By: Jamaal Ryan
Could the outsourcing of game development lead to unethical practices? (12/17)
Outsourcing has such a negative connotation in the national and international public eye. Companies turn to such means to avoid American labor laws as well as the nation’s pay wages to cut costs significantly in both dodging investing in high standard working conditions and taking advantage of substantially less survivable wages in other countries.
In relevance to the video game industry, poor working conditions have been found behind Foxconn’s unpaid interns at the Institute of Technology behind the assembly of the Playstation 4 in China, and similarly poor conditions behind the Wii U as well – also in China.
Game development has been a collaborative international affair for many years now, but with the turn of dramatically increased development costs that have catastrophically affected developers and publishers alike, game companies turn to outsourcing as a means to keeping up with the elevated financial burden.
Game development, even in conditions of the “highest standards”, can be grueling. Google “Q/A Tester stories” and you’ll find a slew of tales of misery, laden with painfully long hours, low pay, minimal to no benefits, and high risk of termination. Even main team developers aren’t immune to the pressure of a harsh working environment. Crunch time typically rolls around when approaching a major milestone in the game’s development, whether that may be for a trailer, conference show casing, and – of course – their release date. Some studios are better than others, but game development certainly isn’t easy.
Now imagine these conditions relocating in other countries where the expectation of standards might not be as high? Michael Thompson wrote a column on The New Yorker covering some of the aspects of development outsourcing. He reported that Streamline, an art-outsourcing company, has contributed to the art design to games like Bioshock Infinite. Irrational Games isn’t the only studio that has outsourced its projects. As of 2008, 86% of game studios has used outsourcing for at least one facet of development.
With the financial gravitation of outsourcing, coupled with the inevitable work demand of game development, who’s to say that these outsourced companies are up to par to expected standards? It’s difficult to imagine that international employees haven’t fallen through the cracks of poor working conditions given the history of outsourcing and the high demand in game development, all for cheaper labor.
Companies like Glass Egg Digital Media, whose work can be seen in NFS: Most Wanted, Forza 4 and Battlefield 2, are doing it right. They stated that it gives back to their employees by offering continuing education programs. Unfortunately not everyone is as empowering as Glass Egg claims, and I fear that outsourcing is off-loading the harsh work of game development to inadvertently be exacerbated in other countries.
Source: The New Yorker
Hyrule Warriors!? WTF!?!? (12/18)
With two of the most anticipated Nintendo titles on the horizon for next year, Nintendo’s December direct was lighter on announcements. Still, there were some new software reveals that both add to the ever-growing library of the 3DS, and the thin but soon-to-be prepped Wii U line up. In the case for the Wii U, one little game caught our attention…
Tecmo Koei and Nintendo’s collaboration on the Zelda IP is nothing at all if not unexpected. The very adventure-format regimented and occasional RPG-esque flavor of the Zelda franchise has been pervasive throughout the series’ entirety with only a forgettable small number of exceptions such as Link’s Crossbow Training.
Hyrule Warriors broadcasts many things about Nintendo. One of many is that Nintendo is increasingly turning to Japanese partnerships allowing other developers to take a handle on their franchises. Nintendo has a long history of doing collaborations off and on, most infamously were the CD-i games from the early 90’s. In recent years, Nintendo has had examples of both successes and failures; the worst being Metroid: Other M by Team Ninja and among the best was coincidentally also with KOEI, Pokemon Conquest for the DS.
Another take away is how Gamecube-esque this move seems. Some would argue that Nintendo’s lunchbox shaped console had a number of experimental titles because of its rough sales and lack of third party support. Such a case is very true for the Wii U, even worse so than the Gamecube. It’s too early to tell if Nintendo is going in this direction because of this, or just happened to have the idea on the back burner for a while.
In retrospect, putting Zelda in a Dynasty Warriors format sounds almost blasphemous. Many would argue that such a radical genre shift strips away the very essence that makes Zelda so alluring, and isolates it into strict combat focus. Dynasty Warriors has a toxic history despite how mechanically satisfying many claim it to be. But many can’t deny heavy interest in this bizarre mash-up.
I must admit, Kirby is perhaps my favorite Nintendo character. As you’ll find me religiously relying on him in a game of Smash Bros., the essence of accumulating others’ powers and making them his own fascinates me in both a character and game design sense alike.
Kirby Triple Deluxe’s base campaign is very much your expected Kirby game outside of the hyper vacuum ability integrated into puzzle solving. And that’s fine. Kirby titles don’t come around too often, and it’s a concept that Nintendo should explore more frequently.
Kirby’s multi-ability design makes for a great base in multiplayer. The very Smash Bros. flavor in Kirby Fighters – which pits four versions of Kirby against one another in a multiplayer brawler – looks to be a significant addition to the package, hopefully for both local and online multiplayer.
Lastly, with this being a Nintendo title, the obligatory light mechanics of the King Dedede’s Drum Dash rhythm game is both excepted and moderately appreciated. It’s a pattern for many Nintendo games, particularly handheld titles, and may work for a healthy distraction.
Nintendo dives deeper into their vast number of IPs with Chibi-Robo: Photo Finder. Its real world aesthetic works well for the 3DS, as utilizing the camera is not commonly seen on the system. It feels very Japanese in concept, but it’s nice to see such a strange and unique title return.
As a way of continuing to recapture the magic of the Wii’s killer app, along with Wii Sports Club bowling and tennis games, the downloadable software is also adding golf to the mix. Wii Sports Club golf looks to be an exact proof of concept taken from the system’s original debut trailer, neatly having the player place the Gamepad on the floor holding an image of the ball, and using the Wiimote as the golf club. This is very much proper Nintendo, taking the hardware capabilities and designing software around it. This may be the first time in years that I break out a Nintendo sports title, provided I have enough functional Wiimotes laying around for it.
Nintendo continues to feed light pick up and play experiences with NES Remixes and Dr. Luigi. NES Remixes represents raw nostalgia, presenting cosmetic and design alterations from old school titles that may already be available on the Virtual Console. This isn’t my cup of tea, but with fan favorites such as Excitebike making a return, there’s sure to be an audience for it. The same can be said for Dr. Luigi which comes to us in a modern remake in the form of L shaped pills and online multiplayer. Near decades after these original games’ releases, Nintendo still sees a market for some of its oldest titles.
On a personal note…
…after Reggie’s tease of an appearance at the VGX wearing a Metroid pin standing next to Retro while presenting Cranky Kong from Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, a piece of me was looking forward to something Metroid related. However today’s Nintendo Direct has kept me excited for owning a 3DS, and more intrigued for what’s ahead on the Wii U.
Who will save the YouTubers? (12/19)
WhoLetsPlay, a non-profit group started by co-founder of Level Up Labs (Defender’s Quest, Tourette’s Quest) Lars Doucet, has been formed to address the copyright process in the advent of YouTube’s Content ID crackdown.
The group looks to generate legal information for YouTubers’ relationship with game companies. More importantly, they seek to create “standardized licensing terms” with the help of legal experts that can be applied to avoid both video and audio copyright infringement claims.
After the launch of this YouTube kafuffle, my concern only piqued at a certain level. Though it’s understandable that YouTube has cornered itself in this dance of dodging legal rain drops of potential lawsuits much like the one faced with Viacom, my assumptions was that after the destructive nature of Content ID sweeps and the uproar of users, creators, publishers, and Kevin freakin’ Smith, would have forced YouTube’s hand to generate an alternative solution, even after their cold response to the community.
Though this is outside action, it’s assuring to see that action is being taken regardless. Let’s all root for WhoLetsPlay’s success.
A Week in Gaming Special Feature:
Can Video Games Facilitate Gambling Addiction?
Originally reported on December 12th 2013
It’s rather fascinating looking back and seeing just how video game transactions have evolved in just a single console generation. Video games grew from being bought solely at retailers in content complete discs, to offering priced DLC, to presenting free-to-play games and allowing micro transactions. The matter in which how we pay for video games doesn’t just adhere to $40, 50, 60 transactions; game and game content purchasing has adapted to be more in line with the consumer’s discretion.
It’s an empowering business strategy allowing gamers to dictate just how much they’re willing to invest in their experiences; however with such a discretionary system, potential dangers of irresponsibility and even addiction lie ahead.
Anticipating where this might be headed will quickly draw you the conclusion of uninformed in game purchasing. We’ve seen this happen before; a young child gets a hold of an Android/iOS device and begins playing a very alluring free-to-play game, then not before long racks up thousands of dollars in in-app purchases. Little Danny did it, Lily did it, Paula Marner’s twin sons did it.
The notion of youthful ignorance is understandable. Some of these children didn’t know how to read fully quite yet; and even if they did, presenting a young child between the ages of 4 and 8 with the option of purchasing piecemeal content goes way over their understanding of the concept around monetary accumulation.
Japan has been swift to counteract these pitfalls of in-game purchasing as seen with recent action taken against randomized booster pack systems. As reported earlier this month, Tecmo Koei has implemented purchasing caps on Japanese youth. Children and adolescents under the age of 15 can only spend up to 5,000 yen per month ($50), and those between the ages of 16-19 can only spend up to 20,000 yen ($200).
But what of the cognitively developed adults who are outside of proactive countries like Japan? The excuse of being too young to comprehend and conceptualize the potential risks and responsibilities of liberal in-game purchasing ends at a certain age. This then grows from a misunderstanding to a potential addiction.
In light of these in-game transactions, these games are inching dangerously close to becoming a new bedrock of gambling addiction. As one of the purist forms of addiction, gambling addiction is drawn to the element of chance instead of skill, and it doesn’t rely on substances such as alcohol or narcotics. Simple lottery broadcasts or Pick 10 signs outside of a convenience store, or even sporting events can be visual triggers just as powerful as going to a bar or passing by a liquor store. With video games, these visual triggers sit in the software or online markets such as the App Store itself.
Many of these games seemingly avoid disclaimers warning of the monetary element in their titles. In many instances, the game’s economy is specifically engineered towards tricking gamers to spend more and more money building a steady accumulation of investments.
For decades, video games have sat heavily on the element of skill, with only occasional and often peripheral granular elements of chance. In an interview with Giant Bomb, Ryan Black, a lawyer at Mc Millan LLP in Vancouver Canada, he states, “I do worry that there’s a bright line there that I think [game] companies need to be very careful in letting people buy actual things of value.” He adds, “If [people] act as if they can get something valuable that they can turn around and sell to someone else, it’s looking an awful a lot like gambling to me.”
Gambling addiction is largely recognized outside of the video game industry. One of my clients, who’s diagnosed with major depressive disorder, suffers from gambling addiction in the traditional sense. Atlantic City, lottery tickets, and sporting bets were his poison of choice. For someone like him, it wouldn’t take much effort to bring him from behind a black jack table and in front of a computer. Ryan Black highlights that three states in the US have allowed the distribution of licenses for online gambling which involve social game companies getting picked up by casinos. “It just shows that they recognize where the money is. They recognize ‘look at what these video game companies are doing, we want a piece of that as well.’”
Political regulators are very much aware of gambling addiction as seen from state to state in the US. Being that video games is already a hot button topic for those in office, as the venn-diagram closes between video games and gambling, it’s easy to predict that state and federal regulators will quickly react to this phenomenon and impose strict regulations as they see fit.
Ryan Black stressed the point in what could trigger the attention of state and federal regulators, “If gamers start to look at games as something I’m putting money in so that I hope to get more out of it, that’s obviously the sort of thing that a regulators’ attention is going to get drawn to.”
Ryan Black’s twin brother, Dr. Tyler Black, a psychiatrist at BC Children’s Hospital and assistant professor at UBC – also in the Giant Bomb interview – adds to his brother’s points, “I think we’re at a level now with free-to-play gaming with seeing gamers as wallets walking around the world that you’re trying to get money out of; where you’re basically asking for at some point a legislator is going to propose a law to make that illegal or make it regulated or taxed. In both cases are probably not good for game companies or game development.”
Source: Giant Bomb