Archive for the 'Video games' Category

Does the move to app stores inhibit software development and competition?

Microsoft today confirmed its launch hardware partners for its new touch screen/ARM based version of Windows, Windows RT (is this a subliminal advertising campaign by Microsoft to encourage people to promote Windows on Twitter?).

At the end of the BBC News article linked to above, a comment is made about the fact that Microsoft has locked down software distribution on the platform. As pioneered by Apple on the iOS platform, apps for Windows RT may only be distributed through a Microsoft controlled app store, in return for which Microsoft will take the now standard 30% commission.

The article includes a comment from a couple of games industry executives, who label the decision a “catastrophe”, “not awesome” and a “wrongheaded approach”.

So does this mean that games and app developers will turn away from the new platform?

The games industry and app stores
Last week, I was at Edinburgh Interactive one of the UK’s major video games industry conferences.

What struck me was how many of the speakers (from both large and small developers) are focussing their development efforts on the iOS and Android platforms. There was very little discussion in the sessions about the development of games for consoles and PCs. It was all about iPads, iPhones, Android and promoting your product on the app stores. And the future sounded pretty bright.

Indeed, a large amount of discussion on the first day looked at the move to so-called “freemium” products, where the app is free to download and the developer then makes its cash from selling in in-app content (such as additional levels, power-ups etc) or in-app advertising.

So it seems that not everyone agrees with the view of the larger games companies – or if they do then they are prepared to accept the commercial model in order to access the new platforms.

Indeed, for smaller indies, the app stores operated by Google and Apple offer an easy way to market. You can self-publish, without the need for a traditional middle-man to publish your game, and don’t need to fund expensive promotions in bricks and mortar stores – instead using social media and word of mouth to promote your app. This reduces the risk to the developer and fosters the development of innovative new products.

The 30% margin is high (particuarly given that it also now often includes a share of revenue from in-app purchases), but given the sales platform provided (and the fact that the app store will handle all payment processing), for many developers the cost is worth it.

In reality, I suspect the comments quoted above reflect commercial concerns over the fact that the publisher’s margin for Windows products is now under attack. They can no longer sell games to consumers direct from its own website – it is a return to the pre-internet days where a distributor and a bricks and mortar retailer also took a cut.

Competition law
What will be interesting is whether any of the competition authorities look at the cast iron control the operating system providers have over the sale of content on their platforms, and whether this constitutes an abuse of a dominant position. Unlike the Android platform (where there are multiple app stores), it looks like Microsoft will follow Apple and others in that its app store will be the only way to sell content on the platform. In the absence of any competing app store, the 30% margin cannot be challenged. This could be viewed as anti-competitive.

What do you think? Does the app store model put you off developing for iOS, Android and Windows RT? Or are you prepared to work with the new model to access new markets?

Video games – new age ratings system introduced

Back in 2008 the Government commissioned the Byron Report (by Dr Byron of “House of Tiny Tearaways” fame). The Report addressed the negative influence that video games and the internet had on children and sought to put some measures in place to, well, curtail the corruption of the UK’s youth.  

One recommendation was stricter (and more straight forward) controls around access to video games.

This recommendation was set into action under the Digital Economy Act, and Government has now confirmed that the new age-rating system will come into force with effect from 30 July 2012.

The Dual System
The UK currently has a dual classification system, which is in part mandatory and in part voluntary.

Under this confusing system, video games are classified by two bodies, which have overlapping roles:

  • Pan European Game Information System (PEGI), administered by the Video Standards Council (VSC) in the UK; and
  • British Board of Film Classification (BBFC).

To date, the vast majority of games only carry a PEGI age rating – which provides guidance as to the content of the game and allows the buyer to make an informed choice.

If the content contains content or themes that of particularly adult nature, then the game may also be reviewed by the BBFC and be given an additional rating (using the same symbols as those used for age-rating films). Unlike the PEGI rating, the BBFC ratings are legally binding on retailers in that it is an offence to sell a BBFC game to a person that is below the relevant age rating.

Understandably, this dual system has caused some confusion for consumers. As a result, it is all change at the end of the month.

What is a PEGI rating and what is changing?
PEGI is a European system for rating the content of video games which came into use in April 2003 and is used in 26 countries.

There are two parts to the PEGI classification system:

  • a minimum age (3, 7, 12, 16, 18); and
  • up to seven descriptions of content, such as the use of violence, strong language and gambling, and so on.

To date, participation in the PEGI scheme has not been mandatory – participation is at the game developer’s discretion, and the minimum ages are recommended rather than legally binding.

However, from the end of July, this will change and the VFC will now assume statutory responsibily for rating games, using the PEGI system. As part of this, retailers should be aware that the ratings of age 12 and upwards will now be binding and it will be an offence for a retailer to sell a game that has a PEGI rating of 12 + to anyone under that age.

What is a BBFC rating?
To date, the BBFC’s remit has included statutory rating under the Video Recordings Act.

Most video games have been exempt from the requirement to obtain a legally binding BBFC classification. However, certain games that, for example, are particularly violent or explicit have required a formal BBFC classification – broadly speaking, those that are ‘adult’ in content. About 10% of games in the UK have gone to the BBFC for classification, and will in the main be rated 18.

Whilst the BBFC has provided some guidance on when a game might be exempt, it has been up to the developer or distributor to decide whether the game requires statutory classification from the BBFC.

Under the new regime things will get much simpler, as the VFC takes on responsibility for age rating. Only those games that contain “very sexually explicit material”, need to be submitted to the BBFC for classification (as 18R). If such a rating is applied by the BBFC, then the game may only be sold in licenced sex shops.

Further information on the PEGI rating system can be found here  and the BBFC rating here (although note that the BBFC guidance has not yet been updated to reflect the new regime).

Leigh Kirktpatrick

Blast Data Processing: DP and the games industry

Back in the 90s I was most definitely a Sega Kid, buying every piece of exploitative Sonic the Hedgehog merchandise I could find,  and humourlessly lecturing my Nintendo-owning friends about the merits of Blast Processing.  (Sega’s European marketing, incidentally, was carried out by Virgin Interactive – a Richard Branson company – which probably explains why it was so distinctive.)

As a grown adult I don’t play video games much anymore, but nevertheless gaming remains a very interesting industry, and unlike record companies, the games industry business model appears to be keeping pace with technology.

Mobile and web-based social game creators are driving down prices for basic games, but charging premiums for in-game virtual goods or premium content. This “freemium” model is generating good income streams, and small “freemium” companies are being targeted for acquisition by major developers such as Zynga or Electronic Arts.

Privacy risks
A typical small games company is probably focused on issues such as deciding whether or not license core intellectual property, keeping core programmers, and so on. It’s arguably less likely to be thinking about data protection. Yet data protection is an area which, if neglected, has the potential for severe financial and reputational risk – see for example the tumble in Sony’s share price following data breach revelations.

Games companies are now gathering volumes of data about their gamers that would have been inconceivable even a decade ago, including performance data (to help developers fix bugs), data which enables gameplay, password details, names, addresses, dates of birth, speech, photos, videos and so on.

Although companies seek to anonymise this information, it can still be considered personal data if it is reasonably likely that it could be used (now or in the future) to link with other information which identifies an individual. These treasure troves of data are becoming increasingly attractive targets for hackers.

Key data protection issues for gaming companies
Broad data protection and privacy issues that games companies need to be aware of include:

  • According to the ICO, parental consent is required if personal data is collected from children aged under 12;
  • Gamers must be informed in a clear and unambiguous way about when their data is being gathered, and the extent to which their personal data is being shared with third parties (such as providers of targeted advertising);
  • Companies shouldn’t hold more personal data than they need. For example, is holding the residential address of a gamer always necessary?
  • For a company to gather, control and ultimately process geolocation data, express consent should be positively obtained before the data is processed (that is, not obtained via a statement buried in Ts & Cs);
  • Compliance with the new laws on cookies (which Martin has been keeping up to date with), which may impact on cookies placed on a gamer’s browser or device; and
  • The enduring obligation to take appropriate technical and organisational measures against unlawful or unauthorised processing of personal data (as the quantity and sensitivity of personal data held by gaming companies increases, then the technical and organisational measures which they take to protect that data should be increasing also);
  • Keep abreast of the new data protection rules that are likely to come into force in Europe in the next few years – in particular, there are likely to be new obligations on gaming companies located outside the EU.

Some quick tips then, but remember – to be this good takes AGES.


Twitter: @BrodiesTechBlog feed

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