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ESRB Ratings – Law 423C Project – By: Adam Sanders and Amit Chandi

Hi everyone,

Adam and I have made a presentation for our group project on video game ratings, specifically focusing on the North American rating agency, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).

Here is a link to watch our presentation: https://youtu.be/TacZvjgYDvk

Thanks!

Corporate MnA, Console Exclusives and Cloud Gaming Services: The next generation of Gaming Wars

 

If you have been around games for any period of time, you are probably familiar with gaming/console wars. Since the rivalry between Sega and Nintendo in the 1980s and 1990s, videogame console makers have been vying for your attention and hard earned money by offering  console exclusive games, online multiplayer services or simply just by giving you a massive discount on the price of the console itself.

 

Microsoft acquires Activision Blizzard

 

In 2022, the intense rivalry between Microsoft and Sony shows no signs of abating. In fact, Microsoft’s proposed acquisition of Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion is indicative of ambitious plans to gain further control of the videogame market, not solely by outselling competitors in terms of consoles but by squeezing them out of videogame market altogether.

 

Afterall, Activision Blizzard owns the intellectual property to Call of Duty, arguably the progenitor of modern first person shooters and one of the most valuable gaming IP worldwide (Call of Duty games typically rank amongst the biggest selling games in the year they are released in). A potential strategic move by Microsoft to undermine Sony’s competitiveness post acquisition could come in the form of denying Sony’s Playstation gamers access to current/future editions of the Call of Duty games and to promote Microsoft’s Xbox platform instead.

 

Historically, Microsoft has followed this approach in several past acquisitions of gaming studios, where it made future game releases from those studios exclusive in consoles to Xbox (such as the upcoming Starfield and, based on Microsoft’s public statements, Elder Scrolls VI from Bethesda, a studio Microsoft acquired as part of its USD 7.5 billion acquisition of ZeniMax in 2021).

 

However, could it be that such concerns are overblown? Afterall, Microsoft’s gaming chief Phil Spencer has said publicly that Microsoft is committed to making the same version of Call of Duty available on Playstation on the same day the game launches elsewhere. Financially, it would also not be in Microsoft’s interest to shut out Sony’s Call of Duty gamers who likely represent a large portion of the Call of Duty gaming community. The risk is that such gamers would seek other titles in the first person shooting genre (competition amongst game studios in this area is intense) and have shown that they will vehemently reject anti consumer practices. (See gamers shutting down NFTs in gaming)

 

Sony has voiced out its concerns over Microsoft’s proposed acquisition. In a filing with regulators in Brazil, Sony has stated that the Call of Duty franchise is so popular that any limitation on its availability could influence which console consumers chose to buy, potentially disadvantaging its PS5 console, the current console market leader. Indeed Microsoft need not even resort to drastic tactics like releasing Call of Duty Xbox exclusives and shutting Sony out of the market. In the era where gamers are increasingly demanding greater levels of polish and user satisfaction experience in gaming, the prioritisation of Microsoft users when it comes to things like updates, bug fixes, download speeds could convince gamers to make the switch.

 

However, Sony itself is guilty of purchasing game development studios. Once Microsoft announced its intentions to purchase Blizzard Activision, Sony blitzed ahead with its acquisition of Bungie and while Bungie is not the behemoth that Activision is, it still owns the IP to valuable franchises such as the Halo and Destiny series.

 

Unfair Competition and Gaming as a service

 

The onslaught of MnA activity has attracted the intense scrutiny of competition regulators. The UK’s Competition and Market’s Authority (CMA) recently released its decision on Microsoft’s acquisition. The CMA took the view that the acquisition could significantly reduce competition not only for gaming consoles but also cloud gaming services.

 

What is significant is the CMA’s cognisance that the current competition is not merely confined to the sale of videogame consoles or videogames, but extends to the provision of gaming as a service. This surpasses the traditional boundaries of what was considered competition. Previously where the performance of market participants was assessed in accordance with the number of units sold, be it consoles or games,  this assessment now has to be holistic. This requires taking a whole of gaming approach where all aspects, including service delivery, support and merchandising across all platforms have to be considered collectively.

 

In particular, the CMA notes that Microsoft already has a combination of assets that is difficult for other cloud gaming service providers to match. Microsoft already owns Windows, the operating system where most PC games are played. It also has a large and well-distributed cloud infrastructure. Collectively, these enable Microsoft to be able to host games on its servers on preferential terms and reach gamers throughout the world without having to pay fees to third party platforms. Microsoft can also leverage on its dominant position as the owner of Windows to charge game studios fees to design and test games on their platforms. The concern is that by leveraging Activision’s content and Microsoft’s wider ecosystem, Microsoft will have an unparalleled advantage over current and potential cloud gaming service providers. This could result in increased concentration in cloud gaming services or the market ‘tipping’ to Microsoft, and ultimately deny consumers the benefits of competition between new and emerging providers vying to succeed in cloud gaming.

 

Microsoft’s market dominance as seen from a whole of gaming perspective and not merely a console perspective is further highlighted by the fact that its main rival Sony, lacks such systemic advantages. Unlike Microsoft, it does not have an operating system where most PC games are played. In addition, Sony’s online gaming catalogue and cloud gaming services may not be as attractive as Microsoft’s. In fact Sony went as far in its comments made to Brazilian regulators by stating that the lower immediate costs of subscription services to consumers may cause publishers who recoup significant investments in games by selling them for an upfront fee to become uncompetitive This could reflect anxieties in Sony’s management that they may  lose customers for both consoles and cloud gaming who may be lured by the Microsoft’s wider game offering and the relatively lower upfront cost of a subscription model.

 

 

If Microsoft’s successfully adds the Call of Duty franchise to its cloud gaming lineup, the disparity between its cloud gaming offering and Microsoft’s would be further exacerbated. Another macroeconomic factor is that Sony likely lacks the financial ability to raise capital in the same magnitude as Microsoft to make acquisitions on the scale of the Activision deal. Afterall, Microsoft has its highly profitable business arm selling the suite of Microsoft Office products and enterprise level solutions to leverage on and this is reflected in the massive disparity in their market capitalisations. (Microsoft’s is $1.81 trillion compared to Sony’s $100 billion. Some commentators have even remarked that Sony is the David to Microsoft’s Goliath in the gaming wars)

 

What does gaming as a service mean for gamers?  

 

For gamers, things such as console exclusive games, while not revolutionary, have been anathema to the enjoyment of the entire gaming experience. (Unless one is a self professed Sony/Microsoft fanboy who denies the existence of products better than the company’s whom they support)

 

The greater implication is that gamers would be placed in a position to have to make increasingly rational choices with greater forethought when it comes to purchasing. This is difficult, often because game purchases are made impulsively on the basis of emotions. Game companies further exploit that feeling of hype and the fear of missing out through aggressive marketing campaigns to sell more copies.

 

However, this is much needed because the decision to purchase a console/platform/game also results in gamers buying into a particular ecoystem and its attendant services. While gamers may initially be attracted by the low prices of consoles/games/subscription services, they may find it increasingly difficult to change gaming service providers in the future because those companies are finding ways to make it unattractive for gamers make the switch. To be fair, some of these services do bring about value by giving gamers never before levels of convenience (ability to play on the same file across platforms, at home and on the go, see the Steam Deck) or to connect with other gamers (stream while playing without the need for third party software) The concern is when the line crosses into unfair competition, and companies exploit their incumbent (some would say monopolistic) positions to make massive profits at the expense of gamers by blocking competition.

 

So while Microsft and Sony are burning their cash from their war chests during this generation’s incarnation of gaming wars, gamers should enjoy while it lasts. Games are no longer about the product but about the complete service and that just gives big corporates like Microsoft and Sony more opportunities to get gamers to part with their hard earned money without them noticing it.

 

Sources:

 

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/634536048fa8f5153767e533/MSFT.ABK_phase_1_decision_-_1.09.2022.pdf

 

https://sei.cade.gov.br/sei/modulos/pesquisa/md_pesq_processo_exibir.php?1MQnTNkPQ_sX_bghfgNtnzTLgP9Ehbk5UOJvmzyesnbE-Rf6Pd6hBcedDS_xdwMQMK6_PgwPd2GFLljH0OLyFX6gl2sGKAL6BCs1NvfGDcTA25PStaVelgicwm5iRue6

 

https://www.ft.com/content/780c0432-554e-48fe-96df-6ffa4db9b5de

 

https://newsletter.gamediscover.co/p/inside-the-microsoft-vs-sony-unfair

 

https://www.theverge.com/2022/8/10/23300133/microsoft-sony-xbox-game-pass-blocking-rights-accusation

 

https://www.forbes.com/sites/paultassi/2022/07/16/so-what-changes-with-sonys-acquisition-of-bungie-finalized-nothing-allegedly/?sh=3ca469455e14

 

 

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2022-10-17/how-gamers-beat-nfts?leadSource=uverify%20wall

Tuvalu’s Digital Twin

I know this is not related to a video game per se, but we’ve discussed the metaverse on a number of occasions in this class and I thought that this interesting article I came across was worth a mention.

Tuvalu, a small nation of roughly 12,000 in the South Pacific, is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Sea level rise threatens the very existence of Tuvalu (literally), which is forecasted to be completely submerged underwater by the end of the century if current temperature trends continue. As a result, the nation has sought innovative, though dire, solutions in an effort to preserve its culture and history. Tuvalu’s Foreign Minister, Simon Kofe, explains that as the nation’s land disappears, they have no choice but to become the world’s first digital country.

The first step would be to move administrative and governance systems online in order to preserve the continuity and function of government. Afterwards, Kofe imagines recreating Tuvalu through a “digital twin” using augmented and virtual reality, preserving the nation piece by piece in order to preserve its culture, history, and identity for future generations.

Given rapid advances in technology, it may indeed be possible to recreate Tuvalu digitally. A more difficult endeavour, however, is creating a legal framework by which the state could maintain its own sovereignty. After all, land is often seen as fundamental to our current understanding of what “sovereignty” is. Could virtual realities and “digital nations” disrupt this requirement?

The article can be found here: https://www.cbc.ca/news/climate/climate-change-tuvalu-stateless-metaverse-1.6657035

Are Netflix’s Interactive Experiences Games?

Earlier in November Netflix released Triviaverse a new interactive title that has players answer trivia questions with their remote. Triviaverse is not in an episode format like previous Netflix interactive trivia Trivia Quest and it does not have much in the way of story like the interactive trivia show Cat Burglar. Triviaverse also is not listed as a part of Netflix’s game options, which is currently limited to their mobile games, no interactive experiences. The Netflix app itself leaves the genre of Triviaverse blank and refers to it as a movie. The way Triviaverse operates is not entirely new, Netflix has other interactive options that are not split into episodes. However, it does raise questions of what something like Triviaverse actually is, a game, a show, something else entirely? Google lists it as a TV Show and calls its November release the first episode. Different review articles call it a “quick-hit trivia experience”, an “interactive game”, “interactive experience”, and one review site states that “Triviaverse is strictly a game and not a show”. The Netflix interactive titles are somewhat reminiscent of the simple games that were part of the extra features on DVDs; Triviaverse is a very simple version of a trivia game, the narrator very briefly mentions how the game works and then the user answers trivia questions in rounds that get increasingly more difficult. Once the rounds are completed, the player gets to see what their rank is and then you either quit or play more rounds. It has one and two player options.

Introducing 'Triviaverse': Fire Up Those Fast Fingers for a New Trivia  Experience - About Netflix

(Image From: https://about.netflix.com/en/news/introducing-triviaverse-new-trivia-experience)

On Netflix it’s labeled “Interactive” in some places and “Trivia” in others and called an “Interactive Title”, its rating is TV-G. Comparatively, the narrator in Cat Burglar calls itself an “Interactive Show” and a title sequence labels it a “A Half-Witted Interactive Heist”. All of Netflix’s interactive options can be found under a category called “Interactive Specials”. If going with the term interactive special then it seems that Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, which was a movie with an interactive element, would be considered as being in the same category as Triviaverse, Cat Burglar and Trivia Quest. While Headspace: Unwind Your Mind, Netflix’s interactive version of the Headspace meditation app, categorizes itself as a documentary/docuseries, which is the same category as the previous, non-interactive, Headspace shows on Netflix.

The somewhat scattered categorizations of the interactive titles raises questions, some that were discussed previously in class, about what Netflix’s plans are. Also new in November, Netflix added a QR code that appeared when you clicked on the TV show Stranger Things, and the QR code led to the Netflix mobile app where you could be redirected to download the updated Stranger Things mobile game, which Netflix acquired when it bought the game publisher that created the game. For a set number of days in November downloading and playing the mobile game got players access to a new fan favourite character from the show in the puzzle game. Stranger Things the show resulted in a mobile app and in an almost opposite set of circumstances Netflix’s Trivia Quest was based off a pre-existing trivia mobile game called Trivia Crack which Netflix turned into an episodic, interactive trivia game.

Netflix appears to be taking multiple routes into gaming and has committed to continuing to offer subscribers gaming options. It will be interesting to see if it continues to build its mobile games section, or its interactive experiences, or something else entirely. Or maybe it will do all of the above.

 

Sources:

https://www.netflix.com/ca/browse/genre/2869704

https://www.polygon.com/22286070/netflix-interactive-shows-movies-ranked-jurassic-world-barbie

https://www.rd.com/article/triviaverse/

https://www.online-tech-tips.com/fun-stuff/what-is-netflix-games-and-how-does-it-work/#:~:text=Netflix%20recently%20released%20a%20new,related%20to%20Netflix%20original%20series‘.

https://www.gamesindustry.biz/what-is-netflixs-game-plan-this-week-in-business (From Lecture)

https://www.businessinsider.com/netflix-gaming-plans-marketing-device-for-engagement-2021-7

https://help.netflix.com/en/node/121936

https://www.whattowatch.com/watching-guides/netflix-triviaverse-everything-you-need-to-know

https://techcrunch.com/2022/11/08/netflix-launches-a-new-interactive-trivia-experience-triviaverse/

https://techcrunch.com/2022/11/06/netflix-is-bringing-back-stranger-things-puzzle-tales-with-new-gameplay/

https://www.netflix.com/tudum/articles/stranger-things-puzzle-tales-rpg-game-release-date-eddie-munson

https://about.netflix.com/en/news/let-the-games-begin-a-new-way-to-experience-entertainment-on-mobile

New Pokemon Game facing performance issues – is this false advertising?

The new entries into the main-series Pokemon franchise, Scarlet & Violet, officially release worldwide tomorrow but with reviews starting to be released, there seem to be one main sentiment emerging: the current Nintendo Switch console has difficulty processing the game. Frame-rate drops, leading to visuals and characters resembling still photos more than active pieces of the digital environment, are the main culprit and result in breaking the immersion of players from pretending they are a part of a living, breathing world.

Pokemon games have never exhibited the cutting edge in graphical quality and technological development, instead relying on its successful gameplay loop and nostalgia it fosters from its fanbase. In fact, it has often been slammed for its poor graphics relative to how financially successful the games are. The prevailing opinion of fans seems to be that Nintendo & The Pokemon company don’t have any incentive to make huge improvements since they make a ton of money regardless of game quality. However, this time is different; the game shows great ambition and effort that is betrayed by the processing power of the console.

These issues remind me of a similar game that faced backlash over the game-breaking bugs featured in CD Projekt Red’s much-hyped game Cyberpunk 2077 that released in late 2020. Infamously, the game was virtually unplayable on launch for players on PS4 or Xbox One and resulted in the sterling reputation of CDPR taking a massive hit. In response, CDPR offered refunds for those who purchased digital copies of these games and later contained a warning message for those who were looking to buy the game on PS4, with Sony writing that “Purchase for use on PS4 systems is not recommended”. It is way too early to consider if Nintendo will feel any pressure to take similar actions, but it’s worth monitoring.

What’s interesting is whether issues of these type could lead to a cause of action for consumers against these companies on the basis of an implied condition that the games are usable and enjoyable in the way it was advertised. Cyberpunk’s remedies seemed to be based on an attempt to make up for the bad PR and fan backlash more than any real fear of legal action. Any inquiry in this area would first require a determination of what it exactly means for a game to be “playable”, which is a fascinating question in and of itself, especially considering all the gameplay that was featured in game advertisements.

What do you think? Is there a point of quality where a game should be considered to be so beyond expectations that players are entitled to a refund?

Sources:

https://kotaku.com/pokemon-scarlet-violet-performance-game-freak-nintendo-1849794943

https://kotaku.com/pokemon-scarlet-violet-bugs-performance-paldea-nintendo-1849798801

https://www.theverge.com/2021/6/22/22545876/cyberpunk-2077-refunds-microsoft-store-xbox-digital-july

https://www.theverge.com/2021/6/21/22543298/cyberpunk-2077-playstation-store-ps4-warning

New Game Release (an hour early!): Warzone 2.0

Hey everyone,

Not really a substantive post, but a sequel to one of the biggest games of the last few years (Call of Duty: Warzone) just came out today (see: https://kotaku.com/warzone-2-early-launch-release-date-mw2-download-size-1849790962). What is somewhat interesting is that the game came out an hour early. Gamers (including myself) are usually suspect of a big online release because of server crashes, bugs, and large downloads (the Warzone 2.0 file is so large that Call of Duty let’s you preload the game in advance) (see: https://kotaku.com/warzone-2-early-launch-release-date-mw2-download-size-1849790962).

(image sourced from: https://kotaku.com/warzone-2-early-launch-release-date-mw2-download-size-1849790962)

 

Everything looks great right now – but time will tell when more users login tonight.

Twitter’s New Blue-Tick Verification Policy

Earlier this month, Elon Musk implemented a blue paid subscription service on Twitter called Twitter Blue. This service allows for anyone to get the blue-tick verification on their account, simply by paying a small fee of $8 a month. Many  people were interested in this service, but as you can imagine, some issues quickly arose.

A wave of imposter accounts began impersonating high-profile accounts and brands and posting misleading tweets. An account using the name and logo of one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical manufacturers, Eli Lilly and Co., posted a tweet: “We are excited to announce insulin is free now.”

Yup, this tweet was fake. Eli Lilly and Co.’s stock plummeted soon after this tweet was published. According to one article, Google analytics shows that “after that initial tweet and subsequent copycat accounts, the pharma company’s stock sank from $368 a share to $346 a share”. The next morning, the company stopped all Twitter ad campaigns. Amy O’Connor, a former senior communications official at Eli Lilly, said “what’s the benefit to a company … of staying on Twitter?” This new service threatens the reputation of companies. It also poses a threat to the health and wellbeing of consumers because companies like Eli Lilly often tweet about things such as side effects and long-term care. Other major advertisers, such as Omnicom Media Group (which represents companies like Apple), have recommended clients pause all Twitter activity.

Unsurprisingly, Twitter has now removed the paid checkmarks and reinstated the ‘official’ badges on some Twitter accounts. Elon’s strategy in creating this service was likely to boost profits, given the loss in advertising revenue that his company has been facing. But it seems like things aren’t going his way – more brands have been pulling back from the platform since the the paid blue-check service was implemented. For only $8, the company is potentially losing out on millions in ad revenue.

Elon announced that the verification service will be returning on November 29th, once the service is “rock solid”. I am curious to see what sorts of updates he will be making to help make a distinction between fake and real accounts. Where does he draw the line between ensuring the site is safe for advertisers and public figures, and monetizing the blue checkmark? Elon has tweeted that Twitter plans to add a ‘parody’ tag to fake blue-check accounts. I guess we will see what happens in the next few weeks.

 

Sources:

https://www.engadget.com/the-morning-after-elon-musk-wants-you-to-pay-for-verification-111547920.html

https://www.fiercepharma.com/marketing/eli-lilly-pulls-twitter-ads-after-blue-check-fallout-report

https://gizmodo.com/twitter-eli-lilly-elon-musk-insulin-1849779323

https://gizmodo.com/twitter-elon-musk-verified-impersonators-checkmark-1849768462

https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2022/11/14/twitter-fake-eli-lilly/

Class 8 – “Is A.I. A Game We Can Win?″ + “Mens Rea of A.I.”

Slides & video below…

Jon

Group Presentation Outline – Come for Donuts!

Hey everyone! For our presentation this week, we will be having a comparative discussion on aspects of video game law across the UK, the US, and Canada.

We don’t have any pre-reading for you all, but our presentation is quite interactive so we’re hoping to get as many people to class as we can. If you needed a little extra motivation, we will have some donuts for everyone in the morning!

See you all on Wednesday.

-Brian, Katie, Jack, and Rareș

Pokemon dethroned?

Japan’s game industry has seen some change over the past months — while the Pokemon games have been been the best-selling games since the 90’s, Animal Crossing: New Horizons (ACNH) has displaced their long reign and has become the most sold game according to Nintendo’s latest financial report.

The success of ACNH can be heavily attributable to the pandemic, during which people were in lockdowns and found solace in a relaxing, perhaps even mind-numbingly boring (in a good way), game. But even still, what about the game makes it so attractive to displace a long-standing champion game like Pokemon?

Interestingly, the article by GameRant speculates ACNH will not be displaced from its throne any time soon. As an avid ACNH player, this is interesting as Nintendo has officially announced there will be no more free, major updates to ACNH. There are rumours about whether this means there will still be “paid” major updates, or perhaps free “minor” updates, but if ACNH is now a done deal for Nintendo, wouldn’t Pokemon (or some other game) be able to attempt at the throne in the near future?

 

Original article: https://gamerant.com/best-selling-video-games-japan-pokemon-animal-crossing/?fbclid=IwAR3E0W__xpy4g7qy4K06sHbE–Qiuml_fixTNkkv7A3QyyT0nuOma0C52T4