There's an article on Rock, Paper, Shotgun today called "There Is No Silver Lining." The Silver Lining was a computer game being created by fans in homage to the old King's Quest adventure games. This was strictly a volunteer effort, not a money-maker, and they had permission from Vivendi Games, Inc., the owner of the King's Quest copyright.
Now, however, after eight years of work, Activision, which merged with Vivendi in 2008, has shut them down. The corporation decided that they won't allow a non-commercial, fan-made, unofficial sequel to their property after all, though it's been 12 years since the last King's Quest game was released.
Thus the title, "There Is No Silver Lining." I'm certainly not going to argue that Activision was right, and my "silver lining" doesn't apply to this particular situation, but I do see a lot that's going right in the gaming world. First, though, you might want to check out Rock, Paper, Shotgun's take on this.
I can't comment on the "misuse of intellectual property and copyright." That's a broad subject which, if I had any expertise in the area at all, would take a separate post (at least). And, of course, piracy is another big subject, and I'm certainly sensitive to copyright holders' worries about that. (Human nature being what it is, it is far too easy to justify taking what we want without paying for it, and that's as true for software and music "pirates" as it is for muggers.)
In this case, I think that Activision is shooting itself in the foot, but I don't expect that will mean much to them. They might, indeed, change their minds in this particular case, given enough publicity. But that wouldn't change their general attitude. Besides, even most game-players will never hear of this, and if they do, almost none will stop buying Activision games because of it, though it might increase piracy a bit (in both cases, people will simply justify whatever actions they want to take).
No, the silver lining is that computer gaming is alive and well on the Internet. Yes, one famous game company after another has folded or merged (often into Activision). This is very big business now - far larger than the movie industry, in fact. Mainstream games are multimillion dollar investments by huge multinational companies, and this is especially the case with console games, with their proprietary formats. These corporations aren't controlled by game-lovers, but by money-lovers, and they're all looking at simply selling to the biggest game-buying demographic (what we used to call the lowest common denominator in television programing).
But this is only the most public side of things. Look a little deeper and you'll find a thriving community of people who really love computer games. "Indies" are small, independent game developers, and they're everywhere. OK, they're almost always struggling to survive. Money is always tight, and they certainly don't have the budgets for the expensive graphics of mainstream titles.
But they're doing some great work, nonetheless. Look, for example, at Mount&Blade, a superb game by TaleWorlds, a husband and wife team in Turkey. Look at Solium Infernum by Cryptic Comet. Look at Spiderweb Software, Iron Tower Studios, Amanita Design, Paradox Interactive, CD Projekt. These companies are of varying sizes and can be based almost anywhere in the world (very commonly, these days, in Eastern Europe). They tend to design for niche markets, but they're doing some great stuff.
But look deeper yet. The Internet has connected game developers with fans, and fans with each other, to an amazing extent. Fan-created work, as in The Silver Lining, is only a part of that, although a thriving part. But individuals who have their own vision, and don't want to compromise it, are creating some amazing games, with support and encouragement from their fans.
Dwarf Fortress is one incredible example. The game is free to download and play, while Tarn Adams, the programmer, lives on donations from his legions of fans. He's been working on a new version for a year and a half, and still gets thousands of dollars in donations every month. He's certainly not getting rich, but he's creating the kind of game he wants (and that a lot of us want to play).
Of course, the game certainly isn't for everyone, and it would never sell as a commercial game. The graphics are basically nonexistent (ASCII graphics, though fans have come up with various graphical solutions to that), and the interface is poor. But the gameplay is absolutely incredible. Mainstream game developers could learn a great deal from Dwarf Fortress.
Or look at Aurora, another free game by a focused - or obsessed - individual developer. This is quite a game, with many dedicated fans. Frankly, it's so difficult to learn that it almost seems more like work than play. But Steve Walmsley has developed, and continues to develop, the game for his own play (and to serve as a foundation for his fiction). This is his vision. He has lots of people offering suggestions, but it's his baby. If you like it, fine. If not, go somewhere else.
There are all sorts of games like this on the Internet (few this good, admittedly), but I'd like to mention one more, UnReal World. This is a survival game set in Iron Age Finland (appropriately, since Sami Maaranen, who's been working on it since 1990, is Finnish). This game isn't free, but the lowest level of registration is only $3. And like the other games I've mentioned, it's continually being upgraded and improved. Also like the others, it's a really great game.
My point is just that, despite the problems with mainstream developers (don't get me started on DRM!), the computer gaming world seems to be thriving. The Internet has released all this potential, and we're only just beginning to see the results.
And, I suspect, that's not just in games, either.
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