Archiv für Dezember, 2009

Game development research priorities in FP 7

In 2005 we have started to discuss on research activities in the context on games. The following text is part of a workshop proposal at that time:

Technological questions of content creation and specifically the technological challenges of game development play a key role in the positioning of the the EU in the ICT sector within the years to come. Games – the killer applications of interactive media – are an important innovation catalyst in the information society, as they are at the crossroads of three core issues: Technology and its spin offs, economic development and cultural diversity. Games may well become more important than the TV of today in the next 20 or 30 years. Their impact on society is rapidly growing, and therefore it will be important to have a positive attitude about games so that they can be integrated properly into the regulation and support initiatives of the information society.

The public is often unaware just how strongly the games industry technology drives the development of the technologies of the future. To a very large degree games have been responsible for the continued development and improvement of mass market computer hardware! Furthermore, the games industry (also in Europe) is a growing market and a growing industry, and will remain in growth for the next years to come. On the other hand, content is becoming more and more important for the development of technology, as market success is defined by content and technology likewise. Games therefore are a good example for the requirement to redefine the relationship between content of technology in our era. Last but not least, games are probably the killer application of the new converging media field between TV, Mobile and Internet as they are becoming interactive in the context of networked electronic media (see emerging games on mobile devices, online and over interactive TV).

However, most of the research is done in an uncoordinated manner in small SME’s scattered all over Europe. From such a micro perspective the production costs are constantly rising (higher profile products, but therefore recoupment in the domestic markets becomes impossible). Therefore independent development becomes more difficult. Content funding systems, such as the film funding systems, can help to reduce the publisher-risk. However, a technological environment in which widely available European tools and middleware licenses make it more affordable to produce games in Europe will be an important step for a continued sustainable future of the sector.

Even though the sector is successful, from a macro vision, the situation of European game developers of today is not satisfying,. The medium is still young (comparable to film in the 20es), but too few projects reach out to the international markets. Network effects and economies of scale easen the way for ‘monocultural’ genre orientation and international stereotypes, just as in the movie industry. Games are following similar rules than other media where network effects dominate. Therefore it is urgently necessary to reduce the power assymetry concerning the relationship between game developers, game publishers and platform holders, which currently discriminates games from Europe. We need to take measures to make the development of games less dependent of the console hardware development, and less dependent of tools of non-European origin.

The aim of this special workshop is to define the requirements and specific technological problems of this industry. Research questions cover a wide range of topics such as

• Open software for content creation
• Open software interoperability
• European Console: is it out of reach ?
• Middleware: specificities and interoperability
• Tools: Reducing costs by automising processes
• Automatic (procedural) content creation
• Multiplatform development – tools
• Interfaces: Human – machine

In addition, topics of interest include (but are not limited to) the
following areas:
• Peer to Peer technigues for variety of services
• Massively Multiplayer and persistent world techniques
• Physics (realtime simulations)
• Personalization and Service, agent techniques
• Piracy Protection, software development
• Artificial Intelligence (adaptable code)
• Wider bandwidth for communication of emotions and feelings
• Better pipelines and software/production management
• Better and more efficient algorithms
• More emergent gameplay with flexiable techniques
• Alternative game design and use of techniques from other areas

• Cultural impact of R&D. Is all R&D ? R & D as generic products; Art as non generic (unique) products.
• Redefining boundaries of content & technology => varies at every project; interdependent
• Misuse of R&D for content?
• Cultural studies become more important as hardware war is becoming a software and content war
• Regulatory issues: open software; copyright

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Game development as innovation driver

The European Games Developer Federation (EGDF) represents the interests of those creative studios in Europe that make computer games. Game development studios can be small enterprises of 10 people and under, typically making casual and mobile games, or 50 to 200 persons console and PC game developer studios for the current and next generations of consoles, working in a process that takes about two years per game.

The EGDF represents some 600 studios based in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, which together employ over 17,000 people. The European computer and video games industry, including distributors and students in game educations, encompasses over 100,000 jobs. None of them existed 25 years ago.

Games and interactive content are likewise of increasing cultural and technological importance in the integrated world of TV, Internet and telephone. The game industry has developed new business models, which could serve as blueprint for the Internet of the future in the fields like anti-piracy, micropayment etc. The link between business models and technology can be examined in the games-industry. Regardless of the eventual control over gateways and transmissions, there will be an increasing demand for interactive content production in itself. Games are also an important driver for hardware and network technologies. But from a SME viewpoint, the barriers to market entry are significantly high.

The value chain within the game industry has considerably changed over the recent years. Driven by new, disruptive business models and piracy proof server based solutions, online games from Europe have become surprisingly strong within the worlds game industry – originally dominated by non-European players. Today some of them reach out to the world with more than 40 million registered users. The basis for this development is a non-discrimatory internet, based on principles like net-neutrality. This strong growth and innovation can only be preserved when the core of the internet remains a free communication space. There is a risk for Europe, when distribution-bottlenecks from the “offline world” become leveraged into the “online space” by the misuse of regulatory measures beyond the control of independent judges. The EGDF therefore encourages the European Parliament to stand firm on its position to see the free internet as a chance and not as a danger for Europe.

This is text is based on one page summary of a presentation held in the European Innovation Summit 2009.

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Protection of minors and game developers

In the old days, developers were reluctant to enter the space of protection of minors. Then developers developed games and publishers published them. Majority of publishers did not come from Europe, and neither did any of the big console systems. But with online games the situation has dramatically changed, for the first time many European developers have a direct touch to consumers – the European Game Developers became part of the end consumer market.

This happens at a time, when more and more member states follow the Commission by perceiving games not only as a key stone in technological and business-related innovation, but also as culture. And there is a link between cultural perception and perception of minors.

This is an enormous opportunity for Europe. Suddenly European companies rise up on the market and become a relevant participant in the game. While a shift from offline games to the online games (supported by the financial crisis) the stake of Europe is grown economically, technologically and culturally.

European content is an important innovation driver and culturally more substantial. Concerning Games online games are more piracy proof and not so vulnerable than other media.

Protection of minors should not be abused for securing dominant market positions

When we talk about violence, we want to know more exactly what we mean by that. A study from Tampere University from 2004 has highlighted, that only few minors, who play games, are interested in violence as such, but more were interested in immersive gameplay that – as our life – can sometimes be violent.

This positive development is a result of network neutrality, thanks to EU-parliament and Commission, which have taken a firm stand. Filter systems were installed for the war on terror (deep package inspections), and now against child pornography (all very honourable and legitimate reasons). A debate on piracy is starting again. Where does this lead? Violent game filters? What’s next?

Network Neutrality will be an important element in this context and Internet regulation should therefore been handled with great care and reluctance. The great success of online games in Europe should not be destroyed with a regulation, which can be easy misused to leverage market privileges from offline to online. In its very heart the Internet should stay free from hard regulations in Europe to the best of Europe and Europe’s interactive content producing SMEs. Every day we prevent Internet regulation not to happen, is a day we have won for the innovation in Europe!

Developers should be allowed to carry their share of responsibility

But one has to be realistic. Concerns of protection of minors are more and more voiced. For the time being developers have been involved with PEGI only indirectly, because the developers were not part of this system – only publishers and console manufacturers.

An interesting development has been happening in Germany, where the USK system in its latest reform has opened up institutionally to GAME, the developer organization. This is a very modern trait. Concerning PEGI and the discussion how to implement it and to broaden it in the constituency of online games, this could be an interesting model. It is true, that developer organisations question themselves, why they should support at length a system beyond their control, or some organisations, which are more or less in the control of non- European forces.

The PEGI system should be opened institutionally in a similar way to the German USK system. This could be the right answer to the higher role the developers from Europe play in the changing game market. This would lead to more trustworthy PEGI, as the developer organisations are deeply rooted in the creative industries of the European member states and not perceived as something “foreign”, as are sometimes the members of ISFE in some countries. PEGI would become more credible as developer organisations are often highly regarded in the parliament, and eventually PEGI could become even more European. As a consequence the constituency of PEGI could be broadened.

This text is based on a speech held in Brussels in last July. The full speech can be found from this link.

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European regulation and game developers

European regulation considering creative content is one of the hot topics at the moment in EU politics. Three years ago EGDF stated following about the regulation of online content. The full statement can be read from this link.

Regulation should support game developers

The regulatory context for online games from a development perspective is blurry. We have to state, that the regulatory systems are not yet prepared to respond to the new challenges. Main aspects for developers are on competition regulation to maintain competition on every level of the value chain. Unfortunately the access is often controlled by game platform owners.

In a cultural context we strongly support direct support as in the film industry (CNC, FFA etc.) and fiscal measures for game development support, as they are currently discussed in France and already set up in Canada and Korea. While these kinds of measures can not replace the private business, we believe, concerning competition regulation, games should be part of the “cultural exception”. Games are becoming more and more culture just as films and music.

Regulation should support those, who take high risks to make projects happen in a cultural and innovative environment. IP is one of the few assets developers can create a long term growth strategy on (implying high risks). Therefore regulation should not make it so easy for them to give up their IP. On the contrary it should support him by creating works of cultural value to everybody.

Labour law should respect Freelance and Independent’s flexibility. The industry needs more flexible regulation when it comes to working with them.

Important is competitiveness against peer companies in the new member states:
Competing companies in the new member states care less about licensing their production software, and can therefore offer even cheaper content than they normally could consider salary levels only. More awareness about licensed software in the new member states is required!

Network neutrality is a cultural value

Network neutrality is a high value and should be strictly established without any exceptions. This does not mean that policy should be neutral to technology in general. It has to be seen as part of the rule, that competition should be kept alive on every level of the value chain. Network neutrality is also a cultural value, as it allows in principle everybody equal access for the distribution network of the future for games.

We see big risks that Quality-of-Service will mainly be beneficial for large multinational companies, and that SMEs and customers will be the losers in the equation. A preferential distribution would probably be given to those content providers who have a strategic interest in keeping their point of sale – privileges in the digital age. For the producers this is bad news as again not the best quality or concept is decided upon, but the “preferential” distribution channel. There is a certain chance, that the Internet can support the idea of democratisation of distribution. It is not sure, if this will actually happen. QoS seen in a large scale could be a tool to de-democratise the Internet.

Regulating the Internet in the manner is like creating commercial television in the United States. In the end there will be few providers of content with creators of content fighting to be seen. Creation of such an environment would be counterproductive.

How national governments can support new business models?

One issue concerning the games industry is, that government should lower market entry barriers for content producers for Europe e.g. by making sure, that the European games industry has equal access to technology (especially in the console context), and that the access is fair and reasonable for all European companies. By accepting games as a cultural and audiovisual media, public regulation and support systems can be applied to games. Especially in the development side funding is necessary for cultural diversity.

In an networked environment the role of government as trust holder of cultural diversity becomes even more important as network effects will increase in the digital age. The role of government is then to make sure, that a strong variety of content – in our case games –
reflects the cultural values and traditions of the member states.

What should the EU do?

In general, it is necessary to pay more attention to the subject of game development and to have a positive attitude about it. There are several possibilities, which have to be taken into consideration. Regulatory measures should value the cultural, technological and economic impact of a flourishing game developer community for the whole of Europe. They should value games as a cultural and audiovisual medium in the rapidly changing information society. The definition of culture can not be made up in an ivory tower, but in a democracy it is necessary to look at the people – and they have opted for games as culture a long time ago.

Content and technology funding can help supporting the industry on the two necessary ends: IP as a result of content creation on the one side and technology on the other. It is necessary to study closely the impact and spread of (online and offline) game consoles in European households in the next 10 years. This is often neglected in our opinion.

Content funding, which can be legitimized culturally, should be given support e.g. in the context of project development (e.g. prototypes). On the other side the barriers of R&D innovation are blurring in a service driven economy. Technology funding should especially take into consideration strategies for lowering the market entrance barriers for European content producers and the little control Europeans have over console, hardware and interface technology. An important role of the EU level lies in finding interoperability standards for middleware for interactive content creation taking into consideration open source layers as well as proprietary solutions.

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