What’s going on in the online video games business this week? Let’s dig in.
Steam, toxicity, and Kartridge
The Center for Investigative Reporting (via Motherboard) has a scathing piece out on Steam toxicity this week. Valve has traditionally maintained a hands-off approach with Steam groups, which means that the groups can easily become a toxic cesspit. The platform is accused of being loaded with hate groups, many of which support racist agendas or promote school shootings. Motherboard notes that Valve has refused to respond to questions on this topic since last October.
Meanwhile, Kongregate is launching Kartridge, a potential Steam competitor that says it will embrace indie “premium” titles and small-fry developers. “Our initial plan is that the first $10,000 in net revenue, one hundred percent will go to the developer,” Kongregate’s CEO says. “We’re not coming in just to build another store. No-one needs that. This is about building a platform that is focused on creating a very fair and supportive environment for indie developers” – as well as on social and community tools.
Remember last week when we covered how the Entertainment Software Association is fighting a proposal to amend the DMCA that would help preserve online games, including MMOs, for future generations? MMORPG developer Raph Koster has since thumbed his virtual nose at the ESA’s jerk move.
“Speaking as a designer, I’d rather my game be played for free than never be able to be played ever again,” the Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies designer wrote on Twitter. “Much of my work is basically gone and what survives is all altered. Preservation matters.”
He points out that the ESA’s claim that putting sunsetted games back online would create a “loophole to let the public flood” in is absurd, since the lack of a flood is generally why the game closed down to begin with.
The Entertainment Software Rating Board claims it’s taking steps to solve the lockbox crisis, in part in response to bills before multiple state governments as well as discussions in (and ultimata from) the US senate’s commerce, science, and transporation committee. ESRB President Patricia Vance told journalists today that the non-government body will mandate special labels applied to video game boxes notifying consumers that in-app purchases and cash-shop transactions are part of those games. It won’t be explicit to lootboxes, she argues, because “a large majority of parents don’t know what a lootbox is.” It’s set up a new website to explain parental controls to parents as well, though we don’t recall anyone asking for that.
But maybe don’t get too excited. Polygon argues that the proposal “feels like a plot to get legislators off the back of the industry, not a serious attempt to fix anything,” since pretty much every video game would have this relatively generic label and there’s an overt attempt to deflect all real responsibility to parents. Moreover, the ESRB still isn’t requiring publishers to disclose odds for their gambleboxes.
Over the last couple of years, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has been petitioning for changes to the DMCA to help preserve old video games – to eliminate server-based DRM and legalize emulators for games that had been abandoned. As of 2015, the Library of Congress granted the request, but the exemption very specifically didn’t cover closed-down MMORPGs.
Then, in October of 2017, the US Copyright Office effectively renewed the exception and reopened the argument, in part because of a Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (MADE) proposal to consider even massively-multiplayer games on the table for archival purposes. Even if you have no interest in playing on an emulator for an ancient MMORPG, surely you can see the value in allowing future historians the opportunity to see these worlds first-hand instead of through blurry YouTube videos. The code still exists, after all; outdated laws simply keep them closed to all of us.
Not so fast, says the good ol’ Entertainment Software Association.
At the tail end of last year, we caught wind that the World Health Organization is planning on classifying gaming addiction as a “gaming disorder” its update of the International Classification of Diseases, which caused multiple academics, self-regulatory bodies, and education advocates to preemptively reject the plan, pointing out both the lack of research to justify the classification as well as the potential for harm.
“We do not support WHO in this classification scheme in the strongest possible terms,” the Higher Education Video Game Alliance (HEVGA) wrote earlier this week, arguing the WHO is “jumping to premature conclusions” that will scapegoat and stigmatize gaming. The ESA flat-out called it reckless. An academic in games research whom we’ve consulted with in the past suggested to us that the news came off as “moral panic-y.”
But WHO appears to be sticking to its guns. GamesIndustry.biz spoke to a representative for WHO, who reportedly claimed to the publication that “there is increasing and well-documented evidence of clinical relevance of these conditions and increasing demand for treatment in different parts of the world.”
In case you missed it over the holiday break, but the World Health Organization announced it would be adding “gamer disorder” and “hazardous gaming” to the latest edition of its International Compendium of Diseases, a move many academics treated with skepticism. According to WHO, “Gaming disorder is characterized by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour, which may be online or offline, manifested by: 1) impaired control over gaming; 2) increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities; and 3) continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”
The industry isn’t taking this classification lightly, with the Electronic Software Association predictably pushing back against the move and saying that it misrepresents a hobby billions enjoy.
“The World Health Organization knows that common sense and objective research prove video games are not addictive,” the ESA said in a statement. “And, putting that official label on them recklessly trivializes real mental health issues like depression and social anxiety disorder, which deserve treatment and the full attention of the medical community. We strongly encourage the WHO to reverse direction on its proposed action.”
Last week, the Entertainment Software Association, the video game trade association you probably know best from its stewardship of E3, released a contentious statement praising the tax reform proposal currently before congress, claiming the bill will “energize tech sector innovation and economic opportunity. For the $30.4 billion US video game industry, which employs more than 220,000 people all across the United States, the pro-growth policies introduced will incentivize greater US investment and more high-quality American jobs.”
And while the large gaming publishers repped by the ESA might be comfy with that position, it didn’t go over well with actual game developers, including some MMO devs, who reacted loudly on twitter (twice) in rejecting the ESA’s position as being representative of or beneficial to workers.
“20 year game industry veteran here,” Riot’s Greg Street wrote (you’ll remember him from his tenure at Blizzard). “You don’t represent my views. Like at all.”
The MMO industry moves along at the speed of information, and sometimes we’re deluged with so much news here at Massively Overpowered that some of it gets backlogged. That’s why there’s The MOP Up: a weekly compilation of smaller MMO stories and videos that you won’t want to miss. Seen any good MMO news? Hit us up through our tips line!
This week we have stories and videos from MechWarrior Online, Guild Wars 2, EverQuest II, Cabal Online, EVE Valkyrie, Paragon, Second Life, Luna Online, Atelier Online, Final Fantasy XI, Legend of Ancient Sword Online, No Man’s Sky, Heroes of the Storm, Art of Conquest, Dreadnought, Overwatch, SINoALICE, Blade and Soul, Pokemon Go, and Eternal Crusade, all waiting for you after the break!
You might want to keep politics out of gaming, but politics has a way of forcing itself in the door no matter what.
Multiple MMO developers and video game convention organizers have now spoken out against Friday’s so-called “Muslim ban” and ensuing national and international crisis promulgated by the current U.S. government. The long-running Game Developers Conference (GDC) denounced the executive order in a tweet promising refunds for developers now barred from attending the late February event in San Francisco due to their nation of origin.