Archiv für Oktober, 2009

Computer games – a beginning of a new era of European culture

As digitalization is blurring the borders in the fields of culture, computer games have risen to the avant-garde of European art field. They are ambitiously uniting cartoons, photos, animation, graphic design, short movies, short stories and interactive art in one piece of work of art. The future of Europe is digital and computer games are leading the way to the digital era of the European culture.

Consequently computer games are emerging cultural assets; indeed games themselves are one of the oldest of our cultural traditions. They mould our consciousness – which is precisely their raison d’être. They change our mode of expression and way of thinking, and condition visualisation of the process of comprehension. Computer and video games are suitable vehicles for the conveyance and shaping of cultural values, attitudes to life and basic modes of behaviour.

Computer games are undoubtedly cultural products

The concept of culture is dynamic and cannot be nurtured in an ivory tower. One of the key posits on which the cultural legitimacy of computer games rests is the rapidly changing user behaviour of media consumers. This also brings with it change in the content of computer games and the way they are perceived. Various demographic strands have adopted a reserved attitude to this development which is actually unfolding. Their diffidence could be ascribed not only to the content (such as representations of violence) but could also be coloured by a hostility to technology based on a false conception of humanist ideals.

Computer games are audio-visual media. Thus the designing of computer games per se forms part of the culture industry. It is not necessary to prove cultural content in each single instance; however, it is necessary to prove the contrary in any specific case – that a computer game does not contain any cultural content. There is a presumption in favour of the cultural significance of computer games. They are themselves components of culture because they are intellectual products and in general serve to convey an aesthetic or communicative content. This is also due to the marked influence they exert on leisure time activities and their social significance.

Slowly also policy makers are starting to acknowledge the cultural value of computer games. The law of copyright protects computer games not just as software but also in terms of film rights. This is now largely accepted by German legal writing on the subject. Current court rulings also consistently subscribe to this opinion. Recently the Supreme Court (OGH) in Vienna accorded film rights protection for a simple computer game according to Austrian law.

Games are representations of culture

As computer games are inspired by the culture they are created in, they inevitably also representations of it. Often they also offer new constructions of historical events and eras. If we, Europeans, do not create our own constructions of our history and representations of our modernity, someone else will do it.

Computer games are thus suitable vehicles for promoting and dispensing knowledge about culture and history, because this is the substance of what they convey while also allowing gamers space enough to form their own understanding. Yet the background and environment of the creative developers of the games are not a parameter value in the narrow sense of the term, but rather a conditioning factor for the cultural elements contained in the games. Those involved in the creative process are imbued with culture and history which offer them the themes for their work.

Generally speaking, games treat matters which concern gamers and designers in their specific life environments. It is this direct relation to the everyday world coupled with the very nature of all games which is to enable (not only) serious interaction with certain mechanisms of the daily world that lies at the root of the power to fascinate that games possess. E.g. German game developers will always deal with other themes and issues than their confreres in Latin America, North America or Africa. Obviously there will always be a great number of similarities in terms of design and themes since in the age of the globalised flow of information themes and certain issues will also be internationalised. Yet for the foreseeable future they will continue to have a varying impact on any particular creative context.

The cultural heritage of Europe lives with its games

The way computer games represent culture varies from one cultural region to another. It should be remembered that thus also the way, how other cultures are presented in games depends from the origin of the game. The key criteria for differentiating between cultural contexts are:
• Language, and in particular the type of humour specific to a country
• Graphic design
• Music / sound
• Locality (architecture / landscapes etc.)
• Figures (clothing, body language, origins)
• Background stories
• Genres / aims of the game
• Environment (people, cars, houses, streets, architecture, plants etc.)
• Story / gameplay (as in the film industry computer games also have a fund of typical and easily recognisable stories and plots)
• Characters (the Simpsons, Shrek, Harry Potter, Bibi Blocksberg, Captain Bluebear).

Therefore the origins of a game often convey the cultural context of its place of creation which can even be identified in the game. It should be remembered that the audio-visual can be conserved through archiving perishable media, but also through the realisation and new production of the cultural heritage (such as figures, sagas, scripts etc.) in other kinds of media. Only through on-going repetition and rendition in a contemporary guise can content remain fixed in the collective memory.

Consequently at the same time production of content in Europe is protection of the cultural heritage. Game designers and graphic artists are children of their culture and life environment. They gain the inspiration for their works from the stuff of experience.

The full text can be found from this link.

“Telecom package – preparing for a 3rd reading” The transcript of the speech by Secretary General Malte Behrmann in a seminar by The Greens/European Free Alliance at 7.9.2009

Following you find the introductory post for this blog, regarding my speech “Telecom package – preparing for a 3rd reading” as a transcript from a seminar by The Greens/European Free Alliance at 7.9.2009.  You can get the speach, nicely formattet in pdf together with the slides used in my speach here.

Merrits go to our internJari-Pekka Kaleva from Finland and the rest of the community of the seminar for creating the transcript of my speech.

Thank you again for inviting me, I will try to keep it short. I want to however say this from a lawyers perspective, I am also a lawyer, that there are numerous discussions about efficiency and digital judgement all the time. I think that we can not review digital court decisions just for the shake of efficiency in every case… just because of efficiency arguments. That is something I say as a lawyer; I say it before my speech. I think that it will be my personal contribution to this discussion here. This is not only happening here…in lot of places efficiency argument are used in legislative procedures.

My name is Malte Behrmann, I’m a lawyer at EGDF in Berlin.

I represent the European Games Developer Federation. I’m the general secretary of this organization, so I am a content producing industry. So we are actually affected by the Telecom Package just because of direct revilement to content industry. I didn’t even think about the Telecom Package before, until people started poking to me about this kind of content related matter. We are an association of developer associations all over Europe, I am also involved in German association, and we have members all over western Europe. I would say, today, we represent over 600 studios, which employ together almost 17 000 people. We had not been invented 20 years ago, so all these 17 000 jobs have been created over last 20 years, which is maybe one of the reasons I can say that computer games are cultural objects… but… it is a cultural objects which are basically quite new. And It’s probably the first, and until today the only, truly digital cultural object, which always has been digital from the beginning. That’s makes our position different to traditional media, which are also cultural media as computer games, but which had more problems in transitioning themselves into the digital era than we have.

Game development in Europe is an economic, cultural and technological challenge, because games are at the crossroads of all these three issues. When I started politics for computer game developers for about 7 years ago, the ministries always sent me to the other one. The Minister of Culture said:

“I’m not responsible, it’s the technology who is responsible”, and they said “I’m not responsible, you have to go to the economy”, and they said “no, no, no,
economy is not responsible, you have to go back to the culture”. So I figured over the years that actually we’re all three of them: we’re culture, we’re economy and technology. And guess what, now all three ministries want to be responsible for us, in all countries and also at the European level. So what happened is that people actually understood that games are so important, because they touch all three of these fields and not only one of these: cultural diversity, which means democracy; economic development, which means jobs and technological innovation, which means basically stuff like Lisbon agenda and stuff like that on the European level.
So, I come from a little bit outside the Internet world, as we create computer games. And when we started, we didn’t necessarily create computer games for the Internet. We have made computer games for consoles…

When I started to work with computer game politics seven years ago everybody in industry was talking about next generation console… everybody was talking about faster images… stronger computers… better computers… INTEL actually has prospered a lot from our strong development [INTEL says: Thank you for that.] No problem [laughter]

Then some three-four years ago, suddenly we had new human-machine interfaces from Japan like Wii and stuff like that. Suddenly, a new trend came across that nobody really had expected. But the biggest trend we have – and that’s not just discussion – it is a structural change as the online game. It is a trend which goes directly to the consumers. And the weird thing about computer games, and the funny thing is that my members, they don’t really believe that they are actually in the very centre of convergence and they are the pioneers of the free internet and of the future. They don’t really believe that they have this kind of important role, but slowly, slowly now they are starting to understand what happens around them and where they are positioned and that the convergence is happening. Surprise, it just happens now. Actually, when I started to be interested in media politics more than 10 years ago, people were talking about convergence all the time.

Then it was not happening. And now it is happening and nobody believes it. The important thing about online games is that it changes supply and demand. It changes business models. It changes the value chain, and that is what I would like to talk to you about for about four or five minutes more. The other thing, which is important, is that online-games are not so piracy vulnerable as off-line games, which are put on the Internet and heavy downloaded – similar to music and film – and then you have the basic piracy problem. You do not have this kind of piracy problems when you have genuine online games, which are on a server and as they are on a server you have to log in. Even in China you can become very rich running those, where there is no enforcement of copyright at all.

And that makes this for me very clear, that actually the whole anti-piracy discussion, which is very necessary and I am not against it from a fundamental point of view, but the whole piracy discussion is actually a problem of transitioning the channel. It’s not necessarily a problem as such, because there are business models in content industry, which are easy with piracy problems.

There’s of course also the problem that sometimes pirates copy the whole server and then you have also a problem. That happened for very big games. But let’s neglect this kind of problem, because that probably solvable otherwise.

When I started to being interested in game politics and fought for game developers in political context, I started to raise the issue of public funding for games development similar to film industry, because I thought, or we thought that computer game developers have a similar position in society as film producers, reflect culture to a new generation and we should be aware that it is necessary that we have German games, that we have French games that we have Scandinavian games. But what happens, is that these kinds of discussions are going on and slowly administrations started to support game development. But beyond that, we have the Internet and we have online games doing most of the job themselves, because suddenly we have a new value chain, where developers start to develop computer games and put them in the Internet and distribute them directly through the Internet to the end consumer.

And suddenly the publishers, distributors, the retailers – who get most of the money, most of the revenue – are cut out as the middle men and suddenly the developers themselves can actually receive a fair contribution for what they have put into their game development. That is a very new and recent developments and I must tell you I have witnessed this myself. I have seen game developers, starting with 6 people. They came to us as a small company. And now they are 300. And they are really big, and I am surprised myself. That is the kind of thing I want to preserve, I want to preserve a free Internet, because I think it actually is NOW a chance for Europe to haveInternet as a free and not overregulated.

If you look at the Internet, if you look at the retail games of last years, you see that online and mobile are becoming more and more important compared to package retail. This is long structural change. It is probably a little bit quicker now, because the crisis was very good for online distribution. But we must see that the dark blue thing [in a chart in the presentation], that’s controlled by the oligopolies, that’s controlled all by non-European companies, but the light blue stuff, that’s the online games. Some are Korean games of course…some are also controlled by oligopolies, but many of these online games are controlled by independent (European) game developers who are just putting their games on the Internet. And that’s good. So I have to be quick, so I have jus a few comments for the Telecoms Package

I think it is a big risk to start filter content. It is not necessarily the filter itself (I mean people talking about China and stuff like that, but I don’t think in Europe we will have same kind of level) The real problem is the risk of abuse, the risk of misusing the filter technique in order to prioritise your own content. Some of the bigger telcos and some of the ISPs are starting to invest in content, and I personally think it’s good, because I like investors for game development, every investor. But what happens when a strong network provider owns computer games themselves and suddenly they work better on the network than those from the others because they can find out which ones they are. And what happens, when they misuse legal reasons, which maybe have nothing to do with that, to make sure that their products are full across. And then we have a similar situation as we had in the off-line world concerning media distribution.

We always had a problem that there was, of course competition law, competition law… very nice law… but the reality was different. The reality of offline distribution was: package deals for cinema, it was retail business for games and software in the stores, it was everything else than digital distribution. But the Internet is different, Internet is to a certain extent really fair distribution. We should preserve this kind of fairness, because that is good for Europe, because that encourages Europeans to develop European content.

t is very important that we understand that NOW (maybe in the beginning of Internet, when Europe is losing to a little bit way to United States and especially to California, because they were very strong). But now in the second phase, actually Europeans are starting to win the ground, I see it in my constituency, maybe it’s not true for other parts of the Internet, but at least in online games definitely.

I think it should be very clear that the competition between the best games can only go through an open, and free, and not too regulated Internet – I had some thought over the weekend when I already had submitted my slides – so let me just finish with this. There is a saying in Germany: “There is no such thing as being a little bit pregnant”. I think you should consider that when you fight for the freedom of the Internet, because you cannot just say: “yeah…we will allow a little bit of control or make a compromise”.

No! I think that the core of the Internet has to stay free. That is really the most important thing. And having cooperation and discussions, and so on, is very interesting, but it is not really leading to the point. The second thing is, that I really think that this kind of regulation is to a certain degree innovation hostile and again a threat to Europe. You should underline it, when you talk about it, because I think that it is an argument that is always heard in Europe.

Thirdly, I would mention that the French constitutional court ruled out Olivennes based on this debate. And from Germany I can tell you that people always say in Germany: “the French constitutional court only had a problem with the fact that if you are kicked out of the Internet, you still have to pay for your Internet connection.” But as far as I understand it this decision was based on much larger considerations than that and it has actively been used to disinform the public debate.
I think also that you should take it into consideration that this is attacking the Parliament, the European parliament as a body. That the parliament as a body has taken a very, very, very famous decision about the freedom of the Internet. And when it is really starting to overrule, it is going to heart of the European Constitution and you should really also be very clear about that.