub-cultures attempting to maintain the bulwark between “us” and “them”, and so on. She seems to argue from the point of the mainstream despite establishing her credentials as another “geek”. She seems far more interested in not being labeled as anything, and I came away with the feeling that her bottom line was “grow up”.
I’m 38. I’m married, with a child. I have a nice house. I have to worry about changing light fixtures, and taxes, and mowing the lawn, and getting my daughter on the school bus every morning. I have a job, and the universe of responsibilities that such a claim entails. So, I am a husband, a father, a home-owner, an employee, a friend to many. I am grown up…and I am a geek. Just because I am an adult, long since out of high school, doesn’t make that any less true. I choose not to dilute that aspect of my identity or to set it aside simply in the name of “growing up”, and I don’t mind labeling myself so long as I get to choose the label, because I know I’m calling a spade a spade: I AM a geek. We label ourselves all the time, although in more inconspicuous ways. When people engage in conversation with a person they just met, one of the first questions people ask each other is “what do you do?” If we eschew labels, then the proper response is “I eat, breath, move around, excrete…the usual.” What we offer instead, however, is our employment status. The first person asks you to label yourself, and we oblige by identifying ourselves as what we do for a living. Adults indeed.
I understand and accept that the percentage of geekdom in other people may change over time, and that’s fine. People’s lives are organic and pliable. Life experiences can lead a person to reconsider the importance of different aspects of their identities if they so choose, so for this particular author, she chooses not to define herself as a geek. But that doesn’t mean that what’s good for the goose is good for gander: just as the first author has not authority to be telling non-geeks to stay off her lawn, this second author has no business taking someone task for choosing to be true to the part of their identity that they value so highly.
I tend to lean more towards the motive of the first article, although I don’t agree with the vehicle. I am afraid I can’t really get behind the second article since it seemed so defensive and, at times, insulting. I see and agree with elements of both arguments, and I submit that both do make some valid points. However, I think that both articles are deeply flawed, and end up fanning more flames than either extinguishes.
Geekdom as a sub-culture is not going away. Until the last member of Generation X dies out, there will be people who grew up as part of a sub-culture that was forced out, but who have made that experience part of who we are. We don’t have to apologize to anyone for defending what good was made of a painful part of our lives: we were bullied, excluded, and lonely, and that is part of who we are, now, and forever. But we have grown up to become responsible adults with adult responsibilities. We may even finally like who we are, and if we remove our geekdom from that identity, we wouldn’t be who we are. Asking an Elder Geek to “get over it” is like asking anyone else who has experienced trauma in their lives to “get over it”. Our experiences may not have been on par with more horrific experiences some have had growing up, but we’ve had the fortunate opportunity to turn our misfortunes to our advantage, to fold those bad times into something good. We’re damn proud of what we’ve been able to overcome, and to become, and there’s no way in hell we’re going to give it up.
We shouldn’t be barring the gates to the next generation either. At some point, we do need to let our culture fly on it’s own power. We can’t steward it forever. If we want to ensure that the culture is treated with the respect we believe it deserves, we need to relay that importance ourselves, and not abdicate that duty to those who only want to exploit it for profit. We need to welcome anyone who wants in to the circle so we can fold them in properly, and we shouldn’t worry about maintaining our exclusivity or our “cred”. That really doesn’t matter, which is a point from the second article I really agree with. We know who we are, as Elder Geeks, because it’s who we are. That should be enough.
They say that history repeats itself, which is usually just a kind way of saying that humanity keeps making the same stupid-ass mistakes over and over because it refuses to learn from it’s previous disasters. Sometimes we find ourselves in the middle of a specific situation and realize that “oh yeah! Last time this happened,the entire ship sunk because of the iceberg it hit…” Or something to that effect. They also say that everything is cyclical (in fact, this is the actual message of the Mayan calendar, not that the world will end in 2012) and that what has come before will come again.
First, we endured a resurgence of platformers, usually from indie studios that were taking the ages old gameplay mechanics and laying better graphics and advanced physics and some new mechanics on top of them. Platformers have been around for ages and were really popular on early consoles and in arcades (Donkey Kong, Pitfall, Lode Runner, et al), and it was kind of out of nowhere that they re-appeared on modern PC, consoles, and mobile devices. Oddly enough, just as it happened the first time around, we’re now moving on from platformers and into more “advanced” retro gaming. First comes Wasteland 2 which isn’t “old school” so much as it is the resurrection of an old-school franchise that has been promised to cleave closely to the original which was popular some 20 years ago. Recently, the Legend of Grimrock has gone up for pre-order. This game is so very much in the vein of early PC dungeon crawlers like Eye of the Beholder and Dungeon Master, but with improved graphics and advanced physics and some new mechanics (I assume). So we’re not just seeing a resurgence of a single trope from the early days of video games, we’re seeing a repeat performance of the evolution of gaming that’s brought us to where we are today.
I’m very happy to see Wasteland 2 and Legend of Grimrock, and I hope we get more games being made or re-made from this period. This was the time during the early days of the gaming industry that I remember the most, and the best, and I appreciate the idea that we’ve finally moved into the period where developers started to recognize that video games could offer more than just running and jumping.
Every now and then, I have thoughts about things, but I’m not entirely sure how to explain them. These thoughts seem to be gut reactions, feelings, or “hunches” (if you’re a fan of Scooby Doo-style explanations). This post falls into that category, but I’ll do my best to explain what I think of when I think about how Sony handles it’s PlayStation division in regards to their players.
Apples And Oxen
Although it’ll rattle some corner of the Internet, I must use the PS3’s arch-nemesis, the Xbox 360, as a foil to what Sony does wrong. Mind you, I’m not partisan: I own both systems, and I use both systems. But I don’t think both systems are equal from an ecosystem perspective. I’m not talking hardware; I’m talking about philosophical differences in how the devices and the people behind them treat you, the gamer. This is not an “Xbox is awesome! PS3 sucks!” post. So un-bunch if you have already bunched, please.
Farmers Market Versus Inconvenience Stores
Microsoft wants you to buy their stuff. They’re a business; it’s what businesses do. In fact, the whole business plan for pretty much any business should be summed up by your neighborhood “convenience store”, so named because they make buying the things you need easy. If you hear about a demo or a new XBLA release, you can log into Xbox.com and read about it, view video and see images, and maybe add the item to your download queue so when you get home, you can power up the Xbox and it will automatically download for you.
Sony, on the other hand, has no way to view their marketplace unless you’re on a Sony device (PS3 or Vita). Normally you’d go to http://www.us.playstation.com and click on the PlayStation Network item on the sidebar, and then choose PlayStation Store and expect to be taken to…the PlayStation Store, right? Sadly, this only takes you to a PR page which explains what the PSS offers, and although it does offer you a tutorial video on how to access the PSS, it shows you how to do that on the PS3 only.
Show, Don’t Tell
A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. Sony apparently has more literature majors on it’s marketplace staff than it does artists, because once you do get into the marketplace, it’s rather difficult to visualize the product they’re asking you to buy. Not every item on the market has screen shots, and even fewer have video. Instead, there’s a wall of text that they politely ask you to read, followed by a landslide of legal disclaimers that would make King John sigh with fatigue. If you don’t know what you’re looking at before you go into the description, or don’t have a way to look up the information on the item through a third party solution (tablet, PC, smartphone, etc), you’re spitting into the wind. Considering the raft of “WTF?” that the PlayStation platform has always enjoyed here in the West, which includes Western games plus a whole lot of imports from the Homeland of Japan, only the dedicated PS fans are going to recognize the majority of these items without a little visual assistance.
Click OK If You Want To Click OK
I’ve complained about the PS3’s XMB (Cross Media Bar) UI in the past, and I still stick by my distaste for it. I’ve come to accept it as my PS3 usage has increased over time, but I still think that it’s far from being an optimal experience.
The thing that I find the most bothersome most of the time is how often I’m confirming things. On a PC, or even the Xbox, I’m asked to click on something to initiate the download. On the PC, if I say OK, it downloads. On the Xbox, I have to confirm the cost of the item against the amount of points I have (or not, if it’s free) and click Purchase (or whatever the button is), and then it downloads. Silently.
On the PS3, I have to click Download on the market page (sans images or video), then I need to view my cart. Then I have the option to download individual items, or the entire cart. Then I have to confirm that I confirmed the download. Then it queues. Then I have to click Go Back to confirm that I’ve seen the download progress indicator. Now I’m back at the cart. Now what? Where am I? How did I get here and where do I go now? It feels like an awkward conversation where both parties have run out of things to say, and end up standing there, staring at each other, both unsure if it’s OK to break away for a more comfortable venue.
The same goes for saving games, most of which require you to acknowledge the acknowledgement that your game has been saved. The PS3 has a Cell Processor, supposedly a very powerful bit of computing hardware. I trust that when I tell it to save, it’s saving. I’m not your mommy, PS3; I know you can do it on your own.
Sony Is Seen, But Not Heard
There is probably something that a lot of people don’t even think about, but which I think is pretty important, especially if we’re talking about PR or customer interaction, and that’s spokespeople.
If you know anything about Xbox, you know (of) Larry “Major Nelson” Hryb. He’s got his own Xbox-centric website. The dude is everywhere Xbox is. He’s like (pardon the sacrilege, and loaded comparison) John the Baptist to the Xbox’s Jesus, going ahead of the main event to spread the word. If you see Major Nelson, you know that there’s some kind of Xbox deluge to follow. And he seems to be a nice guy, too. We went to the Xbox presentation in Cambridge during PAX East a few years ago, and he was very personable. He was also out and about on the PAX East floor, doing “his thing”, which is to be the Face Of Xbox and interacting with the fans.
Sony has The Kevin Butler. Man, I love The Kevin Butler. I don’t think there’s anything that he’s been in that hasn’t caused me to laugh out loud – the real kind, not the Internet shorthand kind. He’s a great pitchman, and I think Sony really scored in the The Kevin Butler presentation. But…The Kevin Butler doesn’t really tell me anything about the PS brand on a day to day basis. I check his Twitter stream next to Major Nelson’s, and it’s clear that Major Nelson is far more informative then The Kevin Butler. I appreciate The Kevin Butler’s humor, which is always on, but I don’t see him as really a “face” of PlayStation. He’s more like a “mask”, which is fine for ads and branding purposes, but not for connecting with the community.
The Neighbor And The Businessman
These are just some examples off the top of my head that I’ve been collecting over time when I encounter something that makes me think that Sony really dropped the ball in connecting with people. Their market is only friendly if you obsess over every single game release anywhere in the world and know it on the weight of the title alone. They try to drive people to use their hardware and only their hardware on their terms, which makes it far less-than-easy for people to actually use their market. Sony doesn’t even have a real, feet-on-the-ground community person in The Kevin Butler, who they use as the brand’s spokesperson and elected cheerleader.
Whether you like the people you play with or against on either the Xbox or the PS3, I think that Microsoft has a much more advanced customer interaction apparatus in place than Sony does, by miles. To me, walking into the Xbox ecosystem is like chatting with a neighbor, having a beer, talking about lawn care or football or other neighbors. Sony, by contrast, is like walking into a business meeting. There may be a little small talk, but the most exciting thing you can hope to get out of it is a long contract, a handshake, and a business card.
I think that anything Sony does at this point to move towards a better link with their community would be head and shoulders above what they have in place right now. I’d even jump for joy if they wholesale-stole Microsoft’s playbook. They need to move away from being the stereotypical cold Japanese “all business, all the time” design and realize that their PlayStation division is selling video games, not cancer treatments.
I really don’t visit Big Name Gaming Websites on my own volition. I’ll usually only go to one if someone provides a link to something very specific, or if I need to find information on a product on my own. Yesterday, many people were all “OMG!” over the news that GiantBomb was handed over to CBS Interactive. I really don’t care. I really didn’t care about the original “Gertsmann-gate” thing went down, either. The idea that someone’s opinion is more valuable because they’re being paid to give it is dangerous to rely on because it implies that the difference between your opinion and their opinion is simply a matter of dollars.
But I thought about where I do get my valuable opinions from, and those come from people I have actually interacted with, and who I have had conversations with, through which I get at least some level of comfort in knowing “who these people are, and what they’re about”. I’m not going to know intimate details about people’s upbringing just by talking with them through social networks, but I will know who likes JRPGs, who plays a lot of FPS, and who can engage intelligently in a discussion about MMOs. Most importantly, I know that these people are expressing opinions based entirely on experiences that they undertook of their own free will. They weren’t paid to write about a game that was placed on their desks, which may very well be in a genre they never play and therefor know nothing about, or which they know a lot about – and which they despise. I personally feel that no matter how “honest” a paid reviewer claims to be, they still have to produce, they have to produce on a schedule, and as much as their “opinion” may be based on opinion, there’s just too many “business” factors that I feel influence their reviews.
I’m a web developer by trade, and I used to do a lot of development for personal projects. There’s a night and day difference between the work you do for a paycheck, when it’s handed to you and designed to meet the needs of others, and just free-forming the hell out of a project based entirely on whatever you want or need it to do, with no strings attached. That’s where I see the difference between Big Name Gaming Websites and the opinions of friends and colleagues. The former is being paid to have an opinion, while the later is giving an opinion free of any strings, caveats, or asterisks.
Folks who are normally within range of my voice are probably sick to death of hearing about this, but it looks like Wasteland 2, a proper sequel to one of the early touchstones of computer RPGs, is on it’s way.
Wasteland was created by Interplay, same folks who brought us the probably-more-well-known The Bard’s Tale. Sadly, Wasteland is rarely mentioned when most people talk about RPGs that defined the genre, but it’s just as relevant because it made games like Skyrim, Mass Effect, and Fallout 3 possible.
In fact, it’s specifically because of Wasteland that we have Fallout 3. Fallout and Fallout 2 were made by Interplay as well, and according to Brian Fargo, were spiritual successors to Wasteland and not direct sequels because Interplay didn’t own the rights to the Wasteland name (Notice the little “EOA” at the bottom of the box cover art? That’s Electronic Arts when they were known as Electronic Arts, which should say a lot about why the Wasteland name was sealed away).
The thing about Wasteland is that it’s not high-fantasy. I played a lot of RPGs on the C64 – Phantasie, The Bard’s Tale, SSI’s Gold Box D&D Series, and more – most of which were Tolkien-inspired lands of castles, elves and dragons. Wasteland was about mutants and nuclear holocaust, which in the Cold War 80’s was a very real possibility. If memory serves me, the game also had a sense of humor – the title of this post is taken from a description you’d get when you scored a critical hit on a target, which would explode “like a blood sausage”.
I’ve tried to replay several games that I enjoyed in my youth, but I realize that it’s a mistake to attempt such a thing. Nostalgia isn’t a crystal clear remembrance, and few things hold up down the road in the ways we seem to remember them. Case in point: I recently downloaded The Bard’s Tale for the iPad, which includes the original 1980’s version! I was excited until I loaded it up and was slaughtered outside the guild hall. That game is really fucking difficult – but not really. I just don’t remember it requiring so much prep work, a fact which I blame on today’s RPGs which start you off as a virtual badass, and not an unequipped nobody who gets kicked around by goddamn kobolds like The Bard’s Tale does. That’s why I’m excited that we’re not getting Wasteland, but a real sequel to a game (I think) I really loved back in those days, but updated for modern times. Because it’s Fargo and crew who will be working on it, it’s going to be true to the original…just more updated.
The finishing touch on this is rather amusing. The game is being funded via Kickstarter, which I wrote about yesterday. Tim Schafer’s Double Fine development company raised over $3m USD via Kickstarter, and after 3 days, Fargo has raised a little over $1m USD. If you check out their Kickstarter page and watch the (pretty funny) video pitch, you’ll see that Fargo took the Wasteland pitch to several publishers – all of whom turned it down. I know $1m isn’t a lot to the likes of EA or Activision or other publishers, but I’d assume they turned it down because they didn’t think people would be interested in a sequel to a 20+ year old game. Except the almost 19,000 people who have now dedicated, on average, $60 a piece to get this project going. That’s the 19,000 people who probably would have paid $60 a piece for this game on their platform of choice. That’s 19,000 people who won’t be paying a publisher for any part of this project.
And there’s 32 more days left on the project, which has already exceeded it’s funding requirements. So, thanks, publishers, for passing this one up and for allowing inXile to bring it direct to us, and not languish in your development hell any longer.
After my gushing “looks good on paper” post about Minefold, the dirt (block) cheap Minecraft server hosting start-up, I decided that I really should do the due diligence thing and make sure that the service was all it was cracked up to be.
At the end of the day, the game is still Minecraft. If you loved it or hated it, Minefold won’t change your mind. However, if you liked the idea of multiplayer, or had tried to run a server and found that it was more trouble than it was worth, the Minefold is right up your alley. It’s easy to use, has no frills, and does absolutely everything as advertised.
The picture above is our starting area in Wankerville. I created the world locally on my machine because we were looking for a decent seed that allowed for casual building. We ended up using “EricIsAWanker” as that seed, which gave us a heavily forested, hilly land with a coastal spawn point. We quickly built a lighthouse to mark the spawn area, and then set out to start building features. You can see Eric’s ship, Jared’s café on the coast, and the start of my Not-Quite-Comfortable Inn under construction behind the lighthouse.
We’re a non-exclusive world, so if you’re interested in getting into or back into some multiplayer collaborative world building, sign up for Minefold, use the above link to locate the Wankerville world, and apply for membership! We’re running in creative mode with no monster spawns for the time being, so we can create the world without interruption.
Kickstarter is a great service, and a great innovation that funds…innovation. There’s a lot of project concepts out there that may leak into the public consciousness, but which were offered as “pie in the sky” proof-of-concept ramblings that inevitably ended with an implied sigh; “if only we had the cash to make it a reality…” Kickstarter is that cash-pipe, allowing people to funnel money not through a middleman, but directly to the people who are making the product or offering the service. We know that the money is going to be used for it’s stated purpose, and not for sending some executive to Aruba while The Team is forced to work 28 hour days to meet someone else’s promised deadline.
Lately, though, I’m getting the feeling that Kickstarter is inching towards becoming the “Craigslist for Projects” where people throw almost anything against the wall to see if it sticks. See, with Kickstarter, if you contribute money to the project, and they reach their goal, you’re charged for your pledge. If they miss their goal, your pledge is null and void, and you owe nothing – and receive nothing, naturally. This makes it a no-brainer for a lot of wacky projects because if they don’t get the funding, then everyone is off the hook. If they do reach their goal, then they have the the funding to make things happen…no matter how bizarre or insanely niche the project may be. Ideally, the funding target is chosen based on projections of what’s needed to complete the project and make good on the promises listed in the sidebar. I’m not entirely sure what happens if there’s some kind of roadblock between the success of funding and providing the finished product. I’d assume that Kickstarter: The Service is going to only be as good as the honesty of the people who use the service for the projects. If the project creators screw the angels, then Kickstarter will suffer through guilt by association.
Back when I was thinking about Universe, I considered Kickstarter to get some cash to hire someone to handle artwork, but I’m rather skittish about being on “the Kickstarter hook” (although it would be a suitable fire under my ass to get something done). Now that the name of Kickstarter has gotten around the Internet, there are gawd-knows-how-many projects being added to an already massive pile of people looking to get their projects in front of the right faces. Sadly, there’s only so many faces, and those faces can only really contribute so much money to so many worthy (or wacky) projects that I wonder how many projects on Kickstarter end up falling off their site without meeting their goals. Regardless, I’m glad that Kickstarter exists, partly to get the money to the people who actually do the work, and partly because it can be used for some really awesome stuff that might otherwise not ever see the light of day.
I’ve got to restrain myself here, lest I pop a blood vessel, but Minefold.com is about as amazing a construct as Minecraft itself.
Pete of Dragonchasers fame uncovered this and posted it to G+. I host a small server in my home for my daughter and her friends to play on, and it works well because we can re-build or trash the world as we see fit. We’re running Bukkit, and I’ve tried some mods but for the most part they’re content to just build their own little world. But the machine is ancient, and doesn’t run all that well. Plus keeping up with Bukkit updates when the client updates results in a flurry of “is the server updated yet” pestering. I looked into hosting, but the cost was either astronomical, or the procedures were very convoluted for hosting on something like Amazon’s EC platform.
So enter Minefold, the best idea I never thought of. It uses Amazon’s system, and has a fully functional world management front end. You sign up (using your Minecraft username so it recognizes you as the account holder) and can create a new world or upload your own (MCEdit fans). You can run it peaceful or with enemies, on survival or creative. Once it’s live, you can invite friends and play on a nice, hosted Minecraft world.
“Hold the phone!” you say, if people actually still said that. “How can this be? And why I am talking to a blog?” Well, here’s the catch(s).
- All accounts have one world, so make it count.
- A free account can play for 10 hours per month. So make those count.
- You can be a “pro” member for $5 per month, billed in three different, three month increments (three, six, or twelve months).
- Pro members can play for unlimited time, and can be members of unlimited worlds.
- Each pro member pays only for himself. You don’t need to collect money from leeches to pay for your hosting.
Once you’re a member of any stripe, you can petition a world to become a member. How do you find worlds? With their handy-dandy MF’n ass-kickin’ world browser, that’s how! If you’re in a creative funk, you can even find a super sweet world (might I suggest…) and clone it to your account. Aquila is just begging for iConomy…
…but the downside is that they’re using the Notchian server – so there’s no plugins at this time. They claim that they will be supporting Bukkit, and with the Bukkit development going over to Mojang, I would expect this to open up a lot of possibilities in the future. The only other downside (although it’s like complaining that your caviar is too…caviar-y) is that I’ll need to pay $30 for my account, and for my daughter. But that’s $10 per month, technically…I spend more on a single MMO, so my bitching is purely academic.
I stopped working with Minecraft a while ago, but having this opportunity to create a world and to have other people in it for a low, low fee is really a no-brainer. Even for the ultra-casual, a free account can mean that someone can jump in and test out the service and any worlds of friends to see if they want to commit to a full subscription. I think this is a great deal, and I hope things pan out for Minefold.
I’m trying something new: In Brief. I realize that most of my posts are tl;dr, so I’m going to limit posts in this series to a link (if the post is inspired by an external source), and three paragraphs: an opening, a point, and the conclusion. It may not be what your 7th grade English teacher wanted in your essays, but who the hell cares? I do…about you.
* For Creators of Games, a Faint Line on Cloning (nytimes.com)
Mobile development started off like the 1800’s gold rush, with seemingly everyone dropping their responsibilities to head to the Promised Land of “easy money”. The mobile gaming space was an open frontier, a vacuum, and there was no shortage of opportunity for both large and small (even a single person) developers. They quickly filled that vacuum, and now it seems we’re into the “…and then some” phase where the benefits of mobile development – small teams, little-to-no money down, rapid concept-to-market turnarounds – is catching up, and the result is apparently quite dire for developers and this segment of the industry.
I’m not under any illusions about the amount of time it takes to develop a game for mobile like, say, Tiny Tower, which is quite a feet for the tiny NimbleBit team, but I do think that it’s not quite as herculean a task for a company the size of Zynga to release Dream Heights so soon after Tiny Tower hit it big. The same benefits that smaller teams or individuals enjoy in mobile development are also their worst enemies when wielded by larger companies with deep pockets and teams of developers who have the luxury of skipping the design, prototype, and trial-and-error phases of software development. There’s nothing to stop a company from making a “me too” game; it’s practically a given in a risk-adverse industry like this one. However in other creative industries, an artist may have copyright laws at their backs to defend against blatant clones; software does not since it’s only the products themselves that can be protected, not the ideas behind them. With AAA game development for consoles and PC, the best defense against blatant rip-offs showing up on your doorstep is time. No one can make a Mass Effect clone and release it within days, weeks, or even months after the release of the official Mass Effect. When time is eroded as an effective barrier, all kinds of things are possible, and we’re just now waking up to the reveal that not all of them are beneficial.
This isn’t going to cause the death of mobile development, but it could easily winnow the developer pool and chill the atmosphere for smaller developers. Up to this point most of the stories and anecdotes we’ve been subjected to have been about the rosy picture of mobile development as the “future of game development” and happy stories about bedroom developers who have struck oil in this (once) wide open field. Now it seems that we’re finally getting stories about the underbelly of the mobile world, populated by the scammers and underhanded dealings of people who do what they do because it’s easy, and because there’s nothing to stop them. This is really an eye-opening opportunity for current and future indies who think mobile is the path of least resistance towards a big break into the industry, and will hopefully force starry-eyed “mobile as the future of gaming” boosters to return to reality of what they’ve wrought.
Here’s a hot button topic: downloadable content.
There’s been two recent DLC related furors recently. The first was related to today’s release of Mass Effect 3 and it’s day-one DLC. Apparently this DLC contains a playable character – a Prothean, the mysterious super-race in ME lore that was supposedly beaten back by the Reapers long ago. Sorry if that’s a spoiler, but it’s been all over the Internet, so if you haven’t seen it yet, congratulations on being an Internet Ninja! The second dust-up is over DLC that’s already on the disk for Street Fighter X Tekken from Capcom. Capcom claims that having the data on-disk allows players who opt not to buy the DLC to at least have the assets available to be able to play against those who do buy the DLC.
Really, the whole notion of DLC is contentious. Some people view DLC as a money grab after paying full price for a game. Others view it as some essential parts that were excised from the original game, and sold back to us at an additional premium. DLC is also apparently the new way for publishers to combat the used-game resale conundrum.
Some people will find an argument anywhere they can, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a legitimate one. DLC isn’t a “slap in the face” (one of the Internet’s greatest over-reactive statements, BTW) to paying consumers, because you’ve gotten what you’ve paid for by agreeing to pay for it, and you are not entitled to everything, ever. Casey Hudson of BioWare really explained it succinctly when he said this:
The DLC, whether it’s day one or not, is always going to be sugar on top, the extra… You know, the extra little bits of content that tell side stories.
And that’s all it is: extra. Side stories. Stuff you can totally live without unless you’re a hoarding completionist who believes that anything less then everything is nothing. And it seems that there are a lot of people out there who think this way.
I’m sorry to say, but just because you think you need something doesn’t make it true. Crack addicts think that they need more crack, but they really don’t (technically, they need to be weaned off of it, but it’s still a decent analogy). I think the idea that “simply because it exists that it is rightfully yours” is more about what people feel that they are entitled to then it is about financial justice. Our parents bought their cars a la carte for some of the most mundane, taken-for-granted-today amenities like power windows, AM/FM radio…and seatbelts. They didn’t go into the dealer and point at a car they wanted, and then start jumping up and down like a brain-damaged ape when the salesman asked them if they wanted to pay extra for the life saving features. Now we take that for granted that seatbelts are standard, but at one time, they cost extra, and that our parents didn’t flip out on the Internet about it says that we’re way to close to this DLC morass to think about it in a rational manner.
No one likes to pay more then they have to, but we do like to have things to pay for right? We can talk about how “greedy” companies are until the cows amble in, but these companies are businesses. If you work for a company for a living, or even freelance or are self-employed, then you know in the back of your head that your continued employment – the means by which you can afford to buy Mass Effect 3 so you can complain about the day-one DLC with authority – depends entirely on your company’s ability to make more money this month than it did last month, every month over last. If it doesn’t, know that your competition will, and then your company will be purchasing the “Bring In The Hatchet Man” DLC, which you will most likely get for free.
In short, DLC is not owed to you just because it exists, whether it’s released on day one, is already on the disk or must be downloaded, or whether you think your experience is incomplete without it. You are not entitled to anything except what you agree to purchase at the time the transaction is finalized. That’s true whether you pay $4.99 in the bargain bin, $60 for day one release, or $120 for the CE (although part of the traditional perks of the CE is that any day-one DLC is included, so that’s kind of moot).
If you’ve gotten this far, then cleanse your palate with an even better argument from Forbes on the DLC issue. Be sure to chew on it a bit, because the take home message in that piece is not the title (“Why the Exploitation of Gamers is Our Own Damn Fault”), it’s this:
You might say that you wish the extra mission was in the game, thus saving you $10. But hell, I wish the game was $30, but that doesn’t meant I won’t buy it for $60. The question at hand is…how much do you love Mass Effect? You’ve shown you love it $60 worth for years, and now, they’re seeing if you love it $70 worth.