Signs of Trouble at the ESA?

29 05 2008


Four members of the ESA have left in the past week, reducing membership to 24. Hyperbolic reporting is pointing to this as the end of the ESA, referring to it variously as a “sinking ship”, and “collapsing”. No companies are giving statements as to reasons why they are not renewing their ESA membership, but rumours cite a lack of leadership in key areas. The worst of the coverage ranges into conspiracy theories that Activision has links to all the companies that have left and is setting up a rival trade body.

Of course, that’s all pretty sensationalist and plenty of the membership is, so far, intact. Only time will tell how bad this is going to get for the ESA, and their recent changes make it seem likely that it would shed a few members. More likely than any of the rumours cited above is that E3 has shrunk and membership fees have gone up; a comment on Next-Gen claims they have risen from $1M to $5M.

If the rise is really that steep, I can see how a lot of members wouldn’t want to pay that. I can also see how very large organisations that understand how lobbying in Washington works would continue to.

UK trade body TIGA has had a different set of woes recently, with a “TIGA lobbies UK Govt. For Games Industry Tax Breaks” headline popping up nearly every week, yet no victories declared. The latest is TIGA and ELSPA working together on a campaign called Games Up?. Activision are listed as one of the sponsors.

Short Break

19 05 2008

It may be a bit quiet here for the next week or so, as I’m away on a short break. Normal service will be resumed on May the 28th.

(CC image by Mor (bcnbits))

Ste Curran on Wider Markets

12 05 2008 have posted an interview with Ste Curran, creative director at Zoe Mode and presenter of One Life Left.

I saw Ste present at GameCity 2007, and he’s sharp as a tack. In this interview he points out that, though the Wii has made some mass market changes, it wasn’t the first or only thing to be moving into wider territories for games:

I don’t know – it’s not like girls are a new technology…they’ve always existed, and people have always wanted to sing, dance and play games like that. It seems to me that you could talk in terms of things like marketing capacity and throughput of units, and so on, about whether the industry is in a better place to attract that kind of market, but I can see an alternate reality where the first few games that were developed weren’t necessarily sword-and-sorcery games, but maybe were dancing games – so that games developed as more of a teenage girls’ hobby, and only just now would we be busting out into the GTAs of this world.

I think there are a lot of things that make it the right time for gaming, I think it could have happened earlier. In a way, it did happen earlier. People talk about it now in terms of Nintendo, but SingStar did a lot for getting PlayStation 2s in front of teenage girls – just for that game. And SingStar is totally valid as a videogame, I think it’s as precisely designed as any action game.

As an event organiser, I’m also very interested in this, which lines up with some of my recent thinking:

I think that a lot of conferences miss opportunities – you’ve got all of these incredibly creative people, very talented, in the room and unless I’ve just been unlucky with conference sessions in the past, but I tend to find it’s usually a man stood in front of a series of PowerPoint slides, which were prepared by somebody in his office, and he takes you through them very patiently – and that sends me to sleep, it’s not what I’m really interested in.

(CC image of people playing Singstar by clurr)

Codemasters Get F1 License

9 05 2008

Recent happenings at Codemasters get more interesting. First they buy SEGA’s London based Racing Studio, which was originally set up with ex-Codies, now they’ve got the F1 license to go with it.

(via Gamasutra, CC image by TMWolf)

Dan Houser: “Fuck all this stuff about casual gaming”

6 05 2008

Boom Blox

Rockstar North have always been very culturally switched on, but now not only are they expressing that in their games, but in the people they talk to publicly as well. Manhunt 2 seemed to signal a big change in the way Rockstar dealt with PR and controversy. They’re out in force to support GTA IV and are doing really well at hitting it home as a cultural event.

It’s easy to take Houser’s words out of context with everyone in the games press using those ones as the headline, but here’s the full quote:

Yeah, fuck all this stuff about casual gaming. I think people still want games that are groundbreaking. The Wii is doing something totally different, which is fantastic. We’re hopefully going to prove that there’s also a very big audience for people who want entertainment in another form, who think of games as being a narrative device that can challenge movies. We always said: We’re not going release a large number of games. They’re going to have the production values of movies. They’re gonna be about themes that interest us whatever the medium, instead of the weird, special video game–only themes that too many people make — orcs and elves, or monsters, or space. We felt you could make a good game and have it be about something we could actually relate to. Or aspire to.

Naturally, a lot of games are staying well away from release dates in the week after GTA IV landed, but interestingly, not Wii title Boom Blox, which is released on May the 9th in Europe. GTA IV will probably have little impact on it, given that the Wii is such a different market.

Together, Houser’s words and Boom Blox are quite a challenge to the shovelware that’s been inundating it (I like the idea of the Wii, but nothing has convinced me to get one yet. I live in hope).

The limits on the craft of games are mainly technical and financial. While it can be difficult and risky to push cultural limits outward by trying new things, the Wii and casual markets seem to have been catastrophically conservative so far.

Rating Systems

2 05 2008

PEGI ratings

The BBFC intend to launch a rating system for online games and films in just a few months, much faster than the two years or so stated to implement the full recommendations of the Byron review. It seems the BBFC are going to work with PEGI, and this TechRadar interview with BBFC chairman David Cook goes into some detail on it (warning, site has popups):

Tanya Byron has recommended pretty much the same thing online as she has recommended for physical product, which is that games to be rated 12 and up should come to the BBFC. So there are two routes we could go here. We could either set up something which we are already doing – called BBFC Online – as a competitor to PEGI Online or we could feed into PEGI Online, given that PEGI Online already recognises BBFC symbols.

In early April the same site interviewed Patrice Chazerand from IFSI (the body in charge of PEGI), who also seems to be a pragmatist:

“The UK public probably couldn’t care less about the competition of two game ratings agencies – they care about getting the right information,” he added.

Maddeningly, just when it seems all the sulking could end, DSGi have announced that they’ll be rolling out their own in store game ratings system. Why? It seems utterly pointless and confusing for a retailer to expend resources on a third rating system when they could put more oomph into raising awareness of BBFC and PEGI ratings.

It gets worse. Here’s how the rating panel will be selected:

The Currys panel will be selected from the winners of in-store competition, the retailer has said.

and what the system will feature:

The sticky labels will feature a “squabble-ometer” and a laughter scale.

Not only is this going to be cringeworthy, but by the sounds of it, despite their line on games expanding into a family activity, the way they’re pitching it is all wrong. It’s crazily simplistic to reference the “games are for teenagers” meme as dying then imply that they’re for kids. A patronising, proprietary ratings system that regards games as “family fun” instead of entertainment for all ages, including adult only titles, is going to do absolutely nothing for games or anything else.

On reflection, DSGi’s system sounds like it might be exactly the kind of crashingly irrelevant rubbish that people just ignore. Here’s hoping.