Oh, Jesus. Here comes another XBox One post. I know it's played out but it's my first blog and I had a flash of inspiration so please indulge me.
As we all know, games are art. This is not a discussion about art games. The term 'art games' is silly because all games are art. Full stop. Journey? Art. Call of Duty? Art. Angry Birds? Art. At the same time, almost all games can also be classified as commodities. Any game that people pay money in order to have is, by definition, a commodity.
Traditionally we have paid to have games that we would then keep forever, more or less. I still have a Super Nintendo and a bunch of games that I will reclaim from my parent's house one day. These games were complete when we purchased them. They were crafted and sold as complete products. People who are interested in archiving and storing these games can do so, and the games can be appreciated today just as they were appreciated 20+ years ago. In the past decade or so, we have seen a breakdown in this model.Now games are less of a finished product and can be a work in progress even after the physical release has hit store shelves. People have come to conceptualize games as a service. To an extent, this is understandable considering the nature of technology today. What worries me is that games as a service/commodity will become dominant, and that the concept of games as a connection between artist and art appreciator will be lost.
At one time, a creator would create a game. The creator and their team would pour their creativity and passion into it, and when the time came, it would be available to the public. We could then experience this work and form impressions of it; share it with others and discuss it with them. This is the nature of art. The publishers and platform holders who facilitate this are ancillary. Video games are a huge industry and naturally we need people to run the distribution network. Games will always be a commodity, and publishers are largely a necessity, but what's being proposed with XBox One is too much.
It's being put to us that we will not even own our games anymore. We will license them; and the licensing terms will be waaay strict. I'm sure I don't need to itemize all the restrictions here as anyone who is reading this must be well aware of the draconian DRM of XBox One. What's important to me is that the publishers will stand between us and the artists. It used to be that all that publishers wanted was to be rightfully compensated for their service. Obviously they needed money in order to produce the physical media, run the distribution networks, and facilitate the development of games, as well as draw a salary. Now it seems that it's not enough. They want control now. They want to dictate terms. They want determine under what conditions I can appreciate art that I've purchased. It's too much.
I believe that Microsoft, with the XBox One, is proposing a future in which games are almost purely a commodity. In a largely symbolic gesture that was probably not intentional, they have spurned independent developers. It was a great way to send the message that this is not a platform for artists. This is a platform for products, and the organizations that produce them.
There has been a wellspring of criticism for the XBox One after the clarifications of yesterday. It's probably far too late in the process for Microsoft to back out now. I'm sure that negotiations have long since passed and agreements have already been signed to lock the DRM in place. But I hope that there is still time for Microsoft to bow to pressure and get back to what matters; making and distributing games.