August 2008

The World Post Piracy

(Or, my missive into the future of media, and the elimination of piracy.)

Recently indy dev Cliffski asked pirates why they refused to pay for games. This was his conclusion.

Thankfully he realized the problem with DRM; it only has to be cracked once, and then it’s pointless and only serves to bug legitimate users, so he’s dropping it. He also lowered some prices of his games to boot, so, win for consumers! (And hopefully this will help his longterm sales, and not just the short term because of the notoriety gained.)

But there’s an even bigger picture to look at, so let’s do that. Allow me to become a bit of a futurist here and share with you how I could see things happening…

Pirates win, content owners fail.
First, pirates win while content developers lose. That’s not hard to figure out, really. In fact, it’s starting right now as piracy becomes more and more rampant*. Content developers are realizing they can’t sue everyone and are creating better websites like Hulu to keep people from downloading and keeping them from making any money. To be frank, I firmly believe that eventually people will take the attitude that “bits should be copied freely,” and industries will soon scramble to find new ways to ensure they stay on top. They’ll fail. I expect them to go to commercial-driven content, but that’ll just piss people off when they can stream it for free from illegal sites* that will probably be far more user-friendly anyway, and media companies will be relegated to sideshow status at best.

Amateurs win, while professionals flounder.
Much like we’re seeing the beginnings of now, as Big Media struggles to find its place, actual artists (who are savvy) will thrive like never before. Musicians will spread their music freely, and sell out concerts with ease. They’ll sell audio recordings of the concert you just witnessed for cheap, and the bigger bands will even be able to sell you videos of the concert as you leave the venue. If you read this, you probably already know names like “Penny Arcade,” and “Jonathan Coulton,” but note that even Trent Reznor is giving away his music now. If Big Media can’t make this method work for them, expect to see ‘amateurs’ operate at the same level, if not bigger than ‘traditional’ artists.

New professionals win, consumers win.
Those artists, the indie ones? If ‘success’ is as easy as ‘making a living at your art,’ then let’s hope it becomes the norm. (Cross your fingers.) And here we come to the root of exactly how future media could work. Everyone will get the digital files for free. Any person can download and publish any movie, song, art, game, etc. at any time. (A definite win for consumers in my book.) Sure, donations are great, but musicians/performers/actors can charge for life performances (yes, I’m predicting a resurgence of live theatre,) and traditional artists could sell their canvases/sculptures/works. In fact, anyone can sell physical products, just look at the approach of some of these artists. But, what would be the meat and potatoes of games?

If games follow suit, then what will games offer that will keep them viable in the eye of gamers? What is the true essence of ‘art’ in games that makes it a notable difference from all other arts? Interaction. Gamers will be charged subscriptions to play in a world of premier dungeon masters. With all games made of open source, bare bones tech, Game Runners will create an experience that will build up their reputations amongst gamers as good, bad, dense, or grandiose. Just like musicians and directors have their own styles, so will Game Runners.

Yeah, this is the only way to get rid of pirates… Leave nothing for them to pirate.

*More people are born with piracy being the norm, bandwidth rises, latency falls, and advanced processing allows for greater compression. Given these things, in our lifetimes I expect we’ll see very high quality games streamed with relatively little caching (and of course high quality video/audio streamed with no problem.)


Comments (2)


Wasting Real Estate In Games

Dear Game Developers,

After reading that 7 of 10 games lose money, I have to let you guys in on a little secret, you really don’t understand what I really Icare about in a game, and you’re wasting lots of time/money. In fact, you could even cut development costs by focusing less of things like world building. First, let me make a comparison:

A large portion of movies and shows I watch are based in either NYC or LA, and you know what? I’m okay with that. Both of these cities have been imaginarily destroyed more times than anyone wants to count. And you know what? When we’re sitting in darkened theaters, waiting for a blow-up-a-city-movie to start, and we see a trailer for another blow-up-a-city-movie? We lean to our friends and whisper “We gotta come see that!” (Remember the Cloverfield trailer before Transformers?)

Cut to video games, where more and more people are fixated on rebuilding NYC (Spidey 2+, True Crime 2, GTA:(3, LC:S, 4,) Driver, Crazy fucking Taxi, and probably more ‘open’-NYC games I can’t recall,) more times than can possibly be healthy. You’re long past the point of diminishing returns, and you larger publishers in particular need to make one NYC, and work from it. “Oh, but gamers would hate to play the same city in Spidey that they would in Crazy Taxi! They’d call us lazy!” Some will, but the rest of us, who actually play games to [i]play games[/i]? We’ll be okay. Hell, I’d call you smart because I just don’t give a shit about the city you place your game in, really. The city (the buildings and roads,) are just a location, and not characters. The ‘character’ often attributed to cities are actually NPCs, sounds, lighting, and textures that work in tandem to bring the locale to life, and changing those things changes the locale so much, that if you take out people and moving cars, and add crashed ones and zombies, then it’s a different world.

For the life of me I can not fathom why EA, Activision, or Rockstar, haven’t created high detail models of a city (or worked together on one,) to generate lower-rez iterations from as needed. For that matter, why haven’t larger cities created their own virtual models and licensed them to game developers? (Well, government’s lack of metaphorical artistic testicles/ovaries, coupled with the low artistic aim of most games actually explains that, now that I type it…)

But my main point here is that, as a gamer, I’m okay with learning the streets of NYC like a veteran cabbie. Hell, when you think about it, it almost makes sense for characters who’ve lived in NYC for any extended period of time. But even beyond that, creating large worlds is just pointless if they’re devoid of context, and so often the race to create large environments leaves those same environments empty of vibrancy that would make them memorable. Of course, this could easily work to ones advantage by taking the opportunity to fill in the blanks…

“Here is our “Lives of Liberty City” line. A new series of games centered around Liberty City, allowing you four full length video game experiences in one persistent world as you play between the games.” Sounds good, right? While playing a GTA4, imagine being able to pick up any of three other games, each focused on a single island. As you took over neighborhoods in a Mafia-esque crime/RTS, the burroughs in which Italian families come after you in GTA 4 change. As you redevelop South Bohan in a city building sim, the neighborhood becomes gentrified in GTA 4, with some of your friends being displaced. And then in the middle island, a game using the exact same geometry but with much more film noir-ish lighting, music, and music, is an action love story as you play a detective trying to save a young girl caught up in the vile world of blackmail at the hands of the United Liberty Paper Co., only to become a pawn in their twisted game yourself.

So, in closing, don’t be afraid to reuse assets and save money. Just do it well. It’s so easy… In theory, anyway.

Gaming's future

Comments (2)