Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

Gaming

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as art?

A very chipper Kellee Santiago at the University of Spoiled Caucasians says yes. Roger Ebert says no. Santiago replies. I’m inclined to side with Ebert’s logic, thought that puts me at odds with the established computer gaming writers. Fuck them.

Personally, however, I subscribe to Scott McCloud’s rather inclusive definition of art, being any activity not essential to survival or reproduction. Of course, this definition almost completely blows away any attempts at qualifying the term, but quite frankly anybody who attempts to elevate their particular interest with said term is guilty of at least some form of masturbation.

Another point of fact I find myself at odds with the gaming writers is with Ubisoft’s DRM (again), now that a collective called SkidRow have torrented a sort of Crack For Dummies of their latest DRM iteration, for everyone who wasn’t smart enough to figure out how to use the server referral loop the previous cracks depended on. Shamus Young suggests to Ubisoft that they go one further: Don’t put just some content online, make all content online, making each end-user a mere client on a “cloud” gaming platform, each “purchase” a mere fee for entering into a subscription.

The concept is abhorrent to me. I’m sure all companies would love to just have a direct connection to my credit card info, regardless of whether or what they produce and when, how or even if I partake in their product.

Sorry, did I say “product?” I meant “license,” abridged, qualified and revocable at any time.

Somehow the right to free enterprise became a moral obligation for consumerism, lest we be accused of “not supporting” our creative types (when they themselves are just as often thrown out when inconvenient). Somehow copyrights became the new feudalism. However, I’m not in the habit of allowing purveyors with such unvarnished, abject hostility to their patrons to have their cake and eat it too.

Schadenfreude

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Ubisoft’s new draconian DRM that was supposed to require a permanent internet connection while playing single-player games has been cracked a mere 25 hours after release of the first PC game to have the DRM – Silent Hunter V.

For their part, Ubisoft deny the viability of the cracked copies:

“Please know that this rumor is false and while a pirated version may seem to be complete at start up, any gamer who downloads and plays a cracked version will find that their version is not complete.”

Specifically, the server-based cloud system for savegames is not available. Y’know, the “feature” they added along with the DRM that nobody gives a shit about because nobody plays the same game on two different computers. To quote the Tom Francis at PC Gamer:

“The only benefit we’re being offered is the ability to store our savegames online. Personally, I’m in the rare position of getting to play PC games at work, and even for me this is a fringe benefit.”

That Showed ‘Em, Huh?

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Honestly, what with the destruction of the music industry’s distribution platform in its quixotic quest to stick it to pirates, why does the games industry persist?

Ubisoft declared that it would require constant online activation in order to play its games, and with its new line-up of games coming out, PC Gamer has already felt the brunt of what that means to the end-user: Namely, when your internet connection or Ubisoft’s servers go down, so does your game.

While you play it.

I shed no tears for the music industry, because I am not beholden to the music industry. I am not beholden to them for the simple reason that they are music itself. I shed no tears for games companies that shoot themselves in the foot like this, because their DRM is not the only place they have stuck it to their customers.

They like to demonize their audience for making the usual pirate’s claim:

  • No pirating ever happens.
  • If pirating does happen it’s your fault.
  • If you try and stop us we’ll pirate your game on principle.

By claiming its justifications as baseless, as if they are catering to an unpleasable base. But it’s primarily that unpleasable base that gave them all their money in the first place.

People do what works best for them. Pirating is a direct response to high prices coupled with mediocre content. Napster was the logical response to the MTV generation of $18 albums of the Backstreet Boys. Bittorrent is the natural response to $50 Halo and $60 Modern Warfare 2. It’s the mind drawing the logical result from the parameters of “nothing today is worth what they’re charging, but I still want to play games.” The market is still there; it’s just not being addressed properly, and that’s not the fault of the consumer.

I’ve pirated a lot of games, for various reasons:

  • Because they didn’t produce shareware or demos.
  • Because the professional reviewers are all in their pocket.
  • Because I lost my original manual with the serial number.
  • Because the CD got scratched.
  • Because the CD check took a full three minutes.
  • Because the game lost company support and couldn’t find an activation server.
  • Because SecuROM bluescreened my computer after finding CD burning software.
  • Because the average game price went up 50% but my income didn’t.
  • Because game’s IP was held by a company that wasn’t putting it on the market.

I’ve also bought a lot of games, for various reasons:

  • Because it got legitimate acclaim from gamers.
  • Because the price went down. (thanks, Steam!)
  • Because it was easier to buy than pirate. (Steam, GOG, D2D)
  • Because I wanted to see that company succeed for its efforts. (THQ, Valve, Bioware)

Money is not an insurmountable obstacle. People will spend money not to go through flaming hoops. That said, if the flaming hoops are hotter after having spent that money, then any rational person is going to go and say, “Hey, only people who legitimately bought this game have to suffer the nonsense of these activation servers when there’s a Day One hack already out to loop the request back to yourself.” And pirating wins again.

The games companies have also focused on console platforms as their answer to the charge of high prices and mediocrity, and cited PC gaming’s high pirating rates as “pushing them away.” Except the PC is still the largest single market despite such high rates, and the creation of the hardcore console gamer is only going to delay the inevitable: PC gamers know mediocre games. Halo 3 and Modern Warfare 2 rather illustrate how certain game genres are new to console gamers and thus they don’t know what they’re missing.

That will change, and the more console gamers play, the more they, too, will chafe at their lackluster choices. For every game companies choose to promote solely on the console – like Alan Wake or Brutal Legend – for fear of being panned on the PC as weak examples of their genre, the more likely console gamers will learn of these things. The companies merely sow the seeds of their own destruction for want of saving their short-sighted business paradigm.

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