Guillermo del Toro Talks On Games

29 08 2008

In terms of film, the past decade has seen a lot of token interest in the games industry, with various directors producing turgid cash-ins on successful games.

Interest in games is now culturally entrenching though, as demonstrated by Guillermo del Toro in this interview:

How much influence do you think your gaming has had on your movies?

A lot. Videogames use art direction, colour and storytelling in a very pure way that a lot of movies have forgotten. I have a 12-year-old daughter and we play together, but unfortunately she’s more into Sonic and Kirby. We should embrace games not as a separate universe from movies, but develop the stories using both media at the same time. And I think we can.

Care to put a date on that?

The industry is incredibly slow. It’s like a dinosaur. It turns much slower than its culture. I think the content is going to develop itself through viral construction like the internet, online moviemaking and so on.

The interviewer unfortunately seems to be a soft touch, especially when it comes to Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and Bioshock. I’m sure there’s plenty more to find out there, but nonetheless it’s encouraging to see a director talking about games and not come across as if they’re reading from cue cards. Legitimate interest in games from other fields is quickly going to increase and run a lot deeper.

TT Games Work Goes Into Lego Batman Cartoon

28 08 2008

Less than a month ago I blogged about Jon Burton of TT Games saying they’d like to make telly programs and possibly films.

It turns out that “further in the future” meant “about a month”, with breaking the story today that an animated short is to be made with the assets from Lego Batman. However, it seems Warner have given the project to a third party:

“We’re looking to do… a Lego Batman series. I think they’re looking at doing a one-off initially,” he said. “And they’re basically able to utilise the assets, because our team has brought Lego characters to life.”

Earl added that Traveller’s Tales had no involvement in the production of the show, which is “being done by a separate studio in the States.”

“My understanding is that they will use the engine, the Maya files where the characters come to life, but they’ll be creating animated… I think it’s a 20-minute cartoon. I’m personally quite intrigued to see how it comes out. Lego, every time they’ve had a new brand out, they’ve done some CGI stuff as well, but I think this will be quite different.”

Infovore: Playing Together

28 08 2008

Tom Armitage has given a talk on games and social software entitled “Playing Together” at NLGD and also at Develop. We unfortunately missed it at the latter because we were running Games:EDU a couple of rooms away, but Tom has now posted text and images.

It’s a really broad ranging talk with some great thinking on what humans are and how we use games. It moves through the kind of social circles we engage in, how social software has drawn on playful experiences to cater to those, how people in turn find new ways of playing with things and each other, and what videogame designers might be able to learn from all of this. The large structure makes it difficult to quote from, so I suggest you go and read the whole thing.

And what do you discover about Nike+? You discover there’s a metagame to it. People start syncing late – filling up their run data and then only syncing at the last minute – to disguise how much they’re doing. They mess around!

Nike+ is ticking so many of our boxes: it’s asynchronous; it’s designed perhaps best for small groups; it turns running into a social object, putting it online. It’s a really great example of future for social play.

And it goes where I am: it’s a game that I don’t have to learn how to play. I already know how to run.

(CC image of volleyball by flyzipper)

Death of Leipzig Greatly Exaggerated

27 08 2008

The lingering death of E3 seems to be creating instability elsewhere, with European event organisers fighting it out to provide a better successor. As reported by MCV today, the MD of Gamescom organiser Kölnmesse is talking his show up, claiming it will replace Leipzig:

“It was to be expected that the Leipzig trade fair would try to keep the topic in its 2009 programme as well by announcing its date. But they will have to do it without the industry for the most part. The lead trade fair will take place in Cologne in 2009 and beyond.”

“From Leipzig we are bringing the clear message that the games industry will be exhibiting in 2009 in Cologne at gamescom.

We have met with broad approval, and the industry is looking forward to gathering in Cologne. Whatever happens in Germany in 2009 outside of Cologne cannot claim to represent this sector.”

Bullish, especially considering that Leipzig had record attendance at over 200,000 this year, and so many game developers have been talking it up as a good balance of trade and consumer shows during the long death rattles of E3.

However, GamesCom has the backing of the German publisher’s association, the BIU. Additionally, bad transport links have always been the Achilles’ heel of Leipzig, and and may be a big enough opening for Cologne to successfully attack. We’ll see.

For now, The Inquirer has some interesting details that aren’t being reported elsewhere:

Well, while the Leipzig organization owns the “Games Convention” IP, Kölnmesse was a bit more devious and hooked the BIU by offering it free-of-charge ownership of the GAMESCom event. So not only can Kölnmesse claim the backing, it will be the de facto official gaming entertainment tradeshow in Germany because it’s owned by BIU and regardless of whether it turns out to be a steaming pile of you-know-what.

So now, much like what happened in the UK, there’ll be two major gaming tradeshows in Germany that will eat each other up and ruin the fun for everyone.

There’s a massive opportunity in the wake of E3. Hopefully, these shows aren’t about to mutually strangle each other instead.

Stealth Outsourcing

26 08 2008

The most interesting thing I’ve read today is Gamasutra’s interview with Japanese outsourcing firm Tose. The company owns a little bit of IP, but the vast majority of work done in its 29 year history remains secret. The overall impression the anonymous interviewee gives is of a company that is humble, yet proud of the work they do.

I’ve seen similar attitudes from UK studio owners who do work for hire; AAA development gets prestige but can be volatile, whereas lesser projects can keep a business dependable in the long run, even if it is in the shade when it comes to publicity. While IP ownership is advisable for any studio, no IP is guaranteed to be successful, and banking solely on it is a high risk approach. Tose seems to take a very safe approach, and as a result employs around 1000 people.

(CC image by me)

Troubled Waters

21 08 2008

A furious commotion has developed in the past few days over game piracy. Since I posted about an indie developer’s efforts to talk to pirates, a file sharer has been ordered to pay £16,000 in damages and costs, and five publishers have announced combined legal action against 25,000 people.

It’s unlikely that many of these will lead to damages, as proving infringement is fraught with difficulties and unset precedents. As a result, the approach taken with Dream Pinball was apparently to pursue the people who wouldn’t show up in court; the merest hint of resistance was enough to make the firm give up and chase easier targets.

ELSPA have distanced themselves somewhat from this kind of activity:

“ELSPA does not condone this activity in any way, however, due to the civil nature of the offences, this is a matter for each of our members to tackle in a way that they feel is appropriate for their individual businesses”

Peter Moore has also jumped in, stating “It didn’t work for the music industry”. He continues:

“I’m not a huge fan of trying to punish your consumer. Albeit these people have clearly stolen intellectual property, I think there are better ways of resolving this within our power as developers and publishers.”

Indeed. Spamming customers en masse with McLawsuits only works against companies in the long run. Some read that as apologist rhetoric for pirates, but it’s not. The example of the record industry is plain for all to see, and there are many things a developer can do and create to mitigate piracy, such as using ad-supported models, subscription models, and online components that are an integral part of the game.

It struck me on reading the batch of stories linked above just how much flux and uncertainty there is in the games industry, and how studios seem to respond to it. What games are becomes increasingly blurry as they merge with digital networks. Additionally, all forms of media face similar issues. On top of that, we’re going through the first truly global financial crisis. After years of strained relationships between studios and publishers, management crises, new technology and increasingly difficult retail conditions, these are hardly reassuring times for the industry despite the recent boom of games.

I suspect as a result of all this that some developers are looking for a straightforward antagonist. Universities that fall short on industry skills, governments that fail to help out with tax breaks, consumers that pirate games. All of these are genuine problems, but the arguments made are similar to “publishers are evil”. It may seem that way, but it’s business and once you understand it you can negotiate. Of the antagonists currently lined up on the firing range, it’s pirates that the industry feels most able to viciously attack. Noone really sympathises with them, or can be seen to in public.

Nonetheless, consumers, educators, policy makers: all three groups are comprised of people the industry needs onside. Not one of them is the kind of simple antagonist portrayed by the rhetoric currently flying about, and won’t be won over through attacks. These are very complex problems that require adaptive action and negotiation, not guns.

(CC image by peasap)

Games Research Problems

20 08 2008

Richard Bartle has weighed in on the current state of affairs between academia and the industry, talking about former polytechnics now being the best universities to get graduates from for the games industry, since they’re more willing to take risks.

the best undergraduate degrees for game development in the UK come from Abertay, Coventry, Derby, Nottingham Trent, Portsmouth, Sheffield Hallam, Staffordshire and Teeside.

We’d add Imperial College London and London Metropolitan University to that list, since both have some heavyweight CS and visualisation degree courses that have successfully led people into the industry (Technically, LMU was founded in 2002, but its constituent parts are well over a century old).

Overall though, Bartle is correct. Traditional, more established universities are way behind on games education in comparison to newer ones. There are also massive problems with games research:

Modern universities focus on training in the way that vocational schools do, says Bartle, while older ones have a tradition of education.

“The difference is that training is the acquisition of skills and knowledge as a result of being taught, while education is the acquisition of skills and knowledge as a result of learning — a more rounded, think-for-yourself ideal,” says Bartle.

The problem is, these modern training houses are doing their jobs, producing plenty of adequately-trained would-be games professionals — “But because the older universities aren’t doing theirs, we’re getting too few educated people,” Bartle says.

And higher education funding in the UK never goes to computer games research, says Bartle — they fund “games as education” research, not games research.

“We also see games as AI, economics, psychology, sociology, therapy, training…There’s nothing wrong with this, but we’re seeing games for everything except for games,” he says.


“Where will the games industry be if the only public money available is for games-as-anything-but-games?” asks Bartle.

It’s good to see a game developer acknowledge this problem. Many, tied to 18 month production cycles and thinking only of recruiting, are heavily biased toward vocational skills and care little for theory. Academics who seem to be working on the issue are, as Bartle says, tending to go for “Games and *”

Not many people are doing pure games PHDs. In fact, the only one I can immediately think of is Robin Hunicke.

(CC image “Teaching Math or Something” posted to flickr by foundphotoslj)

WebWars: EVE

19 08 2008

Late last year was a season of highly polished AAA game releases, and the run out of summer this year seems to belong to interesting indie games. We’ve already had Braid and Echochrome, and upcoming is Flower.

Upcoming is also Webwars: EVE, which seems to be a casual take on CCP’s MMO, in which players compete to control websites. As Alice says, “It’s PMOG meets EVE!”

Which are both interesting projects in their own right.

I played EVE Online for a two week trial, and it was not only beautiful, but surprisingly deep and huge. I felt truly lost in a massive galaxy, rarely seeing the same players twice. It was a surprising mix of casual and complex, with an Alt+Tab friendliness that most games don’t have coupled with long travel times, leading to attention being on several things on the computer at once. However, the markets and character leveling were really very involved, calling for much advance planning and scheduling of play time. It was one of the first games to impress on me the quote Eyjolfur Gudmondsson gave to recently:

alternate universes such as Eve’s are “real, but not reality.”

It is extremely interesting yet of course logical that CCP would turn EVE into a brand and spread it down into more casual territory.

Microsoft Cracks Japan?

18 08 2008

Bruce Everiss posted this morning about the 360 apparently selling well in Japan:

So the effect of Tales of Vesperia will be to lift the 360 to a higher sustained level in the market. And at this higher level, because of word of mouth and peer pressure, there will be far more organic growth. It is a step up and what Microsoft need in Japan is a series of similar incremental jumps, with the market continuing at a higher level after each one.

He’s possibly a bit eager in describing it as a triumph for Microsoft, and a commenter offers some perspective on this:

I’ve seen good 360 sales in Japan before. Notably Blue Dragon (where Microsoft ticked all the boxes for success and Japan still resisted them) and, courtesy of Namco again, Ace Combat 6. The effect is not long-lasting and we’ve had enough instances of a good week of Japanese 360 sales to tell us not to get over excited because things may (and do) calm down pretty quickly.

It’s good to see the 360 getting a little traction over there, but it’s important to consider the reduced supply Microsoft will have been giving Japan ever since the lack of interest at launch there. They aren’t exactly selling out at EU or US stock levels.

(CC image of the Akibahara by heiwa4126)

Indie Developer Talks To Pirates

18 08 2008

Indie developer Cliff Harris posted a request for comments on his blog last week: “I want to know why people pirate my games. I honestly do.”, and the response is both fascinating and important. He’s collated the responses and his conclusions here. The whole thing is worth reading, but one of the most important things he found is that only a minority of those who pirate games (and bothered to respond to him) do it for dyed in the wool ideological reasons. The rest seem to be acting under various constraints, many of which are actually under the control of the developer.

So it was all very worthwhile, for me. I don’t think the whole exercise will have much effect on the wider industry. Doubtless there will be more FPS games requiring mainframes to run them, more games with securom, games with no demos, or games with all glitz and no gameplay. I wish this wasn’t the case, and that the devs could listen more to their potential customers, and that the pirates could listen more to the devs rather than abusing them. I don’t think that’s going to happen.
But I gave it a go, and I know my games will be better as a result. I’ll never make millions from them, but I think now I know more about why pirates do what they do, I’ll be in a better position to keep doing what I wanted, which is making games for the PC.

Cost is one dimension of this, and this developer is as a result of the feedback he got experimenting with lower game prices.

The first transatlantic telegraph cable operated at a very high cost per word, and every time they dropped it, their business expanded dramatically. The same could surely happen with games now they’re being driven into wider cultural foundations. Setting the right price point for something is difficult of course, because you don’t really get to experiment with different ones around the same marketing campaign.

As tinkering and open source technology become more commonplace, people will increasingly redefine what they do with things. Approach them on terms they like, and they won’t be incentivised to pirate your stuff. Approach them on terms they don’t like, and they’ll redefine the way they acquire things they want, i.e. by using modchips, flashcarts, cracks, P2P, etc.

The space between those extremes, in which a business can be profitable and popular, or in respect of a product, where a low enough price generates a high enough sales volume to create maximum revenue, is still difficult to find, but it will happen, especially with dialogues like this driving things forward.

(via Wonderland, and CC image of piracy rosette by Sarodeo)