Steam Greenlight

While I was out at PAX and Seattle, Valve released the new Steam Greenlight initiative.

The problem Greenlight is trying to solve is approving titles for sale on Steam. Previously (and currently), titles would have to be manually vetted and approved by Valve in order to be distributed on Steam. This is OK for more established outfits, but there’s an increasing volume of titles that aren’t represented by established publishers/developers, flooding the system. Some titles were rejected even when released on console platforms.

Greenlight gives a different avenue for vetting title submissions. A developer/publisher posts information about a title they want to release on Steam. If enough unique registered users of Steam vote up the title, Valve will release the game on Steam. This allows Valve to process more submissions with smaller effort on their part. Ultimately reducing the risk of a title slipping though the cracks.

At release, the barrier of submission was simply to fill out the submission with a valid Steam account. This created a flood of fake, copied, or obscene submissions. As an attempt to create enough of a hurdle for submissions, Valve now requires a $100 submission fee for enabling an account to submit. To be clear, it’s a fee for any number of submissions from one account and not reoccurring. This fee will go directly to Child’s Play (which I also have a connection with via Ümloud!). For the sake of this discussion, how the money is used is irrelevant.

Ben Kuchera of The PA Report wrote an editorial about the $100 fee as exclusionary and wrong. It’s the value amount that he expressed his concerns:

If the fee were lowered to $10, the effect of weeding out the trolls would continue, and the amount of people that could participate in the process would be exponentially widened. It’s still a long shot, and you still have to muster community support and have a good game. In fact someone emailed me to suggest a mandatory playable demo would do much to help remove the trolls, share more information about games, and remove the financial barrier. Even if they could raise the $100 fee, it would be better spent on rent or equipment.

The $100 price point is pretty common across other gaming platforms, but Steam is actually cheaper in the long run. Apple requires a $99/year fee for iOS, another $99/year for Mac Store. Xbox ‘Creators Club’ charges $99/year. Steam is $100 period. As far as platforms to sell games on, Steam pretty accessible and inexpensive. The real trick is the cut you get per sale, which I don’t have all the numbers available on Steam. Though it’s hard to argue with a one-time fee vs. an annual fee. Can this fee be lower? Sure. I would also think that Valve used the metics from banning players of multiplayer games and recreating accounts.

The question posed to users is “Would you buy this game if it were available in Steam?” The “Yes” button figuratively would be a buy button. Greenlight is not Kickstarter and no money is transfered. A developer would do better to present later in their schedule to have screenshots and the important video for the submission. Greenlight is geared towards the later end of a production schedule. After you figured out a budget, even if that budget consists of an game engine licensee.

A developer using Greenlight developer is asking to sell a product, regardless of your background. With all due respect, this isn’t Newgrounds.com. Submitting to Greenlight is during your work into a commercial product. Of all the venues out there, Steam Greenlight is the least expensive storefront to place commercial games. The $100 may have been a quick fix for the over-flooding problem — and I hope it’s continued to be re-evaluated as time goes on. What I can say is that Steam Greenlight is lowest bar of entry for commercial game stores. And that makes me happy for the state of independent development.

In Defense of Subtitles

Bosco as a Frenchmen in Sam & Max with subtitles.

A few weeks ago Jonathan Blow talked about his incorporation of subtitles into his next title The Witness. He brought to light one of the fundamentals of gaming that is sometimes treated as foregone conclusions: Subtitles.

Originally I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to implement subtitles or not. It’s important to me that the game have an overall aesthetic that contains no visual language. I was worried that if we were to draw subtitles for people who don’t speak English, it might ruin this. But, a year ago, I was talking to a friend who has experience in film, and he convinced me that people just understand that subtitles are a different thing, that they are a layer on top of the game or movie or whatever.

I’m totally in agreement for steering away from becoming a novella. I grew up on point-n-clicks, but I also agree that subtitles with a voice recording becomes distracting to players at large. With a player capable of understanding the recorded audio, the text distracts from the environment the work is presenting. A fictitious construction placed upon a space that is (usually) meant to present a believable universe.

What concerns me is an implication that the hearing impaired aren’t considered a part of the equation. A comment from Jonathan Blow on the above linked blog post:

If such a player is perceptive he will figure it out. Consider it a bonus puzzle.

I can see his reasoning. The work Blow does is to create an environment that strips away the interface — the distractions — from the piece. He is also making a bet that the design and gameplay do not depend on the voice work in the piece. You experience the world as you experience the world. And maybe that’s a valid choice in some contexts and maybe that’s worth exploring.

Regardless of the ability to create a piece that doesn’t require voice work, I can not agree with this position. The tools and ways the hearing impaired navigate the real world aren’t afforded or available in the context of a screen and human interface devices (keyboard, mouse, gamepad). While I haven’t played The Witness, it’s clear that the audio diaries are key parts of the narrative world in the title. Maybe not key to solving puzzles, but are a part of the narrative environment. To exclude them from the work is to discriminate against physical limitations beyond a player’s control.

I live by the mantra: Accessibility is accessible to everyone. Elevator access in a building not only helps people with mobility concerns, but also when you need to move a heavy thing around a building. While there’s a balance to strike between resources and output, I feel that the availability of subtitles is one of the few core requirements in interactive media. It helps the hearing impaired, it helps non-native speakers, and perhaps more than can be predicted. I don’t feel subtitles need to be on by default, but subtitles should always be made available.

Myst is Now On the iPhone

Myst is now released by Cyan Worlds on the Apple iTunes App Store.

Myst on iTunes Store

Official Website @ Cyan Worlds | This link opens iTunes right to the application.

Myst is one of the trifecta of games that got me into this art form of interactive storytelling. It’s a body of work that helped shape me as an artist in new media and made me what I am today. Which is why I’m buying the crap out of this title. I have the Myst board game for goodness sake!

I hope that Cyan Worlds does a postmortem on bringing the game to the iPhone. A few immediate questions I have are what kinds of decisions were made to update the port. Was there a point where they pulled punches to make the game have the spirit of the 1993 release? I also want to know what they did with the LAV scenes. Can’t wait to play to look how they turned out on the iPhone.

On a forward-thinking note, I hope this will help Cyan Worlds fund a new project from their studio. Honestly, I hope it’s something not Myst related. Heresy, I know. I love the Myst franchise. I love the work Cyan Worlds has done. But I think it’s time to move away from the past and start with something new.

Note: I did copy the above image from the Boing Boing Gadgets article. I can also screencap it myself, but I’m lazy.

History of Video Games Museum Exists

Someone kinda stole my idea! :/

National Center for the History of Electronic Games

In all seriousness, I am very glad that an effort is being made. I only have their website to go on, so I have to go on a bit of speculation from the presented materials. They’re also starting off small but hoping to expand their collection and open a full presentation and space in 2012.

There are a few things I will be watching for. I don’t want to give the impression that I am looking down on this effort from the start, but I have deep concerns which I hope are addressed. I hope this center can make the history of our art form accessible.

Continue reading History of Video Games Museum Exists

Your Video Game System Knowledge

Here’s a online test that Kotaku posted today that really got my brain going:

Can You Name the Video Game Systems (Released in the U.S.)?

As someone who studies video game history, the test really kicked my ass. Under the cut (or huge spoiler line) are my analysis of my results, but a few tips. The auto-correction is very good and will take most acronyms as well as the official titles. So if it’s not firing off as correct, you are either wrong or need to be more specific. “Sega” alone doesn’t cut it. For reference, I got 25/68 and kicking my self for forgetting three of them.

Continue reading Your Video Game System Knowledge

Happy 15th Birthday, Myst!

Fifteen years ago today, Myst was released. It’s been a wild ride since!

Myst Island

While there are a small assortment of titles I can point to, the largest influence in my career as a game developer and artist is Myst. Now that I am employed as a developer at Telltale Games, I wish Cyan Worlds a happy 15th anniversary of their landmark title. Thank you for all of your quality work though the years and inspiring me as an artist.

Mini History Lesson

While 7th Guest was released prior to Myst, 7th Guest was highly restricted due to adult content. I remember purchasing a Packard Bell which included 7th Guest, but wrapped in paper marked “ADULTS ONLY” before revealing what was inside. Myst on the other hand was all ages in the sense that any age can enjoy the title, not dumbed down for children nor exclusive to adults.

Continue reading Happy 15th Birthday, Myst!

Publishing Public Interactive Media

Decided to bring up the ‘Corporation of Public Gaming’ concept I first introduced in February. This time I want to cover a little more directly what I feel such a concept would be. First, I’ve decided to try out a new name for the concept: The Corporation for Public Media (CPM). I don’t want to limit to video games alone with this organization as the Internet at large should be included with this endeavor.

Before I continue, here’s a little review of recent weeks of highly publicized public gaming projects and research grants.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced the first round of recipients in their Health Games Research Project. Over $2 million to various institutions focusing on using video games for public health research. Some of these projects are research-only projects while others are focused on games for public consumption. For you NPR listeners, you may have heard their sponsorship announced for the past few months.

At Games for Change conference in NYC, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced her collaboration with Arizona State University with a game called Our Courts. It’s a piece that addresses the lack of knowledge of the American judicial system. Continue reading Publishing Public Interactive Media

Real Violence and Video Games

Wired Blogs: Games | Gaming, Real Violence Trends Tracked, Charted

It’s easy to claim that gaming violence has no correlation with real world violence, but those arguments are a bit hollow if you can’t provide data to corroborate; or even better, a fancy line graph.

The graph makes no direct claims towards a relationship between real world and gaming violence, though it’s interesting to see an inversely proportional trend of violent gaming releases and incidents of real crime.

For those doubting the graph’s figures, have a look at the data on which it was based: a relatively recent survey of national violent crime rates published by the U.S. Department of Justice.

We have to be very careful with how we state this information.

Continue reading Real Violence and Video Games

Preserving and Demonstrating History

A few weeks ago, I went to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA with a friend of mine. I had gone to it’s predecessor in Boston in 1990, The Computer Museum (closed in 1999). While the Boston museum focused on how a computer works, the Mountain View museum focuses on the history and the people of computing. Which, as you can see from the titles of both museums, is a conscious difference of focus.

Continue reading Preserving and Demonstrating History