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)

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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)





The Art of Digital Distribution

1 09 2008

(Above: Preliminary artwork from the development of Braid)

It’s unprecedented: The Daily Mail have given a gushingly positive review to a videogame, Braid. The Daily Mail, of course, has been at the front of many a “ban this sick filth” campaign against nearly every controversial game of the moment. As Destructoid put it, “British tabloid in game-liking SHOCKER!”.

Anecdotally, even my older brother, who only rarely plays games and hates most of them, watched me do a speedrun of the game this weekend while I explained the story to him. At the end, his words were “This is a significant piece of work”.

Since it’s a 360 exclusive, many will have to wait until the PC version of this is out, and luckily it’s likely to have fairly low system requirements. In the meantime, Gamasutra have an article about the development of the game’s art style, going from the basic programmer art through many iterations to the final product. It’s an interesting read, though a little fragmented due to originally being a series of blog posts. There are more in the same series there.

It struck me during this weekend that there weren’t really many propositions that would make a game entering the market at £10 look good or desirable next to £50 new releases like GTA IV. Am I a snob for thinking the idea of a £10 price point in brick and mortar retail kind of smacks of the cheap multipacks of Spectrum cassettes to be found littering cash and carries during the late 80s? Indie games can’t possibly hope to compete in the AAA arms race, and as a result it’s likely that a rack of boxed XBLA titles would create a bargain bin perception.

Digital distribution is the perfect medium to bring indie games back to the fore and reward experimentation though. Braid, Castle Crashers, RezHD, and Pixeljunk Eden are all things that have caught my eye over the past month, but in the past 5 years of my gaming there was very little in the same vein to be had. As a result, in one month since signing up for xbox live, I’ve spent more on games this past month than I usually do in most. There are PS3 titles I’d be buying digitally if I owned the one in our house too. £40 – £50 price points lead me to contemplate AAA purchases carefully, and I don’t make many. £10 for something that will keep me and a housemate entertained for a quiet weekend is a steal.

Digital distribution is a strange current where technology and culture mingle and drive each other. In the case of music, there’s an absolutely overwhelming amount of content, but with games, it’s still fairly easy for a single one to stand out and be remembered. I feel quite privileged to be able to observe a new form of media adapting to new technology.





Ste Curran on Wider Markets

12 05 2008

http://flickr.com/photos/clurr/515091669/

gamesindustry.biz 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)





GDC07: Sony outlines new online vision

8 03 2007


Phil Harrison’s GDC keynote explains plans for new PS3 Home online community network.
In his GDC keynote Sony Worldwide Studios president Phil Harrison has told the development community that software driven by user-communities, such as as its new virtual world Home, will “empower the next decade of growth in our industry all around the world”.

Sony will actively back this strategy with a number of its own applications. The primary one is Home, a free avatar-based 3D world that lets users congregate, meet friends, ‘own’ a private apartment and visit virtual shop-fronts.

Developed by London Studio, Home is a best of breed take on avatar-based environments like Second Life, but uses the PS3’s capabilities to deliver a world that fills the gap between the interface on the PlayStation XMB dashboard and games themselves.


Users can customise their avatar’s appearance, clothes and accessories – in time players will be able to pay for, or unlock via game achievements, the latter. The same goes for each user’s own virtual private apartment, which players can invite friends to, fill with furniture and even stream music and video from their Hard Drive to.

A ‘Hall of Fame’ also takes pride of place in the Home world – this lets users display new 3D trophies that are unlocked through in-game milestones in PS3 games.

Read the rest of this entry »





GDC07: Media Molecule Premier LittleBigPlanet for Sony

8 03 2007


At GDC today, Mark Healy and Alex Evans, part of the core team behind Sony’s new LittleBigPlanet, talked about how their company, Media Molecule, became such a prominent Sony partner. They also said why the company chose to go with the PS3…

ImageEvans and Healy likened the founding of Media Molecule to “falling into an abyss.”

But it’s been a pretty impressive fall so far. The small studio today revealed its first project, the unique-looking LittleBigPlanet, during Phil Harrison’s keynote at GDC this week. That’s pretty good placement on Sony’s upcoming game lineup.

Media Molecule started in January 2006 with the idea to make the “most ambitious, fun, off-its-head game that we could [think of]–and most importantly, to get someone else to pay for it,” Healy laughed.

Read the rest of this entry »





Sony release new tool set at GDC

28 02 2007

The internal technology teams at Sony Computer Entertainment have teamed up to deliver PlayStation 3 Edge, a new set of tools for developers working on the format-holder’s new console.
Due for imminent release to PS3 developers, PlayStation 3 Edge has been put together by three first-party technology teams within Sony, the WWS Europe Advanced Technology Group, WWS America ICE team (a technology group based at Naughty Dog that specialises in graphics systems and tools for the PlayStation 3), and WWS America Tools and Technology group.

Edge is described as “a set of cutting edge technologies. Rather than an overarching engine, these teams have chosen to create specialized systems that demonstrate best practices of SPU and RSX utilization” in the description of a recently announced GDC session which will formally take the wraps off the new technology.

The GDC session, hosted by Mark Cerny (Cerny Games), Jon Olick (lead programmer, Naughty Dog) and Vince Diesi (principal programmer, SCE Worldwide Studios) looks at advanced graphics tools and technologies for PS3 development an will also show delegates “a unique tool for RSX performance analysis, extensively used in the tuning of first party titles”.

Devmag.com