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Clay Shirky's TED Talk about SOPA and PIPA

I completely agree. I also feel the online protests today are invaluable: it’s not enough to defeat these bills. We need to make it absolutely and abundantly clear that these sorts of laws are unacceptable.

I’d go farther than that, though: I sincerely hope that this pushback will cause dialogue to be opened up about revisiting the nature of intellectual property and copyright — and I mean REAL dialogue, not just specific industries with a vested interest in locking in more power and restrictions. We need to acknowledge that the idea of the Commons has grown. Scrap what we have and go in with no preconceived notions, go back to the original discussions of copyright (and patents and trademarks…) and ask the question of what exactly we need to protect and how much.

Comcast, Walled Gardens, and Games

There’s a lot of talk currently about the Level-3/Comcast mess, where Comcast is demanding additional money from Level 3 (an internet backbone and current partner with Netflix for providing streaming media) before they will allow streaming media onto their network. Comcast’s reasoning is that Level 3 is acting as a Content Delivery Network (CDN), not just as an internet backbone, and thus no longer qualifies for the peerage agreements that would allow for traffic between the two networks without additional fees. Which is a bogus assertion, and feels like a money-grab: Comcast’s customers are paying for that bandwidth already, and making a legitimate request for the data being provided — all Level 3 is doing is sending the requested data. To then block the data that the customer has paid for (twice: they pay Comcast for the bandwidth, and Netflix for the content) directly violates the principles of an open internet.

This is a prime example of why there are concerns over the imminent Comcast-NBC Universal deal (for those who haven’t been paying attention: Comcast is trying to purchase NBC Universal from General Electric for $6.5 billion dollars CASH, plus investing an additional $7.5 billion dollars in programming), in terms of media consolidation and vertical control effectively creating a walled garden. To quote Senator Bernie Sanders:

The sale of NBCU to Comcast would create an enormously powerful, vertically integrated media conglomerate, causing irreparable damage to the American media landscape and ultimately to society as a whole.

This is hardly the first time Comcast has been caught with their hand in the proverbial cookie jar, taking censorial action while claiming to be in favor of an open internet. Their behavior is antithetical to net neutrality on a fundamental and obvious level.

So, why does this matter to game development? A variety of reasons, actually. Regardless of what type of games you are talking about, modern gaming takes bandwidth: assets need to be downloaded, whether as a standalone game title, or even the casual, cloud-based games you find on Armor Games or Kongregate or even Facebook. If there is any type of online component, there will be regular communication between client and server. This sort of bandwidth costs money, and if developers have to start paying additional fees to be allowed into walled gardens, the cost may reach a point where it is no longer feasible for many developers to continue. Even already, a number of games are looking at solutions to mitigate the costs of hosting content, such as distributed downloading solutions like BitTorrent (yes, believe it or not, peer to peer isn’t just for illegal uses). While some price fluctuation is expected and reasonable as the market shifts and costs of hosting and bandwidth change, at what point do developers (including smaller developers without the resources of large publishers) have to start dealing directly with Comcast (or other gatekeepers) for the right to sell their own product to the public? One of the biggest benefits of the internet, open access, not having to go through a gatekeeper process and large publishers to share your work with the world, is already being challenged by device-specific gates, like the Apple App Store for the iPhone, and to a lesser extent the Playstation Network and Xbox Live Arcade and WiiWare. (I say lesser extent because those networks are ones that ostensibly can’t reach the rest of the internet without additional effort, if at all, whereas the iPhone App store has no such issues.) We do not need, nor want, service providers blockading legitimate customers from our products.

Limbo of the Lost

What gets me is that there are assholes out there who manage to get funding to pull this sort of stunt, when there are hundreds, if not thousands of folks who are working on mods and indie games that would KILL to have even a share of their funding that can’t even get a publisher to pick up the phone.

What am I talking about? A little game called “Limbo of the Lost”, which has received publisher funding for at least 6, if not 10 (as claimed) years, which just recently came out. The vast majority (not 50 or 60%, but more like 80 or 90%) of the content is directly stolen from other games, often without even so much as a color change or added component. This is not an epic fail, this is a LEGENDARY failure, across the board, first on the part of the corrupt developers whom I hope NEVER work in the industry again (I’m sorry, you do not get a second chance after this), and on the part of the publisher for not practicing even an iota of due diligence in reviewing the game.

Some worthwhile links to read about this: Rockpapershotgun.com’s coverage, Zen of Design — “Call it a Remix”, and this forum post at cheapassgamer.com.

Copyright Wake-up Call

I just had an interesting conversation with some folks on IRC. (I know, shocking, eh?) While reaffirming that it IS in fact a vast wasteland, it was interesting to see what sort of misconceptions are out there about copyright law.

First off, everyone hates the RIAA, myself included. Their behavior is reminiscient of the Gestapo of Nazi Germany, and they need to be stopped. Their reactionary behavior simply feeds the fire, and exacerbates the problem.

Next, many of these “pirates” believe themselves to be safe by being in another country. To quote some, “Thats why I love living in Canada. Downloading music here is legal … see in canada we pay a tax on all music anyway … and the RIAA has no jurasdiction here” and “[copyright] can be international only if the country accepts it, and very few do. Thats why they can’t do shit to people in canada denmark finland and the like.”

Let’s not forget this concept that the RIAA is snooping everyone’s computers, so if you don’t keep pirated music on it, they can’t see it. “If I burn my mp3s to a cd, they can’t trace it!”
Continue reading “Copyright Wake-up Call”