Playing Catch-Up

Posted by on May 6, 2015 in Community, Gaming

Playing Catch-Up

Last week was school vacation week, so the family and I were AFK (oddly enough, I was the only one without a laptop, armed only with my phone and my 3DS). Stuff happened during that time that seemed tailor made for blogging, so in the absence of anything else I want to talk about today, let’s set the time machine to one week ago to find a dead horse to beat.

Paid Mods And Crowd Control

I’m old, and I remember the days when modding was something people hacked into games, long before it was officially a cottage industry of hyper-interested creatives working to extend the games they loved beyond normal lifespans.

Valve (aka Vader) and Bethesda (aka Palpatine) launched the idea of allowing mod users to charge for their mods. It went over as well as could be expected: People tried putting price tags on their mods, there were some contentious issues of “ownership”, and the population revolted. Valve offered a mea culpa and rolled it back.

Creative people regularly get the shaft when it comes to earning money from their trade. I think we’ve all seen reports of artists of all kinds who have their work used without permission or even attribution — and certainly without remuneration. It’s often like artists need to have a legal attack-dog on retainer before they can even think of producing content if they’re doing it for reasons beyond “because they love doing it”.

That’s the thing about mods: they started out as thing that brought us to this point because “people loved doing it”. I’m certainly not one to deny people trying to make a living, or to get some recompense from their hard work, but modding (to me, at least) has been about doing something you love doing for the sake of doing it. At the most, modders accepted “donations” because why not? Those who can, do. Those who cannot are not denied the work that was made to be seen and had and used.

Valve and Bethesda wanted another revenue stream, and since modding has been making a come-back and was an otherwise untapped potential, it made sense that it might be a good place to harvest some dollars. The 40/35/25 Bethesda/Valve/person who did all the work split shows where Valve and Bethesda believed the credit should be due. It was never about paying modders;  Valve and Bethesda just couldn’t find a way to sell it at 50/50/0 and expect it to even have a chance on the street.

Some folks will say that creatives should be paid 100% of the time. OK, sure, but we’ve reached this point on the back of that not being historically the case. Why now? “Because they could” is the only option I can think of. What’s worse is that while many would argue that modders should be able to charge for their work, I think it’s putting too much credit into the hands of people who potentially have zero baselines for what their work is worth beyond a thumbs up on their mod’s official page. Got a UI enhancement? How much is that worth? $0.99? $5.99? $29.99? How is the value calculated? Based on man-hours to produce, or based on popularity of the previously-free mod? And like home-made porn, just because you can doesn’t mean you should, which is not something the General Internet is good at recognizing. When the option to charge is on the table, there’s no good reason not to charge something. 

Although capitalism says that the market will shake out the crap, I think the community does this just fine without there being money involved. In fact, ask any App Store and it’ll tell you that allowing people to charge for stuff is not going to stop crap from showing up; it’ll just be crap that people have the balls to ask for payment on, and you’ll be surprised how many people happen to have those kinds of balls.

eSports Is A Thing Because Gaming Is A Thing

The world is no longer a place where people can assert that being a geek is something to be ashamed of. For the past three years running, geek-based properties have destroyed box offices. Sci-fi, fantasy, and superheroes have been hot properties in movies, books, and TV. It’s not uncommon for adults to have conversations at work about zombies or high-fantasy kingdoms, and kids are being strongly advised to read novels about young wizards and teenage archers who have to fight for their lives.

I grew up during a time when this was not so. Back then, Colin Cowherd’s now-anachronistic comments regarding ESPN’s decision to air the Heroes of the Storm championship were de rigeur. And in another parallel that should surprise no one who’s up to date with their stereotypes, those insults came from the same kind of people.

That’s why I can’t really get overly upset about this particular situation this time around. Cowherd is fulfilling his role as a sport-obsessed jock who’s picking on “helpless nerds” as if it’s the 1980s all over again. That his choice of phrasing seems tailored to generate controversy among a community who have a very thin skin to any insult from outside of it’s own ranks (especially when set to a “jocks versus nerds” soundtrack) makes the whole situation reek of attention-whoring. Yes, the irony is not lost on me that posts like this are exactly the results Cowherd’s rant were crafted to conceive.

I’m OK with that because I think that the world at large understands that no amount of sarcasm or bro-fisting bravado changes the fact that this is not the 1980s, and the world at-large is increasingly finding a wealth of excitement and entertainment that geeks have been privy to for decades. Simply put, Cowherd is trying to sound all tough-guy, but he’s ultimately out of touch with anyone who doesn’t already agree with him. Bold move, Cotton.

I am also OK with the idea of “eSports”, and I think that die-hard sports fans should be as well. Look at it this way: there’s no one sport. Every sport is played more or less differently, but there are common threads in that sports are competitive, are played by two or more teams or individuals, and that the “goal” is to best the other competitor by reaching the goal first, or to accumulate the most points before time runs out. This is why people consider golf as a sport; it really has nothing to do with physicality at all. It’s all about the competition. People seem really hung up on the idea that something needs to have people moving at high speeds, hitting harder, or throwing faster for something to be a sport; I say that those are just one facet of what a “sport” really is.

In an ironic twist, the similarities between those who bemoan the dilution of “sports” by broadcasting chess matches and spelling bees on channels normally reserved for football and basketball has eerie similarities to some of the arguments that gamers get into over what is and what isn’t a game — like mobile versus consoles versus PCs. We all think alike in many ways, it seems, and I’d be willing to bet that even if Colin Cowherd doesn’t watch Game of Thrones, a lot of his listeners do. I wonder how many of those listeners, then, realize that 30 years ago, they’d be considered geeks for bring into what they’re into today.

EDIT: Mr. Cowherd might want to check out #4 on this post, and realize that he’s not as secure in his segregation as he thinks he is.