FOE6: The Future of Video Gaming

Liveblogged..there will be mistakes

Many innovations in the creative industries owe their roots and inspiration to the gaming world, from audience engagement and storytelling techniques to distribution methods and cross-platform integration. This session examines some of the critical questions facing those working in the gaming industry as large companies and indie developers grapple with the challenging evolution of the market brought on by new networked technologies, audience practices, and business models. How are game developers embracing or rejecting the unauthorized play of games online, and how has piracy evolved as a discourse in the gaming sector? How do creators strategize around the widespread circulation of games through automated propagation (using friend invitations for social and “free to play” games) — or grassroots spreading (for unexpectedly popular titles like Minecraft) — of information through social network sites? How badly are new architectures (Steam, Xbox Live Arcade, PSN Network) clashing with old traditions (game stores, $60 game discs)? And how are business models in the gaming industry shifting as we see massive success simultaneously from high-budget technology like Kinect and low-budget distribution like the Humble Bundle?

Panelists:
T.L. Taylor, Associate Professor of Comparative Media Studies, MIT
Christopher Weaver, founder of Bethesda Softworks and industry liaison, MITGameLab
Ed Fries, architect of Microsoft’s video game business and co-founder of the Xbox project
Walter Somol, head of tech community outreach, Microsoft New England Research and Development Center
Moderator: Futures of Entertainment Fellow and games producer Alec Austin

AA: lets start with questions about piracy; it’s not just music are being pirated…looking at numbers about gaming etc, eg Goo, 90% had pirated it is. Not typical, but somewhat telling. to COmbat, there have been a number of different approaches, eg always online. Walled gardens kind of overlap, etc. plus games which are free to play, and pay in game. There are plenty of models, So first question, what has been your experiences with these responses to piracy and some of the more interesting reactions…

EF: I think we are lucky in game business…we ignored Asia, the console base. We left them to come up with their own model..the free play model. That is the response, what do you do with digital distribution changes it/ You create these download games, on servers, and make money after the fact, give them the choice to spend money

TLT: interesting how people have adapted; thinking about what a fair game is..the discussion has changed. In Asia, the pay to win thing is not a problem. Access with game cafes etc., Attitude is changing

WS: IN China, it is OK to pay to win. In Western markets, not comfortable, they want to show the skills. To go back to piracy, there have been so many attempts to fight it..you see that battle, ie DRm and that creates an uproar..eg Spore, that pisses off people (or Diablo 3 where you have to be online)..but it really hard to get round

TLT: for competitive communities, that had a real issue. The tension of DRM and what game communities wanted to do

EF: you still have people like Valve, who believe in no DRM and if people steal, then you are not offering right product or right price. By offering proper russian localised content, then it is a big market,

CW: you have to go back to before online communication. It has to do with relationship between player and game. When we started, we were concerned about piracy, we had reasonable expectation that people would take it. We did research, looked at paper that said ‘burn after reading’ non-photocopyable. We put the codes on there. We got flooded with calls that could not read it! It did not work too well, we serviced more people telling them what the codes were. We went through game after game, even had one with anti-piracy that if you figured out what it was, it gave you a phone number – to the programmer who talked about a job. We found that people will steal if they want, or play the game you want. They push against constraints. We punished our players…now we have more..

TLT: often piracy and solutions get framed around users and a company. Some of the solutions have a social impact. Talking about how Star Wars MMO going to manage this, with free to play and fee based….how are the guilds going to manage. This word free to pay gets used a lot. But free to play starts are design, it is designed by users rather than game.

WS: another interesting approach, looks over the most recent consoles, single vs multi-player games. Add multiplayer functionality worked to some degree. If you needed the disk in, you had to keep the disk…title updates can disrupt the pirate version

AA: I know EA has tried less to combat piracy rather than resale..having an online code for a certain code..so if you have the disk and not the code, then you don’t get to play online.

CW: lets address this…saying this as someone that was a content creation..I have a big problem to thinking that digital info is different to analog. If I buy a book and I can do what I want it want. I do not want to think the digital version is less valuable, more problems, there needs to be a common thought when it was digital and analog. Do not think it is fair that if someone wants to resell….they should be able to

TLT: it is about forms of authorised use, there is a lot of contention and contingency in this forms

AA: so EA conflated pirates with GameStop

TLT: when thinking about game cultures, then co-creativity is one of the bed rocks, when you take that, it opens up interesting and thorney issues….a few weeks ago, MS restated in TOS that you can’t monetise the games…I do a lot of work with people who livestream their gameplay. What does it mean when we talk about co-created game spaces.

AA: it’s connected to whether a game developer is marketing game by creating the image of a proculture around it. you have a type of game, with a type of players, where the games have a hi level of skill and level of complexity., To get people to purchase and keep playing, so create culture so people can aspire to play the game at a professional level

TLT: i would tweak the direction. A big part of culture is the affective material involvement with them and companies try and leverage it. All the competitive play etc, has a long history.

WS: does anyone play competitive gaming? Played about 12 years…plus sports. it was fun. you go and play and get buddies and you hang out virtually, and it is fun and no surprise that people are trying ways to have fun playing games

CW: fandom has a huge amplification and the more you try and control it the worse it gets. YOu have to pick your battles. If you have an established relationship with your users and they see you as sensitive to them, then you are ahead of the curve. Than attacking them with lawyers. It’s a bad part of the curve to be on

EF: WOrking with site Warcraft Pets. At one point lawyers designed no TM in URLS and a C&D letter arrives and he does not know what to do. On the one hand they had put him, his site, into the game but on the other hand sueing him

CW: there is the yin and yang the attorneys who want to bill you..and the law needs you to be militant to protect the rights and the lawyer sees it through that lens..and then the devs see a fan//. and they work separately.

WS: there is a biz strategy about how to manage this. So there is a company that handles it great – Lucas – so what i have seen they kind of let this stuff happen..as long as there is no money. And Disney suing the Daycare company for painting characters on wall

AA: talk about the relationship between companies and their audience,there is a lot to talk about ways in which companies and audiences relate…you have these cultural narratives, emerging around the business of the games industry, which create type of dynamic between companies and users..then you also have when companies react..and users. So people reacted when Steam came out, and took a few years to turn the narrative around. Steam is sort of always online…they have turned it into a virtuous loop.

CW: there is one issue of piracy that would be good to discuss..thinking back to HJ panel . The tech has created major problems, and tech has some potential answers and tools to address the issues on a scale that could be unique. Every player is going to be online if willing to sacrifice a little privacy, you can have a relationship with the creators and that opens up possibilities, as the nature of piracy changes, to go to developers direct to get permission to have something in a game, to do or this…there is more of a one and one relationship which can be controlled, to get paid, making sure people are authorised. It would change the nature of what people define as piracy

EF: what Alex said, there is more of a direct connection and the smart ones manage it better. Eg Bungie. There is CD PRoject Red, they put out a game…talked about what was right for customer vs the right for the business and how it cost them and how much pain it was and in their case it was long term thinking, long term relationship. do think there is a trend in that direction

CW: to look at it organically, if there is a perception based on fact reality to what the audience wants it amplifies the relationship. Elder Scolls has benefitted that and when Skyrim came round we could change and listen and adapt

TLT: the terms of users and developers are insufficient about the transformative use of play. Game development have got good at at patching live to deal with emergent changes. The language does not get to the heart of co-creativity of that language. WOrld of Warcraft did that. listen. And free to play games are built with that from the ground up, doing live A/B tests

CW: using Zynga, assuming a company is adept at metrics and it is important for a company to think about what is happening. Users don’t always know what they want, there is a tension on behalf of commercial establishment…but you have to moderate it from standpoint of not always right, you have to listen…sometimes people want a fix right now but you don’t have info to fix.

TLT: play practice exceeds the developers chance to react. There is a long history of broadcast..and now people livestream gameplay, people watch and think that it is fun. Gameplayers may not like it. but people do it. The act of play always exceeds what happens on the ground. Metrics is fine, but does not capture the totality. Even without livestreaming, you have the ‘lets play’ videos on YT, just people playing.

WS: my kids watch other people play Minecraft all the time

AA: question from flourish about civility and how users relate to each other and what kinds of steps being taken to make it less hostile

WS: it is a challenge, the first time on Xbox live i was appalled. There is a class of people out there, griefers, that try and make life hard., There have been a couple of systems, on Xbox there is a rating system, you can take off the playworld, In MMO world, different types of servers, you are not free of hassle but not as disruptive.

AA: so MS have a zero tolerance policy for Halo 4. Also league of legends, you can both report and also report team mates for good behaviour. In terms of user contributions, also you can review cases that have been put together.

EF: it varies from game to game. WoW had generally positive experience. Most is through guild and that is positive. Halo Reach, normally play with kids and parental controls are nice. Was surprised at what I heard in matches though. You have to look at what is working, can you groups people in a more community way…at least matches the comm norms

WS: real name vs pseudonym is one way. EveOnline, have built world and players control a lot, they have let it evolve..the players have created interesting world. There are some negative behaviours, but quite good

TLT: this year has highlighted game culture, homophobia, sexism etc. Companies have not paid attention to communities…it is now getting traction. giving players tools to manage communities. Part of what we are struggling with the grown heterogeneity of game cultures, and people push back on the norms and people want to change it. Game companies need to push back

AA: the motivation behind creating the control systems..the norms of the community was such that losers, there was endless sneering..and league was the most friendly of the games. There are more toxic games..so how do the mechanics of a game encourage certain kinds of behaviours..there are games let you be an asshole..(eg Eve). Eve does not have mechanism to enforce contracts between players…when games like League do not have that dynamic they do have a competitive dynamic, the audience they attract tends to skew younger and male and adapts attitudes of that demographic…

CW: Picking up on that…in Elder Scrolls series we started getting registration cards from people over the age of 65 which made no sense. We got 1000s…once we saw that there was a self-selecting demographic. I tracked down some people..many of them were elderly who could not travel, kids had bought it, they got into the game and they just travelled around, the world was used a a mechanic to allow them to travel. Not expected from us. So we realised there was a whole group of people who got something out of it so we changed the bible..so that everything in the world had to be deeper and dynamic..there had to be fish in the rivers etc. We had to assume there would be people who use it in their own way. The truth of the matter is the people who sensitised us were not the demographic..and it made this company think about being careful in terms of what you are doing as people will use it in ways you did not consider.

TLT: don’t want to make Eve the villain, it is a really vibrant culture.. The noobie gauntlet is old habit.. gaming is not a specialised leisure pursuit and you get more people using it facing that gauntlet.

AA: with increasing audience and explosion of casual games, you get different audience. THe space of games they are entering is very different.

EF: it is OK for some to cater to hard core audience, then that is fine. it makes sense for others to decide they are going to go after that

TLT: sometimes the hardcorre gets wrapped up in a bundle of other stuff in a way that people can’t access. Eg women and high competition spaces. How do you build a culture that allows people to get into it

CW: AA idea of judges panel, is about rebuilding or shrinking the society…it is hazing..why not.

EF: you have the right not to bullied at school as you have no choice…but does that apply everywhere? Would you have to legislate for good manners?

CW: you do..through society and parents etc..there are going to be jerks everywhere. either you give someone the door but you warn them that jerks are there, set expectations..but why do noobies have to run the gauntlet.

EF: some will decide that it is not good, and others will just monetise the jerks. Do we prevent the second company doing that. Does every group of people have to be made comfortable in playing the game?

CW: there needs to be some kind of social construct that disallows certain kinds of behaviours…

EF: does a company get to decide how they are going to run the game…

TLT: because gaming is part of everyday culture, it is a public, game company needs to think how they are creating new leisure publics and what the responsibility is. There are lots of people who want to be in competitive spaces..and companies need to think about how they are publics. This is make some nervous but we have to think differently

EF: you are taking a private space public and then think about behaviour different. It is a kind of nationalisation of you take a space that has to meet different standards. Companies decide on own on what works. Generally the incentives are aligned, before you start telling game creators what they have to do and what they have to appeal to

AA: mobile gaming? Social gaming? there are not that many opportunity to offend people in casual games. You had griefing, but not ness active harassment. I feel the rise of smartphones has bought back a variety of classical modes of gaming…there are a large number of games on phone that are board games. The people playing these games are not usually the same as console games. You have a much wider audience….for causal content, then another space in between. It is not just the distinction is being eroded but that the old definitions are not holding up

WS: Video games are a business, they make decision on what will sell. So look at mobile…it a massive business opp and in some parts of world. the only place people connect with web. There are a lot of games out there – the big issue is how to find the games. You will get a lot more, using the hardware etc going to see some new interesting things happening. There is a lot of me too stuff there..lots of opp there.

CW: the iphone5 is 2x as powerful than the 4S. The phone is a PC, a connected PC, you have put in an order of magnitude more devices. It gives developers a lot more opps. So everyone is noise, how do you get the signal. You used to have to go through a gatekeeper…to get in store…now you don’t.

EF: that is what is really great. It was getting harder to get your game anywhere. Anyone could say no and your product was not going to get out, Mobile is not just exciting for thepwoer, but that anyone can get the game out there. Console biz has less games getting made, more games companies to make games though. there is a lot noise, but great ideas find their way.

CW: that is an amazing opp, to be in position of how do I get noticed instead of having to get through 10 people

WS: but how about a store, one gatekeeper for that?

EF: so you can look it as though the Apple store was evil…and steam has a committee to get through, Which is open and closed? There is a battle of the stores coming. Look at all the behaviour of the companies, they want to control everything, building hardware and software and retail outlets. The pivot point is the store, controlling the digital distribution. And everyone starts at a different point. MS doing hardware, you get Amazon as a store doing hardware and software.

CW: Massive companies that have suite spots of capability..then get into other areas and they spend lots of money proving they don’t have the capability..

AA: BackChannel want to talk about diversity in game content. as if company perception of game culture and industry norms combine problematically

AudQ: I ask the question because getting less core gamer content into games exploded…how can we past this, brainstorm ideas about this.

TLT: game companies and marketing depart signal who is welcome in the space

CW: not an argument against diversity, over the years have seen more and more voices coming into the signal, asking why are they not represented. from a small perspective the marketing department do not actively go around targeting specific demos, they do not exclude people, but look for large audiences…

TLT: who the imagined market is can discount options in delivering games

EF: this is the AAA games.. the market is shrinking though. Others are growing. Look at Halo 4, it is a new team, with women in higher positions, getting women in have an influencer. AAA is getting too expensive…you may be fighting a war that will end

TLT: there are women that want to hard core and men that want to do casual…

CW: From a gender standpoint, it has shifted a lot…there is a tendency in business with lots of money to go carefully in case there is a mistake. You get the smaller teams take the chances…you will find AAA will do more as they see it as a opp.

AA: With Mass Effect there was a desire to get diverse content earlier, but care on publishing side. There was an eye on how it was received in the media and in comms that had been asking for it and how it was sold. There was a concern if it was a positive thing for income or not.

AA: Backchannel question. let’s look to the future. What challenges are game creators facng.. what are users asking for?

EF: crowdsourced funding has a massive influence on the game business…and on people’s attitudes. We have had several good ones on Seattle area. I’m an advisor to Youa..a free to play console built around mobile tech…getting free to play on to tv is part of future. The glasses thing, who knows, the VR. Sounds interesting..The console business has been declining over the last 4 years…but still higher this year than last peak. Big fan of free ot play, but you can only do so much. People want that experience on their TV as well

WS: pulled up Kickstarter…games are the number 1 category on Kickstarters….there has been spikes etc,….lots of games. 50m dollars.

CW: the interesting thing will be the longevity of people investing and whether they stick with it. The future of gaming lies in hands of those creating games. But looking at tools, it is brilliant the power of the mobile, and high speed communications, and issue of latency will go down to zero…you are creating less barriers between the conceptual mind and the opp to experience

TLT: but also people playing stuff, how gaming is featured in a larger ecology, eg second screens, how people construct play across networks etc. Players push the boundaries of play first. Keeping an eye of spectatorship…about watching play..dovetails into the next panel on sports. Companies thinking about broadcast modes. This is diferent ways of media.

CW: not novel. Look at players of Doom, there is always an evolvement of tools becoming more powerful. The street will be wider in the other direction (coming back to creators), the tools will provide communities.

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