Archive

Archive for the ‘app store’ Category

“You got fragged…” – Fragmentation of Intellectual Property — What exactly are we paying for?

January 25th, 2012 No comments

So today’s post was inspired by a lot of things, but most importantly, my wallet and our rights.

Let me open up with a really quick story. A couple of years ago, I was up for a game design job at Namco Networks out in San Jose, CA. I was really excited about it- it was for their mobile and PC gaming division, dealing primarily with casual games and iPhone games, which are my purview. I asked a friend of mine for advice, and he hooked me up with a couple of people to talk to, one of whom was kind of down on the whole idea. He essentially said, “Well, if that’s your thing, have fun, but with Namco, you’ll basically be making the 18th iteration of Pac-Man…”

You know what? He was right, at least in a sense. Over the past 10 years, companies have been raiding their storage closets to find ways to capitalize on our sense of nostalgia from our childhoods. While this parade of re-issues wouldn’t be a bad thing on their own, they do combine with the fragmentation of platforms and intellectual property to create a situation where the consumer (read: YOU) becomes continually screwed.

Intellectual property rights have been a hot button issue in the last decade and a little bit before, starting when Napster began to distribute music between users, but one might even rewind a bit further to the controversy that circled when cassette tapes (both audio and video) became available to consumers. For the first time, consumers had an easy way to determine how and when they would consume content. Unthethering from needing to be attached to the TV at exactly 8 pm in order to see M*A*S*H was the first wave in consumers being able to control their own content, but big studios fought the move tooth and nail, to the US Supreme Court, and of course, most recently in the big brouhaha over SOPA last week.

At the heart of the Betamax case and Napster, and its current forms (media fragmentation) is the ability for large companies to dictate to you how you can control the content that they create. They do this for several reasons: first, most content that is given away for “free” is done so with commercial sponsorship – the companies that give the content to you do so with the intent that you will watch their sponsors’ ads. In the pre-VHS days, it was easy to make the argument that if X number of people were watching the show, that same X number of people saw the ads. In the post-VHS days, that argument became harder to make, and as consumers began to take more control of their media consumption via tools like TiVo and the internet, that link became more and more tenuous.

Reeling this back to video games, essentially the same thing has gone on, but due to the more rapid pace of platform development (in television, there was a fairly large gap between the invention of TV to the adoption of color TV, and a larger still gap between color TV and HDTV), and the myriad platforms available, the consumer is faced with many more decisions about how to consume their media. And the bad news is that they’re largely getting screwed.

Look at the game Angry Birds. Originally an iPhone game ($0.99), developer Rovio has had a runaway success with the game on its home platform. But you can also get Angry Birds on the iPad (Angry Birds HD, $4.99), on the Mac App Store for another $4.99, or on your Android phone for free. However, getting it on your Android tablet may cost you more – $0.99 if it’s a Kindle Fire, and $2.99 if it’s a nook Tablet. This is not to mention the major console ports of the game. Suddenly a game that cost you a dollar is now costing you $11 to load on your phone, iPad and computer.

Don’t get me wrong, developers deserve to be compensated for what they do, and Rovio should be proud of their game and port it to as many different platforms as they can. And I get that you could make the argument that prior to this console generation, two editions of, say Street Fighter II on Genesis and SNES would exist, not entitling the user to each version for the price of one. However, the difference is that the iPad and iPhone run on the same operating system, and the underlying system architecture runs on Mac OS X. While there is development time and porting that needs to occur between each system, these are virtual impediments put in place by Apple, not by users. PC developers have always had to deal with making versions of their application that will be most compatible with the billion possible iterations of PC architecture under Windows, and factor that into development time. What you’re getting is much more purely the same game ported to different systems that run the same architecture. Imagine if you paid a separate and variable cost to put Angry Birds separately on your netbook (Windows 7 Starter), your work PC (Windows 7 Ultimate) and your home laptop (Windows 7 Home Premium) with your single install disc.

What lies at the heart of all this is who owns the media that you purchase, and how far are we willing to let companies go in creating these fragmented platforms and titles, and essentially selling you the same content over and over again? How many editions of Angry Birds should you have to buy, if you’re getting the exact same content in different resolutions? How many times are they going to sell Star Wars to you before you say enough?

I will have more to say as this relates to SOPA, intellectual property and piracy in general in the coming days.