Monthly Archives: January 2013

End of Social?

According to A List Daily (a gaming industry site), social game investments have “fallen off a cliff” in the last year. Investments are down 94 percent. No, you didn’t misread that. Only one twentieth of the funds are going into the sector.

Meanwhile, another story there says that mobile gaming is now “cluttered”. Budgets are skyrocketing, yields are falling, users are getting harder and harder to get and retain, and new entrants face the reality that Apple gets 128 new game app submissions every single day.

So the darling of a few years ago, social gaming, has collapsed. Everybody that was singing the praises of “social” before is now piling into the mobile scene. I think that they might just want to survey the wreckage they left behind a bit first. There’s some lessons to be learned there.

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Gamasutra: “3DS piracy is a problem – because publishers say so”

I wish I were making that up. I’m not.

No, according to Epic Mickey developer Peter Ong, apparently the very fact that publishers believe that there might be piracy on a platform will drive them away from it. It’ll mean that publishers will force developers to put out naught but casual-focused games, since casuals don’t pirate, and avoid regions (read: Eastern Europe) that are more piracy-heavy.

You may ask “um…PC? Hasn’t Steam meant that Gabe Newell is swimming in money despite PC piracy being omnipresent? He’s even put Steam in Eastern Europe!” You’d have a good point. Gabe’s building his third money bin, last I checked. The indie scene on PC is also so healthy that it’s become cliched to mention it.

It wasn’t addressed.

You may also ask “wait…casuals don’t pirate? Haven’t I seen a flood of people ‘jailbreak’ their iPhones who aren’t exactly the nerdly type?” You’d have a good point there, too. Breaking DRM on cell phones is so common that people stopped referring to it as “piracy” because the association was kinda inconvenient. (Also, Android.) It’s a cottage industry that the Library of Congress made exceptions for even while DS piracy chips have been made nearly universally illegal.

It wasn’t addressed.

You may also ask “who the hell cares? The real threat to the 3DS isn’t the marginal number of people who pirate but the vast hordes that have smartphones and don’t see the point of a separate handheld game device! Or the fact that 3DS games are tenfold more costly than iOS/Android stuff!” Good point! You’re pretty smart!

It wasn’t addressed.

You may finish by saying:

“desperate publishers and their financial backers are looking for any lame excuse to chase after mythical mobile riches, and ‘piracy’ is as good an excuse as any. Developers always have the option of going independent, though, and taking a bit of a swim in Gabe’s money bin, unless and until Nintendo makes it viable to do independent digital distro on the 3DS. You’d be better placed to jump on the mobile train than they are anyway, if it comes to that.”

You’d be right!

It wasn’t addressed.

No, none of the enormous problems with this argument were addressed. The interviewer, Mike Rose, didn’t follow up on any of these things at all. The comments thread on Gamasutra is an absolute riot of people calling “BS” on Ong’s reasoning. So why didn’t Rose? I checked to see if maybe he was just reporting on someone else’s story, but that didn’t seem to be the case. It seems like he interviewed Ong personally (or at least by email.) So where was the follow-up here?

The whole thing reads less like an argument against piracy and more like an argument against publishers. It implies that we have a choice: either quake in fear at every dumb thing that a publisher may or may not do, or just ditch the whole “publisher” thing as a bad hangover from the days when distribution was an actual problem and sort out alternative solutions for financing and promotion. I’m pretty sure I know which option the market will pick.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that publishers can play a useful role. I think they do play a useful role. But it isn’t 1993, it’s 2013. Times have changed, and they have to accept that they need us far more than we need them.  Writers like Rose should recognize it, too, and for the love of God follow up a bit on such dubious answers.

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Just thinking out loud here.

Was looking at some of the absolutely awesome things coming out of TWINE-that hyperlinked game creation thing that’s ultra-hot right now.

(Maybe a link later; go google “Porpentine” if you’re curious, since Porpentine seems to be at ground-zero for this thing. Wrote a great piece on it at Nightmare Mode. Anna Anthropy’s done some good analysis of it too.)

The nice thing is that these things make game-creation absolutely accessible. Almost anybody can make a game with TWINE; it barely requires programming, and isn’t really any tricker than just making something in HTML, which most people who’ve written things on the Internet for any length of time can do without too much difficulty.

Every time something becomes easier, though, more people end up doing it. That’s when you get back to the whole Clay Shirky problem of information abundance. Instead of having to seek out material, the problem becomes sifting through the dross to find the good stuff: the stuff that really turns your head and blows your mind. You have to, or else you end up being overloaded.

(To put it a perspective that old book readers will understand, EVERYBODY has a slush pile now.)

That’s the role of curation. That’s what review sites and journalists and critics and bloggers and social media people are doing to a great extent. They’re looking at what’s out there and pointing to the stuff that they think you should pay attention to. It’s pretty critical these days.

Problem: the Internet is so vast and the number of people who are into games are so numerous that we now have a glut of curators too.  Almost everybody who says “I want to get into games journalism” is basically saying he or she wants to play this curatorial role; all the professionals saying “don’t try it, it’s impossible” are acknowledging the glut. It’s a sort of meta-glut where you’ve got a “slush pile” of curators.

So, now, the problem is meta-curation. It’s finding the curators that will find the things that you enjoy. Even worse, you can find yourself looking for a meta-curator that will find the curators that will find the things that you’ll enjoy. It’s turtles all the way down, each one with their own blog and YouTube channel.

MetaCritic solves this problem by boiling everything down to numbers, but it doesn’t work very well, since almost no games curator truly believes that the numbers they choose really reflect how they feel. Besides, people will game that system by deliberately giving outlier scores, and others will be left out by their choice to avoid scores.

(Leaving Rock Paper Shotgun and Kotaku out of your meta-curation tool basically invalidates it.)

Google solves it with PageRank, which is a bit better, but is also somewhat of a popularity contest that ends up getting won by whoever can play the SEO game better. That’s not necessarily going to be the curator that best fits your need. It’s almost never going to be the curator that best fits your needs.

And then there’s Facebook. Hell with that.

So what to do? How to decide? What happens when there are too many meta-curation options? Will we need meta-meta-curation? And most importantly, how the hell can anybody make a living? Where will the money come from and go to?

I don’t know. Like I said, I’m just thinking out loud. Interested in your thoughts, though.

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Game-Makers should meet with Biden. But on THEIR terms.

I hate it when people argue past each other.

Take Gamasutra’s Kris Graft. He’s arguing that representatives of the game industry shouldn’t be meeting with VP Joe Biden to (as Biden put it) “look at concrete solutions to gun violence”. He thinks that the meeting would be an admission of guilt; that by showing up, you demonstrate that you’re part of the problem. Wal-Mart isn’t showing for that exact reason; they don’t accept blame, so won’t accept its consequences.

Fair enough. Sometime you do have to take a stand and say “no, your ‘reasonable compromise’ isn’t reasonable at all.”  Right now we’ve got far too many woolly-headed calls for “dialogue” or “discussion” or “debate” that purport to disdain the critics while quietly endorsing their every claim in an attempt to be “reasonable”. Taking a stand and saying “NO” matters a lot.

But then take IGN’s Casey Lynch. Casey makes the point that games are going to get blamed anyway, whether they show up at the meeting or not, and that it’s better to be on the inside than on the outside. If you aren’t there, you’ll get blamed by those who are.

Lynch has a good point too! There’s a lot of good science backing up the point that there’s no real connection between games and gun violence…but there’s also a lot of studies pointing to a connection between games and “aggression”. Those studies have been criticized as being pretty dubious–good luck defining or measuring “aggression” in a way that means anything, let alone tying it to real-world violence–but it does still exist.* Rest assured, the NRA will be happy to trot it out if they can.

(They’re lobbyists. It’s their job.)

But this debate is ridiculous. Lynch and Graft are both arguing the same thing! They’re both arguing that game-makers shouldn’t be turned into fall-guys. They both don’t like the idea that this terrible tragedy is being cynically exploited by the industry’s critics.

They’re just coming at it from different directions. We just need to reconcile the arguments.

Here. Try this instead:

“We are happy to meet with you, Mr. Vice-President. We look forward to showing you why these concerns are unwarranted. We anticipate the opportunity to discuss the scientific proof that there is no connection between gaming and violence, and we’re delighted to demonstrate how the ESRB’s best-in-the-industry media ratings system ensures that parents can make proper purchasing choices.”

The political game is about definition as much as anything else. It’s about having the discussion on YOUR  terms, instead of the other guy’s terms. It’s not about hiding away, but about getting out in front of the issue, being honest, demonstrating sympathy, and fearlessly advocating your position.

Don’t hide.

Don’t cringe.

Don’t let them pass the buck to duck their own responsibility.

Stand up for yourselves.

Be fearless advocates. That’s what’s best for the industry, and since video games really aren’t the issue here, it’s what’s best for America.

(* If you’re that curious, just Google “Craig Anderson”. He’s a psychology prof at Iowa State. It’s pretty much all him.)

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