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January 25, 2006

Hard Core…

Filed under: Thoughts and Rants — Tom B @ 4:27 am

I am a hard core PC gamer. I have been for a long time and I am proud of it. I play online with a clan and have since it was formed in early 1998. Several of the original members are still playing together on a regular basis. We play FPS games and have played and competed in Quake, Quake2, Shogun, Tribes, Unreal, Half life, Quake 3 CTF, Counter Strike, Battlefield 1942, Desert Combat and are presently playing mostly Battlefield2. We have our own servers. And although we are tough, we are, to be honest, not the most skilled group around. We play for the fun and comradery of it. I sometimes think of it as being sort of like a virtual bowling team…a bunch of friends getting together on a regular basis or some fun.

Of course, any hard core gamer who plays in a FPS Clan or RPG Guild will tell you that these groups are more than just a simple diversion. They are a significant social support system and more like a family than cooworkers. When any one of us needs help the others are there for them. We have supported each other through hurricanes, tornadoes, divorces and even the death of family members. My Clan mates are some of my best friends…even though they are virtual. A few years back the Clan held a LAN party. That’s when a bunch of hard core gamers get together in one location with their computers and plug all their systems into a local area network and play together in the same room. In the process I met in RL (real life - not rocket launcher!) some friends that I had been playing with for over 6 years and communicating on an almost daily basis. I guess to call it mind boggling would be an understatement. Here’s what the group looked like…

Hard core gamers are the backbone of the industry and hard core PC gamers are on the cutting edge. The things we have known for years are the sort of things that executives at the big publishers like to think are their latest brilliant innovations. It was laughable when Microsoft announced that it was going to create a whole new way of playing games by taking games online and having people actually playing together online over the internet!!! PC gamers had been doing that for over 6 years when they fingured it out. Similarly, being able to talk to each other while doing so has been basic to online PC gaming since the turn of the decade. You see hard core PC gamers have been doing these things online for years when the game industry executives had these revolutionary “breakthroughs.” Maybe its just the hype machine. But I suspect it is really just the fact that the folks who make the important decisions about much of what occurs in our industry just simply don’t get it!

So here’s a few industry trends that I see as a hard core PC gamer that those non gamer folks in the publisher’s marketing and development department should keep in mind.

You get people playing a game with a cool game, but you keep people playing a game through community.

The online sever and net code of any new online multiplayer game are as important as the game itself.

There need to be enough servers online at launch and they need to be optimized for both CPU utilization and bandwidth.

Many user based servers are Linux, so both need to be available for free download simultaneously at the time of release.

Money spent on community management is money well spent. User communities are the core audience and if they can be accommodated in any way it is a good thing. When given the sort of support they deserve they will build and follow a franchise.

Supporting the modders (those who modify the game with custom derivative works is the best way to continue selling a game way past its primary market. More people have purchased Half Life to play Counter Strike then bought Half Life in the first place. The potential here is huge. That’s probably because so many gamers aspire to make games and this it a great way for them to channel that desire. It should be facilitated and nurtured in every way possible. It’s just good business.

Digital distribution is a reality. Hard core PC gamers do it all the time. Heck there are patches released for most major hardcore PC games that are as big as many games out there. I’ll do a separate rant about digital distribution soon…but let me tell you, it is the next big thing. And if it is handled properly it will be an huge benefit to game developers. And some folks are doing just that!

Well that’s all for now…and oh yeah - Happy New Year!

January 19, 2006

Prior Restraint in Games

Filed under: Game Law Articles — Tom B @ 4:03 pm

When I first agreed to do these Game Law columns, I told the editors of Gamasutra.com that from time to time I would like to have the opportunity to rant about issues beyond the straightforward legal issues that I have been addressing to date. This is the first time I have taken the opportunity to rant on a little bit and I hope you find it both thought provoking and informative.

The Backstory

I recently did an interview for GameCloud.com. There were a bunch of questions about a whole variety of issues. Everything from why and how did you become a Game Attorney to specific problem issues that a lot of developers face. Among the questions asked was a question concerning some of the recent moves to regulate the industry and I responded by referencing a fellow Miami attorney named Jack Thompson. Jack Thompson being the self-appointed defender of the moral standards as they apply to everything from “Hot Coffee” to violence in games.

As a Miami attorney, I am well aware of Mr. Thompson in that he has been in and out of the local news for over 15 years. In my opinion, he is sort of a laughing stock and nobody in the legal community here takes him very seriously. However, as a result of some grandstanding on hot button topics, Mr. Thompson has once again come to the forefront in the general media, now attacking all sorts of games with all sorts of arguments. Anyway, in the interview I mentioned the possibility of debating Mr. Thompson but also stated that I did not want to validate his position by making any efforts to do so.

GamePolitics.com reviewed the Gamecloud article and posted a news story entitled “Hey - a Florida Attorney Who Loves Gamers!” and referring to me as the other game-crazed Miami attorney. The piece mentioned that I had expressed a willingness to debate Jack Thompson. I came into work the day that article was posted not knowing that it had been posted or even that the GameCloud interview was up yet. First notification I got that anything was amiss was an incoming email with the subject message “Just say when and where, Tom” and the body of the message was Jack Thompson’s name, address and office and cellular telephone numbers. The message was also cc’d to Dennis McCauley.

Being a cautions man, rather than me responding to Thompson directly I assumed that this was some sort of prank or something. So, I sent a quick “WTF?” to Dennis McCauley over at Game Politics to figure out exactly what was going on. To make a very long story short, I became aware of the article and responded to Mr. Thompson’s challenge by giving him a date, a time, and location. After much huffing and puffing he ultimately declined to meet and debate. Too bad, but not a surprise.

The Response

I received a large number of emails from gamers praising me for being someone who could stand up to Jack Thompson. And there is no doubt that I could. But that is not the point of this article. The point of this article is that gamers and game developers need to become a politically active force if they want to effectuate change. And talking to each other about what a (fill in your own expletive here) Jack Thompson is does not get anything done.

The Point

The recent efforts by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) to present the Family Entertainment Protection Act before Congress shows exactly how volatile the political situation concerning the game industry is. These extremely powerful people are advocating putting restrictions on the game industry that do not exist in film, literature, or even television. This sort of prior restraint on free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment is extraordinary and is something that should be opposed by anyone who loves or makes their living from games, regardless of their feelings about violence in games. Because even if you oppose violence in games, that sort of government regulation of the industry is really not the way to address it.

Therein lies the power…

So what do gamers or even most developers do about this? They complain. They whine. They praise anyone who says something that they agree with and jeer anyone who says something they don’t like. But they do not organize and more importantly, they do not bother to vote. Rough estimates are that there are upwards of 145 Million gamers in the United States . This number far exceeds the number of people in the Christian right or moral majority. However, those minorities vote in a block they have an excessive amount of power in the political marketplace. If even 10% of active gamers voted in a block on specific issues, politicians like Hilary Clinton would be very weary to take positions opposed to our industry. Heck, if she got “back off” emails from even 1% of gamers she would have never offered the bill in the first place. After all, it’s no good to pander to one organized minority voting block at the expense of another larger organized minority voting block.

Other industries spend millions of millions of dollars on lobbying and on organizing voters. And while the ESA does a good job, its power is significantly limited by simple economics. And no one seems to be making any effort to organize and mobilize gamers as a political force. Mobilizing the people that play the games that we make could easily generate the amount of politic leverage that we need to protect our industry from unwanted interference and regulation by this government or any other elected government.

So treat this as a call to arms. Get out and vote. And when you vote, make sure that you learn the position that the candidates that you are considering take concerning freedom of speech and how it implies to computer and video games. Otherwise, you may end up working in an industry that is significantly handicapped due to restraints on

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