Friday, August 25, 2006

More Bad Game Legislation - Death Blow to Indies?

Here we go again. I've just became aware of some more badly written legislation that will presented to congress soon. It sounds similar to a state bill that was defeated not long ago here in Utah (see here). This US congress bill seems well intentioned, as it seems the intent is to keep our kids away from adult games by making it illegal to sell them to minors. Well that sounds good, especially to parents, but I believe there are going to be some unintended consequences of this bill if it passes, and it could mean a death blow to some Indie developers. The bill can be found here.

Here's the part of the bill that has me worried

Sec 2. (a) Conduct Prohibited- It shall be unlawful for any person to ship or otherwise distribute in interstate commerce, or to sell or rent, a video game that does not contain a rating label, in a clear and conspicuous location on the outside packaging of the video game, containing an age-based content rating determined by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.

This was obviously intended for video games sold through standard "brick-and-motar" retail stores, but the bill doesn't state that. It doesn't define the term "video game" to only mean "boxed PC or Console games sold it stores"; it leaves that wide open. It appears that no thought was given to other distribution channels and especially for the selling of "boxless" downloadable games sold exclusively via the internet.

That paragraph above paints things with too broad a stroke in my mind. It would make most things that most indies are doing right now illegal. It would be illegal to even just "distribute" an unrated game over the internet. At least that's the way I'm reading it. No more demo downloads (unless it's rated), no more free flash games (unless they are rated), no more hobby freeware games (unless you rate it).

Furthermore, the bill states that the rating must come from the ESRB, and last time I checked, it cost thousands of dollars to get a rating from them. Obviously this will kill most of the freeware out there, as very few people are going to spend thousands of dollars just so they can give away their hobby project to others for free. Also, considering that most indie games out there don't make enough money to cover the cost of an ESRB rating, it will certainly mean that ther will be a lot fewer games out there. It would probably mean less innovation, as less people are going to want to take a risk on something they've had to invest thousands of dollars into.

Also, in the bill it mentions that it will be illegal to sell AO (Adult Only) rated games to anyone under 18 years old, and to sell M (Mature) rated games to anyone under 17 years old. That may be easier for a "brick-and-mortar" retail store to do, as they could check some sort of legal ID when you are buying it in person. However, there is not a good way to verify someone's age online that I know of. They are asking the impossible in terms of enforcement (at least with current technology) for internet game sales.

I am not against ratings. I think they are a good thing. I think it's the responsible thing for developers to share content info with their customers, so that people are aware of what kind of content they are getting. Especially if the game may have some adult oriented content in it. I would even be okay with making the requirement that such info "must" be disclosed to the customer. As a parent I certainly don't want to be surprised by a game that looked okay at first, but then later discovered something offensive in it. I wouldn't want to download the latest casual "Match-3" game for my kids, entitled "Crown Jewels", only to discover that the "crown jewels" being shown didn't come from a mine.

Again I am for ratings, but what I don't like is that this legislation requires the game to be rated by an organization that will make the cost of doing business so high for some, that it will force them out of business. There are some ratings systems in the works like TIGRS that would fit the bill to let people know what they are buying, and that would be reasonable for an indie game developer to do. The arcade industry established a self rating system by the AAMA (see here for more info) that worked well and didn't require the developers to drain their pockets. I think that requiring an ESRB rating would only serve to line the pockets of that organization, and put many other developers out of business. Either the ESRB would have to make the rating prices reasonable for Indies, or the legislation would have to allow for other ratings systems, like TIGRS, in order for me to be okay with this rating requirement.

Jim Matheson is my congressman, and he is the one sponsoring this bill. I am saddened that he's trying to push this poorly thought out bill (I didn't vote for him BTW). It seems this bill was drafted quickly, just so that he can have some sort of "I'm doing something to protect families" stance for the upcoming election. I will be writing him and letting him know of the unintended consequences of this bill. I encourage other people to do the same, and let him know what this bill will do to your business. I hope this either gets re-written with provisions that the independent game development community can live with, or it gets shot down in the house and senate. It don't think this bill is a good idea (it's only half-baked).

Friday, July 28, 2006

Utah Indie Game Night - July 2006

Our fifth Utah Indie Night yesterday was fantastic! We had about 33 people show up, which is our largest turnout yet. It's even a few more than our amazing turnout last time. It's an indicator that the word is still getting out and that these events do fill a need in the indie community.

Again there was so much going on, that my head is still spinning. There were people I wanted to talk to more, but just didn't get a chance to. I didn't get a chance to thank everyone for coming personally either. My appologies if any felt left-out of what was going on.

Ray Rackiewicz from ITT Tech came with some of his students in tow. They just started a Video Game Design program there about 9 months ago. It's the only one that I've heard of in the state, but I could just be in the dark on that (after all I finished college 14 years ago). But it sounds like the program is doing well thus far. I'm sure there are more ways that the student and indie games communities can benefit each other.

This time we had tons more room, thanks to Ninjabee's new office space. It was easier for lots of people to fit around on machine this time. However the downside was it was harder to hear some of the demos with everything else that was going on around you.

The demos that were shown (that I'm aware of) are:

Caster
Tatics Engine
I Got Balls 3
Vespas 3D
FxRedom
A yet to be named 2D Shooter (inside the body shooting viruses,etc)

That last one was mine; I don't have a name for it yet, but I did get some good feedback on it. Thanks everyone for that. Caster looks like it has some nice enviromental improvements to it. I was also quite impressed with Victor's "I Got Balls 3" demo and the engine he built to create that game. You can check out his engine out at http://www.flatredball.com/.

It's amazing to me to see the both the amount and quality of indies that we have right here in Utah. I never realized the depth and breadth of the "Indie Scene" until we started putting these meetings together. I feel both humbled and honored to be associated with such quality people. See you all next time!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Why We Do, What We Do.

The question is often raised “what motivates people to write games and also write them independently?” The same question could be asked of artists, authors, poets, musicians, and film makers and I think you’ll find the answers to be similar. Although there are tons of things that could motivate us, I believe the answer to this boils down to two basic motivators: “Passion” and “Profit”. The drive for money and profit is pretty easy to see, but where does “passion” come from? Why would someone devote many man-months or man-years into a game that may never make a penny? Again it’s because money is not their driving force. I suppose one could be a motivated by a thirst for fame, though if this is your only desire, then don’t expect to get much fame in game development. Our culture hasn’t put game designers on the same pedestal as actors, singers, and sports heroes yet.

I think that “passion” is that love of something that goes beyond just mere appreciation. It’s where you love something deeply enough, that you want to be a participant, and not just an observer. In my case, my passion comes from a few things I think. First is just simply a love for games. I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, right during the golden years of the arcade. I can remember the first time I ever saw an arcade game (Space Invaders), and how it just “wowed” me at the time. I can remember playing “pong” at my grandpa’s house for the first time. It was all good, and many more good experiences followed. Second, is a desire to pass some of this on to my children, and in a very small way “create a better world for them”. There seems to be much garbage in games nowadays, especially stuff coming from the main games industry. I see very little of what I want to play sitting on the shelves at the local Wal-Mart. There are either formulaic rehashes of the same old stuff, or they contain gratuitous amounts of language, blood, gore, realistic violence, and sexuality, that I won’t touch them (let alone my kids). I cringe at the thought of my young kids playing that kind of garbage, when I know there are many older (and often better) games out there to be played. I think it’s this motivation that got be to the point of starting my first (and still unfinished) Indie game.

If any of you have watched some VeggieTales videos, then you may have seen a little video clip (right before everything else) that shows a bunch of children playing in a park with the words “Why We Do What We Do” showing up at the end. I think that clip sums up my main motivation as well. I do it for them, so they have something better than the soulless garbage that is so prominent out there. I started on this path before I knew about the Indie Games community out there. I know now that I am not alone in this quest, and there are lots of good things coming out of that community. Again I feel there is some hope for the future of games, and I hope I can make a good contribution to this effort as well. I encourage you all to go play some Indie games, and discover what you’ve been missing. Then if you like what you find, please help support those developers, by buying the full version of your favorites.

Now that being said, I would be lying if I said that profit was not a motivator for me, but it is not my primary motivator. It would be nice if I could support my family doing this, but it’s “not in the cards” for now. Maybe someday …

Friday, April 28, 2006

Indie's Unite!

Our fourth Utah Indie Night yesterday absolutely ROCKED! We basically doubled the numbers we had at our previous event. That was largely due to Mike Smith's help (Thanks Mike!), as he brought along about 8 friends from HeadGate Studios (who are doing projects on the side as well). We still would have set a new record even without that, but about all I can say about the turnout is -- WOW! We had 29 people there (and that's not counting about 3 spouses and 3-4 kids that also showed up). What a party!

There was so much going on, that my head is still spinning. It was cramped quarters with that many people there, and there were a bunch of demos going on at the same time (It would have been hard to do it all around one machine though). Also with that many people there, it meant that everyone missed out a little on what was going on. I personally feel I only took in about 1/4 of what was happening. We had seven demos (that I know of) being shown. I could of shown my demo of Maze Craze, but it really hasn't changed since our last one, and there wasn't much time left, so I didn't. (Hopefully I'll have made much more progress by our next meet.) The demos I'm aware of that were shown are:

Apocalypse Cow
Bug Warz
Caster
Vespas 3D (an interesting experiment into 3D Interactive Fiction)
WOG
D.R.O.D.
MMORPG kit for Torque (not sure if that's the actual name)

I came away both humbled and pumped at the same time. These events have always given me a lift up. I am also amazed at the variety of things being working on by the group. Not one of those demos was for a Match-3 clone, and there's quite a bit of innovation happening in the games. It's very clear that there's a lot of passion going on in this group. I'm also encouraged to know there are still studios out there like HeadGate and Ninja Bee/Wahoo that willing to let their people work on Indie projects on the side, and they don't "squash" their spirit and passion.

I am both humbled and grateful for having a part in "setting the ball rolling" for these get togethers. It's already exceeded my expectations. I sure hope they've been beneficial for all. I know they have been for me. Last night was great, despite some of the "chaos". Just some "growing pains" I guess. The future of this group is bright indeed.

Also I should point out that, Jay Barnson has done a fabulous write-up of the event here in his blog.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

New to this blogging thang

Okay so I'm a bit new to this Blogging thing. Hopefully there will be some words of interest or wisdom to follow. Perhaps they just be the ramblings of a "mad man" after everyone has just driven him "crazy". We'll see.