Burger King Breakups

12 01 2009

http://flickr.com/photos/titoslack/352585215/

Burger King continue to pursue unusual interactive projects, this time with a facebook application that promises a free burger if you unfriend 10 people. The 10 get notified that you’ve done so, unlike when you normally remove someone on facebook, in whcih case they may notice their friend count drop by one but don’t receive any notifications.

Imagine being worth 1/10th of a burger to someone? It’s pretty brutal, but no more grotesque than the way many people assume they can or should act on social networking services.

(Via Infovore. CC image “Burger King Breakup” by Tito Slack ™)





Non-Linear Art

9 01 2009

http://flickr.com/photos/kevinsteele/24771587/

Margaret Robertson is on fire in this post. There are lots of stupid quibbles and assumptions in the games industry, things that function as shorthand for mainstream legitimacy among developers and games journalists, which in fact are trivial and potentially very damaging. I hadn’t noticed this one much until Margaret pointed it out:

Tears shouldn’t be our goal. Stories don’t need to be our tools. The majority of art forms don’t rely on narrative for their emotional impact. Stop and think about that for a second. The games industry tends to draw on such an amazingly limited roster of inspirations that it’s easy to forget it. But our obsession with linear, story-based – word-based, even – non-participatory art at the expense of all the other forms makes life so much harder for games, and it makes me crazy. I swear, next GDC I’m going to set myself up behind a table in the lobby with a huge pile of rubber bands and a huge pile of Jelly Tots, and each delegate, as they come in, is going to get a band on their left wrist and a handful of sweets in their right pocket. And then, all week, every time they hear the word ‘film’, ‘book’ or ‘TV show’, they have to give themselves a snap. And everytime they hear the world ‘painting’, ‘theatre’, ’sculpture’, ‘opera’, ‘architecture’, ‘comics’*, ‘dance’, ‘music’ or ‘poetry’, they get a sweetie. Two, if they say it rather than hear it. But goddamit, we’re not the only people trying to create emotionally resonant experiences in environments that aren’t kind to linear narratives.

Emphasis mine.

(CC image by Kevin Steele)





LRB: Good, Cultural Games Commentary

8 01 2009

http://flickr.com/photos/marfis75/2459534903/

This week, the London Review of Books have an excellent article by John Lanchester about games. It’s intelligent analysis of games for non-gamers, full of assumptions about the LRB audience but none whatsoever that they understand what games are. It’s full of considered analysis of what games are and what they mean, using examples like Bioshock, Resident Evil 4, The Movies and LittleBigPlanet to make a case for the cultural significance of games.

Northrop Frye once observed that all conventions, as conventions, are more or less insane; Stanley Cavell once pointed out that the conventions of cinema are just as arbitrary as those of opera. Both those observations are brought to mind by video games, which are full, overfull, of exactly that kind of arbitrary convention. Many of these conventions make the game more difficult. Gaming is a much more resistant, frustrating medium than its cultural competitors. Older media have largely abandoned the idea that difficulty is a virtue; if I had to name one high-cultural notion that had died in my adult lifetime, it would be the idea that difficulty is artistically desirable. It’s a bit of an irony that difficulty thrives in the newest medium of all

The “Is It Art?” title is a bit cringe worthy for developers who’ve perpetually lived through that debate in the industry, but it’s the exact kind of coverage games need outside the industry. I had some issues with the author 18 months ago when he claimed that the moral outcry over Bully was justified in a piece about the banning of Manhunt 2, but even back then he came across as very much on the side of games.

Millions of Wii owners do widen the audience of games, but they alone do not make them into a well cemented, rounded part of the cultural landscape. They help, but John is the kind of writer they need in order to progress in more than just an economic sense.

(via Infovore)

(CC image by marfis75)





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)





UK Games Sales Rose 23% In 2008

7 01 2009

http://flickr.com/photos/worldofoddy/2106447264/

The headline says it all; the BBC report on game sales, sourcing from ELSPA. Games are truly ascending into the mainstream, and without recession they would have done even better.

Sale shopping in late December and early January was very strange this time around. We’d wander into stores after saying “They’ve gone into administration, let’s take a look in there”. Places like Woolworths and Zavvi, while holding fire sales, had the smallest reductions of all on videogames. I would guess this is because they knew that they would sell at retail or wholesale regardless of any discount.

(While searching for a CC image related to record breaking, I found the above one of a very long chip by World of Oddy).





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)