Going Blind

I wrote this in 7th grade.

If I had only three days of sight left on the first I would want to start learning Braille (Braille would be in place of school), at least I would be 3 days closer to learning how to read Braille. After that I would play video games and computer games for an hour. Then I will look at my family and try to remember what their faces look like then I would go to bed.

On the second day I would get up at 5:00 AM and play video games and computer games until it was time for me to learn Braille for six hours then I would go outside and look at the trees, the sky, the cloud, the little dog running up to me like it was attacking me then I would go inside and play video games and computer games for two hours then I would look at my family’s faces then I would stay up all night and watch TV.

On the third day I will watch TV, play video games, and computer games until it was time to learn Braille then after that I would look at my house from the outside, then I would look at my family’s faces then go to bed and hope sometime during my life we will have the technology to have eye transplants.

 

Hardware vs. Software Backwards Compatibility

There is a lot of debate currently over if the next generation of hardware from Sony (and maybe even Microsoft?) will support backwards compatibility.

In a word, yes, they most certainly will.  As I am favorable to the Sony line of video game consoles, I am obviously more educated on their practices and the user experience I have with them, not to mention the long-term investment of my gaming collection in the PlayStation brand.

But, “in what form?” is the question that should be asked about backwards compatibility — not whether or not it will be around… Backwards compatibility comes in two fashions, looking forward:

1. Disc-based (hardware) backwards compatibility.
2. Software (storefront/online/digital) backwards compatibility.

Disc-based BC is less appealing to Sony as they can’t continue to make profits off discs after the fact, besides downloadable content, and that, at best, is probably not as profitable as we might think for most games.

By making consumers’ libraries of disc-based libraries incompatible with a potential PlayStation 4, it has the following potential benefits for Sony:

1a. Consumers will repurchase games they have.

This is obviously very attractive to all the businesses involved. The repurchasing of games that are “re-mastered” via disc, and also “re-mastered” (aka “made compatible”) with the current generation of hardware. People get to rebuy the 30 dollar/50 dollar/60 dollar games they bought in the past for varying amounts of money and benefit from software BC, which is explored below.  This will also get them “new” sales from consumers who only bought games used to begin with.

1b. Consumers will “switch to Xbox” if their current libraries are cut off from them.

This is the counterweight to 1a. However, this is not the only option presented to gamers who are suddenly cut from their existing libraries. A portion of them will obviously become floaters, but they may also come back later in the generation when the hardware is cheap.

There are some that will undoubtedly choose the next Xbox (or Wii U?) as their “main console” for this reason alone, but whether or not Sony actually cares about this depends on how much focus grouping they can do and whether or not disc-based backwards compatibility actually IS a factor to keeping existing consumers who own a PlayStation 3.

I personally would assume that 1a > the losses from 1b in the long-run plus the costs of accommodating disc-based backwards compatibility (which may or may not include actual extra hardware in the box).

The result and purpose of the loss of disc-based backwards compatibility is decreasing/eliminating the confidence in optical media severely due to its resulting loss of one of its greatest benefits — longevity of ownership (aka the selling of games back as used games and resold to a new consumer), and giving more confidence to online media.

Now, exploring online-only backwards compatibility, we can almost be 100% sure that anything bought online will be made to work with whatever future PlayStation 4 is available, whether they have to update all the games with a new build or software-based solution. The benefits that come from this are (assuming all the points I brought up above are true):

2a. Customers repurchasing games online — aka “more control.”

Customers “rebuy” games that cost little to nothing to create and service. Not to mention they are cutting out the middle man — the retail store. Sony and the 3rd party get a second income from this and at a greater rate due to less hands in the pot.  This also obviously eliminates used games.  You can’t sell a used digital game.  That makes no sense!

2b. Confidence increasing in Online purchases vs. Retail Purchases

Customers will be less apt to buy disc-based games at a retail store due to the fact that their disc may or may not be backwards compatible in the future. This probably only affects about 30 to 50% of the gaming community that actually enjoys playing old games on a new system. I’m sure that most of the people who buy games sell all of the games they buy once they’re done playing them.

The result of supporting Software BC is BENEFICIAL for the following reasons:

1. Boost confidence in online purchases, which leads to:

  • 1a. elimination of retail new games
  • 1b. elimination of used game sales

2. More long-term profits by having an increasingly larger selection of games available online at a more favorable cost to profit ratio.  There is never a “lack” of games to buy and play, even when a new console is launched.

The most clean example of what is happening is the transition from PSP -> PSVita.  People are buying PSP games to play on their PSVita, and all of the UMD games that consumers may have bought have become unusable on the new system, yet everything that was available/purchased online works on PSVita for the most part or will be patched to be able to.  Anyone who has a UMD game that they want to play on the PSVita will have to repurchase it, no exceptions.

We all know video games are going to online distribution systems exclusively within the next 10 years. Sony’s 10 year plans include outlooks like this, I’m sure.  PS4, coming out in 2014, sticking around until at least 2024 as an actively-developed-for platform. I’m sure every single game that is ever released on the PS4 will be mandated to be released online as well.  If it gets to the point of games being streamed from some server somewhere, you won’t even have a copy of the data you buy anymore. Poopoo on us if those servers go down one day, or the rights to stream those games disappear and you no longer have the right to that software once it happens, even if you did pay for it.

The super long-term plan for Sony is to eliminate disc-based backwards compatibility.  It is simply unfavorable to the industry as a whole to keep it around. It is a wholly consumer-positive practice and during this transitional period we are making into Online-only purchases (and soon cloud gaming) there will be growing pains for consumers who think they own something when they buy it.

The loss of disc-based/hardware backwards compatibility is bad for the consumer.  To promote or not care for the loss of disc-based backwards compatibility is to be anti-consumer.

 

“‘An Explanation and Some Reflections’ – by Reed Hastings” Breakdown

This entry is part 8 of 13 in the series Dave's Breakdown

Netflix has been making some profound missteps in recent months.  It definitely shows up in their stock price… it’s not every company’s intentions to drop 50% in three months due to the lame moves you are making.  This past week’s lame misstep comes in the form of a separation of businesses, and a really dumb “apology letter.”

Now, not everyone seems to read things the same way that I do.  In this edition of Dave’s Breakdown, I will go in and explain Mr. Reed Hasting’s apology letter for all to truly understand, along with some of my own reflections to top it off.  To preface this, at the moment I have been a Netflix customer for about five years.

The original article is located here.

“I messed up. I owe everyone an explanation.

It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming, and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology. I’ll try to explain how this happened.”

What this really means is “I’m sorry you guys didn’t like the price adjustment, but oh guess what, here’s something coming up that is universally more inconveniencing for everyone that we forgot to mention when we separated our services…”

What he’s really sorry for is that their stock price fell by 40% when they raised prices and split services.

“For the past five years, my greatest fear at Netflix has been that we wouldn’t make the leap from success in DVDs to success in streaming. Most companies that are great at something – like AOL dialup or Borders bookstores – do not become great at new things people want (streaming for us) because they are afraid to hurt their initial business. Eventually these companies realize their error of not focusing enough on the new thing, and then the company fights desperately and hopelessly to recover. Companies rarely die from moving too fast, and they frequently die from moving too slowly.”

Rarely dying from something doesn’t mean it’s not possible.  Netflix may just be another case study in the “rare” category.  Not to mention, how does something that COMPLIMENTS what you are going to be focusing more on in the future TAKE AWAY from it?  For example, AOL had dial-up.  What the hell else were they going to do once dial-up connections were not state-of-the-art?  They had to defend dial-up connections, there was no point in providing their services for Broadband connections on account they don’t even provide the service for it.  AOL could have probably done stuff a little smarter, but they’ve transformed into a web conglomerate.  What happened to EarthLink, another dial-up provider?  They’re still in business, apparently, doing what they’ve been doing.  The “real” AOL is essentially Time Warner.  Time Warner just shat out what was left of the AOL brand and company that they didn’t want anymore and the “new” AOL is like today’s AT&T — not the same, but not new either.

Borders bookstore was a retail store that sells books, and they offered no electronic versions of books.  Ok, except the reason they failed is because the Print industry, the Music industry, and the lack of them creating a service to take advantage of the new evolutions of those industries into account.  They also operated as retail stores and leases are expensive when you have thousands of stores.  Now, you have the polar opposite of Borders (a failed retail bookstore chain) with Barnes & Nobles (a still-successful bookstore) that is selling electronic books and music IN ADDITION TO having their brick and mortar stores.  Hey, wow!  Barnes & Nobles didn’t close all their retail stores or spin off all their retail bookstores into some weird half-breed retail company, did they?  No.  They kept them all under the same guise, and guess what they sell EVERYTHING, not just one thing.

“When Netflix is evolving rapidly, however, I need to be extra-communicative. This is the key thing I got wrong.

In hindsight, I slid into arrogance based upon past success. We have done very well for a long time by steadily improving our service, without doing much CEO communication. Inside Netflix I say, “Actions speak louder than words,” and we should just keep improving our service.”

What this really means is: “Before we started to worry about our stock price losing value and in-turn any investment opportunities we may have needed, I didn’t have to write anything to our customers in hopes to stop our free-falling stock prices before they hit the flushing toilet.”

“But now I see that given the huge changes we have been recently making, I should have personally given a full justification to our members of why we are separating DVD and streaming, and charging for both. It wouldn’t have changed the price increase, but it would have been the right thing to do.”

“I just thought that you guys would accept whatever business decisions I wanted to do because you guys love Netflix, and by association, MEEEE!”

“So here is what we are doing and why:

Many members love our DVD service, as I do, because nearly every movie ever made is published on DVD, plus lots of TV series. We want to advertise the breadth of our incredible DVD offering so that as many people as possible know it still exists, and it is a great option for those who want the huge and comprehensive selection on DVD. DVD by mail may not last forever, but we want it to last as long as possible.”

Yes, yes, we love DVDs!

“I also love our streaming service because it is integrated into my TV, and I can watch anytime I want. The benefits of our streaming service are really quite different from the benefits of DVD by mail. We feel we need to focus on rapid improvement as streaming technology and the market evolve, without having to maintain compatibility with our DVD by mail service.”

Wait… so what you’re saying is…

“So we realized that streaming and DVD by mail are becoming two quite different businesses, with very different cost structures, different benefits that need to be marketed differently, and we need to let each grow and operate independently. It’s hard for me to write this after over 10 years of mailing DVDs with pride, but we think it is necessary and best: In a few weeks, we will rename our DVD by mail service to ‘Qwikster’.”

AW MY GAWD WHAT THE FUCK IS A QWIK.  It’s hard for you to write that you’re renaming a service.  Ok, so what, you’re renaming the service.  That means you can market it and yaddayaddayadda and I can still do what I’ve been doing for the past three years, right?

“We chose the name Qwikster because it refers to quick delivery. We will keep the name ‘Netflix’ for streaming.

Oh, ok, well that’s acceptable.

“Qwikster will be the same website and DVD service that everyone is used to.”

Sweet, sounds good.

“It is just a new name,”

Ok, I get it.

“and DVD members will go to qwikster.com to access their DVD queues and choose movies.”

Wait, what?

“One improvement we will make at launch is to add a video games upgrade option, similar to our upgrade option for Blu-ray, for those who want to rent Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 games. Members have been asking for video games for many years, and now that DVD by mail has its own team, we are finally getting it done. “

Wait, don’t try to change the subject here.  What the hell are you talking about, a different web site?  You just said it was the same site!

“Other improvements will follow. Another advantage of separate websites is simplicity for our members.”

HEY!  YOU ARE A FUCKING ASSHOLE.  LOOK AT WHAT YOU JUST SAID IN THE LAST PARAGRAPH:

“Qwikster will be the same website and DVD service that everyone is used to.”

What the FUCK are you talking about?  You just said Qwikster will be the same web site, and then you’re saying they’re SEPARATE web sites.  Are you talking about it being on the same web host?  No one cares that you’re on the same computer as another web site.  I’m sure that my web site is on the same server as some other famously popular web site, but I’m not going around saying I’m the same web site as some random popular web site.

“Each website will be focused on just one thing (DVDs or streaming) and will be even easier to use.”

Easier than… what?  What your web site is now?  I guess that the most logical way of making this easier is to make both web sites work with each other, right?

“A negative of the renaming and separation is that the Qwikster.com and Netflix.com websites will not be integrated. So if you subscribe to both services, and if you need to change your credit card or email address, you would need to do it in two places. Similarly, if you rate or review a movie on Qwikster, it doesn’t show up on Netflix, and vice-versa.”

HOOOOLLYYY SHIT, and there’s the killer.  What in the FUCK just happened.  It’s like your boyfriend saying he’d use a condom and then taking it off right before he inserted.  Or, it’s like your girlfriend taking off her pants and there’s a penis hanging off what you thought was going to be a vagina, but is really just testicles.  This is the most asinine shot in the head I have ever read, save The Joy Luck Club.  Holy.  Shit.

“There are no pricing changes (we’re done with that!). Members who subscribe to both services will have two entries on their credit card statements, one for Qwikster and one for Netflix. The total will be the same as the current charges.”

I’m still numb from the last paragraph…

“Andy Rendich, who has been working on our DVD service for 12 years, and leading it for the last 4 years, will be the CEO of Qwikster.”

“We’re sending Andy off to die.  See ya later, Rendich!  Don’t forget to write!”

“Andy and I made a short welcome video. (You’ll probably say we should avoid going into movie making after watching it.)”

This video is a great reason why you shouldn’t make your corporate strategy into a video.  It is not interesting.  Also, what the fuck is with the sole red envelope there?  Just so they can wipe their ass with it after the video is over?  What’s with the sunglasses and the laptop?  Were you doing some leisurely work (wearing sunglasses and using your laptop in the sun, even!) discovering what hue of red the Netflix envelope truly was and decided “Hey I’ve got a few minutes, let’s get Nathan down here with a camera while I’m typing up my ultra-cool apology letter that will totally fix all of our problems and make our stock go back up to 300 points and re-iterate what I’m saying to the populace of people who don’t care to read.  We’re Netflix, after all!”

“We will let you know in a few weeks when the Qwikster.com website is up and ready. It is merely a renamed version of the Netflix DVD website, but with the addition of video games. You won’t have to do anything special if you subscribe to our DVD by mail service.”

Wait so if it is so easily renamed and its actually just the same fucking thing, why can’t you just have the fucking web site be the same fucking web site!

“For me the Netflix red envelope has always been a source of joy.”

That’s because it means money to you.

“The new envelope is still that distinctive red, but now it will have a Qwikster logo. I know that logo will grow on me over time, but still, it is hard. I imagine it will be the same for many of you.”

I think the least of our worries the color of the envelope and the way it looks.  The experience has ALWAYS BEEN with the web site and the ease of using it, you sentimental tree murderer!

“We’ll also return to marketing our DVD by mail service, with its amazing selection, now with the Qwikster brand.”

Herein lies the only legitimate reason for them renaming their DVD by Mail service.  Yes, you should have a different brand to promote your DVDs again if that’s what you wanted to do.  However, Netflix DVD would have sufficed.  Netflix Video Games would have sufficed to.  I’ve heard weirder mismatches for companies in the past, not that I can remember any off the top of my head at the moment, but no one would have said “I don’t understand why Netflix has video games.  They have ‘flix’ in their name, for crying out loud!  I am totally canceling my account with Netflix because they have video games now, and it has nothing to do with streaming or television or movies or anything and it’s totally not optional oh em gee.”

What happens if Netflix wants to go into video game streaming, such as new services like OnLive have been doing?  Is Qwikster going to separate out their DVD and disc-based video game services into some tertiary company?  Where does it end!  They only want to focus on one thing at a time in each business, yet they’re launching video games, which is arguably a different expenditure all together, and they’re doing omigosh, TWO THINGS AT THE SAME TIME!  Call the board, let’s get another company split up in here!

Also, the reason why people were clamoring for video games in the first place was because it would have been from THE SAME WEB SITE FROM THE SAME COMPANY, WITH ONE BILL, AND ONE PAYMENT SYSTEM!  If people wanted a gaming rental service separate from Netflix, they would have had GameFly already!!  Focus groups would help you out to learn that!

“Some members will likely feel that we shouldn’t split the businesses, and that we shouldn’t rename our DVD by mail service. Our viewis with this split of the businesses, we will be better at streaming, and we will be better at DVD by mail.”

Why?  You’re not EXPLAINING why you think it would be.  What barriers are involved that make this necessary?  You haven’t said anything that convinces me of any sort of argument that makes it seem like this is a good move.  You say you want to focus on things one at a time, and you want to make another business.  How does splitting out the WEB SITE or even your business do anything more for you?  Whether it’s called Qwikster or Netflix, you guys are still in the same fucking buildings, aren’t you?  Maybe you should reorganize your company and make a streaming division and a DVD/video game division underneath Netflix instead of spending money and creating a new shell company to send your neglected business model off to die.

“It is possible we are moving too fast – it is hard to say. But going forward, Qwikster will continue to run the best DVD by mail service ever, throughout the United States. Netflix will offer the best streaming service for TV shows and movies, hopefully on a global basis. The additional streaming content we have coming in the next few months is substantial, and we are always working to improve our service further.”

Moving too fast?  How?  You’re not moving at all.  You’re taking your company in two different directions and, dare I say, setting up your tried-and-true business model up for sale when Netflix really decide to focus on one thing and one thing only — streaming.

“I want to acknowledge and thank our many members that stuck with us, and to apologize again to those members, both current and former, who felt we treated them thoughtlessly.

Both the Qwikster and Netflix teams will work hard to regain your trust. We know it will not be overnight. Actions speak louder than words. But words help people to understand actions.

Respectfully yours,

-Reed Hastings, Co-Founder and CEO, Netflix”

You know, I would have thought that a co-founder and CEO of this company would have thought, maybe just maybe, throwing out their original business model which started their company and made their success would be something more… unsettling than he may have originally thought the process to be.  Starbucks wouldn’t spin off their coffee business into another retail store if their muffins became the hot new item at their stores.  Hell, even if their muffins started pulling trillions of dollars in, they wouldn’t split that out into a new muffin chain.  It doesn’t make sense!

Now what I think Netflix will see when this happens is a large drop off of subscribers to their new Qwikster service simply because founding a new web site and brand name is quite obviously an uphill battle, and forcing people to accept it is quite another entirely.

Netflix has a fanbase, Qwikster does not.  I certainly say that I have no loyalty to something called Qwikster, but I do to Netflix. I can see why they would need to have a “different” brand because of the video games options coming about and for marketing purposes, but instead of being a completely separate web site, it should be a “portal” or “skin” to the main Netflix web site. Let’s say I go to Netflix, and then there’s a tab for Qwikster DVDs and Qwikster Games. Or if I go to Qwikster, I see an extra tab for Netflix Streaming Video.

As long as there is the same sort of integration for what we currently see, I don’t see why separating web sites benefits anyone — Netflix loses subscribers, I lose DVDs from Netflix, and we have to be mindful of another service with its own payment system, with its own customer service communication (if needed) etc etc.

It’s a hassle, especially when you consider you had it all in the same place before.

In one of the blog comments, Reed Hastings said that they don’t see Qwikster as being “that far away” from Netflix — as its only just “a link away” from each other… but so is MySpace to Facebook, and MSN to Google. There is a REASON people use Facebook or Google instead of all the other hullabaloo of assholery out there.

The Netflix web site is fine as it is.

If the excuse for this is their business is what needs to improve, how is separating web sites going to improve that considerably? If you need a different brand name, then make one. But don’t separate the services for the convenience of saying “that’s a different company, they’re doing their own thing, and we don’t care about it anymore.”  You are still responsible, as a parent company, to make sure customers who are with your new company LIKE your new company, and you’re not just sending it off to die.

What it really comes down to is that Netflix is definitely interested in killing off the DVD portion — the only reason they’re even keeping it anymore is because streaming is going to see very high increases in cost, and they’re not sure if DVDs will end up having more business when the hammer comes down after their streaming licenses expire.

Associating the DVDs into the streaming plans only makes that amount charged for streaming go higher than it actually perceptibly is. It is a pre-emptive attack on what is bound to come.  There are also rumors about how some companies force them to supply DVDs for some unrelated movies to have the license for a streaming version available, but how does spinning a company out into a subsidiary solve that?  Netflix still owns Qwikster!  For the time being, at least.

Maybe Netflix have to split it out to survive, after all. It still doesn’t change my opinion about having some sort of integration of services that make it easier for customers of both.  But I’m not a business manager/CEO type person, so what the fuck ever, I guess Netflix is just smarter than their customers!

Update Oct 10, 2011

Rejoice!  It appears that Netflix has reverted their prior decision to rename their DVD by Mail service into something stupid and crappy.

It appears that Netflix doesn’t want to spend money on focus groups or hire actual people to do research for them, instead they have opted to have their customers be exposed to flip-flopping decision-making and putting absolutely zero confidence in the way the company is thinking.  If they stuck by their laurels, at least they wouldn’t have seemed like a bunch of pushovers.

However, apologizing for an apology seems to be a pretty funny concept, and in the end, I can at least be thankful that this stupid business decision wasn’t put through.  The only good thing to come of the whole thing was Video Game rentals… and that seems to be put out to pasture as there is no mention of it anywhere.  Do we really need to tell Netflix how to run their company well enough to not run it into the ground?

 

5-and-5 About Playing Video Games

A friend of mine told me to play one to two hours max of PS3 and/or PC games today and then write 5 positive things about the time I spent and 5 negative things about the time I spent.

So here’s the Positive 5:

1. Slowly expanding my knowledge of video games (design, gameplay, etc).

2. Getting more of whatever I needed in the particular game I played.

3. Sense of accomplishment for getting through in-game assigned goals.

4. Didn’t happen today, but I usually get to interact with other people I usually play with.

5. Unique to this hour of playtime I had, I did not get frustrated because no in-game elements greatly impeded what I had set out to do in-game.

and the Negative 5:

1. Spent an hour or two of the day doing that instead of doing something else.

2. Adds to spending money on games because once I get through a certain amount of time playing a game I usually play the next game.

3. Sometimes I feel completely bored with playing and just don’t want to do it anymore, which I’ve been cutting down a lot of game time and working on getting through other things.

4. Its a never-ending cycle with the game I play, there’s always something more to do.

5. It starts to feel like a chore if I start to do things I don’t want to do in the game.

I spent most of my day working on my web site and watching episodes of 24.  I started watching the show over the past couple days and I’m almost through Season 1.

I honestly feel that the positives of playing games for a shorter amount of time than say 3 or 4 hours outweigh the negatives for that period of time.  But after 3 hours, the whole day becomes wasted and the next is almost ready to start.

I am also currently pursuing a job opportunity with Blizzard and having a wide-variety of gaming knowledge as well as knowledge of their games will benefit me if they want to interview or hire me for a game tester position at their company.  I think it would be a pretty amazing opportunity to work at Blizzard, not to mention it would be an associative use for my major from college.

 

USA: “Blame” In American Society

Americans have a tendency to shift the “blame” of something on to something else.

Examples:

– “Homosexuality is biological. Its not my fault I’m gay! It’s the way I was born!”

– “It wasnt my fault I killed my friend, that movie/video game/tv show/song made me do it!”

– “I don’t know where my child learned how to shoot his teachers. It must have been those video games, not me beating my child or my horrible parenting skills!”

It doesn’t stop there, either. Global warming — its the corporations fault that they aren’t building better cars! Not ours!

Typically when you are “blamed” for something, in American society, you never want to take that blame — it HAS to be something else. and that is typically the social institution, genetics, or big corporations.

In more particular with homosexuality, there is a large part of the community that seems to want to pass their sexual preference off as basic to the genetic level. They were built that way — not socialized or events in their life that make their brains wire differently in that department after the fact. I personally find it a bunch of horse shit, and its just a way to shift the “blame” onto something else that is out of their “control.”

The only reason its gaining any steam is because there is still a stigma against gay/lesbian people, that that community seems to want to find themselves a scapegoat. They can’t blame society since not everyone is a gay/lesbian. They can’t blame corporations, since they’re too busy trying to make money, not caring that individual people with individual lives/circumstances actually exist. So it has to be genetics! Great! That’s an easy target, since NO ONE UNDERSTANDS THAT SHIT IN THE FIRST PLACE.

 

The Controversy of Video Games in Modern America

In recent years, controversy in video games has heightened to unprecedented levels. Every once in a while, a gigantic outburst is made in regards to controversial content matter in a video game. With increasing realism being worked into video games, they have matured into a viable mainstream media comparable to movies and television. However, just like its longer-existing counterparts, video games have hit their proverbial puberty – major scrutiny and an attempt to squelch its expression of speech. Certain groups aim to control the industry through laws and sales restrictions, citing that children could get their hands on mature-rated games.

One of the first truly controversial games came in 1983 in the form of Custer’s Revenge for the Atari 2600, a home gaming console. Custer’s Revenge depicted General George Armstrong Custer raping a Native American woman tied to a fence post. The amazing irony of the controversy was that the graphics for the game were so bad that it was barely distinguishable what was going on. However, activist groups like the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the American Indian Community House still made an outcry against the game. Not knowing who to point the blame on, the activist groups blamed Atari, the maker of the console, instead of the developer named Mystique. After the controversy had blown over, Mystique went on to develop other “X-rated” games that didn’t garner the same amount of attention as Custer’s Revenge had.

Criticism against video games declined when more sophisticated video game consoles came to market. Nintendo, a very and still popular video game console maker, brought about a licensing system that required games to pass their various tests of blood, nudity, and other such themes to ensure the moral quality of the games released under their license. The Nintendo “Seal of Quality” was featured on games approved and released on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The licensing system did its part to establish some sort of barrier against any bad publicity for a game with controversial content matter.

In 1992, a game called Mortal Kombat attracted activist groups for its simulated violence and exaggerated amounts of blood. Though fighting games were not uncommon during the time, it was the first to use animated pictures of real people, making it more realistic than others during the time. Senator Joe Lieberman had even spoken out against the game during a Senate investigation into video game violence. Mortal Kombat is usually credited with being the vehicle for the establishment of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), which is now the governing rating body of the video game industry. The ESRB uses an age-based system, similar to the MPAA’s certification for movies.

The ESRB has become the video game industry’s self-governing body that approves games and slaps certain ratings on a game to show its appropriateness. By use of five different ratings and 32 descriptors, the ESRB aims at giving the buyer a good idea of what to expect in the title. Titles rated eC for Early Childhood have content for children ages three and older. A rating of “E” for “Everyone” has content that is suitable for people six and older; the equivalent of a rated “G” movie. A rating of “T” for “Teen” has content that is suitable for people ages thirteen and older; the equivalent of a rated “PG-13” movie. A rating of M for “Mature” has content suitable for people aged seventeen and older usually containing intense violence or sexual content; the equivalent of a rated “R” movie. For titles that are basically on the level of pornography, a rating of “AO” for “Adults Only” is given. The AO rating is the highest rating to be given, and a very limited amount of games have ever actually been given the damnable rating. AO games are not carried at major retailers and you would be hard pressed to even find an AO game other than ordering it online. The reason behind this is because the major retailers agreed together through an organization called the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association (IEMA) that they would not sell games that were rated AO as to avoid the game from falling into the hands of children, similar to how porn is not usually sold at major retailers. The ESRB’s rating system has become the prevalent and only rating system widely accepted for video games in America. Other countries deal with their rating in different ways, some just having the same rating body as movies and music rate video games as well.

Ratings can themselves be seen as a way to advertise a certain product. A game aimed at children will want to have the E rating, being apparent that it is more family-friendly. A game that is rated M is advertised as a game that for older people, and has suggestive themes not found in a lesser rated game – it appeals to people because mature themes like violence and sex make people interested. Many of the wildly popular games to have been released recently have had an M rating and are perceived as ultra-violent. One of the most popular M-rated game series is a series named Grand Theft Auto (GTA). Starting life as a two-dimensional top-down game on the Sony PlayStation with GTA and GTA 2, it wouldn’t be until Grand Theft Auto III that the series really made an impact on the way video games were perceived.

Grand Theft Auto III was the first game to show the world that video games weren’t for kids anymore. While there had been other Mature rated games in the past, they generally flew under the radar because they just didn’t sell an amazing amount of copies to warrant the attention. To date, the Grand Theft Auto series has sold around fifteen million copies. Grand Theft Auto III was the first game of the series to be in full 3D, being a nearly realistic rendition of a boundless world where you could do as you please. The most common stereotypical summary of what is said to be done in a Grand Theft Auto game is that you murder, steal, and destroy anything you want to, healing by having sex with prostitutes which afterward you can beat them to death and take their money to recover the funds spent on them. And if it were any more of a consolation, it is also described in a way that players are allowed to wreak as much havoc as they like without progressing through the game’s storyline, as if it would be more acceptable to those stereotyping it if you progressed through the story while wreaking havoc. However, the description of the game picks at parts of the game that are the most miniscule of the game’s features, such as sleeping with a prostitute to heal (which should really be taken as more of a joke than anything). A player could go through a whole game without ever picking up a prostitute to heal, and the description avoids the aspect of the game in which you choose to actually do things in the game, or even play the game to begin with. At the end of the day, nothing included in Grand Theft Auto III was any worse than a rated R movie.

The newly found controversy that came with the Grand Theft Auto III subsided, as its sequel Grand Theft Auto: Vice City flew relatively low under the radar. The megaton bomb that would set in motion legislative action against the industry would come in the “Hot Coffee” scandal of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Hidden on the disc packaged with the full version of the game, a mini-game in which you could have sex with your in-game girlfriend interactively was discovered. Not intended to be a part of the final game, the only way to actually access the mini-game is through the long, arduous process of wooing your girlfriend into liking you enough to invite you in for some hot coffee. In the normal version of the game, all that would be shown is a wide shot of the house and some moaning, but if a hack was employed (which had to be intentionally found, downloaded, and applied), the scene would be replaced by the sex mini-game. Since the mini-game was actually on the disc and the game was rated M as by the ESRB, the ESRB’s own credibility came into question — especially about their rating procedures. The ESRB, under political pressure no doubt, re-rated the game as AO, effectively banning it from major retailers. Whether or not the ESRB was right in overruling their own rating and not standing by their ratings, they showed that as long as there was enough controversy about certain aspects of a game they could possibly force the ESRB to re-rate other games. Had the “Hot Coffee” mini-game actually been included in the main game itself, instead of being hidden, there would have not been as huge of a controversy. Whether or not the whole thing was a publicity stunt, awareness of the game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas very much hit the mainstream and sent the message that games aren’t for kids anymore.

Proponents of legislation restricting the sale of games with controversial matter cite that they want to protect the children from getting their hands on particular games, and make it the retailer’s responsibility to make sure it doesn’t happen. Legislation has been passed in many states already, but is being challenged by the video game industry on the basis of the laws restricting First Amendment rights. Lawmakers who vote for these types of sales-restriction laws want parents to be involved in the purchase of the games, by saying what games kids can or cannot buy. The lawmakers want to protect children because they feel that it propagates violence in young children, such as school-shootings and murders.

Opponents of legislation, such as most of the video game industry, view any sort of sales-restricting laws as going against their First Amendment rights of free speech. They view it as unfair, as well, since the music and movie industries (pornography aside) do not have any laws in place to sanction sales of product. If sales-restricting laws become more common, video game publishers will be forced to self-censor themselves to sell their games to the largest audience possible, similar to how the movie industry will commonly release a seemingly should-be-rated-R movie as PG-13 to get the largest audience possible.

It isn’t surprising that there is controversy over video games. Video games are not accepted in the mainstream as a serious form of media, and are often seen as a toy rather than a viable form of entertainment. Video games have hit its boom, with sales being higher and higher every year. Analysts predict that the video game industry will eventually make as much as the movie industry and political figures aim to get easy brownie points with their constituents while video game companies continually push the envelope on their end. Whether or not the legislative actions being taken during video games’ early days affect the full maturity of the media remains to be seen.

References

Anderson, Craig A. April 2000. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 78(4), pp. 772-790.

Gonzalez, Lauren. Gamespot.com. 2005 November 13. “When Two Tribes Go to War: A History of Video Game Controversy.”

http://www.gamespot.com/articles/when-two-tribes-go-to-war-a-history-of-video-game-controversy/1100-6090892/

Wikipedia. 2005 November 13. “Video Game Controversy”

http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Video_game_controversy&oldid=27936616