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Is InXile Crowdsourcing or Outsourcing?
Posted on Tuesday, May 7 2013 @ 22:25:48 Eastern

This member blog post was promoted to the GameRevolution homepage.
[Editor's Note: This article was published on BlisteredThumbs and thus will not be eligible for the Vox Pop monthly prize. However, we believe it should still be featured as a part of our community.]

Update: InXile has graciously responded to the questions and criticisms raised in my article here. On April 29th, InXile line producer Thomas Beekers sent the following response.   Some clarifications:   - We do not retain any ownership of the assets outside a normal Unity Store usage license. Whether we use em or not, the assets remain the property of the participant, NOT inXile, and they can continue to sell it on the Unity Store, like any other asset on there.   - We encourage participants to price their assets per Unity Store guidelines. But they can set their own price, whatever they prefer.   - We do not require participants to make exact copies of the art, we encourage the opposite, explicitly. If you head out to the accompanying forum, you'll see the recent batch especially has some interesting things, especially in the watchtowers and IEDs. That kind of creativity is exactly why you crowdsource things.   - This is not a contest, we do not just select and purchase the best work. It's great to have multiple versions of things like turrets or watchtowers. So far, we have purchased the vast majority of submissions, including many multiple versions of things like turrets or shacks. Those we don't purchase can still be placed and sold on the Unity Asset store, just not with the "seen in Wasteland 2" badge.   - The association with spec work is an unfortunate one but we don't really follow "the rules" of spec work (as I could find em, at least). In spec work, we'd be asking people to do unpaid work in which we retain the rights to the assets. We don't retain the rights, and the pricing follows that of normal Unity assets. In effect, we're asking people to join the Unity Asset Store - which we use to purchase more assets than just the ones from WASTE – and follow the standard rules for Unity Store assets.

--Thomas Beekers, Line Producer of InXile   With their cooperation, I also had a small interview with Beeker and Koy Vanoteghan, an artist at InXile. The questions and answers were as follows:   Rob Grosso: If the intent is to let people be creative, why do the assets include very specific instructions for design?   For example, one of the images has the following description:   "Nothing works quite right in the Wasteland these days. The more high tech it's manufacturing in its day, the less likely to survive the function. Plenty of "vintage" 1960's and 70's glazed-enameled, metal-cased, and vacuum-tubed equipment held up over the long years. Decades collide when new devices are crafted out of the old to fulfill the needs of the inhabitants. These are often the first things wrecked by mutants, so they're typically not too pretty."
  Thomas Beekers: We do want creativity but it wouldn't work to just go “do whatever you want”. This is a game with a strong unified art direction. If we don’t describe the art direction for assets to be submitted in any way then we are very likely to receive numerous assets we just can’t use because they’d clash with other art. That would be lose-lose, for us and the contributors.   Koy Vanoteghen:  Thomas is correct. We encourage creativity, but we also have to use these things in our universe in a visually appropriate way, so we set up loose guidelines for them to follow so that it fits in a post-apoc genre. The time period we suggest and the tech we suggest are pretty vague, and far from what we would otherwise stipulate with a prop house, but they help set the tone to fall within our predecessors story’s timeline.    RG:  As a followup, what does "back by popular demand" mean? If it was in popular demand, and people were contributing creative designs, aren't there enough assets collected?   TB: We got a few iterations of it but I think we also heard from people who missed it in batch 2 or didn’t get to it and wanted another crack at it, hence it was included again.   KV: Yes, we do not limit the number of participants on any given asset, they are free to choose which ever prop the want to work on, and sometimes this means we get 15 of one asset and 2 of another. For older requests like the towers, we found them to be quite useful in our world building (but only got 2 of them- both were accepted and purchased), and thought a little more variety would be beneficial (thus the creative aspect of this comes into play). This is our effort to not control who works on what or how many we are willing to accept, while maintaining the opportunity to request a few more iterations when the number of submissions was limited. The props selected to be “back by popular demand” simply received fewer submissions, not low quality, so we are just asking for a few more.    RG: Also, can you explain to me what "vast majority" refers to? Can you give us a precise count to how many copies of a given asset were purchased by InXile. Is an asset like this purchased multiple times by InXile from various artists?    TB: Based on a quick calculation, 86% of the submissions we’ve received have been approved for purchase, over three batches (the fourth is in progress and hasn’t reached that stage yet). There are very few assets where we received only one version of it. The dilapidated car is a good example, we received 9 takes on that one that we’re purchasing to use in the game. This search shows a good chunk of assets we’re using including a few of the cars (not nearly all of them, but Unity doesn’t have an easy way to display em all).   KV: That sounds about right as far as numbers go. When we feel like an asset is not quite game-ready, we contact the participant to see if we can assist them in their effort. Often it’s simply a matter of not having the time to finish the prop, or not knowing how to do a certain thing, or not understanding Unity3D procedures. Making game art is a nuanced process that many are just getting into for the first time. So we work with them to get the prop to a point where it is sellable. This is a bit of a time hit to us, but it is a good learning experience for aspiring game asset creators, and it’s worth the extra effort. Of course there are always participants that never reply to the acceptance letter and don’t end up posting the asset in the store for whatever reason… something outside of our control. We can’t use their submission if this happens, and it goes into standby status, where we periodically try to contact them and see if there is something we can do to help the get the asset on the store. That does contribute to our +- 15% pass rate, but we are working to make the communication aspect of this process a little better as we get further into this.   All in all, the amount of time we spend managing this process and helping participants has been considerable. There are certainly faster and easier ways of acquiring game assets than this… and probably better suited for our specific needs at times. But this has been as much about generating community involvement as it has been about getting props, and it’s been a great experience for us seeing what our fans and backers had brewing inside their heads. We are as excited to showcase their work in our game as they are to brag about getting a little part of themselves into Wasteland.   ---   While it is clear that InXile is not pursuing malicious intent here, the fact does remain that professional artists will be left out in the cold in creating these assets, and possibly finding a job. It is a slippery slope because such practices open the door for cheap, and in the cases of some of those assets, free labor. There is of course, the simple question of "does it matter?" That, sadly, I cannot answer.
With the recent trends of crowdfunding in the gaming industry, it's not much of a stretch to see game companies attempt to expand their horizons with new methods of creation. However, the chance for abuse is very high in doing so, especially in certain fields of design and management. One example includes the control and management of crowdsourced assets for a video game; in this case, art assets. Specifically, asking the public to show off their artistic skills for the chance of profit and being featured in the game. Such an issue is actually happening today, with one of the most successful KickStarters ever funding in the gaming space: InXile’s Wasteland 2.    InXile Entertainment has been the toast of the gaming industry for some time now. After two highly successful KickStarter projects to fund Wasteland 2 and Torment: Tides of Numenera, the company, headed by industry veteran Brian Fargo, has been ecstatic with the fantastic results. Fargo and InXile have also employed a new crowdfunding experiment, as seen on their own site here, in an attempt to keep in tune with their fanbase by giving them a chance to help in the game's development even further.   The notes given through the Wasteland 2 website are requesting artists to basically copy the given sketches in the Unity test engine, creating a 3D render of the sketch following the guidelines put forth by InXile. While they promise compensation and an artist's credit, InXile is effectively outsourcing some of their workload to the community, letting fans and aspiring artists try their luck at a quick commission. This essentially means that InXile is picking one artist for one asset, offering them compensation and a name credit, but keeping the art assets, only giving a badge for their unity asset store saying “as seen in Wasteland 2” for those selected for the game.    In truth, InXile is not crowdsourcing, but outsourcing the work, creating a pre-determined image for InXile without being employed to them. It is a contest where InXile is the only winner, since work done for Wasteland 2 is essentially low-cost and a thinly veiled attempt at appearing close to their audience.   Such practices are common across the internet. Many schools and studios offer contests to find new and aspiring artists to show their work, but often employ the same tactics as InXile: gaining complete ownership of art assets with an unspecified amount of compensation and breeding a competitive market where few can actually make a living. Many professionals within the art community are very outspoken against such dealings.
I contacted Stephen Silver, professional artist and lead character designer for animated television shows such as Danny Phantom and Kim Possible, to get his take on the situation. “Crowd-sourcing is a case of spec work which I am highly against,“ Silver told me, “I feel artists get taken advantage of in these situations, by giving the studio many free ideas that do get used without the artist ever knowing.”    Silver is an adamant opponent of such practices. Recently on his own YouTube channel he expressed similar sentiments regarding control and copyright issues many artists contend with today. “What happens nine out of ten times is they will find an iteration they like and have another artist refine the concept, change it, and use it," he said. “The artist will never know if their idea was actually used or not. This process is destroying the art industry, keeping artists wages down and high unemployment.”   I did reach out to InXile for a comment, but they did not get back to me as of the time of this writing.    Essentially, InXile is abusing their own fans, rendering their work insignificant by denying any intrinsic value to the artists' endeavors. Crowdsourcing for work is fine if done correctly. One positive example would be Valve and the treatment of fan-made hats for the online shooter Team Fortress 2. Each hat is tested and approved by Valve, but they have bare-minimum  requirements for look and feel, and also allow designers to retain their copyright. This allows fans to literally make a living off of creating and selling hats in Team Fortress 2.    Although fans are no doubt eager to showcase their artistic talents for them, I would caution them for even participating. Unless InXile redefines the parameters of their crowd sourcing to a more beneficial, symbiotic relationship, of course.

The opinions expressed here does not necessarily reflect the views of Game Revolution, but we believe it's worthy of being featured on our site. This article has been lightly edited for grammar and image inclusion. It has been submitted for our monthly Vox Pop competition. You can find more Vox Pop articles here. ~Ed. Nick

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Remember Me and the Female Touch
Posted on Friday, March 22 2013 @ 10:23:04 Eastern

This member blog post was promoted to the GameRevolution homepage.

Why are there no female leads in gaming?    A strange question to ask after recently reviewing Tomb Raider, but it is a fair question considering that there are few female leads in gaming today. In fact, according to a report from Penny Arcade by Ben Kuchera back in November, only twenty-four.   Twenty-Four. These are games with a female-only protagonist, no choice in gender allowed here. Of course we can add Tomb Raider to the mix now, but that is still a small sample size considering the sample size of 699 games taken by Kuchera and Geoffery Zatkin, the Chief Operating Officer of EEDAR. EEDAR, by the way, is the data collection arm of the gaming industry, so they would know their stuff.    The results weren't pretty, with the two discovering the small number of games with female leads. What's worse, the data found correlates to another issue barely touched: the financial budgets of these games. According to Zatkin, "Games with a female-only protagonist, got half the spending of female optional, and only 40 percent of the marketing budget of male-led games. Less than that, actually." This is a major disadvantage for female lead video games, considering they tend to sell less than male-lead games, a differentiation of roughly 75%.    “I think that there is general feeling from marketing that it’s hard to sell a mass-market game that’s a female-only protagonist,” said Zatkin. "This may be changing greatly with mobile and social, where you’re expanding the audience, but in core console land, there’s a lot of marketing thought that it’s hard to sell a game with a female-only protagonist in a core genre. The question is, is this something that really doesn’t happen, or do marketing budgets get gimped?”   This may explain the story making the rounds today, regarding Capcom's new adventure title Remember Me. Starring the character Nilin and set in a dystopian future, creative director Jean-Alex Morris of Dontnod Entertainment discussed the problems they had securing a publisher for the cyberpunk title because of the gender of their protagonist. “We had some that said, 'Well, we don't want to publish it because that's not going to succeed. You can't have a female character in games. It has to be a male character, simple as that,'” said Morris.    But such a change in gender was just not feasible at this stage of the development. “We wanted to be able to tease on Nilin's private life, and that means for instance, at one point, we wanted a scene where she was kissing a guy,” Morris said. “We had people tell us, 'You can't make a dude like the player kiss another dude in the game, that's going to feel awkward. I'm like, 'If you think like that, there's no way the medium's going to mature.'”    It is hopeful that Remember Me is just not another statistic in Kuchera's experiment, but the ball is now in Capcom's court regarding their budget and exposure of the title. Perhaps the trend is changing, after all the latest Tomb Raider was heavily marketed by Square Enix, but the star power of Lara Croft may have carried her a bit there. With such a small sample size of now twenty-five games with a female lead, it is still murky to say if their lack of success is self-fulfilling due to their marketing budgets though. But to actually start facilitating a change, perhaps the best course of action is to take a chance and, with the right amount of push, see what happens.

The opinions expressed here does not necessarily reflect the views of Game Revolution, but we believe it's worthy of being featured on our site. This article has been lightly edited for grammar and image inclusion. It has been submitted for our monthly Vox Pop competition. You can find more Vox Pop articles here. ~Ed. Nick

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The Ghost of Video Game Violence
Posted on Thursday, February 7 2013 @ 07:54:19 Eastern

October 7th, 2005. In the throes of the Autumn weather, then Governor of California, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, signed two bills into law. The bills in question were California Assembly Bills 1792 and 1793--more commonly known as the video game ban bills. The two bills, pushed forth by then California State Assemblyman, Democrat Leland Yee, would explicitly place the sale of violent video games as a criminal offense in California, as well as require M-rated titles to be segregated from E-T titles, according to the ESRB labeling system.   The bills passed, but were never implemented, as in December 2005, California Judge Ronald Whyte deemed them unconstitutional, which forced the legislation to reach the United Stated Supreme Court. There, in 2011, The U.S Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, would grant first amendment freedoms to video games, guaranteeing the same protections as film, music, and other forms of media against unconstitutional practices. This has not stopped many from attempting to counter the legal progress the gaming media now enjoys. Time and again the specter of video game violence is raised by the buffoonish necromancers that read the tea leaves too closely, the Jack Thompsons of the world that give no credibility to their cause. And yet, the ghost lingers still, thanks to the tragic events of Newtown, Connecticut.   The tragedy at Newtown saw a gunman, whose name is unimportant, murder 26 human beings, including 20 children. Since then, the political boiling pot has reached a fever pitch, inciting a fervor for or against the curtailing of gun control unlike any the U.S has seen before. Once again, video games have come under fire as a possible reason why the gunman decided to murder the likes of victims Noah Pozner, Dylan Hockley, and Rachel D’Avino.   Recently, Vice President Joe Biden met with industry leaders regarding gun control, an action that some criticized as admitting we are part of the problem. Biden was quick to state that they are not trying to single out anyone specifically, as other groups, such as the National Rifle Association, were also contacted to discuss ways to promote gun control. In the interum, President Barack Obama has proposed that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) investigate the psychological effects of violence, effectively lifting a ban on studying gun violence that was in place for nearly a generation.   What the CDC will find is anyone’s guess, but that has not stopped this ghost from returning. The NRA has criticized the medium as the root cause for gun violence and having too much violent content, shrilling that the industry is a “callous, corrupting shadow industry that sells and sows violence against its own people.” House Representative Diane Franklin (R-Mo) of Missouri has recently proposed a “violent video game tax” based on their ESRB ratings, which would cause all games rated T-AO from the ESRB to be taxed for violent content. And let’s not forget Leland Yee, the man who proposed the video game ban bills back in 2005. Yee, a former Child Psychologist, recently stated that “Gamers have no credibility in this argument. This is all about their lust for violence and the industry’s lust for money. This is a billion-dollar industry. This is about their self-interest.”   Since then, Yee has of course apologized for his comments, stating he has respect for gamers but "the industry has profited at the expanse of children." The stark and direct language, often condescending towards those within the industry, no doubt will invoke the wrath of many. In fact, numerous critics have already responded with their typical disdain, replying back with myopic, passive-aggressive language to convey their own frustrations for retreading old ground. Yet, we don’t have to say anything in the end, thanks to the U.S Supreme Court giving games the same protections under fire.   The spirit of these arguments will never die, of course. That is expected. But with legal precedent set and psychological studies showing inconclusive evidence towards the claims made by video game violence critics, the fight is much easier to weather. It also helps that the video game industry is just as reactive. One could even argue that the influx of violent games and first-person shooters is itself due to an already present culture of violence glorification. Kate Edwards, president of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), puts it more succinctly:   "Developers consider many complex social issues that may arise in their games. On the issue of violence, I think most game designers are cognizant of the role that violent actions serve in their games' stories, very similar to how a film's scriptwriter or a book's author leverages such acts to serve the stories they wish to tell. Having worked on many major game titles over the years, I can attest firsthand that the writers, designers and developers are usually very conscientious of their craft and how certain actions — violent or not — serve the purpose of their games.   I think in the broader context most people would agree that they have to be true to their artistic vision as part of a broader creative expression of our culture. The decision to accept or reject that artistic content is at the discretion of a consumer's own preferences, or if they're young, at the discretion of their parents to decide what is appropriate."   Excess is obvious all over the gaming industry, where wanton, random acts of violence paint the whole art form in a negative light. Slaughtering waves of colored bad guys in Uncharted is given a pass because it becomes a game conceit, despite the somewhat audacious notion that so many bad guys would exist in such an impossible scenario. Manhunt also comes to mind as a game that adheres to this decadence as being excessively violent, and downright exploitative, because of its primary design directive. And yet, for every Manhunt, there is a Spec Ops: The Line, a game that utilizes its “violent nature” to not only service its story arc, but to examine the “fun” of violence in a video game, and communicate the fact that it shouldn’t be fun at all.   We have seen many positive examples of violence, despite their content, on the surface, being negative. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s famous “No Russian” mission can be seen as how cold and troubling violence is, callously shooting bystanders in an airport to keep up appearances with Russian nationalists. In 2009 it was a harrowing scene, one that even Infinity Ward was cautious about to the point of making the scene skippable if the player wished it. It was a calculated risk, a moment to show how terrible violence can be, and it was done tastefully in one of the very same games where many detractors would cry out against its excessive content.   Not to mention the plethora of games that are without violent content, but immensely popular with the gaming audience. Nintendo’s entire catalog is devoid of bloodshed, yet many of their games are predominantly among the top-selling games each year. Sports titles and other simulators abhor violence and favor the realistic representation of our favorite pastimes. And many role-playing games can have you bypass violent behavior all-together. Fallout: New Vegas is a recent example, where your words and wits can be effective weapons over guns and grenades.   Many of those titles above are the unsung heroes of the gaming industry, due to the stigma of being too casual or a pure simulation. Yet, many of them offer the chance to unwind in ways that Call of Duty does not. They can be as fun as the latest Modern Warfare, without the bloodshed required. In fact, in 2012 the top ten video games sold across each platform contained equal representation of non-violent titles. Just Dance 4, Madden, even Lego Batman 2 were in the mix, all of them perfectly viable titles that detract from the generalization that gaming culture is too violent.   It would be easy to lambaste people such as Leland Yee or Diane Franklin for “not getting it.” But their concerns, correct or not, are just as valid as ours. Many people are afraid of what they see as a scandalous cultural issue, but whether they are right or not is not the question we should be asking. If Yee and Franklin were to look at the whole picture, to examine the issue with a wider lens, then they would see that this ghost of video game violence is truly transparent. That there is no solid evidence that supports it, no preceding case that defines it, and ultimately, no legal power to convict it.   This is, of course, a two-way street, one where we, as a community, must respect people such as Mr. Yee and Ms. Franklin, who should in turn respect the rights that video games have finally earned from the Supreme Court. Politicians and psychologists should work with the artists, game makers, and the community at large to uncover a deeper meaning to these violent tendencies. If a mutual understanding between the two groups can be found, perhaps the idea of video games as inherently violent will be exorcised for good.

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The Dissolution of Choice, How Choices Matter in Gaming Narrative
Posted on Monday, December 17 2012 @ 13:26:13 Eastern

Note: The following editorial contains spoilers. You have been warned.    "Choices." "Consequences." "Engaging and defining your play style." These are the short and catchy buzzwords of...   read more...

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Fiction Over Fact: Why EA Is Destined To Lose When It Doesn't Deserve It
Posted on Wednesday, September 19 2012 @ 12:36:47 Eastern

A sort of disclaimer before I begin. It is not every day that I normally throw myself out there with the purpose of starting a conversation to discuss discourse of the general gaming audience, but with the calm before the holiday stor...   read more...

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Separate but Equal: The Narrative and the Gameplay.
Posted on Monday, March 14 2011 @ 10:37:39 Eastern

The recent release of Dragon Age II has kind of compelled me to write this piece. It is something that has been on my mind for years, something that is starting to become a grim reality that anyone who is a fan of video games is facing. It is also so...   read more...

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My Link to the Past: Reminisces on Legend of Zelda
Posted on Tuesday, February 22 2011 @ 05:29:52 Eastern

Today is a red letter day for video games. By red letters I mean the crimson N of course, and the brain child of Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka that I am referring to is The Legend of Zelda. The original game has just turned 25 years old ,...   read more...

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NaNoWriMo Entry 2: Blind Date
Posted on Tuesday, November 2 2010 @ 14:47:31 Eastern

Here is entry number two for my thirty day odyssey to see how long I can have creative juice. I hope you enjoy "Blind Date."

Blind Date

      Liz was trembling madly as she clasped her ...   read more...

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NaNoWriMo Entry Number 1: The Simple Things
Posted on Monday, November 1 2010 @ 20:52:12 Eastern

For those that do not know, Novmeber is National Novel Writing Month. It is a challenge for aspiring writers to pen a 50,000 word story in thirty days, a hefty task indeed. One that at best I got about 36,000 words or so at my peak.

La...  

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Playing Wargames: The story of “Under Ash” and the lessons learned from it.
Posted on Tuesday, October 12 2010 @ 15:55:34 Eastern

 With “Medal of Honor” being released today, I did want to bring up another first person wargame that has been in development and was released in the year 2000, a classic known as “Under Ash.”

Now many of y...  

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