There are only seven stories in the world. Or so the old saying goes. Every book you read, movie you see or game you play, the plot can be boiled down to one of those original stories or a combination of them, the only thing you get with new stuff is to see it played out in different ways. And to be honest, this is a good thing. Throughout the ages, people have been producing things and inspiring others to produce other things. And in most instances, out-and-out copying was considered fraud.
There is only one Mona Lisa. You can own a reproduction of it. But if someone were to paint a new painting that looked exactly like the Mona Lisa, except with a different signature, people would call it out as uninspired or even criminal.
Cloning in video games is getting enough attention that the New York Times is covering it. It’s one thing to say “I’m going to make a first person shooter” and complete another to take Halo, copy every single thing about it, put a new name on it, maybe tint the textures and call it a new game.
I don’t want to get into the subject too heavily, but there is a quote on the second page of the article I linked that I wanted to call out.
The issue of copying, Mr. Schappert said, is not unique to games, but for the entertainment industry as a whole. He compared the game industry to the movie industry, where new films always borrow ideas from older ones.
“The winner is the one with the best ideas, the best script writing, the best actors, the best cinematography,” he said. “It’s the same thing here. We have to earn the engagement of the consumer. This is entertainment.”
Only, it isn’t like that at all. What these game companies are doing isn’t borrowing ideas. It would be like Universal Studios or Sony Pictures sending people to Sundance to watch independent films from small production companies, record the film with a hand-held camera, not buy them for distribution, come back home, transcribe the script, make up storyboards from the video, cast A-list stars, land a top-notch director, and then produce a $50,000,000 version of the $200,000 film they saw at Sundance.
There is a fine line between cloning and inspiration. Some of these game companies are absolutely crossing it.
The Internet exploded last week (in the gaming sphere at least) beginning with an article and a comic. It was followed by tons of articles…
So, lets talk… First, the guy from THQ isn’t wrong. Anytime you buy anything second hand, the original creators see nothing of that sale. This is true of video games just as it is true of books and DVDs. I’ve got one friend who is all up in arms about this, that we need to stop second hand video game sales, to help protect the industry, but he’s also a comic book collector. So I asked, “When you sell a comic, do you sent the author and artist their cut?” He doesn’t. I asked him if this needed to change, he didn’t think so. He couldn’t explain how the two were different.
And of course, no one really bats an eye at second hand DVD sales. But then, a DVD retails for under $20 in most cases. Buying it for $10 might be saving you 50% but it’s only saving you $10. A video game, however, might be $60 new, and $30 used. Still 50% but now it’s $30 of savings. Really though, the guys in the industry aren’t upset at the $30 sale of a year old game. Their ire, which they don’t specifically state, is leveled at games less than a month old that places like GameStop are selling for $55. In this case, someone bought it for $60, then sold it to GameStop for $20 (might be more, might be less – it varies), and GameStop turns around and sells it for $55. People are saving $5 here and bilking the game company out of any cut at all.
If THQ really wanted to stop GameStop, you know what they’d do? Drop their price to $55. They’d garner a few new customers, the ones willing to pay $55 but not $60. GameStop would probably drop to $50, and THQ could decide if going to $50 is worth it. Games that come out for consoles currently tend to retail at $60. If the same game is available on PC, they tend to retail at $50 or even $40, so clearly there is room to move the price around, especially since the console version often has less packaging than the PC version (who knows… perhaps producing a cardboard box and a jewel case is less expensive than the DVD case console versions get).
Or, they can do what they are planning to do, which is to put a one-time code in the game that unlocks some content (levels, online play, etc). Their solution is fine, in my opinion, so long as they never hamstring the game so that it is unplayable. I have no problem with them putting a code on online play since often online play means that they run servers, and they can always sell online play as DLC through the systems their games appear on, so that a player who buys used will still have to pay a small fee if they want online play.
Personally, I’d love to see prices drop. I know I’d buy more games sooner if I could afford them, but as it is I wait usually six months or more so that I can pick them up for $40 or less (often a year or more later when I can get the Platinum Hits edition for $20). That is less likely to happen than the one-time code hostage situation that is developing. Oh well… I’ll just have more time for watching TV and reading books.
This month’s Gamer Banter topic didn’t inspire me. It was “Which game character do you identify yourself with most/least and why?” and I spent time thinking about it and the simple fact is that I don’t really even identify with video game characters at all. Sure, I like to follow along the story, and I might be immersed for the duration, but it rarely lingers. The characters that stick are the ones I create in MMOs. Even now, years after cancelling my EQ account, I still think about Ishiro Takagi, my human agnostic monk from Qeynos.
But after firing off an email to the Gamer Banter coordinator about how I wasn’t inspired to participate, I thought of a new angle on the topic.
The closest I even came to identifying with a character was Gordon Freeman in the Half-Life series. The reason was because Gordon is a shell in which I sit while I play. Gordon never speaks, and the game never has a 3rd person view cut scene. I am Gordon at all times. This makes Gordon more like my MMO characters than your traditional video game character because he has no personality unless I give it to him.
Thinking along this line, I drifted to a couple other games by Valve: Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2. Here, we don’t have Gordon-like shells. The four survivors in each game quip and banter, they call for help. Even when I play one, I’m not them, I’m just controlling them. However, because the game is light on cut scenes and outside the quips and banter the characters are player or AI controlled and not just standing around, these games have given me a group of friends to survive the zombie apocalypse with. And through them and their banter, I care about them. Ellis has told me so many stories about his buddy Keith that I want to know if Keith is out there surviving the onslaught of the undead too. (I secretly pray that Keith is one of the survivors in the inevitable Left 4 Dead 3.) In fact, since most of the time I play with my friends, the survivors are my friends.
These eight characters have come to define my view of zombie Armageddon. When the day comes, I want these people, or at least people like them, by my side. Even when I’m playing solo, I find myself rushing to their aid, not just to keep them alive but because I don’t want them to die. A subtle distinction, but an important one. Even when playing solo, I find myself talking to the other survivors, asking them what the hell they are doing, telling them to hurry up, even reminding them to cover me. It’s almost a little unnerving to realize that I do that, but there it is.
So yeah, the truth is that most of the time I don’t identify with characters, but in Valve’s Left 4 Dead series, they’ve added just enough to the shell I (and my friends, and the AI) inhabit to evoke a response.
This post was part of Gamer Banter, a monthly video game discussion coordinated by Terry at Game Couch. If you’re interested in being part, please email him for details.
Other Gamer Banter participants:
Pioneer Project: The importance of character creation
Silvercublogger: Will Sing Opera For Italian Food
Game Couch: Gabriel Knight
Extra Guy: Who I Identify With
Next Jen: I’d Rather Be Me
carocat.co.uk: A rushed love letter
No, this has nothing to do with The Hobbit. If that’s what you were looking for when you found this page, I’m sorry.
Instead, this is my entry for this month’s Round Table discussion:
We’re heading out of the summer movie blockbuster season and into the autumnal video game blockbuster season. What better time to take a look at the transition of intellectual property from the big screen to the little screen? From traditional media to interactive media? Why do so many movie-based video games fail to capture the spirit of their big screen counterparts? Is it because video games can’t tell stories as well? Is it due to budget issues? Scheduling issues? Or something more sinister (Hollywood moles attempting to undermine the rising influence of video games on consumer spending habits, perhaps)? What movie based games have succeeded? Why? How could they be better? This month’s Round Table invites you to explore video games based on Hollywood IP. Focus on a specific game, or a specific franchise, or the idea as a whole. Take a look at the business realities, design constraints, or marketing pressures. As always, your approach is entirely up to you.
The problem that I always have with adaptations of film or books into video games is that a book is written for you to hold in your hand and turn the pages, one after the other, from the beginning to the end; and films are made to be watched from your seat, for the 90 minutes to three hours it takes to tell the tale. Games are not, or at least in my opinion should not be, designed for you to sit in front of your PC while the story unfolds in front of you. Games should involve the player, actually involve them, not just emotionally, but physically. The game can’t progress from start to finish without the player, at least in part, deciding how to get there.
When most movies are made into games, if I enjoyed the movie, then there is a 99.9% chance I will not enjoy the game. Because the game isn’t the movie. Its close, the narrative might be there… but when I watched the movie, the hero didn’t have to stop and play Bejewelled to unlock doors. And if my participation in a game is limited to playing mini-games in order for the cut scenes to play, then I’m not interested. The game play needs to support the story, the story needs to unfold in the gameplay, not around the outsides of it.
In a similar fashion, games turned into films suffer the same fate. They take a game where the player is involved in the story, assisting to help it unfold, and then throwing the gamer out of the equation. Now, you don’t get to help, you just get to watch. Its even worse when a game does allow the player to mold the story, because then the movie is just one aspect of the story and is going to match only some of the players’ experiences. Or worse, since the game won’t directly translate to film, they just go make up a bunch of stuff so that its not really the game any more but just some (usually bland) story with a flavor of the game.
And just like how the book is most often better than the movie… when a game takes 20 hours of solid play to complete, compacting that down to under 2 tends to hurt the story. If the game came first, most often it is going to be better than the movie.
Personally, I think that games and movies should stay away from each other, except as inspiration. At best, they should tell completely different stories, often with different characters, but inspired by the existance of the other.
But I don’t make games or movies, what do I know? Well, I know that I almost never buy games based on movies, and rarely enjoy movies based on games. Yeah, I said I “rarely enjoy” the movies, because I’m a sucker for films and I’ll see just about anything.
A while back in my first ‘Stuff on the Net’ links, I provided a like to the Video Game Voters Network. Basically, you sign up that you agree that legislation against games is stupid (just like legislation against movies, which there isn’t except with regards to pornography), and they will automatically draft and send a letter on your behalf to your senator.
Well, I signed up, and the letter was sent. Monday, my senator, Saxby Chambliss, sent back a reply:
Dear Mr. Pace:
Thank you for contacting me with your concerns regarding S.2126, the Family Entertainment Protection Act. I understand your concerns, and I appreciate hearing from you.
As a father and a grandfather, I understand the concern about young children being exposed to graphic pictures of violence and explicit sexual content. And while I believe it is the responsibility of parents to make sure that children are not exposed to such material, parents must have the tools necessary to protect their children and we, in Congress, must pass meaningful legislation to aid parents.
S.2126 would prohibit a business from allowing children under the age of seventeen access to any video game deemed mature, or for adults-only. This bill certainly will not prevent adolescents from playing these video games; however, they must first obtain parental approval, by way of the parents purchasing the game for the child. Should this legislation come before the Senate I will certainly keep your views in mind.
I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure that children are protected from any kind of unsuitable material. Thank you again for taking the time to contact me. If you would like to receive timely email alerts regarding the latest congressional actions and my weekly e-newsletter, please sign up via my web site at: www.chambliss.senate.gov. Please do not hesitate to be in touch if I may ever be of assistance to you.
United States Senate
As always, my first and foremost problem with all this is that the government should not be regulating this. At all. At most, they should review the ESRB rating system and ensure that games are being properly labelled. Of course, some people say things like, “CDs with mature lyrics have stickers, and that was the government.” But no, it’s not. The government tried to do it, but in order to keep government out, record companies voluntarily added the mature content stickers. “But what about TV ratings?” Well, the government has enforced that all TVs/VCRs/etc will have a V chip to allow a parent to control what their family watches, but the TV ratings themselves are done by the TV networks themselves to advise of content. “But its illegal to sell a ticket to an R rated movie to someone under 17!” No, it isn’t. While many movie theaters hold to that principle, movie ratings are not based in law, but are a system adopted by the MPAA to self regulate. The truth is, the government does not need to be involved with games because the ESRB is the most comprehensive system out there, and even will re-rate games if concern about an original rating is brought up.
And that gets into my second problem here… My senator wants to protect kids from bad stuff. Now, I’d say he should be backing initiatives that will allow parents to be better parents, but beside that, he is supporting a bill that will effectively do nothing. Do you honestly think that the majority of kids are buying these games for themselves? I go to Best Buy, to EB, Toys R Us, and other stores, and I never see young kids putting money down for games. The parents are buying these games for their kids despite the ratings system. Banning the sale of Mature and Adult rated games to kids will have very little impact at all. Parents will still blindly buy the same games for their kids for any of a number of reasons. About the only way to make a change would be to force the parent to watch a highlight video of the game’s worst moments before making a purchase to ensure they have actually seen what their kids are going to see.
Part and parcel to that, he is backing an Act against games, but if he really feels that kids need to be governmentally protected, the Act should be ammended to include all forms of media. Make it illegal to sell a ticket to R rated movies to kids under 17. Make it illegal to sell mature stickered music CDs to kids. Make it illegal for… err… I was going to say something about TV shows, but short of making it illegal for networks to broadcast them, well, there isn’t anything that can be done, and going that far would indeed be censorship. But hey, the V chip seems to be a good initiative. I mean, I doubt I’ll ever use mine, but I suspect that if I have kids one day I’ll feel better knowing its there and I could turn it on if I find that I don’t have time to be a part of my kid’s daily TV watching. So why not instead legislate a V chip for games, so that consoles and PCs won’t play mature rated games without an access code. I mean, if our government trusts parents with TV content, why not trust them with game content?