Video Games & Innovation

by on July 28, 2006 · 10 comments

I suppose you could argue that a 37-year-old father of two shouldn’t still be playing video games, but I love ‘em and just can’t give them up. I’ll probably still be playing when I’m 80 inside a virtual holodeck down in some lame Florida retirement community. (God I hope my Golden Years are that exciting).

These days, I just don’t have the time to play the more sophisticated action & adventure games that I used to love the most, so I now spend most of my time with “single-session” games, especially sports games that allow me to play a quick game and then put it aside for awhile. Last night, while I was sitting in my basement with my kids playing an intense Michigan vs. Ohio State matchup on EA’s marvelous new “NCAA Football 2007,” my mind started drifting back to all the other football games I’ve played through the years on multiple platforms. In particular, I remembered the very first sports game I ever bought was “Atari Football” back in the late 1970s. At the time, I thought it was about the most cutting-edge thing ever invented. Today, of course, it looks absolutely primitive. Just look at this! …

Atari Football.jpg

… And then look at this beautiful screen shot from the new NCAA Football game…

NCAA 2007.jpg

We’ve come a long way in a very short time!


Indeed, as I mentioned in my write-up of this year’s video game industry trade show (“E3″), this is one heck of an innovative industry. There are some remarkably creative minds working in the electronic gaming sector producing some of the most amazing and entertaining intellectual works of our time.

Speaking of intellectual works and intellectual property… (and here’s where I try to turn a random rant about video games into a serious policy blog) … why is it that so few people talk about the role of strong intellectual property rights in the electronic gaming sector? After all, this sector is quite vocal about enforcing their copyrights. And they’re even big supporters of the DMCA. But they never get ridiculed as much as the movie or music guys. Could it be because many IP skeptics love their video games and are willing to give them a free pass while going after Hollywood on copyright issues?

Or, could it be because that, in their hearts, some IP skeptics realize that truly great games like “Halo 2″, “Medal of Honor,” “Oblivion,” and so on would never get created without strong IP rights? Indeed, there been have some interesting things written about the lack of really innovative games coming out of the open source community. (See this, thisand this, for example). What does that tell us? I think it tells us that to achieve the level of sophistication we see in modern video games, something more than first-mover advantage is necessary. Just look at what it takes to create some of these games. Is this going to happen in a world devoid of strong IP enforcement?

In other words, if we lived in this world, would any of these worlds get created?

LOTR.jpg
Gran Turismo.jpg
Tom Clancy GRW.jpg
Tomb Raider.jpg

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    I think a big part of the reason that video games aren’t brought up by DMCA critics is that video games are inherently closed system. It would be nonsensical to try to make, say, Halo 2 interoperable with World of Warcraft. So although I don’t think the DMCA is especially helpful to innovation in the video game industry, I think my criticism of the DMCA is much weaker than in other types of products where interoperability is much more important.

    There are some interesting copyright issues related to video games, though. The Accolade, Connectix, and BNetD cases are all important precedents in the law of reverse engineering and fair use, and they all related to the video game industry. And the legal status of mod chips and XBox hacks are obviously a current source of controversy.

  • Tim Schneider

    I think part of the problem is that many people don’t consider video games culture/art. There’s not a sense that something vital is at stake in locking down video games as there is with music, video or text. The forward looking debates about video games impact on the public sphere tend to focus on the games themselves as public spaces, not on the status of the content within the games/of the games themselves.

    I don’t think the images are really the test, though they made for a beautiful post. They suggest a key difference between video games and other creative areas: the barriers to entry–the cost of the hardware and software necessarily to create/modify such environments–are much higher than for other media.

    And don’t you have to talk about the industry’s relation to game mods at some point? Flexibility with IP rights can be useful–and financially beneficial–for game creators.

  • Lewis Baumstark

    I think a big part of the reason that video games aren’t brought up by DMCA critics is that video games are inherently closed system.

    I would agree that they are inherently closed (especially for the reasons you state), but don’t forget that, unlike the music and movie industries which are working like gangbusters to lock their platforms up, the video game companies are more than happy to open their platforms to users. They recognized early on that allowing user-created mods was a huge win for promoting and selling their products.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    I think a big part of the reason that video games aren’t brought up by DMCA critics is that video games are inherently closed system. It would be nonsensical to try to make, say, Halo 2 interoperable with World of Warcraft. So although I don’t think the DMCA is especially helpful to innovation in the video game industry, I think my criticism of the DMCA is much weaker than in other types of products where interoperability is much more important.

    There are some interesting copyright issues related to video games, though. The Accolade, Connectix, and BNetD cases are all important precedents in the law of reverse engineering and fair use, and they all related to the video game industry. And the legal status of mod chips and XBox hacks are obviously a current source of controversy.

  • Tim Schneider

    I think part of the problem is that many people don’t consider video games culture/art. There’s not a sense that something vital is at stake in locking down video games as there is with music, video or text. The forward looking debates about video games impact on the public sphere tend to focus on the games themselves as public spaces, not on the status of the content within the games/of the games themselves.

    I don’t think the images are really the test, though they made for a beautiful post. They suggest a key difference between video games and other creative areas: the barriers to entry–the cost of the hardware and software necessarily to create/modify such environments–are much higher than for other media.

    And don’t you have to talk about the industry’s relation to game mods at some point? Flexibility with IP rights can be useful–and financially beneficial–for game creators.

  • Lewis Baumstark

    I think a big part of the reason that video games aren’t brought up by DMCA critics is that video games are inherently closed system.

    I would agree that they are inherently closed (especially for the reasons you state), but don’t forget that, unlike the music and movie industries which are working like gangbusters to lock their platforms up, the video game companies are more than happy to open their platforms to users. They recognized early on that allowing user-created mods was a huge win for promoting and selling their products.

  • nelziq

    Interesting question. One might argue that copyrights in the the video game industry cause and excessive amount of resources developing game and graphic engines without innovating in the gameplay dimension. Much of the cost of creating theses games goes into the copyrightable part (artwork and graphics software) that could easily be reused in a world without copyright. Meanwhile gameplay mechanics cannot be copyrighted and therefore receive little attention. As many modders and amatuer developers can tell you, building a game by modding an exisitng game engine (i.e. Half-Life, Civilization, etc) is low cost undertaking. I have been especially impressed with the amatuer modifications to Rome: Total War. They are often far superior in quality to the original game and have much higher production values.

  • nelziq

    Interesting question. One might argue that copyrights in the the video game industry cause and excessive amount of resources developing game and graphic engines without innovating in the gameplay dimension. Much of the cost of creating theses games goes into the copyrightable part (artwork and graphics software) that could easily be reused in a world without copyright. Meanwhile gameplay mechanics cannot be copyrighted and therefore receive little attention. As many modders and amatuer developers can tell you, building a game by modding an exisitng game engine (i.e. Half-Life, Civilization, etc) is low cost undertaking. I have been especially impressed with the amatuer modifications to Rome: Total War. They are often far superior in quality to the original game and have much higher production values.

  • Michael Pohoreski

    I’m a PC / PS2 / Wii Game Dev:
    IP has _nothing_ to do with creating a _GOOD_ game
    , aside from creating a “theme” that is to identify with.

    Open Source games fail because lack of

    a) Game Designers who know what they are doing — even many commercial designers are clueless on such basics as “Dead Time”

    b) Lack of Quality Art (Textures, Models, Animation) and Audio

    c) Lack of a _Good_ 3D Engine

    d) Lack of _Good_ tools to build the engine

    P.S.
    Could you include the game name under each screenshot :)

  • Michael Pohoreski

    I’m a PC / PS2 / Wii Game Dev:
    IP has _nothing_ to do with creating a _GOOD_ game
    , aside from creating a “theme” that is to identify with.

    Open Source games fail because lack of
    a) Game Designers who know what they are doing — even many commercial designers are clueless on such basics as “Dead Time”
    b) Lack of Quality Art (Textures, Models, Animation) and Audio
    c) Lack of a _Good_ 3D Engine
    d) Lack of _Good_ tools to build the engine

    P.S.
    Could you include the game name under each screenshot :)

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