Issue #2 - Quality and Graphics

A new generation of gamers is coming, and their focus is yet again moving. When did this start? Where will it end? With the widespread use of the Internet to “review” games, anyone out there can place his opinion. And often this opinion is not only biased, but also inc­redibly wrong in focus.
State-of-the-art graphics have become a requirement for any game on the market. Long-established games are expected to upgrade their graphics engines to mirror that. But what are we talking about here? Graphics became a measure for quality, but can a game’s quality be based on the graphics?
What do we define as “quality” when speaking of games?
“Quality”, first and foremost, is a term we use to describe whether or not something is “good”. But that encompasses what exactly? And how do we determine what is good and what is not?
For the most part quality is a matter of taste. Our brain takes impressions and experience into account in order to tell us whether or not we “like” something. This means, first of all, that every single person out there has their own definition of quality, and their own impressions. With that said, we need to accept one thing: Quality cannot be globally depicted at all. We can come to a general consensus. We can have the majority decide on an average quality “score”. But we cannot objectively declare the quality of anything.
Nonetheless there appears to be such a general consensus, based on what the loudest group says. A 15-year-old YouTube reviewer with a graphics-focused definition of quality with a mass of subscribers will always have more impact than the voice of a games veteran who still believes in mechanics “making a game” on a small review site.
By this point it should have become obvious: Many people out there don’t come to their own conclusions about the quality of games, they merely adopt one they have been given. And this is the opinion given by the loudest group.
Why the hate on “graphics”? They are an important factor nowadays.
They shouldn’t be the main factor, though. And that is exactly what we see “nowadays”: Games getting judged based on their graphics. Sure, eye candy is fine, and always a good addition, but it should not be the core.
In order to get this point cleared fully, we need to take another turn here and first of all discuss tech demos. New technology, such as graphics hardware and engines is usually presented alongside some basic program displaying a large share of the potential this new technology bears. Such a program is a tech demo.
Current games do exactly the same, though. They make full use of the state-of-the-art technology to cater the aforementioned focus on “eye candy”. This is the point at which one has to judge as to whether such a game is still a game, or merely a tech demo. Why do we need the most recent technology to run a game that could easily run with a dated technology?
Why do we produce games which use technology that isn’t established yet, especially regarding PC gaming? Consoles work with an easy system: Generations. Games for the PlayStation 3 are sold to a sum of customers which already owns the required technology, even with launch day games. This is caused by the fact that there is only one setup for a suitable console, except for some minor tweaks. PC gaming on the other hand has a wide variety of setups for the same “generation”. Heck, one can even emulate Windows on most other systems.
And still, most PC versions have a higher graphics tier than console games, while the share of customers able to fit into the small area between lowest and highest settings is far, far smaller than on a console.
This, my dear friends and fellows, is not how our industry should operate, and our definition of quality, induced by the “next generation of gamers” is as responsible for this as our own naïveté for heeding their call.

Issue #1 - Piracy and Theft

With SOPA and PIPA gone, but ACTA almost through, it is time to yet again discuss our (mis-)conceptions on the topic of piracy. While it definitely is a topic with various shades of grey attached to it, it also is a topic misunderstood fairly often. But why is that the case in the first place, and why does this topic split the gaming community even more than “console wars” already do?
First of all, I would like to explain what you should expect from the upcoming lines. “A Geek’s Lingo” is supposed to touch some of the current main topics and look at the discussion itself, and the issues we have when trying to talk about these topics. Are our definitions correct? Do the terms we use express what we want them to? And most importantly: What is the conclusion, the solution?
As such, we’ll start with piracy, which is effectively the word with the widest variety when it comes to definitions. We have publishers calling it outright “theft”, which we’ll talk about later-on. We have pro-piracy gamers calling it “a means of protest” or “a way to avoid regional and financial restrictions”. We have regular people pretending “piracy hurts no-one”, as it does not bring actual loss. And we have politicians using it to push for intrusive – and fishy in regards to censorship – bills such as SOPA, PIPA and ACTA.
But what does “piracy” actually mean?
“Piracy” – in regards to media – is the act of copying and redistributing data without the creator’s consent. This does not even mean it needs to be free of charge for the final consumer. Said charge just doesn’t go to the creator, and whoever else is involved in the original distribution.
Now, this means there is a product distributed to some people, which has not been “produced” by the ones in charge of “production”, and does not generate any revenue for them either. If we consider the model of a free market, that would actually be legal, as it is part of it: People have the means to duplicate the item, and as such the right to redistribute the copies just as well as the original, since they “produced” the copies by themselves.
A socially regulated market on the other hand secures one’s rights to keep their hands on their brains’ offspring. We call that “copyright” and it’s the core of the issues with piracy in the first place – and it causes a monopoly on a certain item – as it is produced and distributed by its creator only.
This is no different from the rest of the market, though. A very specific product is only sold by its creator and from that point on only this one unit that has been sold can be re-sold by a vendor. In theory, one could invest some time and money and create an identical copy of this item. This actually happens to clothing and footwear quite often, but it is still illegal, as it equals fraud – since people believe it was produced by the creator, not someone else, with a different quality as a result.
Now, the issue is … With data this doesn’t work. Data can easily be copied, as it is really only a series of zeroes and ones, not a complex combination of materials and the way they have been processed and stored. As such there is no loss of quality when copied.
With that said, piracy is not fraud.
Could it be theft then?
“What is theft?” is the question first to be asked. “Theft” is the act of taking an object from its owner, without his consent to do so.
When copying the data of a videogame, music track or movie, one does not steal a unit from the creator, obviously. Redistributing the copy to someone on the other hand “steals” a sale, one might argue. So the next question is, whether or not a sale can be “stolen”.
Stealing a sale would mean that the sale was removed from where it originally was supposed to be. Sounds weird, but it is quite simple: This model implies that the “customer” actually considers buying it at the official store before the choice goes to the – mostly cheaper and more convenient – “pirated” distribution.
In that case, yes, it is theft. A sale was stolen. There is no way around that.
Sounds like a “but” incoming …
Indeed, there is. When speaking of piracy, there are shades of grey. We do have the outright theft when it’s literally just about getting the same product at less of an investment. But we also have the people who don’t even consider the “correct” path. Be it those, who cannot afford the product and as such would not buy it anyways. Be it those, who use it as a means of protest and as such would otherwise just pull an all-out-boycott on the product … while they do want to use it nonetheless. Be it those, who cannot obtain the item due to regional restrictions.
Yes, those are morally questionable, as they use the product without any reward for the creators whatsoever. But they aren’t “lost sales”, as they would not buy it otherwise either – either because they can’t, or because they don’t wish to support the creators for whatever reasons.
As such these people are hardly “thieves” either. What are they then?
The answer to this very question is the answer to the entire debate about the moral grounds of piracy as a whole. Due to the nature of the question, though, it cannot be answered fully.