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… I would stop making movies altogether and just focus on making video games.

HALO franchise has sold more than 27 million units worldwide.  $1.6 billion or so in cash money.  This from a game that probably only cost $40 million to make.  and far less than that to market.

Beyond just unit sales the number of impressions generated by Halo and its online machinima, books, boardgames and other offshoots is pretty staggering.  Factor in additional sales of XBox hardware and peripherals.   Movies would be very hard pressed to beat this.  And, no, this isn’t the only game franchise with these kinds of numbers.

If you want a really neat look into games, gamer numbers and recent gaming behavior, this is a great preso.

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Read a great piece today (which I found on Slashdot…) on the state of violence in video games.  It’s remarkable in that it’s author is a life long gamer (like myself) and he starts to drop some value anchors.

If we come to that, should it be illegal to simulate player imposed suffering of photorealistic humans in video games? If so, where do we draw the line with regards to realism? For example, BioShock is “OK” now, but how much more realistic will the virtual human’s appearance and behavior have to get before virtual murder is considered genuinely and irreversibly harmful for the player?

Will it matter if it’s done “by hand and knife” in a holodeck-style brain-machine interface, or if it’s executed through a 10-button game controller? Will it matter if it’s a quick death or a slow, drawn-out one? Will it matter if the human-killing enacted by the player fits the legal definition of murder or if it is done in self-defense?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know that they won’t come easy, especially if the game industry fights back against government regulation. As we grow ever closer to 100% graphical and situational realism in games, hopefully game publishers will decline to encourage the stunningly accurate simulation of gratuitous human suffering.

My concern is not that these violent simulations described will happen; they probably will at some point. I’m concerned that we as an audience will continue to consider gratuitous virtual murder a form of mainstream entertainment. The kind of violence I’m describing should be relegated to the bottom, back-corner shelf of any game store — not by law or punishment, but by consumer demand.

This is a great debate to engage in now!  We can define the values and shape our behavior.  If we don’t actively define them, it will still passively happen and we may end up having to unlearn a bunch of values.  And, as Mr. Edwards points out, we just don’t know how that will turn out.  At some point the realism of the games and the idea that you are controlling something virtual will erode and we’ll have real trouble telling the difference between what is real world behavior and what is virtual.  When and what that looks like we just can’t say.  We already have real legal and social issues regarding what happens on social networks – and those are not realistic and/or even close to as full person engaging as modern games.

I’ll give you one my own experiences… and for those that have played a first person shooter on the PC or X Box live know just how insanely over the top scary the live voice chatter between people can get.  When I was actively playing Halo 3 you would hear multiple times a session about how other players want to ass-rape, gang bang, whack and kill those fags/mutherfuckers and their mothers.   This language and threats would be made whether there was a 10 year old on the other end or a bunch of adults. I’m not using made up language here.  One time I let the audio escape out of speakers instead of my headset and it kinda freaked my wife out. “People really talk like that on there?” Yes. Yes they do.

Do I think that language itself means someone will go out and do those things? no.  Do I think repeated exposure and reinforcement that associates that langauge and winning and “earning buddies or friends” starts to seep into non-gaming behavior?  Absolutely.

I now report all language like that.  I don’t know if XBox or Microsoft aggressively pursues it.  I hope so.  One time I even tried to track down someone I thought crossed the line with another player.  This is an impossible task.

My thinking on this is related to other conversations about the impact of news media on events and the slippery evading authorities behavior encouraged during the #iranelection stuff on Twitter.

The last 12 months have been a whirl wind of big things… presidential shifts, big world events, wars, economic troubles, unemployment, technology advances, health care… just huge value disruptors.  There’s an obsession with Real Time right now.  More Data Faster!  The challenge is you can’t reflect on values in real time.  you can’t set anchors and see where you stand against them.  No, we don’t have to stop and reflect – we can keep charging ahead.  That approach will have different consequences than if we stop and reflect.  I can admit I’m a bit frightened by the consequences of this relentless acceleration towards more data faster – technical progress at all costs – we’ll sort it out later.  (And those that know me understand I’m not exactly a patient person and love change)…

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ADDED 12:30PM: TPM – Trusted Platform Module – it’s a hardware based cryptology
ADDED 11:45AM: I wanted to share a decent, but somewhat technical, research paper on downloading behavior.

“The SCT view of media behavior suggests that the expected positive and negative outcomes of downloading are important initial causes of behavior. The expected outcomes that users experience at a given point in time should govern both their current behavior and their intentions to perform it in the future. That is, if I expect to save money by downloading music, this expectation will logically be reflected in my current level of downloading activity and also frame my intentions to engage in further downloads from this point forward. “

Follow the consequences.  And to do that you have to correctly identify both the consequences (positive and negative reinforcers), the schedules of those consequences, and the behaviors (i.e. it’s not “theft” like you read in many accounts of “piracy”).

For those thinking about TPM and video game piracy and DRM in general, you have to dig into the science of behavior -100% of piracy deterrent or 100% of profit increase is there.  Forget cryptology and all that.  It’s like arguing the format wars in HD video make a difference.  They don’t.  It’s like thinking your door locks at home keep the bad guys out.  Really, do they?    

Why I like this paper:

  • It uses downloading and sharing rather than piracy as the behavior, which is more accurate to the behavior than piracy, which is a negative baggage word.
  • It uses actual data
  • It can be verified, refuted, retested
Why I don’t like this paper:
  • Social Cognitive Theory is a an unnecessary layer on top of the analysis of behavior
  • It uses a variety of technical terms that don’t add much clarity
  • It could use more data
  • It uses surveys instead of raw usuage (which is sometimes a limitation in social studies…)
Key Conclusions which certainly correlate to my anecdotal and NDA covered studies:
  • A sense of morality has little significant effect on downloading/sharing/piracy behavior
  • Schedules of reinforcement (getting the music/games I like immediately, sharing with others, keep doing what I’ve been doing etc. etc.) explain a major chunk of variability in sharing behavior
  • Social aspect is key – “Sharing music/games/conversation is cool.”
  • Habit – the schedules set in and you lose site of why you started.  “I download because at night that’s what I do vs. I really want this cd”
  • Improved downloading / purchasing experience (better quality downloads and easier to use software) should reduce free sharing (think itunes and amazon mp3s)
  • Pricing doesn’t matter as much as people think

 

FROM ORIGINAL POST early this morning:

This blurb on slashdot had a higher than average set of comments today.

a) TPM is not directly meant as a DRM facilitator (but it will be overloaded, certainly)

b) Piracy is about behavior not technology.  Stopping piracy can only be done by modifying behavior not through technology. Technology can aid in modifying behavior.  Unfortunately most DRM schemes provide incentive (reinforce) for cracking media/software, not punishment.

c) never say never (or absolutely) in technology, especially DRM.  There are too many variables, and most variables involve non-technical companies, not hackers. Oh, and hackers love the absolutist mantra.

d) our laws, economic policy and business practices are a generation behind our technology and media consumption behavior

e) Piracy Prevention starts with making something people value and pricing it according to that value.  GTAIV didn’t have any profit trouble caused by piracy, nor Halo 3, nor Call of Duty, nor World of Warcraft… is piracy in gaming REALLY keeping developers, publishers and companies from making their profits?

f) Does TPM get in the way of consumer satisfaction?  and, I mean real consumer satisfaction – consumers stop buying because it becomes so annoying.  That remains to be seen but it’s not like Vista (the biggest implementation of TPM to date) makes a strong case for this.

g) TPM adds cost which adds to retail price (licensing cost, manufacturing cost, customer support cost) which gives the consumer more incentive to pirate

Can’t stop piracy. You just can’t.  As long as people don’t want to pay the current price for media and the risk of punishment or losing access isn’t great enough to dissuade them you’ll always have someone trying to crack the DRM schemes.

Then again, we have to ask why media companies insist on DRM efforts.  They must value whatever revenue they think they are losing.  Or do they value something else?

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Halo Stats (no laughing)

Check out my halo 3 stats.

This is an amazing example of how much data is available to mine.  You can see how i’ve played the game, how others view me, how changes to the game changed my play, how I reacted to marketing.

Match this data against news about Halo 3, census data, labor statistics, macro economic indicators….  combine it with facebook, linkedin, opensocial networks, google search data… and on and on.

We can do this for far more than gamers. and lots of companies do!  What’s cooler (more scary?) you can do it yourself to others.

~Russ

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