On the Blackout

… I have little to add to this, really. There are people more articulate, more affected and more informed on the subject than me that have written about it, but since I made a statement about it already I will ramble on a little more. Again, like any other posts in this blog these are my personal opinions and should not be attributed to any previous or former employers of mine.

I happened to catch a newscast this morning where the reporter mentioned the protests in a pejorative manner. They did add a disclaimer at the end saying that the broadcasting company had already thrown in their support with the bills – all fair, Wikipedia raised the same issue with objective reporting in their blackout. The interesting part was that at the end they said that the proponents of SOPA and PIPA was not heard as much since they “did not have as easy a time reaching their audience”. Coming from a TV-broadcasted news show I found this very amusing.

There is a big disconnect between media were people are just the recipients of the product and where they are an active part in the process, which may be why swapping civil liberties for a chance to maybe, possibly help curb piracy seems like a good idea to some but atrocious to others. If the end user is good for nothing but pay for the final product, I can sort of see why you would expect them to trust you and not the other way around. Trust that the power given to the media organisations (let’s stop pretending that this is about all IP holders) will not be misused, but without trusting the majority of the audience to have good intentions. I can see the kind of reasoning behind it, but if you consider that we are talking about actual people and you are trying to sell something to them, it becomes ridiculous.

There are many reasons to dislike these bills originating from it-security, economic, entrepeneurial or simply moral standpoints. I have multiple personal reasons to dislike them but this establishment where the end user is supposed to have faith in the content providers without receiving anything in return is probably my biggest reason for it. I wrote about the chilling effect nonspecific IP legislation already has a while back, should they pass I expect SOPA and PIPA to make it much worse.

Posted on Jan 19/12 by Saint and filed under Intellectual Property | No Comments »

/* */

The Mojäng – Zenimax thing

Apparently the first step of Zenimax’ lawsuit is concluded. The trial remains and appeals do not seem unlikely, so it may be a while still.

Now, I am going to draw upon some experiences of my professional life in this post so maybe it is best to make it clear that this post, like all others on this blog, are my opinions alone and are not to be attributed to any of my employers, past or present.

In “the Darkness”, a little less than halfway through the game, Jackie runs into a WW2 era cannon. It is a rail-mounted monstrosity, somewhere between a train and a building – but more importantly, at one point the train had the number “999” stamped somewhere. This was a subtle reference to the anime “Galaxy Express 999”, but you will not find it anymore as it was removed due to copyright concerns. There is also a lot of graffitti in the game – we actually hired artists to paint this for us as just grabbing it from concrete walls around town put us in a sticky ownership position. The cool part about this is that the entire development team got to have their handles recreated as tags – though you will not find mine there as I requested that my tag have a stick figure with a halo. You know, “Saint” and all… I have some more understanding for the cutting of this (even though the figure in the tag looked nothing like the icon popularized by Simon Templar), but still. And those things are just the beginning.

Now, I do not blame the studio heads for wanting to play it safe – Intellectual Property law is apparently a minefield in entertainment in general and videogames in particular, for several reasons.

First, as a small independent studio making a global product we were at the mercy of our publishers. As far as I understand it, most similar contracts make it the developer’s sole responsibility to make sure that there is no IP infringement in the game, even if the publisher has signed off on the game and it sits on shelves around the world. A small independent studio could not handle the cost of a lawsuit concerning a game selling millions of copies.

Second, there is a general notion that since everything in a videogame more or less has to be explicitly created for the game, there is never a lack of intent. I have not been able to get this verified or denied by anyone – again, this is a subject no-one wants to touch. But unlike movies, where other trademarks might happen to be in the background, you better be sure all your designs are original in a game. This creates a warped responsibility where our artists had to design everyday objects and model fictional characters only to spend hours searching online to make sure they had not accidentally made it similar to an existing design or celebrity. It hurts narrative too, Max Barry wrote about the alienation of fiction when we are not allowed to use brands that have forced themselves into our everyday lives – this is the biggest reason why so few AAA games are set in contemporary settings.

Third, this is an issue that very few people talk about. No-one wants to be publicly involved in IP lawsuits, so nobody talks about it. All of the things we had to do for the Darkness (and later games) were not because of warnings from outside but from self-policing in fear of a reportedly massive number of copyright and patent trolls looming around every new release. Stories from publisher representatives and rumors from conventions where all we had to go by – but it was enough. We could scarcely afford to finish the game, a lawsuit would leave everyone without a job.

It is mainly because of this third reason that I appreciate that Mojäng are fighting this and they are being public about it – there needs to be a lot more light shining on these issues so we can get some real, official examples of what we can actually do. That is not to say I think either them or Zenimax are obviously in the right, but maybe if a case like this is settled in public we can be on the way to a functional industry where IP decisions are made based on facts and reason instead of fear and rumors. I think that would make the entire entertainment industry a nicer place to work in.

Posted on Oct 19/11 by Saint and filed under General game development, Intellectual Property, Meta-blog | 5 Comments »

/* */

the Tetris Company prevails?


A bit of backstory; Tetris was first created in 1985 by Alexey Pajitnov, Vadim Gerasimov and Dmitri Pavlovsky, and it has among the most interesting legal histories for any game. During it’s first 5-10 years it was a battle of rights between the Soviet Governement, Nintendo, Atari and others, and in 1996 the Tetris Company was formed and started a campaign against freeware developers of tetris “clones”.

Now, these claims were bogus seeing as you can’t copyright gameplay, but a little scary talk can go a long way in a world where everyone is afraid of legal action. It seems the Tetris Company has dropped the pretense and are now suing social games site OMGPOP owner for trade dress violations and copyright infringement regarding the graphics used.

The concept and design of Tetris is simple, so simple that it is a common game programming exercise to duplicate it. I myself made a completely functional Tetris clone from scratch in less than 30 minutes once, so it seems like a bad idea trying to profit from it by preventing anyone else from making iterations of it – traditionally, game developers have used more finely tuned design or more complex technology to create brand strength and live off that. On the other hand, the OMGPOP game does look eerily similar to the original and I don’t condone making money off knock-offs either. Either way, it’s going to be interesting to see how this ends up.

Posted on Mar 23/09 by Saint and filed under Intellectual Property | No Comments »

/* */

DivX, continued

A forthcoming system update for the PlayStation 3 will allow users to play back DivX-encoded video files, DivX, Inc. has announced.

No specific date was provided as to when consumers can expect to receive DivX functionality. Developers are currently able to make use of the technology care of the latest PS3 software development kit, version 2.00 of which was released November 2.

“We are excited to work with Sony Computer Entertainment to bring DivX to PS3,” said DivX CEO Kevin Hell. “Our technology will expand the multimedia functionality of PS3 by enabling users to enjoy access to the broad library of content in the DivX digital media format.”

… So that’s why.


Posted on Nov 13/07 by Saint and filed under Gaming culture, Intellectual Property | No Comments »

/* */

DivX possibly for 360

Seems like DivX and Microsoft have been talking about it, at least. Well, I don’t plan on using it but it’s a start…

Hell seemed initially enthusiastic, then backed off: “Yes! that, uh, we’re in discussions with Microsoft on that at this point in time, so I can’t go into any great detail on that. Um, that is not a certified, that is not a certified or licensed product at this time.”


Microsoft original reason for not including DivX or XVid support was that “most of the available material is pirated” … Well, they’re just codecs but I’m not going to pretend that the fact that they’re probably right doesn’t mean anything; they would be hard-pressed to make any immediate money off the deal and it might’ve put them in a bad place when negotiating other deals. Waiting until they had a solid install base and leverage was probably the financially sane thing to do.

That being said, it really bothers me when companies throw away the better solution because piracy has somehow tainted it; just a few weeks ago we saw RIAA & co shut down OiNK and repeat the dreaded mistake of some 5 years ago. I’m not saying they should just’ve let it slide, but now they’re just gathering bad press for shutting down a site that was better than anything they’ve ever come up with, and twenty new, more hard-to-get trackers will appear as a result – just like when Napster was shut down and paved way for GNUtella, DC and KaZaa. I’m getting really off-topic (making up for my lack of post when OiNK actually went down), so I’ll conclude with the words of Rob Sheridan;

“I used to reject the wishy-washy “music should be free!” mantra of online music thieves. I knew too much about the intricacies and economics of it, of the rock-and-a-hard-place situation many artists were in with their labels. I thought there were plenty of new ways to sell music that would be fair to all parties involved. But I no longer believe that, because the squabbling, backwards, greedy, ownership-obsessed major labels will never let it happen, and that’s more clear to me now than ever. So maybe music has to be free.”

Posted on Nov 13/07 by Saint and filed under Gaming culture, Intellectual Property | No Comments »

/* */

“Ideas are the only real currency”

Gamasutra sister site Game Career Guide recently posted advice on safeguarding your ideas, and the internets would probably be a nicer place if more people read some of that advice and took it to heart;

“It really is important to make sure all our readers know upfront that one idea isn’t worth diddley-doddley, as Ned Flanders would say. One idea is nothing. Even killer ideas are a dime a dozen.”

Now, while I certainly recognize that plagiarism is frequently occurring out there, I would argue that, as Edison said, invention is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration. Making games is hard work and anyone with some experience in design will tell you that it’s very, very rare to get it right the first time. In order to make something that’s actually enjoyable, you need to evaluate it, refine it by adding and detracting things, balance conditions and you’re still not guaranteed to have something more than what amounted to a “good idea on paper, but…”

“…He talks at one point about trying to sell a game to a publisher by explaining the idea to the executives verbally and on paper, which failed. He went back to his team and told them they would have to try again, but instead of showing documents, they would show a trailer, a visual representation of the game they wanted to make. And that’s how they sold the idea.”

Publishers frequently get demonized for turning down original concepts by startups, and while there may be some merit to this argument there’s also a reason selling something as a startup is more difficult: you have to prove that you’re capable of going the distance.

I won’t neglect that a good, simple-to-implement idea can make or break a game, but even if plagiarism is bad form I would consider it infinitely worse to withhold a good idea from the world just because you can’t possibly profit from it yourself.

Posted on Oct 09/07 by Saint and filed under General game development, Intellectual Property | No Comments »