Thursday, June 13, 2013

Game Console Asshattery

Trends, Tech or Troglodytes, eh? Yeah, the last few weeks have probably been prime examples of all three of those.

I could point to the obvious things - the SFWA kerfluffle of last week, for example- but honestly, it's been covered so much at this point, that I don't know if I've got anything worth adding to the discussion

Instead, I'm going to focus on Tech and Troglodytes - specifically at the E3 conference this week.  Now, you're probably wondering, why does gaming have to do with books or writing? The short answer is...nothing.

But the fact of the matter is that good games - good, solid, immersive games  - require great writing. Great characterization. Great settings. Great stories. All of which are obviously rather intrinsic to those of who tell stories in general.

So why am I tapping on this today?

Well, the big news at the E3 conference was the unveiling of the next generation gaming consoles - Microsoft's XBox One (which people already call Xbone) vs Sony's PlayStation 4.

If you're not a gamer, this may be a bit boring, but I feel like there's some obvious parallels between what's happening in the gaming world and the publishing world - specifically DRM. (And whether it stops piracy or not.)

The two platforms have taken some fairly different approaches:

XBox One:

 - no longer plays from the CD - you throw the disc into the console and it copies it to the hard drive. It is unlocked by one XBox Live account and that's the only account it will play for.

 - requires the XBox to connect to the internet once every 24 hours to be able to play your game. (For verification, I suppose.)

 - requires the Kinect component (a camera that can utilize infrared to determine how many people are in the room) to be on ALL the time. The one for the current 360 can be unplugged or turned off if you're not using it for games. I don't like this at all. Cameras can be hacked and I'm not sure I want something that has to be ON all the time. Very big brother, especially when you consider that Microsoft has patented the ability to keep track of how many people are utilizing the media. So...if they decide too many people are watching a movie/playing a game, "remedial action may be taken."  Not saying they will...but 1984, indeed.

 - games can no longer be borrowed by friends. The game ONLY works for the account that has unlocked it. (I do believe there's a 10 person "friend/family" list that can be utilized - so that players with families can let their kids play the game, but when pressed, Microsoft doesn't seem to know how that's going to work yet. Dubious.)

 - used games are a big business right now. The XBox One will kill rentals and reselling. I can resell a game to a friend (but they have to be in my friend list for more than 30 days.) That friend can install the game, but then they have to pay a fee to actually activate it (read: full price of game) and once that's been done, the game can no longer be sold again.  Doesn't look like you'll be able to play a rented game at all.

 - no indie game developers. This is a bit like self-publishing or small presses. You've got your big name game developers, but in the past, anyone who met XBox's requirements could release a game on the console. (Same with PS). This is good because it leads to games or stories that might be overlooked otherwise. No longer the case with Xbone. Big name licensed developers only.  This is especially distressing considering we still have such a lack of diversity in stories and characters. "White dudebro shoots stuff" gets pretty boring after awhile. does the PS4 match up? It's $100 cheaper for one (only $399 vs $499) - Though it sells its own little camera device separate for $60 so it's probably close to a wash there.)

 - PS 4 allows indie developers
 - Internet connection not required to play the games
 - can sell, lend, whatever without jumping through hoops
 - Region-free, so you can play imports

And...that's about it. 

I mean, yes - it's a tad more complicated than that, but looking at the PR cluster that Microsoft has been working up, it's not a surprise that we're hearing a lot of rumblings of gamers jumping ship to the PS4. 

So what does this have to do with publishing? Well, in a lot of ways, gaming is like that last frontier. Other forms have media have dealt with DRM in varying levels of success - certainly we see a lot of it in the ebook world - should we be able to borrow ebooks or sell them? Do we own the book or are we renting it? Does it stop piracy at all? (Mmm. No, not really. But what if your Kindle suddenly required you to log in to a server every day to allow you to read those books? Would it make an impact or not?)

Just food for thought. 

I always watch other industries and how they handle these types of things, simply because the impact tends to have a rolling effect. (Plus in this case, I really think killing the indie developer is a bad move - as someone who wants greater diversity in their games and stories, blinkering into creating "what sells the most" leads developers not wanting to take chances. And these days, that's hard enough.)

As far as the Troglodyte part of this post? Well - when Feminist Frequency made a tweet asking about where all the female protags were in the games that were demo'd at the event (another hot button issue for me, yes.) - the results were predictable and horrifying.  (And yes, pertaining to games, but given the SFWA thing? Also relevant.)

1 comment:

  1. Wow. It does sound like the new X-Box - kinda sucks. Or rather the play restrictions do. Thanks for the info.