Thursday, February 22, 2007

Researchers find no link between violent games and violent behavior

While not strictly related to the law, I found it interesting that after conducting a study, researchers at Texas A+M have found no link between violent video games and violent behavior. There have been many lawsuits trying to pin violent behavior on the influence of video games, and well, I am tired of it. I have played video games my whole life, kicking the crap out of virtual competitors, human and computer alike, but I am one of the least violent people I know. I've never even been in a fight.

No link between violent behavior and violent games: eat your heart out Jack Thompson

Stalled Indiana VG Legislation moves to State Senate

After a recommendation from Indiana's Committee on Economic Development and Technology, the State Senate of Indiana will consider legislation aimed at restricting the sale of M (mature) and AO (adults only) rated games to minors. Apparently, committee members were shown an inflammatory video depicting characters being urinated on and then set ablaze and gunning people down in church.

Indiana's Senate recommends to itself to adopt new legislation

Now that the ESRB will have full-time game raters, the whole process is becoming more streamlined. I suppose the end result of ratings is regulation, and seeing as how I am no longer a minor, I do not think legislation like this is a bad thing. Have I turned to the dark side?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Blizzard Sues WoW Glider

Blizzard has initiated action action against MDY Industries, claiming its manufacture of the WoW Glider circumvents copyright protections, allows cheating, encourages copyright infringement, violates the EULA, and a host of other charges. For those unfamiliar, WoW Glider is a bot program - turn it on and your character will run around leveling up and gathering loot 24/7. Markee Dragon, a biggie in these worlds (featured in Play Money), makes some futile arguments as to why this is not breaking the law, blah, blah, blah, but I agree with the boys at Kotaku that not only does this violate the EULA, it is straight cheating. Then again, having been stuck killing 1,000 Waterfall Warbolgs, it is no mystery to me why a player wouldn't just pay $25 to have a computer do it for you. Strange that you would pay to have a computer play a game for you...very strange.

Blizzard sues WoW Glider maker

Here are the case's Answers and Counterclaims, along with some exhibits

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Play Money Review

I just spent this weekend reading Julian Dibbell's Play Money: Or, How I Quit My Job and Made Millions Trading Virtual Loot. Needless to say, I loved it. It tracks Julian's journey to make as much money trading virtual property online in one year as he did during his most financially successful year as a writer. After some preliminary interviews with big-time money makers in Ultima Online (talking 'bout six figures), Dibbell takes the plunge, deciding to dedicate himself full-time to playing UO. He hits some snags along the way and the learning curve for him is sharp, but before long, his feet are wet in the industry and he is making a name for himself among the hardcore vendors in UO. He starts out trying to sell miner's maps for a new virtual region that had recently opened, but realizes that he cannot make a living doing such nonsense, and eventually gets hired to run items for a more big time dealer. He steadily moves up the chain, encountering more of these vendors, whose activities and practices are at best unsavory and at worst straight cheating. He meets bot farmers: players who had written computer programs to play UO constantly, doing mindless tasks that generate huge amounts of virtual gold that can be sold for real money. At first, Dibbell rejects these "cheaters," wanting to make an honest living. These sentiments fade though as he realizes that he never really knows where all of the virtual loot he deals in comes from: some of it is from farmers, some of it from players who steal from other players, some of it from good old-fashioned gamers. After a failed venture with a Chinese Sweatshop (he paid a working wage of $1.50/hour, but now this is down to around $.25/hour), Dibbell cares not where he gets his goods and begins distributing the loot the farmers gather. In the end, his experiment comes down to generating $4,500 in a single month. See comments for Dibbell's final cash total.

I found the most interesting aspects of the book to be the nuts and bolts of how these virtual fencers actually operated and the social structures required to run what are essentially virtual rackets. One consortium of supporters in the book actually call themselves the UO Cartel. While their practices are not expressly illegal, monitors from the UO maker, called GMs, patrol the land deleting accounts of players that do not play by the rules (i.e. the farmers with automated programs). Game developers thus far have not condoned the practices of virtual fencers like Mr. Dibbell and they actively work to stop them (recently, Sony opened two servers of its MMORPG EverQuest II to a totally regulated market where customers can purchase any item they want in the game from Sony for real cash; Check it. Most the scams involves searching for quirks in the game that allow the purchase of one item for say 3 gold pieces, a totally midless task of converting the item from A to B, as in turning a chicken into a cooked chicken, and reselling the cooked chicken for 6 gold pieces. Repeat 30 times a minute, 24 hours a day, and before long, stashes of virtual loot. Bam.

Spliced between these gameplay experiences are some musings on the seeming indistinguishability of work from play in these games. I think the book illustrates that if you consume your life with any endeavor, even games, you will work to feel the accomplishment of expertise. In MMORPGs, people do different works for different expertise. Average players will spend hours working toward building their character, doing tasks in the hope of unlocking some virtual prestige, or opening up a previously inaccessible dungeon. Virtual vendors take it to a whole new level: they do not so much play as observe their markets, patiently waiting for good deals, and work the system when the right opportunity comes around. Dibbell was willing to dedicate himself, not only to vending virtual goods, but the larger academic project of rooting around in this largely unknown territory --> he put in the effort and was rewarded with expertise.

Overall, the book was an enjoyable read and I recommend it for anyone who has ever lived, even temporarily, in one of these worlds. My WoW character Nightstalker, a night elf hunter, had to be shelved after I hit level 40 precisely because playing felt much more like a grind than play (I was only halfway time-wise to the maximum level of 60); I still miss my pet cat, Peepers.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Video Games Standards Commission

In an article on Next Generation, Eric-Jon Rossel Waugh discusses the possibility of a single console in the future, ushered in to the market by cooperation among the forces that be. I found the article to be a whole lotta wishful thinking, especially when viewed from the business side of things. He envisions a landscape where all developers, big and small, give input into defining standards. He believes the biggest hurdle yet is that video games have yet to "come into their own." What does that mean? There is really only one way to watch TV or one way to watch a DVD and the different technologies employed utilize different delivery systems. But there are so many ways to play video games depending on the hardware, controllers, and console medium (through the Computer or TV). Personally, I think standardization almost sounds like a good idea, but in the end would lead to less innovation in the market.

I say negative on the Video Games Standards Commission: what do you think?

From what little I know about the IEEE, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, which handles standards in the electronics industry, their system functions well enough but leads to some thorny patent issues. Most specifically, whenever a standard is up for review, there are always competing members with competing patents who want their technology to become the standard. However part of the trade-off when a technology is selected for the standard, the patent holders must give up rights to sue for patent infringement. I wonder who this would be the biggest problem for? Sony, Microsoft, or perhaps a largest game patent owner, Nintendo?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Piracy? Blame Canada

The seven-member International Intellectual Property Association, whose members include the ESA, MPAA, and RIAA, have put Canada on a list of countries with the worst international copyright enforcement. Canada is a leading exporter of bootlegged films and mod chips. I guess the piracy has risen "to such an extent as to prejudicially affect the owner of the copyright." (See Japan Bans Export of Pirated material) So when is Canada going to start enforcing?

Blame Canada, Blame Canada, their beady little eyes have packed their heads so full of lies, Blame Canada

IIPA claims that software piracy had cost copyright holders $12.3 billion last year, while music piracy affected US companies to the tune of $2.4 billion. Ouch!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Ubisoft plans to produce 3 new IPs every 3 years

Ubisoft's vice president of publishing, Jay Cohen, stated that his company sees the development of their business in IP. Correctly pointing out that licensed works can be revoked or ended with the developer being left with nothing, he believes that his company's control of their IP assets is essential.

IP is the horizon

This great news for an aspiring lawyer such as myself. But, I do think Mr. Cohen should check a few postings ago under the Games people buy. Some of the top 100 games of last year:

1. Madden
2. Cars
99. Ubisoft's Rayman

So yes, I think Ubisoft should definitely focus on the IP.

Brownback Reintroduces Truth in Video Game Rating Act

Presidential hopeful, Senator Sam Brownback (R - KS), reintroduced the Truth in Video Game Rating Act to the US Senate. The legislation seeks to strengthen the ESRB's power and accuracy. It requires games actually be played before rated, dispensing with the current system of ratings based on video recordings of gameplay and creates an offense for purposefully hiding content from the ESRB. It would also call on the FTC to "specifically define parameters for describing game content and what would count as a mischaracterization of a game’s content," in an attempt to provide more precise ratings.

Uncovering the Truth in Video Game Rating Act

It sounds like the ESRB doesn't function very well. Developers and publishers can easily hide content from these video demonstrations. I cannot believe nobody plays a game before it gets rated. My guess is that the game needs to be rated before it can be sold, so effectively, this legislation will force gamers to wait that much longer for each game. That much longer.

Microsoft Uncovered

You know how the first iteration of new consoles usually break quickly? BBC's Watchdog will run a story about how British Xbox360 owners have gotten screwed by faulty consoles. There were so many problems with the US version of the Xbox360 that MS evetually just opened its doors to any consumer to fix any console, warranty or no. Apparently, the British did not get the same royal treatment; they are expected to pay somewhere between 80 and 90 quid (roughly $175).

Never buy that first iteration...

I guess I shouldn't totally hate on Microsoft, the first versions of PS 1+2 were pretty crappy too. It is still lame that the Brits have to pay such a large amount to fix the damn things.

2/15/07: Micorsoft admits that there are "isolated reports" of faulty Xbox360s

Isolated Reports

Battle of the Bands to decide new Burnout music

Virgin, EA, and Epiphone are sponsoring a Battle of the Bands competition to find the music for the new Burnout game. On the site are a bunch of the entrants strutting their stuff. Most of the music is pretty hardcore, but some of the stuff that isn't trying to be Biohazard isn't bad. There are two winners, one American and one European. They each receive record contracts and the possibility that one of their songs could be in the new Burnout. Only the possibility? How noncommittal is that?

Battle of the Burnout Bands

Whisper of Death...damn.

I bet the winner of this contest will get one bum deal. No rights to nada.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Games People Buy

Here is some comprehensive research on the types of games people buy. Most significantly, sports and other licensed products were the best performers. There was a correlation between high game reviews and high sales rank, and the exceptions came from licensed games like, Cars (2nd in sales, with a 71% average review). In many ways, the IP carries the title: the game doesn't even have to be good.

The Games We Buy

Of particular note is that many of the games that received poor reviews, but achieved good sales are sequels or other spinoffs of popular game franchises. Video game IP bolster lame titles to huge sales.

Q & A with the head of Gamecock

Harry Miller, a founder and head of Gamecock, sat down with Gamespot and had a chat about how his publishing company is different from the big publishers. He emphasized the indie studios, stating that he will let the developers retain all of their IP instead of having to sign it over to them for an unfair price. Now, he is focused on releasing their line-up of five games. They hope the games will promise a return to good humor: especially with hilarious names like Jazz Jackrabbit

Gamecock's first crow

I bet this unfair publishing deal happened with the Guitar Hero franchise.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Japan bans export of pirated goods

While importation of private goods into Japan has been illegal for a while, today, the Diet passed legislation banning the export of pirated goods. I found it strange that the import would be banned while the export was allowed. According to the Davis Law blog, the practice is not uncommon among nations. Canada banned the importation but allows exportation if not "to such an extent as to prejudicially affect the owner of the copyright."

Japan government to ban export of pirated goods

Saturday, February 10, 2007

North Carolina follows Utah, seeks to classify games as restricted obscene material

North Carolina, another bastion of freedom and liberty, has proposed state legislation similar to Utah's recently defeated "Games as Porn" law. The new bill, SB87, adds violent games to an existing North Carolina statute which defines material harmful to minors. State Sen. Boseman’s legislation would restrict minors’ access to games which feature “the realistic visual depiction of serious injury to human beings, actual or virtual; appeal to a minor’s morbid interest in violence; are “patently offensive” to prevailing community standards; and lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.

Senator Boseman, Video Game Vixen, proposes new legislation

I wonder if it is necessary that in addition to being violent or offensive, the game must lack serious literary, artistic, scientific, or political value? Are there games that would not be obscene because the story is so engaging? How can a layperson understand/decide if a game appeals to a minor's violent nature? The wording seems awfully shoddy. Oh, I know why! The phrases are taken directly from first amendment cases.

Guitar Hero Defectors Sued

Activision, who I hope does not ruin their recently acquired Guitar Hero franchise, has filed suit against three former employees of Red Octane as well as The Ant Commandoes, who has already been sued once by Activision in a different Guitar Hero-related suit, and Guitar Hero PR firm, Reverb. The defectors and TAC together created a new company, Lodestone Entertainment or Hourglass Interactive. Activision is accusing the three workers of copyright infringement, trademark infringement, misappropriating trade secrets and confidential information, breach of contract, interference with contractual relations, and more. Basically, they are trying to stop these three workers from using any idea that even comes close to Guitar Hero in any subsequent games.

Activision puts franchise to good use suing people

I'm sorry Activision, but there is absolutely not one tiny shred of Metal in all this litigation. Activision is quickly becoming the Metallica of video games: stop wasting your time suing people and focus on the music.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Proposed legislation bans crossing the street while playing video games in NY

Well folks, I'm sorry to say that it is a dark, dark day in the world of gaming. Proposed legislation may ban the use of any portable electronic device while crossing the street. It is more directed at iPods and cellphones, but the implications for game players are severe. You'll have to pause to cross the street in New York and Buffalo.

Not a bad piece of legislation...

The offense would be comparable to jaywalking.

ESA outspends Movie Lobby

The Entertainment Software Association, the video gaming world's most prominent lobbying organization for EA, Activision, and others, spent $2 million in 2005, expecting $2.2 in 2006. The Movie Industry's most prominent lobby, the MPAA, spent only $1.6 million. The ESA was founded in 1994 to kombat offensive video games like Night Trap and Mortal Kombat. Their interests have diversified over the years to now include online gambling and AB1351, a bill that lets the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority issue notes in addition to bonds for purposes relating to its duties, and overtime laws.

The ESA is blowing up!

One particularly interesting portion of the article leads to another article which speaks of the "inevitable" fusion of video games and gambling.

Activision CEO Robert Kotick calls wagering in games the Holy Grail of the business

This is the first I have heard of this idea, though I can't believe I hadn't thought of it before. Some one will offer this service. If they used a player ranking system and only allowed large sums to be wagered after the player proves they win, it could be great not only to play and bet, but also to bet on high stakes games that good players play. If gambling revenues pay the company, they could give the games away. Will people play "free" games? Survives TM Dispute

The National Arbitration Forum just released its decision in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. v. World Readable c/o R.L. Cadenhead, the domain-name dispute in which the film studio tried to take Wargames.Com away from Rogers Cadenhead because it owns a trademark related to the 1983 film WarGames and the upcoming sequel WarGames 2: The Dead Code. After going through a lengthy dispute under the Uniform Domain-name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP...thought it seems like it should be at least the UDDRP), Cadenhead convinced the court that he was not using the trademark to profit off of the movie, but rather to sell video games. It helped that registration for the wargames mark came two years after Cadenhead had begun work on his site.

How about a nice game of chess?

The site itself seems bootleg and outdated. He hasn't begun selling any next generation war games yet. I guess those lawsuits can really tie your hands. Accordinging to Cadenhead, the UDRP grossly favors trademark holders, and as a result, usually the only winning move for a potential infringer is not to play. While my instincts tell me side with the little guy, it looks like Cadenhead has engaged in some unscrupulous domain name registering, such as and, though he claims that he had no intention of profiting off of these names and offered them to the Vatican and MGM respectively.

Here is the legal standard under the UDRP:

Paragraph 4(a) of the Policy requires that the Complainant must prove each of the following three elements to obtain an order that a domain name should be cancelled or transferred:

(1) the domain name registered by the Respondent is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which the Complainant has rights;
(2) the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the domain name; and
(3) the domain name has been registered and is being used in bad faith.

MGM satisfied (1), had a prima facie case for proving (2), but when the burden shifted to Cadenhead to prove that he had a legitimate interest in the domain name, he carried his burden and won. After deciding (2), there was no need to settle (3).

Nintendo Phone Patent

Filed November 2001 and issued June 2006, Nintendo obtained a patent on a game phone. It looks like its got game boy functionality and phone capabilities. Doesn't look like there is any plan to release it, but the bootleg menus are still interesting.

Who needs the DS phone hacks?

I want to play Metoroid 2.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Guitar Hero Hacked

My dreams have come true: Metallica as arrived in Guitar Hero. Unfortunately, it got there by way of hackers.

Guitar Hero II: Master of Puppets

I am really not sure just how many copyright laws this violates. Not only is there a copyright on the song, but there is also a copyright in the recording itself. I wonder if any of Guitar Hero's copyrights are violated? It certainly requires modification of existing equipment but it looks like the required programs are free (aside from the mod chip of course). They are definitely making illegal copies, but are the modifications far enough away from the art of the game so as to be deriviative works? Infringement was never so full of rinks and runks.

2/11/07 - in answer to my own question about possible Guitar Hero copyright violations, it appears that there is a previous case holding that created levels for Duke Nukem are like sequels, and an unauthorized sequel is an unauthorized derivative work, i.e. the Duke Nukem makers can stop level creators from distributing copies. Sorry hackers. See Microstar v. FormGen, Inc., 154 F.3d 1107 (9th Cir. 1998).

By the way, there is rumor that Harmonix and Red Octane are putting out a new game that will actually teach the player how to play the guitar, stating, "Once you're done playing with your toys [the current GH guitars], you come see us." Awesome.

Damn, my real dream come true

Registered Trademark leaks game title

I have finally seen the law, in practice, put to good use. While scouring the internet, some dude managed to find a listing of Sony's recently registered trademarks, discovering "Uncharted: Drake's Fortune." This title seems worthy of Naughty Dog's new game recently previewed with a trailer containing imagery associated with Sir Francis Drake. Sony will not confirm the rumors or speculation.

I knew searching the register would pay off!

Funny how of all the trademarks floating around in the industry, this is the biggest trademark story I've covered, creating its own Label.

18 virtual fish? That'll be $62

A new Xbox360 game released eighteen new fish for purchase over Xbox360's network. What is this digital content? They are inhabitants of a new video game called Aquazone, a fish tank simulator. Each fish costs about $4, so for the full expansion aquarium, it would cost $62; more than the game itself. The beauty of this scheme: the game has not been released yet. With near 100k in downloads of each fish already, the game has grossed $6.2 million dollars; it hasn't even come out yet.

Who buys virtual fish?

Isn't that enough money to buy real fish? I guess games just be more fun.

Thompson fought the law and the law won

Jack Thompson, our favorite censor extremist, is in some deep doo-doo over his recent behavior as a practicing lawyer. Accused of launching menacing statements at many of his courtroom enemies, he defends himself with blanket conspiracy theories about Bar members out to get him. Now I wonder why they would be out to get him?

The bar is displeased with Jack Thompson, and so am I

It just goes to show that what goes around comes around. While I agree with Mr. Thompson that many games lack moderation, he battles one extremity with the other, demonstrating that extreme positions eventually self-destruct. Perhaps his point has already been made with all the publicity he gets from his escapades. Or maybe, he is just another reason to tune out folks like him.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Games As Porn Law?

Utah's state government, everyone's favorite bastion of open-thought, is again trying to push through legislation that would classify violent video games as "obscene" and therefore, subject to similar laws as pornography. Constitutional law experts see the legislation as a violation of 1st amendment's guarantee of free speech. Fortunately, the bill seems to be stalling in the House because all the politicians know that there will be a lawsuit; if they lose, the government could have to pay not only their costs, but the plaintiff's costs too.

'Games as Porn' Bill halted thrice

I wonder why games could not be considered obscene and therefore subject to strict censorship laws? While I am certainly not in favor of such restriction, how are our constitutional rights violated by restrictions on video games, but not by restrictions on pornography? Perhaps my conservative friends would be proud of me, but shouldn't state's rights govern? Is it different from pornography because it isn't real?