Fool the Game Press

It’s long, but don’t let that fact turn you off. Read How To Use And Abuse The Gaming Press And How The Gaming Press Wants To Use and Abuse You to get not only good tips on how to get better press coverage for your game but also to read some interesting anecdotes about Introversion Software, Peter Molyneux, and what it is like to work in the gaming press.

From my own experience working as a reviewer for Game Tunnel, I have to say that I was always impressed by companies that sent out packages, complete with press releases and hint guides. While most companies only offer a download option, receiving actual, physical mail was always cooler. I don’t usually get packages unless I order something, so receiving big packages filled with the latest gaming goodness always stood out for me. Of course, I’m not a member of a major game magazine who may receive lots of mail and think it is old hat. Still, sending your game means that it has a chance of getting covered. Why reduce your chances to 0% by not sending it at all?

Game Development Marketing/Business

Success With Style

I didn’t know that Donald Trump had a blog, and I never really paid attention to him anyway. “You’re fired!” was never really a catch phrase I cared about, and I always thought that he was just an incredibly rich guy. No reason to care one way or the other about him, right? I find it funny how many of the comments on his blog are just people throwing compliments left and right. Not just compliments, either. Worship is probably not too strong a word to describe it.

Anyway, I did enjoy reading Success with Style, where he essentially talks about how true beauty is deep. Success comes with style, and style isn’t something you can slap on as an afterthought. It has to be there throughout the design and development of whatever endeavor you are taking on.

While he wasn’t talking about game development, I think that if you were to make a game and try to add higher poly counts or orchestral sounds without truly paying attention to how it fits into the game, you would have something superficial, and people will know. Generally, it is understood that a good game isn’t just good graphics, although I have been surprised to find people who thought it was the most important thing in a game. Of course, it isn’t like there is a definite formula for making a good game since the definition is different for so many people. Still, I think that if you keep style in mind, how can you go wrong?

Now we just need to decide on exactly what style means, and we’ll be all set. B-) Maybe this is related to a timeless way of game design?

General Marketing/Business

Sheep or In The Know?

An iPod Sheep Fights Back at Creating Passionate Users made me laugh. It was funny to me because it was a shrill defense against the accusation that only sheep would pay so much more money for an iPod (or Mac hardware in general) just to look cool. The Ignorance Premium, as Hugh McLeod refers to it as.

Why is the iPod so successful when perfectly fine alternatives exist? I don’t pretend to know, as I am one of the three in the world who don’t own one. But as I understand it, it is supposed to be the best form and function. It’s not just cool. It’s sexy.

And almost everyone has one. That’s what is so mind-boggling about it. If everyone has one, then how can everyone be sexy? But there it is. And people are willing to play extra for it.

Nevermind the DRM. Nevermind the issues with replacing a battery. Nevermind the need to choose between hard drive OR music player. Nevermind the lack of .ogg support. Nevermind that you can’t transfer music between friends that the local band told you was perfectly fine to do. People will pay a premium for the “best” music player, best being defined somewhere, I’m sure.

I’m fairly cost-concious. I didn’t shell out extra for a Starter jacket when I was younger even though everyone else had one and they all made fun of me for it. I didn’t think much of “diamonds” in my gym shoes, especially since those shoes were always heavier than mine. I didn’t even want to pump on my shoes. And I didn’t rush out to buy an iPod, partly because I haven’t been all that into music and so didn’t exactly have a portable CD player to replace anyway, and partly because of the neverminds I list above.

But wait. There was one thing that I fell in love with when I first experienced it. When Starfox 64 came out for N64, I remember praising the Rumble Pak that came bundled with it. Friend didn’t “get it” when I told them about it. “Wait, let me get this straight. While you play, this thing makes the controller shake? Um…so?” Since only a few games had rumble compatibility, no one was rushing to get one. Of course, once I let someone play, they quickly loved it too. Today, if a console doesn’t have controllers that “just shake while you play the game” it would be found lacking. I even bought a Logitech joystick that had force feedback.

But hey, I’m totally different from those iPod sheep. Force feedback was cool. B-)


We Don’t Trust You

Jerry’s Brain And The Heresies It Contains at The Social Customer Manifesto asks why some great thinkers of the past few centuries are getting ostracized. In the end, it boils it down to the idea that those in charge (business, government, society, etc) do not trust you.

There are myriad examples where “We Don’t Trust You” is the rule in business with how customers are often treated:

* DRM: We don’t trust our customers with music and movies
* Product Warning Labels: We don’t trust our customers not to harm themselves
* Fitting rooms: Take a card to prove the number of garments you are taking inside
* Onerous contracts: We don’t trust you to do what you said you’d do
* Misinformation or lack of information, and feeding uncertainty: We don’t trust customers to make good decisions based on good information.

To be honest, I think the product warning labels are a bit of a stretch. When you can sue for having hot coffee (not the GTA issue, the McDonald’s issue) spilled on your lap because there was no warning label saying it was hot, that doesn’t instill a lot of trust in the American customer. But why do we have to bring a numbered card in the fitting room? Why can’t I take the new Dave Matthews Band CD and listen to it on an iPod? For that matter, why can’t I take an MP3 of the Minibosses from one iPod and transfer it to another? Why do people who buy Half-Life 2 have to wait hours, assuming no errors or problems occur, before getting to play the game?

It’s because of trust. Or rather, a lack of it. Whether someone comes up with an alternative theory of the universe (“The Earth revolves around the sun”) or an alternative theory of how software should be treated (“Software should be Free”), that person becomes someone you shouldn’t trust. After all, who is he/she anyway?

Game Design Game Development Marketing/Business

Girl Friendly Games?

People keep talking about making games more girl friendly. When women make up over 50% of the world but only a small percentage of your customers, more women gamers means more sales. Naturally, there is an emphasis on attracting women to video games. But then people guess at what to do. More cute characters would be good. What girl doesn’t like Hello, Kitty? Or what about making games geared towards girls? Barbie games? Yeah, right.

Instead of trying to attract women exclusively or specifically, why not simply make the game more accessible in general?

An example:
Debian Women is a project to get women more involved with Debian.

We will promote women’s involvement in Debian by increasing the visibility of active women, providing mentoring and role models, and creating opportunities for collaboration with new and current members of the Debian Project.

Debian’s mailing lists are known to be elitist, which turns off many newbies. People were leaving Debian for Gentoo which has newbie-friendlier web forums, and in general there are more men than women involved in computers. Still, it turned out that this community project didn’t just attract women. Debian Women also attracted men who were tired of hearing “RTFM” when asking for help. When Debian became more accessible, it allowed everyone to participate, not just more women.

Awhile back I went to see Sheri Pocilujko of Incredible Technologies give a talk on Female Friendly Gaming. When I asked her about the basis for her ideas, she admitted that there were no studies to support them. She was basically going on anecdotal evidence. Still, I think what she noted and suggested makes sense. She noted that making games more attractive to women in these ways also attracts men. I paraphrase them here, but the basic idea is to make your game more accessible, not more pretty. Women, non-gamer men, etc. Even the hardcore “mainstream” gamers of today aren’t as hardcore as they were years ago. Playing a game that has the interface of some old NES games would be a painful experience today for many who have been spoiled with modern advances.

When making a choice, you should be provided with all the information you need so that uncertainty is minimized.
Research has shown that girls are less likely to get called on in class than boys. Boys continue to get attention even if they are wrong, but girls in general are more timid about being wrong and so avoid participation. In the end, boys grow up to be men who are risk takers while girls grow up to be women who are unsure. Women don’t take mathematics or science classes as much as men do. In fact, girls are raised to believe that “Math is hard”. There are other studies that show that females are raised differently from males. Males are prepared to be independent while women are prepared to be dependent. They grow up with certain expectations which turn out to be wrong when it comes to the business world. NOTE: while I normally like to receive feedback, my experience in LA&S classes in college requires me to point out to you that these studies exist and in no way do I imply that ALL women act a certain way. I am not claiming that women are always frail flowers or that they can’t be competitive with men, so please don’t respond as if I did. Thank you.

What is the point? The point is that when you are making a decision, whether in a game, in business, or in life, you have a certain fear. No one wants to make the wrong choice. The more information you have, the less uncertainty you have. When you provide a choice to the player, you should be able to provide all the information that the player needs. But too many games require the player to “know” something. Imagine if you were given a choice of three potions: red, blue, or green. It might be a legitimate fear that if you pick a potion, it might be the “wrong” one. What if you should have taken the red one but you took the blue one? What do those potions do? Why might you need each? How likely will you need each one? With this information, it is enough for people to stop playing. “Math is hard, so I won’t take it in college if I can help it.” It is said by men and women alike. There are just more men who happen to like math and video games. Maybe the analogy is flawed, but I think they are related. I think men play video games more often than women because they were perfectly fine with trial and error to learn how something works. Doing it wrong the first couple of times didn’t phase them. Women, on the other hand, probably got discouraged from initial failure and went back to their training: “Math is hard, so do something else.”

Provide enough information for the player to make an informed choice. Super Mario RPG is a great example of a game that provides information on screen when you need it most without making it annoying to experts.

All relevant information needed to play the game should be provided upfront.
Pocilujko related the story of a girl who bought a fighting game for her boyfriend. She practiced for weeks so that she could surprise him by being able to play the game with him. When she gave it to him, and they started to play, he defeated her soundly. He would even make use of moves that weren’t in the instruction manual. When asked, he just claims that he “just got it”, but the girlfriend was very put off of the game. She read the instructions, practiced, but the special moves were completely missing and she wasn’t aware of them.

I personally didn’t like playing Mortal Kombat or Killer Instinct because there was no way to learn the moves in game. You had to learn it from someone else or through cheat guides. That’s not fostering community so much as making a bad first impression. Super Smash Bros is a fighting game where the controls are the same for each player. Sure, there are slight differences in results, but the interface and mechanics are roughly the same. People pick it up quickly, although it would be better if there was a way to make it obvious which buttons do what in game as opposed to requiring someone to read the manual.

Don’t hypersexualize the female characters.
Women with unrealisticly large breasts might appeal to male teenagers, but most women (and some men) will take offense. You might have scrawny males, fat males, muscle-bound males, but women are almost always sexualized in some way. I’ve heard some people, including women, claim that making the men attractive will help too, but I don’t think that showing shirtless men will really attract the other half of the world to your game.

Characters should have a purpose in the game other than fulfilling the sexual fantasies of teenagers (in age and mental capacity). Won’t it be more compelling to more people to have interesting characters, or should you continue to cater to those who would rather spend their gaming time trying to zoom the camera down a polygonal blouse? Last I heard, The Guy Game didn’t sell well at all even though those were real women.

Make it easy for people to want to buy from you.
Another thing that Pocilujko talked about was marketing and selling. Girls don’t buy games at video game stores because the exclusively male team who invariably works there almost always make them feel uncomfortable. Instead, girls shop at Walmart or Target for their games. The people who work there don’t care that she’s a gamer, so she isn’t in fear of getting asked out on a date or being told that she should look for My Little Pony games instead of Doom 3. While a girl might play at a gaming kiosk, she might back away from it the moment males start to play or a male sales representative appears. Why? Comfort. Have you heard what 12 year olds say when playing a video game? Yeesh.

She mentioned being a salesperson for a Star Wars card game at one point in time. Not only did women feel more comfortable buying from her, but imagine how the men reacted. Here is a woman who not only knows about their game but is also interested in it. Quite a few sales resulted in those interactions, although I don’t think it is necessarily for a good reason. Still, people were more open to the female salesperson who was also knowledgable in the game than they would have been to the male version. Women specifically were more open to playing a game where the person teaching them wasn’t perceived as judgmental.

It is funny because this isn’t just a secret to getting more women gamers. It is a secret to any sale in any business. Make the customer more comfortable about buying from you, and you eliminate another barrier to closing the sale.

Long ago, games didn’t have a lot of room for storing things like a good interface or help text. Most gamers were game developers, which mean they were programmers. Interface wasn’t as important since the person playing the game knew how to use a computer. Today, there is no excuse. A lot of research has been and is being done, and many of these problems have already been solved quite well. Most people aren’t computer science majors and you can’t expect them to be.

Still, the problem is not making games more girl friendly. There are whole communities of female gamers, so it is obviously not an intrinsic problem with the gender. The actual problem to be tackled is in making games more accessible to girls AND boys who wouldn’t normally play. “Math is hard” isn’t just a problem with females, as I’ve said. People generally accept that casual games are supposed to be made more accessible to the soccer moms who play them, but I think that lowered barriers to entry are needed in normal games as well.

My own anecdotal evidence: a friend of mine once remarked that the interface for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on the PC was not intuitive. I didn’t notice the interface being a problem. Why? Because she doesn’t play computer games regularly and doesn’t know that the keys W-A-S-D are normal. I naturally moved my fingers to those keys whereas she was trying to use the arrow keys. It is not fun to be told by someone that you’re doing something wrong, no matter how nice they say it (and I distinctly remember being nice about it, for the record). Here was a kid’s game that was causing problems for an adult. How did children who don’t normally play games figure it out? Another story: I remember playing a game on the Apple II and getting frustrated with this same issue. I had to use I-J-K-M to move about instead of the arrow keys. “Who thought of that?” I remember thinking back when I didn’t know what “intutive” meant. I had to look up information in one of the computer manuals to find out how to move. The Computer was still new to me so I was already used to figuring out how it worked, but how many people would never play that game because they couldn’t figure it out?

I don’t think that game developers should try to cater to girls so much as they should target non-gamers. Female gamers exist and play mostly the same games that males play. It’s the people who don’t play games that need games that work for them. They need to know that math and video games aren’t painful, scary, or hard.

Game Development Games Marketing/Business

The Rising Cost of Making Games

With the newest game consoles arriving soon, there has been a lot of talk about the cost of making games. EA is insisting that next generation games will cost $30 million to develop. Outrageous! And then Will Wright comes along with Spore and describes a way to make huge games without spending money on creating your own content. I had covered Spore previously. Of course, not all games can be made in this way, and as I’ve read elsewhere, the use of HDTV by game consoles will mean that games will need better art. Blocky and polygonal models can’t hide behind low resolutions anymore. So the idea is that costs will rise for mainstream game development. I think it will be natural for most people to expect indie game development to follow in kind. Graphics on the par of Super NES won’t be good enough, and I don’t think it is good enough today either. Of course, I’m just guessing, so feel free to slap me down.

The Gamasutra interview with Epic’s Mark Rein on the topic of middleware solutions shows that Rein doesn’t think costs will rise that much. Since EA acquired Renderware, companies that compete with EA are looking to other middleware companies, so Epic’s tools have found a market. When asked about the rising costs of game development:

I guess one of the biggest things we’ve seen that’s bothered us lately is big companies like EA going and tossing out “it’s going to take $30 million to make a next-gen game” and we just don’t see that. I mean we’re making our next-gen games for 25-50% more than our previous generation games, and when we hear those kinds of numbers, we think that’s just bravado, that’s just them trying to scare their competitors out of the marketplace.

We don’t subscribe to that, we don’t think it has to be ridiculously expensive to make next-generation games, and we’ve done a lot of work – like our visual scripting system is a perfect example – in making our tools really optimized so that artists and designers can get the most out of the engine without having to involve a huge amount of programmer resources.

My favorite part was the last question. Apparently Activision and THQ have announced that their games will cost $10 more than before. Rein basically pointed out that the market will likely not allow games to cost that much more. He said there would be an increase in piracy and people revolting.

I think we spend enough money on games, and I just don’t think that’s reasonable. I think what you need to do is make better games, take your time, do them right, and sell more! I don’t think we’re ever going to have 20 million selling games, until we bring the cost of those games down, not up. I think the way to build the market is to decrease the cost of the games, not increase the cost of the games.

Make better games instead of making more expensive games? Who’d have thunk it?! B-) How does all of this talk relate to indie games? I think that making better games, taking your time, doing it right will allow you to sell more. Oh, and effective marketing to make sure that people know about your better and rightly made game in the first place.

Marketing/Business Personal Development

Danger Quicksand: Have a Nice Day!

I read David St. Lawrence’s blog, Ripples, regularly. Usually he blogs about corporate work or entreprenuership, especially for people over the age of 50. He has an amazing insight into working in the 21st century. He’s also an author.

I had been meaning to order his book, Danger Quicksand: Have a Nice Day! for some time, and I finally thought to myself that I knew I was going to buy it eventually so I might as well stop thinking about it and do so.

The book talks about what corporate work is like and how a worker should deal with it. Long gone are the days where you could expect to work at the same company for 50 years and retire with a nice pension. People are expecting to work through their retirement years. On top of this instability, people who have a job one day might find that they are not needed the next. Some people sign up for jobs that allow the employer to drop them with or without cause. And it happens. And it leaves employees with a bad taste in their mouths.

David St. Lawrence talks about the importance of setting the right expectations, for yourself and for your employers. He helps you identify exactly what might be bothering you about your current situation. He provides guidance to help you figure out your next step, such as how to avoid acidic coworkers and when you should start looking for a new job.

Read my book and you will get a good start on planning for your future. Don’t expect it to be like anything you have ever read. It is the absolute truth, delivered as compassionately as possible. One of my readers said, “Holy Crap! This is one scary book…I wish I had read it several years ago.”

This is the first career book written to level the playing field for employees who are trying to deal with the current realities of 21st century employment. You will laugh and curse as you see your current employment situation explained in all of its painful detail. Once you read this book, you will never drink the corporate Kool-Aid again.

He also talks about how important it is to make sure your employment readies you for self-employment. While I think he was mostly addressing the 50 and 60 year olds who find they can’t get hired and so need to have the skills to run their own business to survive, this part of the book was the most interesting to me. It was a nice reminder that I should never think that being bored or at ease at my job is a good thing. I should always be looking for a challenge. And in the end, the only safe employment is self-employment. Working for someone else means you can be fired by someone else. Since companies now operate on Internet time, the high turnover rates will be the norm. He urges the reader to be prepared for it.

I know he sometimes blogs about making your business stand out by focusing on the customer, but seeing it in action was delightful. It was really cool to see he signed the book (and spelled my name correctly to boot!) before shipping it out. The invoice had a handwritten “Thank you!”

If you are afraid of getting fired, have been fired, find yourself working for a company or employer you can’t stand, feel lost, or otherwise have issues in the workplace, this book should be a big help. It doesn’t provide the answers for everything, though. After all, you should know best how to proceed. It just provides guidance by shedding light on exactly what you are experience. Clarity and focus are great motivaters, whereas confusion and ignorance make it difficult to win. Danger Quicksand is one of those eye-opening books that lets you know how it is possible for you to work and have a sane, healthy life.

Game Development Games Marketing/Business Politics/Government

The ESRB Ratings System

Since the “Hot Coffee” scandal is in the news, and enough people are talking about it, including developers, I’ll just add my own thoughts so that more than enough are talking about it.

If you haven’t heard about “Hot Coffee”, essentially Rockstar, the developer behind the Grand Theft Auto series of games, is getting itself and the general game industry in a lot of trouble. The already controversial GTA: San Andreas apparently has a sex mini game buried on the CD. You can’t actually play the mini game normally. As far as I can tell based on the media that I’ve read so far, you have to get a patch that someone else made that unlocks access to the content. To top it all off, Rockstar’s statements ranged from quite confusing to downright lying about it.

GTA:SA is already rated M for mature by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board. The ESRB provided its own ratings system, and this system is getting a lot of heat. While they providea description of the ratings, I’ll give a basic review of the main ratings:

  • E for Everyone: basically, safe for children
  • E 10+ for Everyone 10+: children 10 or older can handle it
  • T for Teen: not safe for children, but teenagers should be mature enough to handle it
  • M for Mature: the key word, Mature, should indicate that it is not safe for people who are not mature; technically, not for people under the age of 17
  • AO for Adults Only: usually those words imply content the likes of which you will find on late night Cinemax

Now, the ESRB changed the rating from M to AO due to the unlockable content on the game. A new version of the game that prevents the mod will be released for the fourth quarter of the year with the original M rating. If stores wish to sell the current version, AO rating stickers will be provided to them. Of course, most retailers will pull the games from their shelves instead.

Of course, the damage has already been done. Senator Clinton is proposing a law similar to the laws proposed in Illinois. GTA:SA was already considered “bad enough” by certain people, but this “hidden pornography” has a number of groups and politicians up in arms. It’s basically a debate about protecting children, free speech, and the fact that the game wasn’t originally meant to be played by children in the first place. It’s rated M, so children shouldn’t be playing it.

Kotaku does a nice job describing the differences between the movie and video game rating systems, although I would like an actual answer to the question, “What is the purpose of the rating system?” because telling me that they are voluntary and who sponsors them isn’t telling me about the purpose.

Anyway, if we were to compare the ratings to the movie industries ratings, which are widely known, you could see they are pretty much line up nicely:

  • E == G
  • E10+ == PG
  • T == PG-13
  • M == R
  • AO == NC-17

Granted, there are slight differences, but if you understand one, you can understand the other without too much of a problem. At least, I would think so.

One complaint I’ve seen a lot about the game ratings system is that it is so similar to the movie rating system that they should just adopt it themselves. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any reason as to why the ESRB cannot do so. I imagine it might be a trademark thing, but I would like to believe that the MPAA wouldn’t charge an exorbitant amount of money just to allow another industry to use it, especially since the two have so many business connections.

Another complaint is that the difference between M and AO is negligible. I’ve seen many blogs and news articles comparing the two descriptions and concluding with, “WTF?!” Or, to clarify, they find that the difference is a bit contrived and shouldn’t exist.

Of course, in the movie industry, a movie that is rated R will play in most theaters and can make money, whereas a movie rated NC-17 wouldn’t. The sweet spot is PG-13 because now teens AND adults can pay to see it. So there is a huge incentive to get your movies a lower rating, and some people have taken issue with movies like Saving Private Ryan and Orgazmo getting ratings they shouldn’t deserve due to who made the movie.

Similarly, a game rated AO will not sell at most retailers, whereas M will. So some people believe that difference between the two ratings is artificially created to allow otherwise extreme content to sell in stores. In either case, children are not supposed to be playing these games, but they can more easily get access to a game rated M than one rated AO.

Just like they can more easily get access to R rated movies on DVD than those rated NC-17. In fact, this problem can happen more than the problem with children getting access to M rated video games. But I’m still waiting for the outrage and sensationalization on that issue.

Essentially, what’s the outrage here? That’s the question a lot of game players are asking. The games are already not supposed to be played by children, so changing the rating will not do anything but make someone who is 17 wait a year before they can play it. Big deal! Of course, historically video games were played by little children. How many of you adults have heard your mother complain that you shouldn’t play video games anymore? That you should “grow up” and act your age? There is a perception that video games are children’s toys still. They are not anymore, and people need to learn this fact. It doesn’t help when the only ones making noise in the media are the ones who insist on saying things like violent games are being “marketed to children” or that these games are “training kids to kill cops”. The implications to parents and others? Violent and sexually explicit games ARE being marketed to their children. Who is saying otherwise?

So what’s going to happen? Politicians are going to continue to make it clear that they are outraged about the situation, or at least clear to those who will vote in the next election. They’ll continue passing laws that won’t have any effect on actually protecting children since the parents will still be the ones who make the majority of the purchasing decisions. Jack Thompson will continue to create his own facts to scare parents. Parents will be confused when they see games that clearly state they shouldn’t be played by children while they hear the media insist that these games are being marketed to them.

In the end, no one will be able to trust anyone. But I believe that Rockstar basically gave the entire video game industry a nice, big black eye. Talking about the nuances of the issue doesn’t change the fact that parents, media, lawyers, and politicians have a perception about video games that is a bit different than it was before “Hot Coffee”. Changing that perception to reflect reality, where an adequate and clear ratings system already exists for parents to use, will be tough. It already was tough, but it is just made all the more tougher since Rockstar gave the opposing view more ammo, no matter how immaterial it would be to the actual issue.

I believe that “Hot Coffee” would have died out on its own. It is a poorly made mini game, and outside of the juvenile curiousity, no one would play it for long. But, the content is technically pornographic, and generally there are laws that restrict the sale of pornographic material to minors. As informed game players, we know that playing a copy of GTA:SA won’t let us play the mini game. We’d have to find and apply the patch to the game first. It’s not as if an unsuspecting child, who shouldn’t be playing the game anyway, can stumble upon the mini game in the course of normal play. Nevertheless, this information isn’t getting out there to the general public. The perception is basically along the lines of “Rockstar has released a game that rewards children for killing cops and glorifies violence. Now it turns out it also allows this child to simulate sexual encounters! This is an outrage!”

Nevermind that GTA actually punishes you for killing cops. Nevermind that children shouldn’t play this game in the first place. Nevermind that it is not possible to just “play sex” with a purchased copy of the game without going through the steps needed to download and apply the patch/mod. Nevermind that the ESRB couldn’t possibly have been able to rate the game based on this content. The point is that Rockstar, the ESRB, and by association the video game industry are perceived as the enemy of parents and moral values. Not to claim that Rockstar is completely to blame and that parents are allowed to be ignorant. Not at all. There are clearly people out there who have an incentive to be less than genuine about the facts, including politicians and game developers alike. Also, I believe that Rockstar should be able to make whatever games they want. This issue is not cut and dry, since they didn’t release the mini game as something playable in the first place and so probably shouldn’t have been required to disclose it.

But the content shouldn’t have been on the CD. While it is normal for developers to leave unfinished levels or other things in the build, this mini game is a bit much, I think. It wasn’t just some unfinished level or 3D model. The repurcussions from this incident and the reactions to it will likely extend farther than just legal issues for M or AO games made by mainstream developers.

Geek / Technical Marketing/Business

FOSS Innovations

I’ve been reading different news articles about Free and Open Source software. I’ve also read articles that both praise and denounce FOSS. I’ve participated in flame wars and civil discussions about the merits of FOSS.

One argument I’ve seen appear countless times is that FOSS can only mimic the features of existing commercial software. The idea is that with commercial software, there is a profit motive, so innovation occurs. FOSS, without a profit motive, can only aspire to do what other existing packages do. Essentially, people are arguing that FOSS can only copy commercial software features.

There are a few problems with this argument that I can see, and I don’t mean to talk about one-off theoreticals like, “Well a person COULD release a new feature under the GPL”.

One, the way this argument is formed implies that FOSS and commercial software are mutually exclusive. When this argument comes up, no one ever clarifies what they mean by “commercial” software. It is just assumed by all parties involved in the argument/discussion that commercial software is proprietary software that you sell. This assumption and the wording of the argument (FOSS vs commercial) leads to the conclusion that FOSS is the software you don’t sell. This assumption furthers the idea that FOSS can only be free as in beer.

To make this idea clear (or not, since I always make bad examples), imagine if I asked you, “Do you want to buy this bottle of safe purified drinking water or drink from that spring over there?” The way I worded that question would imply that the spring water is not safe. It may or may not be safe, but by asking that question in that way, I’ve pretty much made up your mind, haven’t I? At the very least, you now have a doubt about the safety of that spring water. Now imagine that instead of talking about the water directly I discuss a side effect. “You can only grow tomatoes in safe water.” What happened? I’m still implying that the water from the spring is unsafe compared to the purified water. After all, I explicitly mention that the purified water is safe, so the spring water must not be safe, especially as you can’t grow tomatoes with it. Only this time you aren’t being asked about the safety of the water. You are being asked about growing tomatoes, and if you just argue about the ability to grow tomatoes, you implicitly agree that the spring water is unsafe while the purified water is safe. It may be that the spring water is also very pure and also very safe, but you’ve accepted that it is completely different from water that is safe by assuming a clear distinction. Crafty, eh? And maybe contrived…

Two, and related to the first point, the argument mentions the profit motive as if it was exclusive to “commercial” software as opposed to FOSS. Since it is possible to have commercial FOSS, FOSS can also be developed with a profit motive. If by “commercial” they instead meant “proprietary”, I still don’t understand how keeping the source secret inherently makes it more innovative than FOSS.

Still, I’ve thought about it. The Free Software Foundation wasn’t formed to create innovative software. It was formed to make it possible to use Free software with a Free operating system. Innovation wasn’t the purpose at all. Somehow this weird debate about the innovation from FOSS vs commercial software came up from others. Almost always, the question gets posed by someone who is against FOSS, and of course this situation pushes the idea that FOSS advocates insist that FOSS is more innovative that proprietary software.

It’s a confusing mess. One the one hand, you want to argue about the merits of FOSS or proprietary software. On the other hand, arguing simply makes people think you accept their assumption about commercial software vs FOSS. And if you argue to point out the assumption, you lose people who find your “meta arguments” pointless.

Anyway, I believe that innovation isn’t exclusive to proprietary software. I also believe that FOSS can be commercial. Heck, my business will depend on it to be the case!

But just saying so isn’t good enough. After all, Microsoft and other companies have been doing a good job perpetuating the idea that FOSS is communist (implying all sorts of evils by doing so) and that “commercial” (implying FOSS can’t be commercial) software provides true innovation. I think it would be interesting to see if a list of FOSS innovations could be made. Of course, innovation isn’t necessarily originality, and Microsoft’s marketing show that it is apparently innovative to make their OS more secure than previous iterations.

Still, a list of FOSS innovations would be nice to have. What did FOSS developers do before proprietary developers “copied” from them? I proposed making this list as a project for the DePaul Linux Community. I’ll take it on myself if there is a lack of interest there.

Of course, when a study or three say so, it only lends more credibility the idea that FOSS promotes innovation. And one innovation I use everyday without thinking about it: Firefox Live Bookmarks. Add one to the list…

Game Development Games Linux Game Development Marketing/Business

New Linux Gaming Link

Somewhere this past week I came across the Linux Gamer Guide Wiki.

I set this site up to help people be aware that there ARE linux gamers.. and gaming on a linux platform is a CHOICE!.. now… to add stuff.

I’ve been trying to get the site out more in the public..if you find any of these HOWTOs useful please give ’em a link 🙂

I didn’t post the link originally because the site was very new, but now it seems to be taking shape. I think it can be a great resource along with The Linux Game Tome and other sites.