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CURRENTS
Issue #159
July 23, 2014
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Welcome to another issue of Currents, where video game industry headlines are broken down and editorialized. Today's issue is an odd mix of rage and intrigue. As your curator, and poxy debater, it is essentially my job to find news topics worth discussing and spend five or six paragraphs delving into them through my extremely subjective lens. As of late, not many topics have really caught my attention. Most news sites are recycling the same news over and over again. Is the Wii U finally selling? Will the Xbox One have a comeback? Should this console generation be the last? All of these questions have been asked and answered ad nauseam. I have no interest any more in that kind of news, and I'll understand if you feel the same. However, occasionally there are a few topics that make me downright angry or surprised, and those two reactions are basically the crux of this week's issue. Hopefully, you'll enjoy and participate in the dialogue with a forum post.

Completely ignoring a proper segway, I want to show you a YouTube producer that has really impressed me. As a bit of a background, I spend a lot of time seeking out decent video content to subscribe to that don't necessarily have a large audience yet but certainly deserve it. The videos created by YouTube user FERALxPANDA is certainly within that category. His content has a great deal of critical analysis, mixed with his own colourful illustrations and a good dose of smart humour. I get the impression that he's a pretty swell guy too. Check out his video on Shadow the Hedgehog, and if you're interested in more please consider subscribing.

If I could ask you readers some questions this week, they would be:

  • Are you okay with publishers paying the YouTubers you watch to promote their games?

  • What is your take on the future of VR?

  • Was Square Enix right to shut down the Final Fantasy Type-0 fan translation?

Allow me to be particularly blunt about something: I dislike hearing that YouTube producers are being paid by video game companies to promote and discuss their video games. I don't care if those producers say pretty general, innocuous things about those games. That's not the point. I also don't care whether those videos that mention the game are reviews, general news coverage, or let's plays. That is also not the point. The core problem with the producer-game developer relationship is one of ethics, disclosure, and professional integrity.

There's been a lot of talk lately about paid video game promotion, mostly because of comments made by TotalBiscuit and Yogscast. It's been made pretty clear that many large video game publishers are not above paying for coverage by LP-ers, podcasters, or reviewers. On the surface, that might seem pretty harmless, but it comes with a huge asterisk. The video producer would be asked to not disclose the finer points of this kind of coverage deal, generally cannot say anything negative about the product iteself, and would be expected to provide links in each video description to websites where the product can be purchased. Popular YouTube personality TotalBiscuit has been offered such a deal in the past and chose to turn it down, stating that "It's taking your passion and selling it out for a small pay-cheque. It morally bankrupts you." Yogscast, on the other hand, developed a very particular relationship with publishers regarding PR.

In 2012 Yogscast became a registered company with a business development team that now offers revenue-share deals to game developers, in which a cut of game sales go to Yogscast in exchange for game coverage aimed at their 7 million plus viewership. That's right: you viewers are now nothing more than a means to a monetary end. Yogscast is not making gaming videos for you to watch, so much as they're making videos to be sold under the promise of future monetization. Naturally, there's been a bit of a PR stink and I believe it is extremely well deserved.

The problem with making money off of YouTube videos is that you are no longer just a personality who provides a voice on the internet. You are now a talking point who is accountable to a paying party. This means two things: (1) your editorial integrity is compromised by your agreement to not say anything which could be construed as "negative" about a product or service, and (2) there is now a question of professional ethics in how you choose to make known that you are paid promoters of video games.

I'm a big fan of passionate people. Generally, when I subscribe to someone on YouTube it is because they seem genuine in the appreciating or disliking of a particular thing. There's a seriousness taken to content they cover, because they are actually interested in providing their viewers with well-substantiated reasons for buying, playing, or ignoring video games. They offer balanced opinions and do their best to detail how games that are generally considered "good" can still have problems. I appreciate that. I don't appreciate finding out that a video producer is being bankrolled to say only good or neutral things. It makes you wonder if you're being sold on a lie.

The professional ethics side of things is also a sticking point, as it bears legal implications. Since 2009 any YouTube videos created by US video producers are subject to FTC regulations, which clearly state that they must make it clear to viewers that the video is a paid-for endorsement of a video game. British law is also unequivocal on the subject, with Paragraph 11 of Schedule 1 in the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs) outlining the prohibition of using any editorial content in media to promote a product where a trader has paid for the promotion without making that clear in that content. Unfortunately, in both the cases of the US and UK, producers can get away with only stating the video as advertorial in the description area. They don't have to explicitly disclose the nature of the producer-publisher relationship in the video itself. That's a problem, as descriptions aren't read by most and don't show up whenever a video is embedded.

I'm generally hesitant to trust any YouTuber who tries to make video production their primary source of personal income, as it is clear that the focus will always be on getting the most views, the most likes, and the most ad revenue. Now we also have to contend with video producers monetizing the nature of the content itself by selling the general editorial direction of their videos to AAA and indie publishers. It is a startling reminder that we have to be careful of the people we choose to support and the content we consume. If a producer is more inclined to treat you like a bargaining chip than as a person, maybe you should rethink why you're watching their videos at all.

Sources: Eurogamer, TotalBiscuit (Twitter), Yogscast

The world appears to be enamored with the concept of virtual reality. Oculus Rift has been purchased by Facebook, Sony is pushing forward with Project Morpheus, and even Valve is dipping their feet in this VR gaming craze. Clearly this train isn't going to lose steam anytime soon, which isn't to say that everyone involved is in love with the idea.

Fabian Giesen, a Valve contractor who contributed to Valve's VR room project, has recently raised a few eyebrows for his take on gaming through VR devices. In fact, his comments, while controversial and a bit unexpected, are one of the most interesting things I've heard a VR developer say on the technology. He had worked for Valve as a programmer for nine months during 2012, and then for another three months ending in April this year. According to Giesen's post to GitHub, Valve was developing both augmented reality (AR technology) and VR technology, and decided to end his 2012 contract when Valve focused its direction on the latter.

"It seems to be fundamentally anti-social, completing the sad trajectory of entertainment moving further and further away from shared social experiences," Giesen said in a letter to a colleague at the time. He has since admitted that he isn't a fan of online gaming in general, and thinks "VR is bad news" since it's currently focused on creating a "gateway to the ultimate MMORPG," which offers an isolated and very basic take on human interaction. According to Giesen, the fact that Facebook acquired Oculus VR for $2 billion complicates things further.

"Imagine a shared universe MMORPG, expressly operated by a company that already knows all your friends, that's trying to maximize your engagement ('hey, all your friends are playing right now, don't you want to join too?'), selling your attention to advertisers, and by the way, also building a detailed profile on everything you do so they can do all of this even better in the future. It's okay, go on doing whatever you want, we just want to watch! That's a very cyberpunk future all right, but one I'd prefer not to live in."

I have to say, I'm glad to hear some push back on the wonders of VR technology. Especially from an individual who actually worked on said technology. There's a certain serendipity that has clouded the air around these devices. All that we tend to hear from most media outlets and developers is how virtual reality can alter the gaming experience and change the way we interact with each other. But what if that comes with a cost? What if that change is for the worse? Personally, I'm not very interested in devices that demand you deprive your other senses. I'm also not thrilled at the concept of Facebook, which has previously come under fire for conducting undisclosed, unethical tests on its user base, having control of such a technology. There's a lot of room for abuse here and if it does happen it'll be our fault for not asking enough questions about the technology and its use.

Source: Github

In case you haven't noticed, there are a lot of upset people in the Final Fantasy fan community acting like entitled babies right now. Does that sound harsh? Good — that was the intent. I don't know how we got to the state of gamers feeling as though they "deserve" anything for free, but apparently that is the case with Final Fantasy Type-0. And I think it's ridiculous.

A recent post at Sky's RomHacking Nest indicated the removal of the translated patch. "Unfortunately I'm forced to remove my posts and pages related to the popular Final Fantasy Type-0 fan translation project," said Sky himself. "That's right, [a] certain game company thinks that threats and false accusations are the way to treat its biggest fans." The fan community there, and the wider Type-0 community itself, have since launched into a petty smear campaign against Square Enix for depriving them of "their game." Letters have been sent, tweets have been tweeted, and message boards all over the internet proclaim that Square Enix is the devil. To which I roll my eyes.

Here's a small dose of reality, kids: you didn't own Final Fantasy Type-0 (the property) in any way, shape, or form. You didn't even own the words you translated, as they were all originally written by the company. Getting into a giant tizzy because you can't still download the free patch and apply it to a likely illegally downloaded version of the game, which in no way supports the series itself, isn't going to win you any brownie points with me. Due respect to those of you who actually imported the game, but something tells me you're in the very small minority in this case. This is entitlement at its peak, and a spit in the face to both Square Enix and the fans that are actually willing to wait for an official release of the game.

I'm sorry that the game isn't coming out for the PSP, but that system has been dead here for a while now. I'm sorry that the game isn't coming out for the PS Vita, but the install base is likely too low for Square Enix to be interested in publishing. I'm sorry that you'll have to pony up for a shiny new Xbox One or PlayStation 4 in able to actually play the damn game. I'm not sorry, however, that this translation was shut down.

From what I've heard, Square Enix actually had a friendly relationship with SkyBladeCloud and his team up until the release of the patch. According to Kotaku's Jason Schreier, "In March, the team announced that work was almost complete on the translation patch, and they had a final release date: August 8, 2014, almost three years after Type-0 came out in Japan. Not long after that announcement, Square Enix representatives reached out to the translation team, warning them that the company intended to protect its copyrights, and asking the team if they'd like to talk further about mutual solutions that would leave both parties happy." SkyBladeCloud responded to this olive branch by releasing the patch two months ahead of schedule on Sunday, June 8 — the day before E3. Square Enix announced the official Western release of Final Fantasy Type-0 two days later.

It's since become clear that the wider translation team wasn't consulted on this action. "The patch was far from ready and we still had some video to translate and some more test to proofread," said Adam, a writer on the team, to Kotaku. "We also hadn't fully played through the game after all of our updates. Sky was the one who pushed for the August release date even though most of us felt like it was unrealistic." As a result, most people have speculated that SkyBladeCloud knew about the upcoming release and wanted to beat Square Enix to the punch with his patch.

I have no pity for the removal of the translation patch or the potential legal ramifications of its release. You'd have to be a fool to think a company of Square Enix's size wouldn't be interested in protecting its creative IP. But, you know, the thing that frustrates me the most isn't the fact that a group of people enabled the illegal downloading of a game that dozens poured their sweat into making. It is the fact that fans are still bemoaning not being able to play the game on their PSPs. You asked for an official release. You got it.

Sources: Kotaku, Sky's Rom Hacking Nest

That's it for this issue of Currents. Shout out to Sarah McGarr for the new 'Currents' icon. You'll see another issue again in a couple weeks, but stay tuned to RPGamer for all the latest RPG news, reviews, previews, and interviews.

Your dork from the Great North,

Trent Seely

Stalk me on Twitter: @InstaTrent

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