Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Thoughts On Closed Systems and Video Games

Predictably, Microsoft have just announced the new Games For Windows Live will also support full game downloads. Manufacturers, having taken over all the development studios, and recently the Indie and casual devs too, are now taking over the distribution channels too. It’s likely that we’ll see the first full, true AAA game distributed solely through the Playstation Network in the next year; full games are already available on the PSPGo. Even Nintendo distributes games through its Wii store. These all make it easier for consumers to get access to new and old games. So what's the problem?

The key issue here is that, like the App store and Xbox Live, these are closed systems which are bad from every angle, except the owners' profit – for example, developers' and third-party publishers' games will be competing against the manufacturer's own products that will be developed, marketed and streamed through the whole system with preferential treatment. Anything that is bad for competition is ultimately bad for the consumer, as it drives up prices.

For example, if GFW Live is bundled with new computers, that means new audiences will get access to Games On Demand, which is great for them in terms of ease of purchase - however, they won't have access to the range of choice and prices that the internet offers, and through that bundling they'll be tied into the Microsoft rather than the Steam model and network. Once they've emotionally or technically locked you in, they can charge anything they like - look at bank charges on overdraft limits or the premium cost of Xbox Live. Microsoft has done this before with Internet Explorer and used the glacial process of global law to destroy its competitor Netscape before competition authorities could effectively punish it. Their previous experience will hardly be a deterrent.

In terms of their competitors' disadvantage, manufacturers' ownership of AAA developers means that competitors are excluded from distributing those games, whether that's cross-platform or cross-digital distribution system. It's the same problem that Randy Pitchford raised with regards to Steamworks, but writ large. Gamers want to play on the system that has the widest range of games and features - we don't want yet another clunky downloader insisting on starting itself up as Windows does and swallering resources, just like we don't want to buy several consoles and a PC. To compete with this the other digital distribution companies are going to have to integrate social networks, match-making, remote saves and run endless promotions, just to stay in the running - and even then how can they compete with the big manufacturers' and Valve's AAA games?

Disentanglement of technology and openness of APIs/development at every level is the only fair option. It’ll be interesting to see if, for example, Sony blocks access to internet-flash games or merely fails to keep the PS3’s Flash software up-to-date, which would have the same effect of stopping indie development on that platform. Or if Microsoft allows indie, community or free games onto Games For Windows Live (I'd love it if they bought Kongregate and integrated that company's excellent flash games API into GFWL.) Or, even, if Valve unbundled Steamworks and its development studios from Steam itself.

It’s strange than an industry as advanced as games hasn’t distributed games digitally earlier but it's worrying that this vertical integration threatens to fragment the community. Ideally, someone needs to create a Kelkoo or Froogle client for games, that compares prices from other download sites, has the matchmaking/patching elements, and is bundled for free with machines; but only Microsoft could have realistically done that, and they haven't. With developers, third-party publishers and consumers all losing out from vertically-integrated closed-system game publishing, something has to change.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Quick Thanks

This post is just a quicky to thank my excellent and highly savvy driving instructor Shola, who really pulled all the stops out to help me pass my test. He runs an Advanced Driving Instructor's blog over at and if you live in North-West London, I'd heartily recommend him as a calm, safe, flexibly and very experienced instructor.

Monkey Island 2 in 3D using Cryengine

Beautiful, though the music convinces you more than the imagery.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Imagining the Tenth Dimension

So the tenth dimension is all the possible timelines from all the possible starting conditions of the universe treated as a point? My. Brain. Hurts.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Antikythera mechanism Video

Via Rossignol.

Game Pricing

(Some thoughts I supplied for a piece about on a big games website that got spiked because of politics...)

Question 1 (Of 1)

1. Do you believe that the recently rumoured price-hikes of triple-A games in the UK are justified. If yes, why? If no, why?

From an economics point of view, it’s entirely rational. If you believe, like a good Ayn Rand pupil should, that businesses do best when unfettered from regulation and morals, and that businesses doing best is best for the rest of us, then companies should be allowed to set their own prices, relative to the rest of the market, and see how the consumers respond to it.

And games-consumers will buy Modern Warfare 2 for £50+, where they wouldn’t buy Bookworm Adventures for the same price. It’s all about demand curves here; set the price high for Modern Warfare and you won’t cut out that many consumers, as they’ll forgo other pleasures to pay more for this; demand is relatively inflexible. Activision could have set the price at £60 and people would still have bought it in nearly the same numbers. However, try doing that for a weaker license or a first time game, and it won’t sell. Demand is relatively flexible, until the franchise is proved. When a franchise is this strong, you’re getting close to monopsony conditions and the publisher can charge whatever they like.

Whether it’s moral; well, publishers aren’t in business to be moral – they’re in business to maximise their revenues and they’re ethically and psychologically closer to venture capitalists than they are to developers, who want their games to have as wide a distribution as possible for fame / their message.

This turns hardcore gamers into early adopters. If you want to get the game on the day of release, you have to pay a premium; otherwise, you can wait a week or two and the standard discounting will kick in, and you can get it at the price you would normally have bought it – and you can keep that process going on, until a year down the line the people with lower price expectations scrabbling through second hand stores (if they haven’t already pirated it, which is a threat only to PC games, really). Notably, though, Call of Duty 5 has never been properly discounted and still sells heavily at a premium price – as does the original Modern Warfare – so Activision know that hiking the price of this iteration really isn’t a risk.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Galactic Scale Mindf*ck

Patience... this doesn't happen all at once.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Herzog's Penguin: Introduction

"Is there... insanity, derangement amongst... penguins?"

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Don't Eat The Rich - Bleed Them

Alistair Darling has announced a new top tax rate of 50% for those earning more than £150,000 from next April.

Things we value; a stable society that produces the most happiness (freedom from suffering) for the largest number. Agreed? If not, no point talking. If so, read on.

Equality of opportunity offers the most likely route for the greatest number to achieve freedom from suffering. Concentration of resources in few hands allows them to manipulate systems that affect us easily, aggregating yet more resources in their hands, disincentivising others to challenge them and closing off opportunities for those who have skills to raise themselves up. Redistribution counteracts these centralising tendencies of certain economic systems and increases equality of opportunity throughout our lives. We want systems to be as open as possible with information on those systems as free as possible to allow the largest number to enter and compete in those systems, to produce in turn the most efficient results - all moves against this, whether oligopolistic or monopolistic, are anti-equality and hence anti-happiness.

In the old days, the poor paid taxes to support the rich, who didn't work. Now the middle class support the poor, and the rich dodge taxes. Moreover, the rich (and the middle class) do things that hardly constitute work (gambling with someone else's money) and, at best, do work that is no harder than the work anyone else does. If you argue, as you're likely to, that certain jobs are more _skilled_, I'd argue that it's the luck of the individual involved that they either a) were brought up in a situation that allowed them better education and more schooling or b) they were _genetically_ lucky, in that they had genetic advantages allowing them to prosper better. Neither are virtuous qualities that should be rewarded, but luck. I do believe that mantra "from each according to his means, to each according to his needs."

I don't think we should eat the rich - I think we should bleed the endlessly burgeoning fat from them. They'll still be incentivised to work to maintain their way of life, and just removing that money from them, even if it isn't effectively redistributed, is a move towards equality. America doesn't do that. The UK tries, but doesn't. I hope this change is a helpful move towards equality of opportunity, if not by redistribution, by sapping the fat of the rich.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Oregon Trail iPhone Map

I couldn't find a map online for Gameloft's excellent iPhone conversion of the 1982 game The Oregon Trail. You control a team of pioneers attempting to make the 5-6 month slog across the West to Oregon, battling bears, flooded rivers, broken waggons and , and meeting great names from the opening up of the west. Here's an in-game map I've stitched together myself; click on it for the original size.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Newswipe with Charlie Brooker News Clip

The UK news is not only voyeuristic, it's also nationalistic and enormously biased towards the increased value of a white, English middle-class life. I'm rather tired of it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Beatiful Tilt-Shift Movie

Bathtub IV from Keith Loutit on Vimeo.

These are real people, the video's just been sped-up and tilt-shifted.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

McGoohan, McGoohan, McGone.

Just remembered that Patrick McGoohan died yesterday. Farewell childhood hero, our rebel without reason (but not without a cause), now you're Number Zero.

I'm currently listening to "I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape" by The Times. S'alright.