Guess I’ll watch TV instead

In South Korea, gaming is taken to a completely different level than it is in the United States. It’s a way of life. It’s considered a very social activity. Many people gather in internet gaming cafes, called “bangs.” Gaming can be a profession, and the best have attained star status, complete with their own fan clubs, paparazzi and press events. One of the most popular games in Korea is Starcraft, a real-time strategy game, with almost ten percent of the South Korean population being players at one point. Not bad for a country with a population just under 49 million.
Recently, a new law was passed that would require gaming companies to restrict the gaming of children to prevent addiction and ensure they get at least six hours of sleep per night. The “Shutdown Law” will prohibit teens’ online game play from the hours of 12-6 a.m. Originally, this law was written for PC games but is now being expanded to include consoles, affecting both Microsoft’s Xbox Live service and Sony’s PSN. Sony, which tracks the age of its PSN users, has a lead on its Microsoft counterpart, which never elected to collect this information from its South Korean users. Civic engagement group MoonHwaYunDae filed an appeal with the Korean Constitutional Court on behalf of Korean teens, stating that is a violation of their right to pursue happiness. And with professional gaming being an option for Korean students to pursue, this law may also be getting in the way of some well-needed practice for a future career.
Though this plan is facing some opposition in South Korea, what would happen if someone tried to make a similar law here in the U.S.? For starters, it would have to be very specific. The easiest way to go about it would be to ban internet access for all minors from 12-6 a.m. Of course, there would have to be concessions made for certain basic forms of information, weather reports, journalism. And who can say that a teen shouldn’t know the sports score of a game that goes past midnight? These are some of the questions that would have to be addressed in restricting internet access, but limiting online games is almost as complicated. Certain very strict guidelines would have to be set for what a “game” is. There’s also the issue of getting an accurate age out of anyone on the internet, something we’ve never taken seriously as a society. I can imagine a scenario in which, we needn’t pass a law at all. The major online gaming companies could form a neutral board (like the ESRB) to regulate late-night play and ensure that minors don’t have access to internet-based games after midnight or so. Of course, our culture views gaming in a completely different light and addiction seems nowhere near as prominent. So is a law of this nature even necessary here? I can think of several reasons: freedom of expression, time zones, sleep-disorders, emancipated minors and several other extenuating circumstances why this kind of action wouldn’t work in America.  Can you think of a good reason why this wouldn’t work in America or how someone would go about banning games for minors in America from 12-6 a.m.?

The fall of Xbox Live?

Digital distribution of video games is nothing new. It wasn’t really done right until it was done by Microsoft in 2004, when it launched a service for the Xbox dubbed Xbox Live Arcade. The service allowed consumers to buy digital copies of games and download them directly to the Xbox console. Most games range from $5-20 and offer games from major publishers like EA and smaller indie developers.
XBL was the clear front-runner in the rapid-growing video game digital distribution business. It set a standard that other companies were forced to follow or risk falling behind. Things like friends lists, leaderboards, achievements and downloadable bonus content helped foster a sense of community and show everyone what the online games market could be. This type of service was revolutionary at the time and quickly, others jumped on board. Valve released its version, Steam, for the PC platform, and Sony released PSN for the Playstation 3.
And then Microsoft lagged.
Lagged might be the wrong word. It was more like they did nothing else. Other companies expanded into this new niche of cyberspace by adding new features to the XBL formula; Microsoft perched on its laurels as the angry birds came home to roost. While Microsoft did…nothing, Valve aggressively expanded into the PC market, their penetration driven by having two of the all-time top-rated PC games at the time (having since added two more to the Metacritic all-time top 10). While Microsoft led with its hardware, Valve led with its software and innovation.  Console rival SONY got in on the metagame as well.  Releasing at a higher cost, but with superior hardware that included a larger hard drive, the Playstation 3 platform’s Playstation Network further split the market. Copying all of the popular XBL features along with subscription free service and integrating the Playstation 3 network with their wifi-enabled portable platform, the Playstation Portable, gave Playstation an arguable edge. Now consider that Nintendo has digital distribution services for its Wii, DSi, and 3DS consoles and the impending threat of mobile and tablet-based gaming, and the digital distribution looks really crowded all of a sudden. Microsoft will have to make some changes before it’s game over for the XBL.
A recent prescription for success that’s been getting some buzz of late comes from Ron Carmel, writer for the 2D Boy blog and former EA developer.  Ron provides a large body of relevant evidence to support his claim, citing the well-known frustration of his indie-developer colleagues.  Carmel’s advice boils down to this simple list, a practical 10 corrections:
  1. Create a fair contract for publishers/developers.
  2. Raise awareness for the product.
  3. Allow indie developers to self-publish without assigning a producer to oversee.
  4. A better system for updating instead of forcing TCRs(technical certification requirements)
  5. Get rid of the exclusivity requirements for the developers.
  6. Get rid of the greenlight process and open development to anyone.
  7. Give every console the ability to develop.
  8. Automate everything for the developers. They should be able to submit, set price and set a release date all from a web interface.
  9. Get rid of the current ESRB system and allow developers to set the rating on their own.
  10. Don’t force developers to make game-related avatar-items.
As I’m sure you can tell by reading this list, giving the developers more control will only help to provide better and more games, faster. Which we all want…at least I do.
Then again, who is Ron Carmel to be questioning Microsoft?