Wednesday, October 31, 2007

ESA Joins MPA for Anti-Piracy Fight in Malaysia

The Entertainment Software Association and the Motion Picture Association have teamed up to fight piracy in Malaysia. The enforcement initiative, called Operation Games Attack, is targeting the illegal production and distribution of games. The announcement was big enough to attract the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs of Malaysia. The program will provide anti-piracy training in addition to increased resources for enforcement of international IP rights.

ESA + MPA = SAME Plan of Attack

Friday, October 19, 2007

E for All 2007 Day One

Reporting semi-live from the E for All, this game expo is amazing. Having never been to one before, I am getting a bit of the "kid in the candy store" feeling. There were a couple of games I was looking for and a couple of things I discovered. Rock Band is the gem of the show. I played Epic by Faith No More and Dani California by Red Hot Chili Peppers on the guitar with my brother backing me up on vocals. It was HOT! That game is the best. Guitar Hero III was cool, but nothing too different than what I have come to expect. Super Mario Galaxy and Super Smash Bros. Brawl looked predictably sweet. I did find Piano Wizard, a piano game/trainer. It had multiple stages of play, and by the end, if you played it enough, you would learn to read music, which is pretty cool. I had great fun the first day, and I'm headed back there again right now.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Fox Calls in a Hit on Hitman

Twitch, a movie news site, has reported that Fox has hired a "consultant" to assist in the final edit of the Hitman movie, slated to be released in November. Apparently, the first cut was extremely violent with head shots and other sequences of gore. Fox brought in Nicholas De Toth, the mastermind behind the PG-13 version of Live Free or Die Hard, to sanitize the movie, but claims that the released version will still be rated R.

Hitman Gets Hit

While this story is not directly related to video game law, it seems strange to me that other media outlets are effectively trying to censor the game's IP. How can you have a movie called Hitman, about a guy named Agent 47 who kills people, but have it sanitized. It seems to me that the gamers that loved the game would love to see Hitman in action, not Hitman where we hear the gun shots and it fades to black. Since Hitman is a video game movie, perhaps Fox thinks they can appeal to wider demographic, but this seems like selling cigarettes to kids --> would we want the kids to see a sanitized playboy movie, only to have them discover that when they opened the magazine they saw much more than they should?

MMOs - Vehicles for Money Laundering

According to this article from M-Net, Symantec, an internet security company, has begun targeting MMOs, such as Second Life and WoW, as potential outlets for criminals to launder money. Essentially, the article claims, that given the large amounts of basically unregulated transactions that occur in these worlds, it would be easy for dummy accounts to be created, for criminals to put money into these accounts, transfer the money in game, and then cash out in a different currency, all without being tracked. In addition, Symantec believes that much of software released to alter the interface of MMOs is laced with malicious programs designed to mine data and track keystrokes.

World of Washcash

It will be interesting to see if these fears are founded. If they are, who is going to stop it: the developers? the government? the players? It would be a jurisdictional nightmare if criminals in Russia laundered money through Second Life and cashed out in Hungary. Perhaps we should look into a VICJ - a Virtual International Court of Justice.

Virtual Worlds Day Two

Sorry for the delay folks, I know that many of you couldn't wait to get highlights from the second day, so here they are:

Keynote Address from Christian Renaud, Chief Architect of Networked Virtual Environments for Cisco: Urged the attendees to move to open standards with the purpose of propelling virtual worlds into the mainstream. He thinks that to be able to do this, the industry must allow common identities (meaning avatars that can transcend worlds to some degree), common metrics (meaning that the worlds are measured on a common scale so that consumers can differentiate between them in a useful way), common platforms (meaning namely interoperability), and common understanding (alluding to focused vision of where virtual worlds are headed). As Gary McGinty, CEO of Big Bad Wolf, said to me afterward about Renaud's speech, "The quote of the conference was, 'Do you want all of Betamaxx, or a piece of VHS?'"

Visionary Panel - Where the Platforms are Going Next - The panel consisted of Christopher Klaus (CEO, Kaneva), Michael Wilson (CEO, Makena), Raph Koster (CEO, Areae), Corey Bridges (Co-founder of Multiverse), Stephen Lawler (General Manager of Virtual Earth), Hui Xu (Founder and CEO, HiPiHi), and was moderated by Mark Wallace, blogger and co-author of Only A Game with Peter Ludlow, an excellent read: For those unacquainted with this panel, it is populated by some of the most influential people in the virtual worlds industry. The panel believes that there is great opportunity for virtual worlds growth in the areas of web integration (meaning connecting worlds to streaming media and other forms of content already available on the web) and connecting virtual worlds to social networks already in existence, such as Facebook or MySpace. The panel also concluded though that growth is not unilateral anymore and that there is potential to grow in many directions. One such area is in business models. Other possibilities for innovation included easier usability for denizens and capability for users to connect to virtual worlds online. Koster, perhaps the panel's most colorful character, was adamant that 3D was not the answer to everything online. He believes that user interface should be determined by the task at hand, and that there are some tasks on the internet that are just easier in 2D (like reading a newspaper article). He made excellent point that media outlets accrete, they do not replace (TV didn't replace radio, they both exist). Along those lines, virtual worlds are not here to replace old forms of entertainment, but can provide a new vehicle for media delivery. He also made a good point about the lack of difference between games and serious games, stating that we are all in the bookstore business, not the non-fiction aisle business.

Virtual Worlds and the Music Industry - The panel had representatives from Virtual MTV, Zwinky, and Doppelganger, the company behind V-Side: I found this to be one of the most interesting sessions at the the whole show. These three projects all work on delivering music to listeners in new and more interactive ways. Virtual worlds provide a fantastic opportunity for artists to connect with fans on a more personal level without all of the attendant risks of making public appearances. Matt Bostwick, the SVP of franchise development for MTV Music Group, previewed VLES - Virtual Lower East Side - with a machinama music video. The CEO of Doppelganger, Tim Stevens, believes that music delivery is fundamentally changing in that content must be delivered to the consumer now, not like before when listeners had to dial in, tune in, etc..

The conference had a series of lectures, but also an expo hall. In the expo hall I met David Colleen, head of Planet 9 Studios. Planet 9 is doing some interesting work creating 3D models of many of the major cities in the world. They had one particularly cool demonstration of their Virtual Earth (TM) in a GPS navigation so that the map was not a flat, nondescript 2D image, but a full 3D view of the city - very cool. Right after I finished speaking with him, I went to listen to the visionary panel, where one of the speakers was head of Microsoft's Virtual Earth (TM), Microsoft's version of Planet 9's product. Both have the same trademark on essentially the same product. I may be fresh out of school, but...

All-in-all, I would say that the conference was a success, not only for myself, but for the entire industry. They know they are on the cusp of being mainstream - give it ten years.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Virtual Worlds Day One

So day one is finished: it was not exactly as I expected. There was little representation from game worlds; most of the attendees were involved in social networking sites, content creation, and other virtual environment-type pursuits. Here are some highlights:

Keynote Speaker Anthony Zuiker, creator of CSI: Gave an entertaining speech laying down the most recent approach to marketing CSI by connecting TV, online, mobile, and gaming platforms to give a total media package. Build the content and they will come.

Edward Castronova's Perfidious Economy: The speech was meant to get the attendees thinking about policy issues in virtual worlds. He played an old economics game with three volunteers (me being one of them) involving the pooling of common resources to illustrate that whether dictatorship or democracy rules, often, the result of external organization is more resources for all. He argues that the fun of MMOs comes from this sharing of common resources. I thought his argument that placing an external structure on a virtual economy could increase resources (here being not only wealth, but also fun) was an interesting contrast to the usual murmuring complaints of those that think that the players should be able to do whatever they want.

Sean Kane's IP Wealth and Pitfalls of Synthetic Worlds: It was essentially a refresher from my copyright course, covering the many layers of copyrightability within virtual worlds with two big take-aways: 1. Copyrights are cheap at $45, so just get one; and 2. Copyright vigilance is a lot cheaper than litigation - so hire a lawyer!

Blake Lewin's Announcement of a Partnership between Turner Networks and Kaneva: Lewin described Turner's business model as aggregating content to suit a particular niche audience, and then using this audience to sell advertising for other products that niche may enjoy. Turner has used Kaneva to create a virtual environment for propagating Turner's licensed content. Inside this virtual world, there were screens everywhere constantly showing Turner content. These environments range from a hypothetical TBS building (very funny), to a TNT land (knows drama), to a recreation of the Family Guy house for watching Family Guy with friends. It will be interesting to see if people will sign in to watch TV with friends --> will the experience be the same as actually watching it with friends?

Overall, the day was a success and I am looking forward to tomorrow.

I'm Back - Virtual Worlds 2007

Hi everybody - it's Doctor Nick. Just Kidding: I am back blogging, coming live from Virtual Worlds 2007 at the San Jose Convention Center. Stay tuned for more posting.