Germany: Games as Culture?

11 06 2008

Katamari Damacy

Jurie Horneman, over at Intelligent Artifice, put up a post a few days ago about Germany considering tax breaks. It seems the discussion there has stalled on the EU “cultural exception”, that allows industries to be granted subsidies if they are deemed to have cultural value.

Of course, Germany has always tended towards scepticism on violence in games, demanding that any blood be replaced with green splatter instead. A part of the reason for all of this is something that afflicts all aspects of discussion about games:

I find it strange to imagine a point of view where computer games are not culture. In fact, I find it strange to imagine a point of view where computer games are not art, or culture, or a storytelling medium. I mean… isn’t it obvious? Discussing this was fun in the 90s. The early 90s.

While game developers have been discussing many things for years, wider cultural and political circles are only just discovering and hacking through the same debates (Just as the games industry has been learning to deal with political, economic and management issues). There’s always going to be this kind of delay as issues percolate into fields less familiar with them, but people in the industry have a job to lead the wider debates and guide less clued up people.

(Image: Katamari Damacy box art)

Non-Committal on UK Tax Breaks…

11 06 2008

(Edited slightly)

Parts of the UK games industry are right now trumpeting an apparent victory in the fight for UK tax breaks, with the UK treasury basically promising to “look into it”:

The Government is conscious of the recent approval of a cultural tax relief for games in France and is working with the UK industry to collect and review the evidence for introducing such a credit in the UK.

Develop headline this with a very upbeat sounding: “UK Treasury promises tax break action

It is progress to have the Treasury looking into it rather than just BERR, but a favorable outcome is far from guaranteed. “We’re looking into it” is pretty much what was said by Margaret Hodge at the London Games Festival last October, and things have been moving very slowly on this issue ever since. Most stories have consisted of TIGA and ELSPA continuing to make noise, and the government offering little beyond non-committal.

At the LGF, Hodge also floated the idea of challenging foreign tax breaks for the games industry at the WTO, but every time the EU approve a cultural exception given to the games industry by a member state, if it doesn’t weaken the case it certainly raises the overheads of making it.

(CC image of Gordon Brown by loiclemeur)

More Byron Review Fallout

24 04 2008


Industry lobbying of the UK government seems to be going up in frequency, with TIGA teaming up with their Austrlian equivalent, ELSPA speaking out again and Iain Livingstone voicing concerns.

Meanwhile, the European Commission have said the exact opposite of the Byron review about ratings: that PEGI needs to be strengthened and more deeply integrated with national rating systems. This continues to be an interesting part of the conflict, because the BBFC has greater brand recognition in the UK, but PEGI has greater applicability (and economy of scale) in the EU.

I’ve been used to the idea of “videogames” entering a state of flux for a long time, but to see so many different aspects of them doing so simultaneously seems remarkable.

(CC image by factoryjoe)

Byron Review Published

27 03 2008

Byron’s Works

The Byron Review has now been published, and so far there are no big surprises. It takes a much more balanced tone than Gordon Brown talking about games and knife crime.

Hardly a day goes by without a news report about children being brutalised and abused in the real world or its virtual counterpart. Some make links between what happens online or in a game, and what happens on the streets or at home.

These headlines have contributed to the climate of anxiety that surrounds new technology and created a fiercely polarised debate in which panic and fear often drown out evidence. The resultant clamour distracts from the real issue and leads to children being cast as victims rather than participants in these new, interactive technologies.

The full report can be downloaded from the DFES website, and the BBC have mirrored it too. From their coverage:

Dr Byron has said games should have just one set of symbols from the BBFC on the front of all boxes which are the same as those for films.

Pegi ratings will now appear on the back of boxes.

It actually makes sense, even though some are bemoaning an extra layer of legislation. The video rating symbols given to cinema, VHS and DVDs are a part of the cultural consciousness of the UK populace. They have more mindshare and impact on people than PEGI labels, and I think adopting them will do more to impress upon people that the games industry is responsible than any amount of PR for PEGI.

Additionally, it lowers the cognitive load imposed on non-media savvy parents choosing games for their kids. The mechanics of rating decisions obviously have to be different from one form of media to the next, but to combine that approach with a single recognisable set of symbols is very sensible. Consumers don’t need to understand rating procedures (though I’m certainly not arguing for any lack of transparency – it is both vital and fascinating), in fact between turning 18 and encountering the issue with games, age ratings are something I forgot about almost completely. It doesn’t matter how good a shiny, new, self-regulatory rating system is if consumers are expected to learn it from scratch. Existing, well known symbols can get the job done much more efficiently by exploiting prior learning.

When the Byron Review (so far) seems to be so balanced, it’s unfortunate that people will misread it as an irresponsible industry getting a well deserved kicking. Some people will even read it that way and trumpet it as a success, but you know what? Screw those people. Just about every case of anti-game media coverage in the last few years has illustrated just how unreasonable and prone to fantasy the anti-games lobby is. They can tell whatever stories they like, but they are not and still won’t be the people driving these policy decisions.

“The games industry is reasonable” is a much stronger statement to make to the public on the basis of the Byron review than “the anti-games lobby scored a point”. They didn’t, the games industry is just going through some admittedly uncomfortable steps on the compromise-riddled road to public credibility and de-facto acceptance.

EA no longer the world’s biggest publisher

3 12 2007

Activision and Vivendi Games to merge


In a surprise deal over the weekend, moves have been made to creates the world’s biggest publisher, called Activison Blizzard

(worth a total of $18.9bn) in the most surprising news of the year, Electronic Arts has been dethroned as the games industry’s biggest publisher, ousted by a new company formed following the merger of Activision and Vivendi Games.

The two companies said that the massive power-shifting deal will create ‘the world’s largest pure-play online and console game publisher’ – a company called Activision Blizzard, which will boast the highest operating margins of any major third-party video game publisher.

Creating the goliath company brings together a raft of Activision’s properties, including Guitar Hero, Call of Duty, the Tony Hawk series and a range of licences that includes Spider-Man, X-Men, James Bond and Shrek, with Vivendi’s slate of games which includes Blizzard’s world-popular World of Warcraft and its Diablo and StarCraft stablemates and the likes of Crash Bandicoot and Spyro.


Tanya Byron Interview

2 11 2007

Tanya Byron

MCV have interviewed Tanya Byron, and she comes across and a woman who is reasonable and working to understand the games industry. She steps very far away from anti-games rhetoric, even revealing that her entire family are gamers:

I’m a parent, I’ve got a nine-year-old and a 12-year old child and we all play video games in my house – my husband and I included. Playing video games with our kids is the same as reading them a bedtime story for us. It’s part of what we do as a family. It’s part of education, literacy and bonding. I’m also a realist. This is part of the landscape of society. It’s how kids spent their leisure time and this is important in terms of development.

Fundamentally, the people responsible for stopping children getting access to these materials and having these experiences are parents. But the truth is that many parents don’t even understand that an ‘18’ rating on Grand Theft Auto is the same as an ‘18’ on Texas Chainsaw Massacre. They see the word ‘game’ and have a totally different mentality.

A major problem is that parents understand this technology, in the main, less than the children who are using it. And it’s difficult for parents to say “I don’t really understand it” to their kids.

Adults need to play catch up with these new technologies. In the same way there comes a point when parents can say, “right, you can go to the shop and get some sweets on your own, because I trust you”, we’ve taught them how to cross the road, be safe and not talk to strangers. They understand and manage risk. When children enter a virtual landscape, the trust and skills needed are more like those for letting them outside the door than letting them watch TV.

The full interview is here, and worth reading.

Crytek Respond to Proposed Legislation

23 08 2007

This is an interesting counterpoint to the earlier post about Leipzig trying to tempt studios away from the UK. German developer Crytek, in response to proposed German laws on violent games, have said they would relocate to a different country if they were passed:

The largest German video games developer Crytek is threatening to move abroad if production of so-called killer games is banned. “We would leave Germany”, said company founder Avni Yerli to Welt online before the start of the branch trade show Games Convention in Leipzig

He carries on:

“Budapest is a lovely city. We already have a branch office there”, explained Yerli. In addition, they have been regularly approached by the ministries of economics of other countries. “Especially England, Scotland, Austria and Singapore are very active.”