Turbine acquired by Warner Bros.

Relaxing after dinner, I saw this retweet from Patience that Turbine had been acquired by Warner Brothers Home Entertainment and felt my heart sink.

Turbine has been an independent studio in the MMO space ever since they bought the rights for Asheron’s Call back from Microsoft. I’ve always felt that this gave them valuable freedom in making decisions. I very much doubt that DDO would have been given as much time to succeed as it was, and I don’t believe a large company like Warner Brothers would’ve okay-ed the F2P experiment that turned DDO around.  Now Turbine will have to answer to WB for timelines and budgets.

Still, I can’t think of anything WB has done in the gaming industry lately so my initial disappointment may be totally unwarranted, but given similar situations I’ve seen, I’m not optimistic. Mythic didn’t profit from their incorporation into EA. Blizzard has recently been drawn a bit further into the management of Activision. Cryptic/Atari have had quite a few marketing and PR goofs, and I’ve often wondered how much of that was Atari’s involvement.

Lord of the Rings Online is my home MMO, the one I always come back to (well technically I never leave, being a lifetime subscriber). More than that, it’s been a treasured opportunity to play in Tolkien’s world in a way I’m not able to through the books or movies. I’ve never been worried about Turbine doing anything to screw up their game. I don’t have the same confidence in Warner Brothers.

Doom and gloom aside, this should mean that Turbine has a lot more resources and stability, and I truly hope that this acquisition works out for the best both for the Turbine staff and the LotRO/DDO/AC player communities.  It’s probable that the first effects of this acquisition won’t be felt for several months. For now, I just have to be patient, try to keep and open mind, and try to maintain an optimistic attitude. Still, I can’t ignore my gut, and as a wise man once said, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

Some various news stories about the deal, for the curious:

Magic Red Button

Caught an interesting story today while I was catching up on my game news feeds in Google Reader.  Apparently a Labour Member of the European Parliament wants to mandate that any gaming device (computers, consoles, etc.) be fitted with a red button that can be used to control access and/or disable a game.

This idea is stupid on several levels.

If the problem is a lack of parental oversight, then either they’re not around to press this button to begin with, or a child is going to press it again once the parent is not around.  Kids are not stupid and for ages have been applying their imagination and ingenuity to doing things they want to do which they are not supposed to do.  A button is either on or off, unless there’s some kind of biometric security built-in, it won’t deter any child over the age of 6 months.

If the problem is more of a panic situation where a parent sees their child playing something they’re not supposed to and want to shutoff the game as quickly as possible, they already have a multitude of options: turn off the TV, turn off the console, or remove the child from the room.  Even better than a magic button, my Xbox 360 already has parental controls built-in, as does my TV, and I’m sure that the Wii and PS3 have similar options.  These types of controls allow me to limit what kinds of games can be played on the console regardless of whether or not I’m standing by to press any buttons, no matter what color they are.

One comment from the politician’s website that does concern me is this:

“We want a code of conduct for retailers and the producers of these games. And internet café owners need to be reminded of their responsibilities. A recent survey showed that large numbers of children, some as young as six, are accessing the internet without adult supervision in internet cafes.”

Children as young as six?  What parent is letting a six year old run around on their own?  I think if there’s any problem here that really needs to be addressed it is a lack of parenting.  I can guarantee you that my 6 month old will not be running around anywhere unattended in the next 10 years.

Still it is nice to know that America doesn’t have a monopoly on stupidity.

Gears DRM Debacle

Event like the Gears of War DRM debacle perfectly illustrate why Digital Rights Management is such a bad idea for the PC platform.

As a software developer myself, I can guarantee that there is no such thing as bug-free code.  Any piece of software that has more than 50 lines of code in it is going to have bugs, and any bug fix can introduce additional problems.  So anytime a developer adds functionality (like say DRM) to a product they are adding new possible problems.

When new functionality improves the game experience, this increased risk of problems is worthwhile to a gamer, but the addition of DRM usually provides no experience  improvements.  This is why Valve’s Steam has so much customer buy in.  Games are digitally distributed so there’s no CD/DVD required in the drive and I can buy and play a game without having to leave my house, and Steam allows me to download my purchases again if I need to.

With the exception of MMO’s, I’ve stopped buying PC games except through Valve’s Steam or Stardock’s Impulse.

Game publishers (and movie studios) need to look at what happened with the music industry.  Record studios pushed DRM in different forms for years without success, and now both iTunes and Amazon are doing great business without any DRM at all.  Customer’s pay for convenience and quality, not hassles.  Pirates won’t pay no matter what kind of protection is included.

DRM is stupid.

The music studios finally figured this out.  It hurts paying customers.  It entertains pirates and gives hackers something to do.  So why bother?  Yes, something needs to be done about organized piracy, but DRM has zero impact on that.

What DRM does impact is PC gaming.  Either people don’t buy stuff, they buy for consoles, or they download it cracked.  For example, I didn’t buy Bio Shock or Mass Effect for the PC.

Bio Shock’s activation horror stories just after release convinced me not to bother picking it up for either PC or console.

Mass Effect I already owned for the 360, but I was considering pickign up the PC version both for the UI updates and just to show support for the studio.  Then I saw the DRM announcements.  No thanks.

I did purchase Spore, but it was because I had pre-ordered from Amazon and my order shipped before the DRM hit the fan.  My fault for not researching it first.  I’ll admit that I’ve had no problems with the game yet, except for the annoyance of having to disable Process Explorer which I use as a task manager replacement.  But my problem is what happens when I build my next gaming rig.  I didn’t pay $50 to rent a game.  I paid $50 to own a copy.  If they want to sell it as a limited 3 installation rental, fine, but they need to knock the price down.  Say $30 bucks, or less.

I’m really looking forward to Fallout 3, but you can be sure that my platform choice will be heavily influenced by the DRM attached.  So DRM may not kill gaming, but it could kill PC gaming.

Just to clarify, I’m not for piracy and I’m not against DRM.  But I don’t like either one.  I do think that if you’re going to use it, DRM needs to “just work”, 99.99% of the time.  I also think that if a company wants to lock down a game as tightly as EA seems to then they need to be extremely forward about it.  A big sticker on the box and a description of the rights and restrictions on the back.  It should also uninstall with the game, period.

Studios and developers are entitled must protect their work.  But when DRM turns a game purchase into a game rental for the same $, then there’s a problem.

If I want to play a 360 game, I turn on the console and put the disk in.  If I want to play a PC game, I’d like to be able to do the same.


Is the gaming industry turning into the music industry?

Recently this question popped into my head.  For a long time it seemed as though the music industry was trying to kill itself.  Finally with iTunes starting to offer mp3’s, which has accelerated since the opening of the Amazon store and the Zune Marketplace, I think the music business has finally corrected its downward spiral.

If the gaming industry goes through the same learning curve, how much of today’s industry will survive?  How long will it take?  If/when it happens will I care any more?  I’m afraid it those answers will be: the largest three to four companies, too long, and no.

Like with the music industry I think the gaming industry has exaggerated this problem.  No one has any real idea how much money is lost to piracy, and I can’t think of anyway they’d really be able to quantify it.