RIP Jerry Lawson

Last week one of the pioneers of the gaming industry passed away. This man engineered the modern console. It was only in March that he was honoured by the International Game Developers Association.

And yet you probably never heard of Jerry Lawson, the creator of the first cartridge-based videogame console.

Something that set Jerry apart from most people working in the gaming industry is that he was black.

Jerry was born in 1940 and grew up in a federal housing project in Queens, New York. As a kid, he operated a ham radio; as a teenager he earned money by repairing his neighbors’ television sets.

In the 1970s, living and working in Silicon Valley, he was the only African-American to join the Homebrew Computer Club, a group of early hackers that included Apple co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

He went on to design the Channel F console for Fairchild Semiconductors, the first gaming machine to use interchangeable cartridges.

 And he went on to become the industry's best kept secret.

The gaming industry certainly has liberal roots. Take Atari for example, Nolan Bushnell had a beer tap in his office and employed a bunch of hippies to assemble arcade machines. When Atari was sold to Warner and the technology of Battlezone was to be used for military purposes, some developers refused to contribute to the project.

In the early days Apple had countercultural sensibilities about it, just look at the 1984 commercial.

But despite this liberal outlook, the gaming/ computer industry dominantly favoured white male subjects. This was the origin of the industry – young educated "hackers" (think of Space War and its creators or Ralph Baer).

It took decades to overcome this hardcore technicity mindset, the Wii was the first console to successfully challenge this outlook. While gaming reaches new demographics, it'd be interesting to look into who is actually responsible for its contents.

If my students are anything to go by, games are still predominantly made by white men.

Video games might have a comparatively liberal background, but their (Western) history is almost exclusively Caucasian at the expense of other ethnics.

They represent a culture that makes it difficult for other influences to assert themselves and perpetuate the ideal gamer of the 21st century as likely being male – and white.

All this make Jerry's achievements even more impressive. Hopefully he will receive the recognition he deserves!


Game Based on Germany's Death Strip Stirs Controversy

"1,378 (kilometers)" is a game designed by German media-art student Jens Strobe for the University of Design, Media and Arts in the city of Karlsruhe. Name after the length of the wall that used to divide East and West Germany during the Cold War, the game lets you play either as a refugee fleeing the East German state or a border guard charged with stopping them. Being historically accurate, one of the means by which you have to stop people from leaving the country is shooting them, despite them being unarmed civilians. (The other choices are to arrest them or to join them.) This way more than 1,000 people were killed on the German-German border.

If the player decides to shoot an East German refugee, the regime will award him with a medal; however, the game will then fast forward to the year 2000 where the player has to face a trial for killing a civilian. The player is taken out of the game for about a minute which gives him the chance to reflect on what he did and the inhumane practices of the East German government. Moreover, killing too many refugees will result in a loss of points.

When I first read about the game a couple of weeks ago, I thought it was a great idea. (At a talk I once suggested the development of a game which aims to replicate the terror and paranoia caused by the East German secret police.)

Due to the simulational nature of digital games, players are able to experience the horrors of the inner German border first hand. It's like a documentary, except that it is playable. The difficulty and cruelty of the escape translate directly into the rules of the game, the player gets the chance to ask himself how he would have reacted and can vary his actions accordingly.

Games like "1,378 (kilometers)" are a great way to teach history to younger generations by means of their preferred medium. They are also a good example for how games can incorporate and convey national images and stories in order to keep their memory alive. With some enhancements it might work even better (e.g. the player is confronted with the biography of the person he just killed, or he has to face an East German military court if he fails to stop the refugee).

As such you'd expect a game like this of being able to contribute to the social acceptance of the medium. However, it mostly met harsh criticism.

Despite not being available yet, people like the director of the Berlin Wall Memorial, Axel Klausmeier, called the game “tasteless,” and an insult to the families of those killed along the border while trying to escape. He also said the game was “unsuitable” for teaching historical facts. “The seriousness of what once went on at the border can’t be portrayed in this way,” he said.

Another critic is Rainer Wagner, a man who spent two years in an East German prison following a botched escape attempt and who is now head of an organisation for victims of communist violence. He says the game “appealed to the basest human instincts”, and that “this game…is even worse than other shoot ‘em ups because normally in such games, one shoots at armed enemies – here, it is unarmed civilians.”

Others labelled the game "tasteless", "stupid" or explained how a university was not a suitable place for producing "killer games". Hubertus Knabe, chairman of a memorial place documenting the crimes of the East German secret police, even pressed charges against the maker of the game on the grounds of it glorifying violence.

If find these discussions remarkable for two reasons.

On one hand, it shows that digital games still haven't reached German society. Parts of the populace still don't regard them as a means for the communication of serious ideas – despite believing in their potential to incite violent acts, if the medium is supposedly that powerful why not use it for educational purposes?

There's a general unwillingness to engage with games, this "vulgar" medium; like cinema and television before it it has "the traits of a young street arab; [it is] an uneducated creature running wild among the lower strata of society" (Kracauer).

This cultural conflict – which is very distinct in Germany – is aided by a generational conflict. Despite being several decades old, to some people games are still a new form of technology which did not yet enter their cultural meaning horizon They are therefore destructively criticised as an unwholesome leisure pursuit and idle waste of time. Like every newly introduced technology, digital games cause suspicion and fear and are identified and stigmatised as deviants from the promoted social order by parts of the society lacking the knowledge and strategies to make sense of them.

On the other hand, if critics of the game explain that it should be banned because people can be shoot like rabbits, this is not so much a criticism of the game but of the system it aims to simulate.

The game's creator aims to replicate the horrors of the inner German border; the fact that people can be shoot is not his fault but is a direct result of the policies of the socialist East German regime. They are just reflected by the game's mechanics. In this respect the criticism is rather about getting even with the past, charges are pressed against the system of rules of Germany's second dictatorship.

Still, as a result of the public uproar the game did not get released. It was supposed to come out on 3 October, the 20th anniversary of Germany's reunification, however the release was postponed.

I'm really looking forward to this game, not only because it demonstrates games' potential but also because it has the courage to say something meaningful (in contrast to something like Medal of Honor).


Germany Retains Hypocritical Stance

As you might have read, a teenager went on a rampage at his old school in Germany, slaying at least 15 people before turning his gun on himself during a shootout with police.

As usual in my Vaterland, German media are having a field day accusing so called "killergames" of inciting such horrible acts. I won't go into these discourses in detail as that would only bring me to the brink of an heart attack.

But I just couldn't pass up on this one: German tabloid Bild is calling for a ban of violent games (by citing "Germany's most important media analyst") yet runs huge ads for Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X, a game that "promises to revolutionise the way players think about combat in the sky."


Not really that violent you say? Fair enough. We might as well go for the real stuff and buy Counterstrike (the game officials love to blame), GTA IV or Gears of War 2 (officially banned in Germany because of its violence) in the official shop!


On a similar note: Another brilliant idea on how to curb youth violence by making the access to videogames more difficult comes from the UK. Reports Destructoid:

A tax on videogames would combat knife crime in UK, claims a government advisor who lost his own son to inner city youth crime. According to the rather outrageous suggestion, videogames are "too cheap" and this makes it easy for children to buy them, which in turn causes them to become violent psychopaths. Typical logic from a man thinking with his heart and not his brain.

And another politician taking a convenient shortcut… Ban instead of educate, prohibit instead of looking into deeper reasons that might result in questioning one's own policies.


How German Intellectuals Don't Understand the Nature of the Internet. Or rather: Germany = Internet Development Country

I recently came across the so-called 'Heidelberg Appeal' initiated by some professor for German language and literature studies. In it, more than 1600 German authors, intellectuals and publishers lament that:

[A]t the international level, intellectual property is being stolen from its producers to an unimagined degree and without criminalisation through the illegal publication of works protected by German copyright law on platforms such as GoogleBooks and YouTube.

They mix this criticism with a condemnation of the open access initiative, a portal which offers the free use of scientific articles. One of the arguments for public access to scholarly literature is that most of it is paid for by taxpayers, who therefore have a right to access the results of what they have funded. This, in turn, would cut publishers out of the equation.

The undertone of this appeal is quite characteristic for the current mood in the Vaterland: The Minister of Family Affairs wants to introduce mandatory blockage of child pornography via a black list, a system potentially open to political abuse and economic pressure. In fact, the music industry would like to extend this list to 'P2P link sites' (whatever that means) in order to protect its intellectual property. Meanwhile a branch of the youth organization of the two conservative German political parties CDU and CSU seriously suggested that users must register themselves on youtube with their personal id-number. The reasoning for this measure: It is supposed to curb youth violence. I kid you not.

In short, as this excellent article on the German blog netzwertig (which I'm very much in debt to for the following points) explains: The basic quality of the internet as a space for open communication is threatened.

This threat basically emanates from groups and individuals who are incapable of grasping the digital nature of the medium. All over the world you'll find industries which are incapable of adapting their 'analogue' business models to changing circumstances. Businesses which are threatened try to get rid of the threat by calling for protective legislation. Eventually it comes down to a fight between the supporters of free information, communication, and knowledge and those who are afraid of these new freedoms and would like to curtail them.

The problem with Germany is… well, exactly that: It's Germany. Take the US for example, a country with a strong belief in a free market, freedom of speech and personal freedom. Here you find the same calls for a protection of the culture industry – however, the regulation of the internet is way less strict than in Deutschland.

Viewed under a long term perspective this should not be surprising at all: Germany is a country with very little liberal traditions. Germany did not see a single successful bourgeois revolt in which the concepts of freedom and unity helped to overcome suppressive structures. Instead, the bourgeoisie focused all its hope on the state as the preserver of the social order, though with a growing claim for absoluteness the myth of the nation corrupted a group whose initial core of existence revolved around cosmopolitan and tolerant concepts.

These tendencies were perpetuated by the darker side of German romanticism which the educated bourgeoisie gave itself over to. In contrast to an unscrupulous belief in progress and reckless pragmatism, people enjoyed the 'romantic' because it offered an escape from the rationalism of industrialisation: A romantic anticapitalism arose out of the conflict between humanist culture and capitalist exchange relations.

These specifically German foundational dynamics had a distinct impact of the perception of mass based cultural forms; these were mainly shaped by rejection, a strong control on behalf of the state or an over-enthusiasm which eventually betrayed a deep insecurity.

From its onset in 1923, radio was basically state controlled. After WWII the Allies dictated the Germans an organizational model for public broadcasting – as soon as they left it was thrown overboard in favor of a scheme that allowed more political influence. To this very day, the pressure political parties apply on public broadcaster is immense.

Given the country's spiritual heritage, German intellectuals were notoriously anti-modern, anti-capitalistic and anti-American. A very good example of this is the Frankfurt School whose elitist criticism of mass culture eventually amounted to allegations that weren't too different to conservative criticism.

Given this track record, some of the current developments aren't really surprising: The state trying to gain control over a free space, economic interests calling for the state's aid because they fear a loss of control (something which also betrays their lack of trust in the market), the inflexibility to adapt to technological changes and take them as a chance, the comparatively large technophobia of German society.

The problem of course is that if the internet in Germany is curtailed as heavily as suggested – its advantages getting completely lost in the process – the Vaterland falls even more behind countries where the internet and its inherent qualities change society and economy for the better (and where the legislation reflects this fact).

Germany is hardly prepared for the cataclysmic changes brought about by the internet. The net becomes more and more important – and the more important it becomes, the more Germany closes itself to it. With the according consequences.


The New Music 'Industry': A German Example

As an addition to the Parker's post about the future of the music industry (or lack thereof), here is an example from Germany of how the will to innovate can benefit everyone involved: in order to gain independence from the industry, hard rocking guitar pop band Angelika Express financed its last album by selling 'shares' to fans. To give fans an impression of the new album the Cologne based group first released rough versions of new songs on Myspace on a weekly basis. They then decided to issue 500 'shares' at 50 Euros (which sold out in record time and came with a detailed plan of how the money would be spent). With those 25.000 Euros Angelika Express financed the recording of their album, the album artwork, the manufacture of the actual CDs, and the accompanying promotion. They also plan to fund upcoming singles from this pool.

The thing is: Not only do the people who signed up for the shares get the new album but in return they also receive 80% of the earnings made with CDs sales and downloads (including upcoming singles and EPs) for the next seven years!

I have to say that this is really one of the most innovative and sympathetic concepts I came across so far. The band gained its independence and its fans get paid to support them. Everybody wins!


The Cultural Background of (German) Digital Games

Over the course of the last two weeks I conducted a couple of interviews for my Ph.D. dealing with the was the perception of digital games differs in Germany and Australia. By talking to just a couple of people you can tell how the cultural history of a country also influences the way modern media is dealt with. The first person I spoke to was Malte Behrmann, attorney, secretary general of the European Games Developer Federation as well chairperson of the German developers association, GAME. Malte is also responsible for digital games getting officially accepted as Kulturby the German Kulturrat, the umbrella organization of the German cultural associations. This push always reminded me of the strategy of the early German Autorenfilm.

In an attempt to conform to bourgeois cultural norms and thus demonstrate cinemas' cultural and social relevance, the Autorenfilm (films based on the works of famous contemporary authors or written by them directly for the screen) mobilized national literary and cultural traditions against the Schundfilm ('trash film') by serving as an incentive to 'respectable' artists from the 'legitimate' stage and literature to lend their prestige to the new medium. It was basically an elevation of the medium to adhere to bourgeois tastes and therefore broaden its social basis.

Asked if he saw any parallels between these two instances, Malte Behrman answered that he wouldn't sit in his office like a spin doctor and think about how a game could be made more socially acceptable by means of "nobilitation". A statement I thought was quite remarkable as it shows how on a subconscious level Germany's long high-culture traditions and its specific socio-cultural influences still assert themselves – in a way that is decidedly different to Australia where, due to the country's different history, I never encountered a similar attitude. Here digital games – and non-hierarchical entertainment in general – never needed any form of cultural legitimation.

German ad for Commodore VC20

Moreover, Germany's cultural background allegedly influenced the way games were designed: They were regarded as overly complicated, complex and not very accessible (think complicated simulations, strategy games and management games [Parker's note: only Germans would be into "management games"]). When I was talking about this with Philipp from Yager he made the point that this might have something to do with the fact that for a very long time German developers mainly created games for the PC.

In contrast to consoles the PC was an open platform everyone could develop for without having to obtain licenses and development kids – and Germany has a very strong history of home computing. I suppose this is because the purchase of a home computer was easier to justify as it allowed its user to go beyond the mere pleasures of play. As the classical ad above puts it: "How do you land safely on Jupiter and in the next class?" With the most successful computer of the world of course! The VC20, not only does it allow you to land on Jupiter as part of a game, it also plays chess and connects people in play. Well, that but it also teaches math, physics and biology… So much for the theory, but then again this probably had more appeal to Germany's cultural history of a country defining itself in terms of Kultur and education.

This eventually also might have had an influence on the design of German games: most of them went beyond mere play but offered an 'added value' by, e.g. teaching about complex economic correlations and challenging the player accordingly. I remember people at school telling me how they refused to play Doom because they thought it was too primitive. As Jens from Ascaron put it in the interview I conducted with him: "Germans liked to play with animated Excel charts".

German Atari 400 ad - good for games AND school!

Obviously this was a competitive disadvantage: These games, on account of their design, hardly sold outside of Germany, probably another sign of their cultural specificity. Just like the (mainstream) American market did not appreciate the Autorenfilm with its intellectualized themes of broken identities, alienation and magic, history repeated itself 80 years later when it refused to play overly complex German games.

Of course this changed in the last couple of years, last not least because of a transition to console gaming. The Wii and especially the DS were godsend gifts - cheap and easy to develop for and… well cynics might point out that Nintendo isn't very strict when it comes to shovelware. Also German developers are amongst the leading ones in the field of mobile and browser games. But eventually it is quite difficult to rid oneself off one's cultural background. I suppose that's what Philipp meant when he said that even though you can have lived in the US for three years you're not quite 'there' yet in terms of an American (uncomplicated, commercially orientated) mindset.

My next interviews will be about support mechanisms. I wonder if the influences I just described also have an impact on how local game developers are supported by the state run institutions. What are the rules and regulations? And do they get applied eventually? Which games will be funded which won't? Would something violent yet potentially successful receive support? I already got a taste of what to expect when I informally talked to someone about these things on a party and was told that 'serious games' apparently play an important role when it comes to funding in Berlin. Not only because they demonstrate potential 'transfer-effects' (locally developed engines used for something… well, beyond play) but also because they function as a mental guide for the people giving out the finds: As a cultural/ technology-beyond-play token that helps to set everything in motion, the 'ox that draws the cart' so to speak.


Games Finally Have a Right to Exist: German Cultural Council Accepts them as "Kultur"

After long discussions the German Kulturrat, the umbrella organisation of the German cultural associations, today welcomed the federal association of game developers GAME, as their latest member. The rationale behind this move: Games are sponsoring all kinds of arts and artists, from designer to script writer to composer; they all benefit from the burgeoning industry. Despite this somehow strange reasoning (games being "Kultur" because they help to sustain other arts instead of being accepted as cultural artefacts in their own right) Malte Behrmann, chairman of GAME, describes the decision as a milestone of German media policy. "For the first time an association of the game industry was incorporated in an institution of cultural politics. The game industry finally arrived in the cultural sphere. This is a great day for the German game industry!"

This whole procedure again goes to show show that in Germany new forms of media always need to be legitimised through the concept of Kultur – which on one hand can do miracles in terms of acceptance. After all culture epitomises an anti-barbaric distinction which perfectly serves for bourgeois self-legitimation – but then again this anti-barbaric distinction also prevents Gears of War 2 from being released in Germany and helps to perpetuate the patronising behaviour of the German state in terms of censorship.

Soon to come: Discussions about culturally valuable games whose market share is marginal at best (at least we Germans are trying our best to save the world again, even if it's just the saving the virtual world from unnecessary brutalisation).


Playing Guitar Hero in the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Part of the duties of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs is to create a solid basis of foreign relationships through the means of educational and cultural policies. Like no other department it uses the core elements of these areas – the teaching of the German language, scientific exchange, German schools abroad – to establish links with other cultures. And it does increasingly so through the products of the German cultural industries. This is the background to its "Menschen bewegen. Kultur und Bildung in der deutschen Aussenpolitik" ("Moving people. Culture and education in Germany's foreign policy") conferences. Events that not only address traditional institutions of German cultural policy but also try to fathom new forms of collaborations by including new actors into the outlining of a future policies – the movie business, German companies with a strong foreign presence… and game developers!

Under the motif "Computer.Spiel.Kultur" (Computer.Game.Culture) several industry representatives were invited to the Ministry to give an overview of the field and its possibilities; amongst them Andreas Lange, director of the Videogame Museum in Berlin, who enabled me to attend this event.

It was a bizarre sight to say the least. The "Weltsaal", apparently one of the biggest and most prestigious halls of the Ministry, was stuffed full of computers and Wiis. Which again goes to show the immense importance of Nintendo's waggle box to acquaintance non-gamers with the medium as everyone easily picked up the Wiimotes and play away (under the guidance of some student of the University of Leipzig).

Non-understanding – and therefore rejection – due to never having played a digital game is of course one of the biggest obstacles; giving people involved in cultural policies and legislation a chance to play to let them overcome their prejudices consequently seems a very good strategy. Case in point: the lady I competed against in Wii Sports and who enthusiastically commented on the fun she had while playing tennis.

Even the foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, made an appearance. Stressing that games can be culture – this is Germany after all and without having been elevated into the lofty realms of culture no new technology is acceptable – he uttered the vision of a co-existence of classical German high culture (as in the explicitly mentioned Goethe) and the new medium of digital games – not without having mentioned that the "non-academically inclined" milieus spend a proportionately higher part of their day in front of the computer. Here we go again…

(It did not become clear if this includes internet use as well; to be fair he also mentioned that there's not necessarily a causal relationship between underachievement and time spend with computers – which is pretty much a no-brainer as it of course mainly depends on the use one puts it to. Also: When asked what amount of time he considers appropriate to spend time with computers his answer was "30 minutes to an hour" causing pretty much everyone to break out in laughter…)

Steinmeier's speech was followed by him playing Fifa, some Need for Speed title, Wii Sports and Brain Training. If someone would have told me that one day I will get the chance to watch the German foreign minister playing digital games I would have declared that person utterly crazy. Did he enjoy it? Difficult to tell – he didn't score a goal in Fifa, sucked at Need for Speed, scored a strike in the bowling part of Wii Sports and apparently was pretty good at Brian Training. I guess that's a sign that we don't have to worry about the future of my Vaterland…

I also got a chance to speak to Malte Behrmann, lobbyist and chairperson of the German and European game developers associations, and very much involved in trying to involve the state in supporting the industry. He explained to me that in the European Union one just can't randomly subsidize a branch of industry but that certain criteria have to be fulfilled to qualify for grants – one being the "cultural exception", the reason why he was busy trying to frame games as culture to achieve said subsidies. It can be seen that in France this approach was obviously successful.

But it also helped to widen the acceptance of digital games in Germany as it was used to counter the maddening "Killerspiel" discourse. As I told Malte this was probably the best action plan they could come up with. The thing is: German politicians for the most part are all members of what could be called a high-level milieu (successors of the classical educated bourgeoisie) whose main form of distinction is "anti-barbarian", one of the main reasons why digital games with violent content matter are vigorously rejected. The opposite of "barbarian" is of course culture, a concept that perfectly works for these people's self-legitimation resulting in the heightened acceptance of the new medium. (It's interesting in this regard that the ancient opposition between nature [=barbarian] and culture still lives on in all its explicitness; I always thought this binary opposition was considered overcome, but here it is as clear as day. More on this in my Ph.D.). This is also one of the reasons why I consider stuff like all the brain training titles extremely important for the perception of games in Germany as they set the "anti-barbarian" tones.

All in all: A successful event and certainly a step in the right direction! It pleasantly surprised me as it surprised other members of the game community and was a welcome counterpoint to the shrill discussions normally surrounding digital games in Germany. Even though it seems games only have a right to exist when they are culture – but I suppose that's better than being allowed to exist at all…

About playing Guitar Hero: They had that set up as well; plus the speeches were followed by a buffet which included beer on the taxpayer's expense. An irresistible combination causing me to shred away "Welcome to the Jungle" and "Holiday in Cambodia" in front of some MPs including pretending to smash the guitar in a hall where normally global politics are happening. Another bizarre incident at a bizarre, yet great event!


Impressions from the German Game Developers Conference

The good news: The German development scene is thriving. Studios are growing, more and more state institutions are getting involved into funding and banks recognise the importance of the industry. The Nintendo DS was a godsend gift for German developers; easy and inexpensive to develop for, hugely popular and with development kits that are comparatively easy to access – advantaged by the fact that Nintendo's European headquarters are situated in Frankfurt. Apparently Nintendo hardly interferes with the development process and accordingly is less uptight in terms of content matter (e.g. compared to Sony). The same pretty much goes for the Wii.

Then again this situation is not unproblematic: The Nintendo bubble might not last forever. Them not interfering with the development process, respectively the content matter of games leads to the problem of shovelware, certainly a characteristic of the offerings for Nintendo platforms. I'm not saying that German developers are the ones creating these titles but their products will have a tough time sticking out of this sea of mediocrity sailed by inexperienced consumers – and they are facing the immense competition of Nintendo's first party games; again a problem that is well known and almost traditional. The last issue is the low attachment rate; while an Xbox 360 owner buys an average of 7 games, Wii owners seem pretty much content with Wii Sports as the attachment rate here is 3.7.

Another impression I took from the conference is that the German development scene is still pretty parochial; an assessment which arises from several factors. First of all Germany was never a global player in terms if games. According to the chairperson of the German developers association G.A.M.E., seven years ago hardly any German studio had any international ambitions; German games were mainly made for the PC, a platform (still) dominating the domestic market; consoles, starting to dominate the foreign markets, were neglected (as this strategy apparently worked well for the studios; moreover one has to keep in mind the cultural differences making the development of games for international markets a demanding task, amongst others the fact that a language different than English is spoken; add to this the difficulties of obtaining development kits, growing budgets and the problem of maintaining capital as well as the missing social recognition of the industry). Accordingly there are hardly any grown structures, respectively established connections to international publishers that could have enabled a system of mutual trust due to missing experience/ track records.

This in turn led to several problems: Why would an international publisher want to invest in German games (a hurdle that was complicated by comparatively high labour costs)? Furthermore the situation made it difficult to attract skilled personnel; a fact which was augmented by some developers being located in areas that aren't exactly advantageous in a globalised competition for employees – why would you, as a foreigner, want to move to the German sticks if you could potentially settle in parts of the world with a higher quality of living where people might even speak your language? Studios located in Berlin definitely have an advantage in this respect! Consequently the total of foreign personnel working in German studios amounts to an average 10% – and the question remains how these people – and the rest of the employees – are dealt with as there seems to be hardly any human resource management (yet!). (A little anecdote: I still remember the boss of a German developer complaining at the Game's Convention in Leipzig how difficult it was to attract employees from abroad – and Germany – to his studio somewhere in the southern German province. This was followed by a rant about how demanding people were when it comes to where their workplace is located. This sort of arrogance respectively the misinterpretation of the situation of the digital game job market certainly isn't helpful in this respect.)

The missing experience and low appeal for international personnel also led to the fact that there's scarcely any know-how for producing AAA titles, as there are hardly any German producers who could cope with this task. In short: The German industry lags two to three years behind the US-Industry.

This lag also becomes evident in the external presentation. One presenter at the conference vividly recalled the ambience of the Crytek headquarters, how they had reception desk with two lovely, smiling ladies who offered him drinks... Something that seemed a matter of course to me at every Australian developer I went to to do interviews. I was offered drinks, sometimes magazines, Mike Fegan, IR-Gurus CEO, even took the time to show me around the studio and explained their current projects to me, certainly a nice gesture but also good PR.

This presenter also reminded his listeners that the game industry is considered a future industry after all. Accordingly it should present itself a worthy of this title: Evidently a hint at the fact that this still seems to be an issue, just like the remark that an international orientation also entails websites in English with regular updates… Without a professional appearance, which also entails branch offices in big German cities, going global just won't work.

But again: The good news is that despite these challenges the chances for German developers to do so were never as good as they are now. They shouldn't make the mistake to ignore their audience though. Again this seems to be a bit of an issue. Instead of focusing on an "innovative", "cool" genre mix (complete with the arrogance/ overestimation of one's own capabilities to be able to pull this of despite the fact that bigger studios with way bigger budgets keep their hand off similar projects) a concentration on the booming family-, online- and party-game sector seems to be the more promising approach as the chances of higher revenues are way better (and development costs are lower). As mentioned before: there remains the danger of the Nintendo bubble bursting at one stage – and if the team is not fully behind the project ("Not just another horse game!") this approach might eventually backfire.

In terms of content violence is still a taboo though and it seems that also in this field the German industry hasn't arrived at international discourses yet, at least not the ones dominating the anglo-american parts of the world: While resistance against game legislation in the US is dominated by referring to the strong tradition of freedom of speech and support for an R-rating in the Australian gaming community is tremendous, as most players are not willing to either play censored games or to be treated like immature children, especially since the average of the Australian gamers is 28, German developers seemed to have resigned and instead wallow in self-censorship.

When it was mentioned that "Gears of War" wasn't officially available in Germany, a lady sitting behind me uttered that Hitler's "Mein Kampf" wasn't publicly available either. (!) And no, she didn't work for some wacky tabloid but for a German studio (which she joined because because she saw her values represented by it as it doesn't produce violent games of any sort). I eventually told her that I thought that I was talking to Helen Lovejoy as her attitude could be summed up in "Won't somebody think of the children!?"

Where to begin? The self-righteousness? The paternalism? The fact that with this attitude games will never have the chance to test boundaries and challenge our socially situated assumptions of the world? The state interfering with adults who want to consume adult entertainment? Expect the madness of the nanny state to continue.


Some Thoughts on Youtube, Recession Proof Videogames and the Resident Evil Trailer Controversy

When I went to my colloquium on Thursday a fellow Ph.D. student gave a presentation on his thesis: the use of popular video sharing platforms amongst teenagers and young adults. Something that stuck with me were his remarks about how Americans apparently engaged differently with these platforms compared to Germans and how this is already reflected in the platform's page titles: Youtube's "broadcast yourself" compares to Clipfish's "Funny Videos. Fun Video for Free" or Myvideo's "We have the funny videos, clips and commercials".

In short: Americans seems to engage more actively with these platforms while Germans seem rather content with just consuming. This in turn also implies that Americans regard these sites more as a counter public (by stressing the active part).

Of course the next question would be: Why are there these differences? Is it a fear of being publicly humiliated? Is there something in US culture – Hollywood? The promise of 15 minutes of fame? An excessive star cult? – that makes Americans more comfortable with self-portraying? Does it have to do with a German reluctance of engaging with new media in general (due to socio-historic reasons)? The penetration of Web 2.0 seems comparatively low in Germany – to me at least. Possible socio-historic reasons are something I'm going to look into in the next weeks (months…) in connection with videogames and the resistance they're facing in Germany in terms of censorship; a fate they share with other media (from film to television, radio being an exception), so stay tuned.

On another note (we had this before): Are videogames recession proof? The short answer: Yes. The long answer can be found here but basically boils down to yes. (Told you so. Please transfer 20% of the gains you made on the basis of this information to this blog.)

Instead of fully devoting my day to John Hirst's "Australia's Democracy. A Short History" I spent quite a lot of time following this discussion. I'm really on the fence on this. I won't go into detail (I doubt that I have anything to contribute to this discussion that had not already been said in one of the comments) but can kind of see where N'Gai is coming from. Especially the excuse that this game is not programmed by whites by but a Japanese developer rings hollow in view of Japan's racist history and attitude. Should black zombies be censored on the other hand? Certainly not. And I don't think that this is what N'Gai implies, but he rather hints to the fact that Capcom is stepping into a minefield here when proceeding uninformed (also see one of my old posts here – in which I actually defended the game by hinting to its Japanese creators. I guess you never stop learning).