Little Big Outrage

21 10 2008

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or this is the only source you look to for videogames industry news, you’ll probably have heard that Little Big Planet is delayed, and all copies recalled, due to there being phrases from the Koran in the soundtrack.

Copies are still available in some places, with pre-cut versions fetching more than double the retail price on ebay. Fairly redundant, since they patched the music out of it as soon as they knew and the game is largely dependent on being online.

The BBC have the most interesting coverage of this, though already, Sony seem to have handled it well and it’s turning into a non-issue:

Manzoor Moghal, of the Muslim Forum think-tank, explained that words from the Koran should not be set to music because the words are seen to have come directly from God.

He added: “We must compliment Sony for taking decisive action by withdrawing these games immediately, and releasing a version that is not offensive to Muslims.”

It can’t be a good place for Sony and Media Molecule right now, though ultimately I expect this is all good mainstream marketing for the game. The really interesting thing about this crisis is that it underlines just how atrocious and unfounded the past religious hoohah surrounding Resistance was.

The BBC piece reminds us of the ire Sony once attracted, by way of Resistance developer Insomniac including Manchester Cathedral in PS3 launch title Resistance. After throwing a double barreled ecumenical ninny-fit and blathering on about gun crime for months, the church found that visitor numbers and interest in the cathedral had been boosted, no doubt due to the large amount of PR baiting they did during the “controversy”.

Given the tropes built around videogames in the 80s and 90s, it was understandable for them to be concerned about power fantasies involving shooting up churches, and I can see their outrage beginning with that assumption. However, I think it was inexcusable for them to willfully ignore that the content of the game wasn’t built around such ideas, even when it was repeatedly brought to their attention.

I wonder how the British tabloids will handle this, if at all? The gutter press have been vilifying both videogames and muslims for years now; and despite that muslims have a much more legitimate cause for complaint than Manchester Cathedral did, will the press suddenly jump to the side of games now they’re fashionable? Alternatively, will there be “Games company appeases Islam, yet ignored our dear old Church of England!” headlines? I really hope not, but could see hacks going for exactly that angle.

All very consternating, and poor Media Molecule are stuck in the middle of it through no fault of their own: The music they licensed has been around for longer than the game. Phrases from the Koran in LPB are an honest mistake, with Media Molecule in fact trying to do a very good thing in licensing music from small artists and labels. Nonetheless, the offence it could accidentally cause is genuine, much to MMs consternation.

(CC image by rutty)





Reebok and Monumental Partner

21 10 2008

Monumental Games are in fine form at the moment, partnering not just with the tech strategy board and University College London, but now Reebok too. Partnering with so many people to do something so specific, yet popular, will be a primary way to compete in an MMO market dominated by Activision/Blizzard.

In game ads are of course nothing new nowadays, but I think it’ll be interesting to see how this particular deal develops. Approaches to in game ads I’ve seen so far have treated them as a commodity, much like web and print: “Here’s the space for ads, go get some from anyone who’ll pay us”. Games have bumped into a bit more of a problem in terms of making sure the ads are appropriate to the game world. On that front, Monumental’s deal with Reebok is more progressive than anything I’ve seen presented at conferences: Instead of commoditising, it seems to take a long term, partnership oriented view.

(CC image by Xavier Encinas)





The Future Is Online

17 10 2008

Paul Mayze (COO of Monumental Games) and Mario Rizzo (Realtime Worlds‘ Business Development Manager) will be speaking at this year’s GameHorizon Conference at Centre For Life in Newcastle. The subject:

If online is the future of gaming, what does it take to be successful in this space? and how can you make the transition to online?

The event is on Thursday 23rd October, it’s free, and there’ll be food, drink, and networking afterwards. If you’re thinking of getting your business online, this looks like a a good place to be as they take a new look at MMO’s and Online Gaming. Register for the event here.





NC Allstars

14 10 2008

It’s just over a month since speculation surfaced on cuts at NCsoft Brighton, with the situation ultimately culminating in the closure of their dev studio with almost 70 redundancies as a result. Wired Sussex pointed out that the industry in the region is still quite strong, with many companies hiring in the region.

Some of the ex-NCsoft staff have also taken a very proactive approach to finding freelancing work. Not only did we see them brushing up their linkedin pages a few weeks before rumours started circulating, but they’ve also set up ncallstars.net, a simple but information dense recruiting hub leading to more information and contact details for various ex-NCsoft staff.

Marek Bronstring, formerly a game designer there, also says on his blog gameslol that some of the ex-dev team have been pitching their project to other publishers, it seems with the blessing of NCsoft:

We had a spectacular team at NCsoft and I’m happy to say that we aren’t parting ways just yet. We have been re-pitching our project to various investors and publishers with the goal to establish a new studio (that’s not our final URL or company name, but I like that logo too much not to link to it). NCsoft Europe has actually been very supportive of our efforts to keep the team together. While it sucks to be laid off, it’s great that NCsoft still wants us to succeed.

It’s good to see so much activity in the wake of such awful news, and I wish everyone formerly of NCsoft good luck.





Reduction in Reviews to Hit Indies?

13 10 2008

From the Introversion forums comes disturbing news that online game review sites may be cutting back on reviews. Money quote:

We’ve heard disturbing rumours from more than one source that major games websites are now cutting back on the number of games they review – and it’s games like Multiwinia that are getting dropped because there will always be hundreds of bigger games. If this is true and is widespread (as we are starting to believe), it has grave repercussions for all indie developers who rely on press reviews as their primary form of publicity.

Rock Paper Shotgun has a good overview of it all, including why games like Multiwinia struggle for exposure in print too, including flat out refusal from one magazine to review Multiwinia now or ever.

Both trends are extremely troubling, because while the long tail and digital tools may have ended certain forms of scarcity, much of the long tail is still pinned down to it. Development costs, even on small games, necessitate that sales migrate up the long tail to cover them. To do this requires a decent sized and intelligently applied marketing budget, and even the best marketers can’t successfully sell a game on the back of nothing. Business, even in virtual goods, is still pegged to a great many kinds of scarcity, and cutbacks at review sites threaten to recentralise a lot of trends and cultural mindshare.

For my part, as well as Rock Paper Shotgun I’d like to link to both Multiwinia and TIGsource. On the basis of things I’ve witnessed firsthand in comics, I strongly suspect that review sites are missing a trick by not highlighting the best indie games. The typical fodder of games over the past 25 years only became mainstream by the neglect of other markets. As shown at the links above, there’s a culture of people looking outside of that, and it could well become the real mainstream rather than a niche.





Emote Get £600K

2 10 2008

Midlands games developers seem to be well ahead of the rest of the country in utilising funding offered by the Technology Strategy Board. As well as Monumental being funded recently, Emote just announced £600K from them as part of a £1.3M project to improve AI in networked environments.

They are also apparently partnering with Imperial College London for the project. Not only is this a more intelligent approach than most studios take, Imperial are a heavyweight university for CS, with well respected courses that make students work hard. Kudos to Emote, who are only about 25 people strong.

(via Develop)

(CC image for this post by Nadya Peek, of a rather interesting AI project involving networked Darth Vader helmets apparently composing music. Youtube links in the Flickr comments).