Social Games and Misused Terms

19 01 2009

http://flickr.com/photos/pulguita/2868952310/

Some excellent stuff from Tadhgk Kelly, formerly of Sky Games but now working for Nottingham startup Simple Lifeforms, on Social Games. He points out that “social games” is a term used as lazily as casual games was a few years ago, and has this excellent piece of insight on them:

The single most defining feature of a true social game is social gameplay. What does that mean?

[…]

Social gameplay? It tests your social skills.

So a social game is one in which your social activities with other players (trading, dating, lying, flirting, charming, imploring, cajoling, whatever) actually matter. Many games have socialising (such as chat) as a part of their overall framework, but those social activities don’t really matter to how you play. World of Warcraft is a good example of this. Every player in the game has a character, but if you actually watch games in progress, 95% of the time players do not bother to play in character. There’s no test or reward for doing so.

“Social” is a really lazy buzzword being thrown around a lot right now, but it could mean something vital and unique to certain types of game. As of now, Tadhgk is right about them. Games I’ve played on Facebook such as Packrat are some of the most asocial experiences to be had on the site.

(CC image by pulguita)

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Companies Request LittleBigPlanet IP Whitelisting

7 01 2009

http://flickr.com/photos/sillygwailo/348769786/

LittleBigPlanetoid brought this very interesting nugget to my attention on Monday: Companies have been asking Media Molecule to add their IP to a whitelist for LittleBigPlanet, meaning that rather than being treated as copyright infringement, works based on their things will be treated as fan art or free marketing, and allowed to stay in place.

Sony have taken a very cautious approach so far: that nuking things from orbit is the only way to be sure. At first there were complaints of overly zealous moderation, and lack of explanation for it, but MM/Sony have worked with the fan community to improve this immeasurably. It’s very pleasing that they seem to be just as amenable with companies too; LittleBigPlanet is so polished that people want their IP to be in it.

Merely squashing copyright infringing user generated content is often a terrible step to take, as it’s generally non-profit making, and those who put their time and skill (of any level) into creating it tend to be the fans who care the most.

There’s a story from the Unreal modding scene I often use when talking about these things, but it seems like pretty much all of the blog, forum and news posts about it have rotted away as it was about 8 years ago (Blimey. Link rot could get a lot worse than we expect…). A modder named Patrick “BadKarma” Fitzimmons was making a Star Wars map pack for Unreal Tournament, and repeatedly got cease and desist letters from Lucasarts’ lawyers. After (IIRC) several years of justifying it as non-profit making, sophisticated fan art, and getting people to sign petitions on his behalf, Lucasarts eventually stopped with the threats and started tacitly backing them, with it going on to become a fully fledged mod.

The entire struggle threw the issues into very stark relief, with a protracted fight between Lucasarts and BadKarma that led to a lot of head scratching. At the time, Twentieth Century Fox had also gained a reputation for threatening and generally stamping on all mod makers who infringed their copyrights, to the extent that the verb “foxing” was invented to describe it. Conditions laid down on an Aliens mod for Half Life were basically: “Cease work, hand over all assets and copyright to us, delete all of your own copies of your work, and we reserve the right to still sue you even if you comply”. The problem with this is that the fans have put a lot of time, effort and love into their creations, and the companies are engendering disillusion by attacking their strongest devotees.

LittleBigPlanet is actually quite a nice compromise, acting as a sandbox that, hopefully, will keep the lawyers happy too. The news of whitelisting is excellent, and it seems likely that EA are on the list given some of the levels that have been permitted to exist there. Impressive, for a company that used to be regarded by many as the evil empire of the games industry.

(CC image by sillygwailo)





Monumental Get Another Grant

6 01 2009

http://flickr.com/photos/warrenh/2319200193/

Monumental Games recently moved offices in Nottingham, acquired half of Swordfish Manchester as it got into trouble, and now have another £140,000 grant. This time it’s from Northwest Vision and Media, and they were eligible for it thanks to taking on the extra office in a different region. That’s probably a happy but unintended outcome rather than a plan, as there are plenty of other reasons for Monumental to have acquired Swordfish Manchester and it’s not very long since they did.

It’s comparatively rare for games companies to take advantage of this kind of thing though, whereas it’s fairly common for film production all over the world. Good to see developers acting smartly even in the downturn, as we’ve previously heard a lot of cynicism from studios about readily available government support.

(CC image of coins by Warren H)





Happy New Year?

5 01 2009

http://flickr.com/photos/28481088@N00/3153656575/

2008 closed with bad news for the East Midlands, with Free Radical Design going into administration (Edge Online gave some of the best coverage), though so far it seems not liquidation. The gamers I know are quite shell shocked that they failed to find a publisher for Timesplitters 4, because they and those they know regarded its predecessors so fondly.

It was thought some staff would be retained, as was announced over Christmas: 140 people have been made redundant, and 40 have stayed on, with the administrators dropping strong indications that publishers are interested in buying the studio.

Codemasters and Monumental games were on hand during the company meeting in December, and it seems David Doak and Steve Ellis have left to start a new studio. These are very troubling times, with games booming yet games businesses struggling and risk averse, but some firms are still growing and, so far, doing well.

FRD was a massive indie to lose, but others are being set up. As well as Pumpkin Beach, Simple Lifeforms recently started up too.

(CC image of a new year bonfire by tanakawho)





Split Streams

9 12 2008

http://flickr.com/photos/t_lawrie/320871693/

The Guardian have a perky report about how well the games industry is doing in the UK, which has some good observations, such as the timing of this recession being as good as it could be, falling in the middle of a console cycle when sales and resource allocations are optimal. Another is that publishers are more likely to put money into established IP than risky new projects, something that’s already the case mid to late cycle, given that new IP is a lot easier to launch with a new console.

However, the Guardian piece is still only telling half the story. “Recession proof” is a term that has been thrown around a lot in relation to games recently, and given the massive spate of studio layoffs, sales and closures that has blighted the end of 2008, it’s just not true. Of course it affects games businesses, just like others.

NESTA have produced a new report on the state of the UK games industry, and despite an improvement in the dollar rate it’s really struggling against a few factors. While work for hire is getting easier and more common, the amount of IP UK developers can generate seems to be decreasing. Meanwhile, the vast revenues being generated by unprecedented retail sales only go a limited way towards developers, passing as they do through the filter of publishers.

Edit: Even today, bad publishing news.

(CC image by TCL 1961)





Blitz 3D

2 12 2008

http://flickr.com/photos/barron/2253769108/

Midlands game company Blitz today announced new tech for making 3D games. That GI.biz piece links a few other announcements of games companies going into 3D tech. I wonder if it could actually catch on?

This kind of thing really excited me as a child, until I realised the only way to experience it at the time was in theme parks. Next to real roller coasters has to be the worst possible place to show off this kind of technology.

Lately my local multiplex has been offering some films in 3D for a few extra pounds on the price of a normal ticket. It had novelty value, but that seems to be it. Though people seem to have less of a problem wearing dorky NHS style glasses in the darkness of a cinema, after a screening of Beowulf in 3D I nonetheless heard them remarking quite caustically on how obviously things were made to stick out of the screen to emphasise the effect.

I have strong doubts about stereoscopic 3D on screens, but also suspect that interactivity could overcome all of them. For instance, Johnny Lee Chung’s head tracking 3D using slightly modified Wii hardware offers a much more striking effect than a traditional film, and people are developing technology to create 3D using standard TVs.

Would FPS playing be improved when playing with a true stereoscopic picture? I bet.

(CC image by barron)





Indie Arcade

7 11 2008

War Twat

One of the events we ran in London last week was the Indie Games Arcade, which was a huge success. We showed a handful of interesting games, detailed at the linked page on our website.

The highlights were five or so developers from Beatnik Games coming down to continually run a Plain Sight LAN, and someone setting a staggering record of 1:40 and 1749 points on War Twat. All of our photos are on Flickr, and this page on our website has details of all the games along with links to them.

War Twat developer Robert Fearon and volunteer extraordinaire Andrew Armstrong have both written a bit about the expo and the indie arcade, here and here.