Landmark: Player Value in a Sony Market

landmarkUp until now, I’ve been going on information from the developer videos and word of mouth around the game community about Landmark. This week I decided I should take a closer look at Player Studio, the tool for players to create things for sale on the marketplace. This week, PS was implemented for testing.

On it’s face, I think it’s a great idea. It’s another opportunity for players to freely share their creativity and in some ways I think Everquest Next will be a much better looking place under the diverse stewardship of the player base. We’ll truly see things the developers could never have thought of. I’m excited about that. Plus, it’s another opportunity for many of us to make a little bit of cash during our time spent playing games. Of course, some of us will try to make a full career out of it and I salute you for your hardcore ambition and dedicated craftsmanship. There’s some room for business models that could prove lucrative enough to sustain long-term. I don’t know about paying rents, but it could net you a tidy sum. And the entry fee is zero: Landmark is free to play.

playerstudipHowever, the terms of use are extremely exploitative. The internet has become something bigger and less benign than an information highway. It’s the gateway to a pool of free labor and developers are very interested in how they can offset their costs on the backs of players. The timing of a post about player rights was perfect this week it seems and I think this will become a bigger and bigger issue in the coming years. Players might think we’re getting the sweet end of the bargain (make some money while playing games sounds like a good deal), but in the long run, that’s just not the case. So what are these exploitative terms I speak of?

  1. These Player Studio terms state that Sony owns the right to use your submission how they see fit without compensating you.
  2. SOE is entitled to a 60% cut of your profits from the marketplace. Sixty percent.
  3. The player has no rights – not even a right to privacy – with respect to the items they submit. Especially since the terms require you to waive every single one of your current consumer rights.
While you're mining ores, SOE will be mining your time and creativity to the tune of 60% of all that you make.

While you’re mining ores, SOE will be mining your time and creativity to the tune of 60% of all that you make.

There’s pretty much no circumstance in which 60% is a fair fee for anyone’s labor. They’re basically claiming they own 60% of your time and energy if you spend it in their game. Now gamers are usually reasonable. We expect the developer to take a cut for the maintenance of fees that help make the system possible. Just to give some perspective, Blizzard’s Diablo 3 auction house charged only a 15% fee and a $1 transfer fee if you chose to use Paypal for collecting money instead of Bnet. The difference here is company ethos. While Blizzard can be horrible about their content, they’re the industry gold standard for taking care of customers.

There are precedents for companies taking out large chunks of player-developer earnings, but usually only half as much as SOE wants. The industry standard for app stores such as Apple, Android and Steam is 30% share of net profits – still huge, but within comprehension. The most comparable case of player labor going into the development of games (for a profit) is DOTA 2, where skilled game artists can create models and sell them on Steam Workshop at a 15% fee.

As if the fee wasn’t abominable enough, here’s a snippet that deserves some attention:

You grant to SOE an unlimited, worldwide, non-exclusive, transferable, sublicenseable (through multiple tiers), royalty-free, fully-paid up, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use, reproduce, distribute, display and perform (whether publicly or otherwise), adapt (including, without limitation, the rights to edit, modify, translate, and reformat), create derivative works of, transmit, make, have made, sell, offer to sell, import and otherwise use and exploit (and have others exercise such rights on behalf of SOE) your Submission …

Because players can craft things outside of the game in other programs (like Photoshop) and bring them into the game, SOE requires that you license unlimited use of your work to them. You are surrendering your right to earn any compensation from their use of your work. They don’t claim to own it, but they can basically reproduce it and sell it at will and you can’t do anything about it. This is an amazing double standard. While developers are constantly declaring their rights to issue limited licenses that players cannot use for profit, SOE would deny that same right to their players. It’s like they believe they should make money from their work and no one else.

If players had any rights in the virtual space, developers would have to part with the idea that our avatars and the work of our avatars belongs to them. This particular case bothers me because once again I find myself interested in one of their games, but it’s like they do everything they can to put players on the fence or discourage them from wanting to support them. They’re really asking a lot of players, as if the paid beta for a free to play game wasn’t already a questionable idea. Having finally experienced the beta I can say they’re running it like a Kickstarter. Regular announcements, little interaction with player issues on the forums, and waves of new beta testers, a move that raised my suspicions when I realized how tempted new testers would be to buy a beta key (it comes with one of the game best tools for harvesting and building).

The terms of use just add to the doubts some of us have about the game. There’s still time for SOE to revisit these terms and bring them inline with fairness, so we’ll see how it develops. But this is a very alarming start.

Quest Log: Should Vloggers Pay Devs?

quest-logQuest Log is a feature in which I set out on adventure to learn how something works. This might be game mechanics, social issues, or technology. The goal is to gain a greater understanding of the topic and spread awareness.

Ever the controversy pot, Phil Fish has once again opened his mouth and revealed he’s a very moody and mean man! His remarks? Youtubers should pay game creators a portion of their ad revenue. Most of it.

As a gamer, as someone who doesn’t create games, I disagree. If I buy a car and record myself driving it, I don’t owe the manufacturer money from ad revenue of my videos. His comments even call into question writing reviews. I use screenshots all the time of my games when I write about them. If my blog were generating money, is he saying that for those specific reviews, I should pay the company money for the use of the screenshots?

At what point are my game experiences my own? I think this ties in with the question I posed the other day of player rights when it comes to games. At current, the industry is solidly using the traditional software model, where players simply license the use of the game. It’s like buying a subscription to Netflix, rather than buying the DVD. I don’t own Mad Men. I’m allowed to rent it’s use each month.

To be clear, let’s look at a single EULA for Square Enix (they aren’t all that unique or special, most game EULAs look exactly like this). The first thing it states (after the introduction) is that purchase of their game is simply the purchase of a license. The player owns nothing, not even their avatar, not even items they purchase in an item shop. We technically don’t even own the screenshots we take.

Square Enix grants to you the non-exclusive, non-transferable, limited right and license to install and use one (1) copy of the Game Software on one (1) computer hard drive at any given time solely for your personal use (the “License”). All rights not specifically granted under this License are hereby reserved by Square Enix and, as applicable, by its licensors. The Game Software is licensed to you, not sold.

This quote speaks for itself.

In Fish’s view, gamers don’t even own the experiences they share with other gamers. If I decide to record myself playing a game, even after I bought it, even though the camera is mine and the controllers and the TV — of all companies to owe, I owe the game developer because the content of my show is considered to be theirs in Fish’s view. I think this approach isn’t just unreasonable, but irresponsible. If developers aren’t making games so that players can share their experiences with other players, then they ought not release them to the public. His reasoning ignores that developers enter into convenants with players foremost in the specific hopes that those players will help them sell their games. This doesn’t just count for streamers and vloggers. Anyone who purchases a game anywhere does so with the developer expectation that you will tell your friends about it and those friends will then buy it. Ignoring the unspoken bargain that developers strike with players is dishonesty at best about how game proliferation actually works.

I think this example goes to show that we do need a player’s rights document, because left to developers like Fish, players would not own the energy and time we spend playing games for audiences. I own my labor, no? I can sell it to advertisers in turn for playing my game for other players. According to the EULA, I can install my game on my computer and play it even if friends are around, even if the neighborhood is looking at my screen. Besides that, consumer law allows me to do what I want, short of selling copies or infringing copyright, with what I purchase. Aside from legal implications, it’s just kinda mean spirited to feel like your players owe you money because their friends watched them play and another company paid you for it.

What do you think? Should you have to pay game developers when you make money from sharing your gaming sessions?