Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Scrabble/Scrabulous Scrap Specifics

GamePolitics has a scan of the court docs up.

For those curious about the details, here's a summary:

Case is over trademark and copyright infrigement (not patent infringement as some have stated)

Trademark in that the Scrabulous name rides the coattails of the Scrabble name brand (trademarked several times since 1954, and in 2002 wrt video game versions).

Copyright in that, the rules were copyrighted in 1948, the board design was copyrighted in 1948, the OSPDictionary was copyrighted in 1978, and included things like. These copyrights include things like:

- The board is similar in size, color, multipliers (indeed, the doubles and triples in Scrabulous are color coded and the player assumes what they are worth)
- The tilecount (total and per-letter) is identical
- letter point values are similar.

There's an interesting element to this in that the docs seem to outline a strategy to take what I guess were tactics RJ Software used to obfuscate the copyright infringement, and then uses them as the lynch rope. For example, the fact that there are no rules published for Scrabulous, that the multipliers on the board don't reference the x2 or x3 values, etc. How do people know how to play? Well, it must be assumed they know how to play Scrabble.

"Lawyers" for 63 points!

Well, they finally did it, Scrabulous is down. The following message gives a hint:

"Scrabulous is disabled for US and Canadian users until further notice. If you would like to stay informed about developments in this matter, please click here."

US & Canada is of course the territory covered by Hasbro's copyright on the Scrabble game. EA licensed that property and launched Scrabble for Facebook earlier this month. My guess is that someone had a "pull it down by end of July, please" notice and well, it's the end of the month.

LATimes has more detail here.

Mattel, who has Scrabble rights for rest of world, is suing the Scrabulous developers in India (where they hail from) and has launched their own game for folks in their territories.

They will of course win, and we'll be stuck with two versions of scrabble for different regions, and an inability to play with friends overseas.

Hasbro, Mattel and EA win. RJ Software loses. However, there are other casualties. The end user loses, and Facebook loses. However small a stain on their service this might be, it's still a loss: A social network app that bifurcates the members of the network. It's unfortunate there couldn't be a more win-for-all solution that came out of this.

A wave of original XBLA content

Looks like the XBLA team has been queuing up a wave of original titles for a burst of July/August goodness. Given some of the flak XBLA has taken over the past year (over everything from changes in royalty structure to mediocre content), it's nice to see all this original content coming out, and I hope and expect some of it will fare really well both in terms of sales and critical review.

A few of the recent and upcoming titles:

Go Go Break Steady

OK, it's not faring so well sales-wise, and suffers from meta-critic averaging of what seems like polarization of it's reception. Still, I bought it and am rather enjoying it. I'm generally not a fan of beat-match games on a controller, but this one's ok. Plus, the mix of genre with match-3 is unique, and the theming and music are sweet.

Geowars: Retro Evolved 2

XBLA's monster hit, second in sales only to Uno (an aptly named game), it'll be interesting if the game (debuting at $10) can be the must-have that it's predecesor was.

When I worked at MS, there was a photoshop job someone had done (or downloaded?) that was hanging up in the hallway, entitled "missing GeoWars features" and it showed the player ship in a mucho-crowded scene, with a speech bubble captioned "Where the F*** is Co-op?!?" or something along those lines. See above screenshot. That is all.


Finally! Braid's slated to release the week after Geowars 2, and it's been a long time coming. I first played it at the IGF (when? 3 years ago?) where it *hurt my brain*. So when I joined MS's XBLA bizdev team, Jon was the first person I approached about getting his title on XBLA. I'm glad to have played a part, and I really hope the Xbox customers have a thirst for such an original brain-bending platformer.
Also coming:
Castle Crashers (go go The Behemoth!), and Galaga Legions (which promises to be a complete remake of the original in the same way Pac Man CE was; a game I play almost every day). Also looks like N+'s add-on pack of 200 levels boosted sales of the game. Go Indies!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Player Created Content: Industry Created Glut

Man, things sure seem to be shaping up for a mighty crowded playfield on the user-generated-content (or the better 'player created content' name) landscape.

The basic premise of '99% of everything is crap, but in a long-tail world, there's enough content for some cream to float to the top' seems sound. However, creating content takes time, and one has to wonder what the intersection of sets looks like between gamers and would-be-creators, and then how big that pool is, vis a vis it's dilution across so many venues for content creation & sharing.

An incomplete inventory off the top of my head:

Games centered around UGC
- Spore
- Little Big Planet*
- others

Games with UGC as non-core feature
- Many many first person shooters (e.g. Unreal)
- Race games allowing for custom cars/tracks (e.g. Forza)
- etc

Virtual worlds with UGC-element
- Second Life
- Google's Lively
- Habbo and a thousand would-be Habbo's
- Sony Home

Game creation middleware/systems
- MS's XNA
- Torque

Hosted game creation services
- Playcrafter
- Raph's Metaplace (my personal fave)

The good news is that there's plenty of variety, and they run the gammut from writing cod to drag-n-drop.

I do worry, however, that many will fall by the wayside for lack of sufficient user-base to generate the content.

And yes, I realize I *totally* sound like one of those "there'll never be more than a million MMO players!" cronies of 7-8 year ago. I was one of them! :-)

* BTW, this may point to it being a smart idea Sony's hinted at, allowing users to sell their content, to provide additional incentive beyond the rest of the fray. I beleive Raph's system is going to allow such things as well.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Here comes Google...

Google pulls the covers back on Lively!

Looks like cartoony 3D space social network, with limited user creation tools (I'm going off other's posts - will give it a go when I get some time).

no content creation tools at the level that Metaplace is doing (i.e. not sure you can actually MAKE GAMES with it), but I might worry if I was someone like Habbo, etc.

As one of the commenters on Alice's blog points out, it's a vehicle for advertising, so that may turn off some users and limit how much people can do with it (because most people don't want their banner ads popping up on the sides of flying penii.

As Casey once put it, 'now the dancing turns German'.

(via Wonderland)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Rein Myopic on Stereoscopic?

Epic's Mark Rein is interviewed on GamesIndustry.biz this morning, and among the juicier quotes they latched onto is this one:

Q: Ubisoft has said that their going to be using 3D - or stereoscopic - technology in games...

Rein: That's dumb.

Q: So there's not going to be an Unreal Engine that supports it then?

Rein: It does already. I have a 3D Monitor sitting in my office and stereoscopic has worked on Unreal for a long time. [snip] So unreal works fine on stereoscopic, it's just that you've got to change out your screens to use it - that's a big accessory.

I really like Mark, but I think he's missed the point on this one. I don't believe that 3D monitors are going to be what the console manufacturers latch onto, if in fact they decide to differentiate via stereoscopic 3D. It'll be via LCD shutter glasses with the TV you've already got.

LCD shutter glasses have the downside that (a) they are glasses, so you have to wear them and look dorky, with which I am well acquainted, and (b) you need a pair for each person in the room.

The upside, however, is that they are cheap (e.g. sub-$100 products exist with 2 pairs of glasses, so within range of a pack-in peripheral with a high-end title if MS or Sony were to do in real volume), you can ship them as a peripheral along with a USB dongle to drive the shutter (or maybe can be done via the existing IR on the 360 or PS3?).

You can drive existing HDTVs at 30hz per left/right field, which works, but will make your retinas bleed. The more interesting way to drive it is at 60hz per field, on 120Hz LCDs. Anyone who's shopped recently for an HDTV knows that 120Hz refresh is one of those differentiator features that is rapidly becoming a checklist item that will exist across all products in the near future.

Another cool think you can do is two-player games where each player has a full-screen view.

As an aside: You could probably do some other cool social/family games where you flash stuff intermittently on the screen in a way that everyone can see it except the person with the glasses on. Kind of like the 'isolation booth' in old game shows.

Anyhow, it means that adding stereo to a console is probably more of a $25-ish peripheral, not a 'buy a new TV' option as Mark interpreted it.

That being said, I'm not bullish on a feature like this being anything other than a science project mid-console-lifecycle (note that some science projects actually do ship). It's more like something they might go big with in the next cycle.