Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Sweden Opens Embassy in Second Life

Further bridging the gap between real and virtual worlds, Sweden has decided to open an embassy in Second Life. Apparently, the embassy will only be used to distribute information about Sweden to the virtual characters.

Your Swedish Embassy away from the Swedish Embassy

I wonder if they will start processing visas (for the real world) and asylum applications. All jokes aside, this is the first time I have ever thought of an online world as being more like a different country you can visit. I wonder if Second Life will become more a vacation destination? I guess it already is...

VG Industry Greed disgusts DVD Empire

Citing increasing small profit margins, DVD Empire has pulled out of the video game selling business. In an article on Gamespot, the online retailer claimed that it made only five dollars on every sale of a game (approximately 8% gross margin) or console (< 1% gross margin). As if that were not enough, the five dollars doesnt take into account the expenses of the business, so profit is actually less. I am no expert in business, but if what they say is true, it looks like the small time retailers will go extinct soon...

The Fall of the (now) Wholly DVD Empire

I wonder why the smaller retailers are not allowed to return stock? Come to think of it, I have no idea who acts as the middle man between the retailers and publishers. Is there a middle man? I always the lament the exit of a smaller player. It seems f*ed that the bigger guys squeeze them like this, but at least the David in this case slung back:

"Of course, if the video game industry produced quality games, we wouldn't have this issue."

Gamasutra's take

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Burger King's Gaming Empire

While Microsoft may have claimed victory for its sales figures over the holiday season, Burger King's game empire sold more than 3.2 million copies of its super-bootleg games in the fourth quarter of this year! At four dollars a pop with the purchase of a value meal, BK has really stepped up the whole get a toy with your shitty meal concept. In fact, their profits for the quarter jump up 40% from $27 million in 2005 to $38 million in 2006.

Fast Food Gaming Nation

As little as I like the fast food industry, except for Taco Bell and In-N-Out, I have to give the guys at BK some props. I don't even own an Xbox, and I still curious to see these games (signs that I may like video games a bit too much). The absolute ridiculousness of "The King" ads on TV, almost makes me want to go out and buy them anyway. Notice the almost.

Gold Farmers Unite!

In the face of proposed legislation in South Korea banning the trading of virtual currencies in online role-playing games for real currency, the gold farmers of South Korea have formed the Digital Asset Distribution Promotion Association, a lobbying group dedicated to representing the Gold Farming communities of South Korea. For those who do not know, affluent players of MMORPGs can pay to have large amounts of resources that would take hours upon hours to gather in a game given to them for what is really a nominal amount of real money. For example, it would take way over twenty hours of play to accumulate 200 gold, but you can buy it for about $40. As someone with not too much time, I thought about using one of these services to just make the casual gaming experience more enjoyable. For an economic standpoint, I would much rather pay someone the equivalent of a few dollars an hour, than sit at my computer killing the same group of enemies over and over to gain gold. Apparently, many out there agree with me, and the gold farming industry is big enough in South Korea (the highest percentage of gamers per capita in the world) to have its own political lobbying group.

Farmers Lobby for Open Markets

While I know the game industry does not like the farmers, I wonder what power the government has to regulate these games? Is there any harm caused? The SK's item trade industry has ballooned to over $1 billion a year! Will this legislation affect that? I do not see any reason for the government to step in. It is like the US government's involvement with steroids in baseball: sure, the game's purity matters, and it sounds like MMORPGs are just about the national pasttime of South Korea, but still, it is just a game. Does South Korea not want its youth looking up to those players who abuse the system to get ahead? No. They want their youth to look up to Hines Ward, who, like every other pro football player, would never cheat or take an illegal substance to get ahea...oh wait...hmm.

Microsoft declares victory over holiday season

Microsoft, murdering all holiday mirth, claimed victory as the number one console seller in the US this holiday season, beating second place Wii (around 600,000), and third place laggard PS3 (491,000). Boosted by "must-have" titles, like Gears of War, and the overall shortages faced by its competitors, Microsoft announced it has sold over ten million total units and over a million this holiday season alone. Not bad for $300-$400 a pop. Then again, at $600 a pop, PS3s grossed about $250 million, as much as only $50 million less. Not like the pure dollars matter though (since most console sales are not very profitable); its all about the recognition.

Microsoft wins again!

Oh, and the earlier post about when is Microsoft going to combine the 360 and PCs...duh, that shit is on the way. I have to say in this three way race, I'm pulling for Nintendo. While the other machines may be stronger, the Wii is just more innovative and fun, i.e. I would rather see games go that way then the Microsoft way: straight to the dark side.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Ebay delisting Virtual Property

Ebay has decided to enforce its policy about selling virtual property over its online auction house service. Their terms of service do not allow the transfer of intellectual property unless the seller owns the underlying intellectual property, or is authorized to distribute it by the intellectual property owner. I am a bit confused though: how do they define intellectual property? These items and gold are certainly not patents, trademarks, or copyrights. Ebay claims that Blizzard, the manufacturer of World of Warcraft, and like service providers are the true owners of the intellectual property. Is this because they created the weapons and gold? Apparently, items created in Second Life (where the player is given tools from which he can construct items) will not be delisted. Ebay isn't sure if Second Life is a game, and as such recognizes that the virtual economy can run through it without too much problem. Is it because Second Life's currency is convertible to US dollars? More than it being an intellectual property issue, it seems that Ebay was profiting off practices that Blizzard does not condone, namely transferring resources in the game between players for resources in the real world. Is that reason enough?

Virtual Property delisted from Ebay

I am currently writing a paper on virtual assets and marketplaces, so expect to see more!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Australia bans game over virtual drug use

Australia has denied permission for Xbox 360's Blitz: the League, because the player may choose for his players to take performance-enhancing drugs in the game. Now I'm not all about sending bad messages to children, but this seems over the top. I would have a problem with the game if NFL players didn't actually take steroids to make themselves play better. As a San Diego Chargers fan, I love Shawne Merriman to death, but get real, that guy runs on to the field with a syringe still sticking out of his butt. The reward: leading the league in sacks despite being suspended for a few games. So if it is so obvious that this stuff is going on, why not throw it into a game?

Blizzitz Blizzanned

It is funny to me that certain details of real life are just not appropriate in video games. I wonder if all virtual drug use will be banned? My guess is that people are so afraid that kids see the drugs in the game and think that the drugs must be games too, and just take them without thinking of the consequences. This seems very foolish to me. There have been games forever that have allowed the character to experience new power through imbibing drugs: Mario sure loves those mushrooms! While Mario is clearly fantasy, Metal Gear Solid allows the player to take Diazepam to calm his nerves and shoot his sniper rifle more effectively --> what kind of message is that!? Perhaps an unsettling one: drugs work. If they made a game where the player controlled a bomber in WWII, would it be inappropriate for the player to be able to give his pilots speed? Or is that one of those details we would rather just ban.

Pope Hates on Video Games

As my competitiors at the Davis Law Blog pointed out, Jack Thompson, everyone's favorite "Video Games are ruining America" bobble-head, has a new ally in the war against media: The Pope. I know that the Pope means well, and frankly I agree with many of his points, but come on who wants to play a game that, "promotes fundamental human dignity, the true value of marriage and family life, and the positive achievements and goals of humanity." That wouldn't be a game; that would be real life.

Pope Condemns Violent Video Games

Nintendo News Channel

Nintendo has decided to branch out from its six year-old target audience by providing a news service powered by AP through its Wii Network. It is good to hear that they are again thinking outside the box; I spent so much time when I was younger fiddling around with my Nintendos, that I bet I would read the news too, it it were available.

Nintendo Launches Wii News Channel

Right now, it appears that only AP will provide content. I wonder if Nintendo will begin seeking news content from others and try to make there Wii network a legitimate news source hub, or whether, they will choose to keep it simple? Will other news sources want their stories available also? My how consoles have changed: I remember when my Nintendo came with a gun. Now it comes with news?

Media distribution through these next-gen consoles is just blowing up.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Vista overbears on PC games...I don't believe it!

It looks like the new Windows Vista has been engineered to create a simple interface for organizing games on one's PC and has a new DirectX 10 technology, which should improve graphics. However, developers are skeptical about Microsoft's intentions. It seems that the new mechanisms in Vista have increased security which makes downloading software more of a pain of a butt, having a wet blanket effect --> nothing totally crippling, but de-incentivizing. Here are some choice quotes:

"Among St. John's other gripes are that Vista won't ship with Flash, a piece of software from Microsoft rival Adobe that is used to create many online and casual games; that parental controls can make it tough to find games outside the Games Explorer; and that the Games Explorer emphasizes retail titles over downloaded ones."

"I tell anyone who will listen to me at Microsoft that [gamers] are our most important customers." - Rich Wickham, director of Windows gaming.

"[Gamers are] really grasping at straws for reasons to upgrade the operating system." - John Carmack, technical director of id Software and programmer behind the "Doom" and "Quake" games.

To me, it looks like Microsoft using its superior position to position itself even more securely. I can't really blame them, but I wonder if the independent developer market grows enough and Vista makes those games that much harder to access, will there be more litigation? When will Microsoft link Windows to Xbox, so that all other consoles are left disadvantaged? Just a matter of time before that technology arrives...see, Microsoft makes me worry; they are so underhanded they are anti-trustworthy.

Gamers See Gain and Pain from Windows Vista

What Games has Tose Made?

This article is the first I have heard of Tose, a large developer who works mostly in secret doing contract work for some of the heaviest hitters in the business. They are the largest non-publisher game developer. Apparently, they have worked on over 1,000 titles, but the list of which games these are, is secret. The article mentions that they have made a name for themselves from porting popular titles between platforms. Eventually, this porting relationship transforms in to the beautiful flower that is allowing Tose to develop a game and then having the publisher slap its brand on it. Still though, this article made me feel a bit betrayed, like when Capcom developed the Legend of Zelda: The Minnish Cap --> it was a good Zelda game, but it just wasn't Nintendo.

Gaming's Dirty Little Secret

If Tose made modifications, who would get sued if one of these ports infringed an existing copyright or patent? I wonder how far the games companies would go to keep that game list secret? Would the company absorb the lawsuit on a given game in order to not have to reveal its relationship with Tose? Tose is barely mentioned in the credits of most games it works on, and it prefers to stay that way.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

DS as a phone?

Apparently, there are hacks out there that can turn a Nintendo DS into a cell phone. Also, apparently, the technology is not very good, perhaps owing to the "craptacular" microphone. I wonder if the hacks become better, will Nintendo sue whoever provides it? Can they even stop it?

DS Phone Article

Top Ten Video Game Patents Article

Here is a sweet article giving a good overview of the video game patent field. It focuses on video game method patents mostly, which, are frankly, the most interesting. Check it out:

Top Ten Video Game Patents

The AVG patent at dispute is not on the list, probably because it is not a pure video game method patent. It could go down as the patent that most affects the industry to date...although that Immersion v. Sony patent suit cost Sony a pretty, pretty penny.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Hold your Wee for a Wii 2

I guess I was right...a lawsuit was promptly filed. The worst part is that the radio DJs knew about water intoxication and its ill-effects. WTF were they thinking?

Lawsuit Filed

Very shameful.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Academics Begin Burning Crusade

On the eve of The Burning Crusade expansion pack, academics have been given Title IX funding and a grant from the National Education Association to role-play on World of Warcraft as Tiger Team One, a Horde guild destined to battle the Alliance scum. They say ABDs (short for All But Dissertation) may apply, but PhDs are preferred. Now I'm no PhD, but I want to get paid to play WoW. When I heard this news I thought, "For that to happen to me...Good to know someone pulled it off." Then I went to the site and saw what these poor guys were role-playing...WoW! Check the Manifesto. Feckless Gobshites!

Tiger Team One

Recruiting Post

But my legal visor signals curious, how does Title IX, which mandated equality between the sexes in education, grant this program funding? Did they promise to have equal numbers of male and female orcs, trolls, tauren, undead, and most importantly, blood elves? Hmm...

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Hold Your Wee for a Wii

A Sacramento radio station decided to hold a contest that ended most tragically. Jennifer Strange, after drinking as much water as she could and then holding it all in for as long as she could, died from water intoxication in her attempt to beat the other contestants and get her hands on the oh-so-hard-to-get Wii. Nobody needs to put their law visor on to see that a lawsuit will be following.

YouTube News Story

I would make some smart-ass comment about this, but this really is a sad event. She was a mother of three, entering the contest to win the system for her kids. Rest in peace.

Using Micronations to Circumvent International Copyright Law

Pirate Bay, a popular bit torrent tracker, is making a bid to buy the micronation of Sealand, a platform located off the coast of the UK. All hail King Roy! Who, ironically, lives in England!

Pirate Bay plans to Buy Island

Sealand's claims to international sovereignty are stronger than other micronations, such as Lidonia and Lovely, but it is unclear whether a plan such as this can be used to get around the copyright laws. There is an internet campaign to raise money by Pirate Bay, claiming that all who contribute to the purchase can become citizens. Now this little guarantee seems a little dubious to me. Given that their permanent population is less than ten, do they have immigration policies. Frankly, I wouldnt be surprised if international refugees contributed to this island nation and then applied for asylum. I don't know much about micronation law, but it seems very sophomoric for them to think they could get away with this.

My first question is how are they going to establish internet service out on their micronation? Couldn't the service provider get hit with some sort of vicarious liability or contributory infringement? If this "country" was ever actually sold to Pirate Bay and then used more or less expressly for international copyright infringement, how would this be taken by the other governments of the world? Would they invade? Would they have the power to stop the internet providers in their own country from connecting to the Pirate Bay site? The whole thing leaves a lot of questions open. As a gamer, this sounds like a pretty cool idea, because, come on, who has not used a service like bit torrent to download a sweet game? As a lawyer, this proposal looks like an absolute quagmire (giggity-goo).

Here is some info on Sealand and other Micronations for those interested:


Ladonia - if the Sealand deal fails, Pirate Bay is looking into using this micronation instead

Lovely - a flat in Bow, London

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Introversion' s Game Developer Blog

Here is sweet blog that will follow a game production company in England through their construction of a new game. It looks like these guys developed Darwinia, a game I have not played, but has survived with the fittest.

Introversion Blog

Before I could think to myself, "how cool," my law visor began clouding my vision with potential IP problems. Do these guys realize that by disclosing so much about the gaming process they could inadvertently harm their IP assets? They seem preoccupied with disappointing gamers, but what about disappointing their lawyers? More specifically, if their blog mentions particular details about game play mechanics, programming algorithms, or other ideas which may be patentable (here in America...keep in mind they are British), they could trip public notice activators under 102(b) (a bar to patentability if the invention is disclosed in a printed publication one year before applying for a patent). A 102(b) bar to patentability is absolute, so they should be aware if they care to protect their ideas.

It seems like game companies in general, do not care to get patents for their inventions within games. They could do it, but it would be expensive, and the utility of the patent is questionable. Similar to other electronics industries, if the video game companies all decided to patent every innovation they came up with, there would be a huge thicket in no time (many overlapping patents with nobody able to tell whether they can exclude others) and the patent system would cease to function effectively as a spur for innovation: all of the players would be locked up by the others. As a gamer, I think it is good that companies do not pursue game patents too vigorously in order to keep the industry open (some are pretty obvious such as Sega's patent from Crazy Taxi for the idea to have people jump out of the way of your speeding taxi when you are about to hit them). As a soon-to-be lawyer though, I think these companies are foolish for not acting selfishly. Think Adam Smith: screw the industry at large, its all about the Benjamins.

American Video Graphics Lawsuit

One of the first cases to catch my interest is a patent litigation involving American Video Graphics and basically every video game and hardware manufacturer. AVG is a company that acquired some patents a few years back originally granted to Tektronix back in the 80s. Now they are deciding to hold the video game industry hostage with their 4,734,690 patent "Method and Apparatus for Spherical panning." As argued by plaintiff’s pleading, the patent is meant to cover the following: imagine an object at the center of a sphere. By placing a camera on the sphere that always faces the object, a user can move the camera along the sphere to get different angles of the object. The radius of the sphere can be changed, effectively zooming in and out. Is it just me, or does this cover every freaking game created since 1996. If we think about the revenue that has been generated by "infringing" games...well...this case could be worth a lot of money; the thing that pisses me off is that, not only is AVG manipulating the video game industry (whom I love dearly), but they are also manipulating the American patent system (which I may love just a little bit more than Pearl Harbor sucked). As one PC manufacturer put it, "The patents are a mixture of an extremely general, vague variety and of an incredibly dense and complex variety. Manufacturers would need to pay a patent lawyer a lot of money to decipher whether they're even in violation of the more complex ones or not. The bringer of this suit is very conscious of that." AVG are types of fools that give the law a bad name. Who's with me? To top it off, AVG established itself (right before this suit) in the Eastern District of Texas, so that the Federal courts there would have jurisdiction over this case. Why? Because in the 5% of patent litigations that actually make it to trial in this jurisdiction, plaintiffs win 78% of the time. Coincidence...I think not

For more info:

Graphics patent holder sues Sony, MS, Nintendo

3D patent suit extended to Dell, HP, IBM, Sony, others

Patent Suits Target Game Industry

The First Post

I am starting a blog for all of those video game enthusiasts who are curious about what is going on behind the scenes of video games. We all know there is big money, naturally, lawyers will be flocking to get a piece of the pie. As a law student, I only really care about myself and the law, so I will talk mostly about those things. Enjoy!