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"a story about how Steam, Twitter and the App Store came to exist"
August 4, 2014 10:12 AM   Subscribe

Consider the Holy Bible as a product in a marketplace. It has several attractive qualities, foremost among them the tantalizing possibility that it contains the true word of a being who created the universe. But it has several worrisome drawbacks as well. Like most written anthologies it has poor replay value when compared to something like Spelunky; after you read it once you know more or less how it goes. It features a relatively weak Physical Rights Management scheme; for example, you don't need to purchase one for your household if you can simply borrow it from a friend or read it in a local church. Even its branding as a 'perfect document' becomes something of a double-edged sword; the first, purportedly perfect edition might seem very desirable indeed, but who is going to buy Holy Bible: Religious Text Of The Year Edition when the original is supposed to be immaculate? How are you going to make corrections, utilize analytics data or market additional 'content'? Where will your fine sponsors place all their full-page advertisements: After the crucifixion or before?
Form and its Usurpers is a long essay by Brendan Vance [previously] about videogames, Hegel, form, content, what "free" means, how capitalism ruins everything and what to do about it.
posted by Kattullus (26 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Haven't read this yet, but just wanted to say the Holy Bible should totally be more like Spelunky.
posted by JHarris at 10:17 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]


I am actually somewhat poorly-read in philosophy, truth be told, but after finding Hegel so rewarding I am now very interested in tracing his lineage forward; Marx seems like the logical next step down that road.

Oh man, this guy is going to have his mind blown so hard once he catches up with the 19th century.
posted by wobdev at 10:23 AM on August 4 [11 favorites]


I don't know, the Bible analogy is pretty weak; he's trying to force it to fit into his scheme but it just doesn't work:

But it has several worrisome drawbacks as well. Like most written anthologies it has poor replay value when compared to something like Spelunky; after you read it once you know more or less how it goes.

People often reread the Bible literally daily, and have for centuries. The point missed is that it's not just knowing the story that gives it value.

It features a relatively weak Physical Rights Management scheme; for example, you don't need to purchase one for your household if you can simply borrow it from a friend or read it in a local church.

And yet believers do, in fact, almost always have copies, often multiple copies, of their own.

Even its branding as a 'perfect document' becomes something of a double-edged sword; the first, purportedly perfect edition might seem very desirable indeed, but who is going to buy Holy Bible: Religious Text Of The Year Edition when the original is supposed to be immaculate?

Later translations like the King James Version seem to do just fine...

Honestly, between this and the admission wobdev quotes about not really being familiar with philosophy this just seems like someone bloviating about things he doesn't really understand with a dash of Engineer's Disease.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:28 AM on August 4 [2 favorites]


I am actually somewhat poorly-read in philosophy, truth be told

Never would've known it based on literally every sentence of your writing!

I am also a sort of prototype for a new kind of creative professional

I certainly hope not.
posted by RogerB at 10:29 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]


I plan on working through this later tonight, but I thought I would post this:

Teodor! 2005 bible is out! Here is copy. Take.
posted by codacorolla at 10:31 AM on August 4 [4 favorites]


I mean seriously, algorithmic Scripture generation! This time Jesus gets crucified. Next time, arrow trap. Ouch! Of course, you could just feed the Bible into a Markov generator.

Here's a fixed link to codacorolla's Achewood comic.
posted by JHarris at 10:50 AM on August 4 [3 favorites]


Ouch, was this ever a painful read. Oftentimes I can recommend painful reads on various merits, this I do not. I dug into the Problem Attic essay as well. Here's my shovel back, you're more than welcome to finish up the rest.
posted by chainlinkspiral at 11:03 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]


On preview, what Sangermaine said.

Also, I'm not really sure what this guy wants other than simply a way he and other game developers can make more money for their work. Is all this philosophizing about the demands of the marketplace and how horrible consumers are is just a fancier way to say it?

I have no doubt it's difficult for independent developers to compete in a free/cheap market saturated with vast amounts of other games. However, when you sign on to be an independent creator of anything - games, horseshoes, wine, anything - you have to accept the fact that in addition to being a craftsman, one has to consider the fact that when entering into a marketplace, no matter how regulated, it is an entirely different world than the one where the creation is actually made. The old rules still stand - quality builds a reputation and a bit of sales, reputation invites investment and other monetary support, increasing the chances of bigger sales with future products or being hired by a larger studio. Does the enormous number of developers, both large and small, out there make it harder to compete? Of course, but I don't see how writing a philosophy-laden diatribe calling for an end to the system that is right now the primary way to promote and distribute your product helps the situation. He can quote Hegel all he wants to, it still all boils down to not being paid enough.

Also, I found the lack of any mention of the support of independent developers by Steam, in the form of 'Steam Greenlight', where independent developers can post games or simply concepts of games, and get feedback, discussion, and the ability to have it added to the Steam store, rather misleading. The Apple App Store will take just about anything that follows the rules, so other than a developer membership fee, there is little stopping its release.

Perhaps he should have gone with a concept similar to a kind of 'fair trade gaming' which extols the virtues of increased compensation for developers. I could see some actual traction in something like that, at least for developers that have shown they can create something the audience wants.
posted by chambers at 11:33 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]


Not to derail, but this article served as a nice counter-agent, highlighting an upcoming indie title with quite a bit on its mind, an unusual platform for release, and what I imagine 4chan and somethingawful trolls will have a field-day with in regards to let's play, screenshots & back of the box quotes. Sensitive subject, interactive medium.
posted by chainlinkspiral at 11:43 AM on August 4


The Bible contains multiple levels of allegory. In the Old Testament Jonah and the Whale is a literal story. In the New Testament it is a pre-figuration of the return of Christ (seemingly dead he exits the cave/mouth and returns). This is known as "typological" allegory. Then there is the "tropological" or "morale of the story" allegory (in the Old Testament it's really about forgiveness). And finally "anagogical" dealing with future events such as prophecies (typological is past events, tropological is current events). When someone has all that figured out, they can start over with glosses from modern scholars.
posted by stbalbach at 11:43 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]


Ok, I read it.
The Bible, as it turns out, would succeed regardless of these drawbacks, due in large part to a strong pre-existing brand, a relative dearth of competition in what were then the early days of the printed word platform and also some degree of sectarian violence.
Saying "The Bible" had a "relative dearth of competition" is... very odd and ahistorical.
posted by codacorolla at 12:07 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]


chambers: He does discuss Greenlight, and is rightfully contemptuous of it. Greenlight isn't real support, but a mockery of support that is mainly geared to allow Valve to push off the actual task of curation on the Steam userbase.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:42 PM on August 4 [3 favorites]


It seems I did miss that, NoxAeternum, he didn't mention it by name, which is why my pre-posting double-check by searching for the name after reading the article failed.

I didn't know it was seen a bad thing by developers, but a quick search shows some pretty valid points made. There is a high signal-to-noise ratio there, but as a gamer, I've found it helpful as a centralized repository for finding new things, and have been directed there several times, mostly by twitch streamers to help get a promising game onto Steam if I liked what I see. From a developer standpoint though, I now am starting to see how big of a frustrating mess it can be with Greenlight. Point taken.
posted by chambers at 1:31 PM on August 4


I thought he had an interesting point about how "content" distributors like newspapers or Steam end up with a tendency to commoditize "content," while the creators (writers, game developers) want to do the same to the distributors.

Steam wants users to keep coming back to Steam and buying whatever game is next. Ubisoft wants gamers to go get AssCreed 7 wherever games are sold.
posted by straight at 1:58 PM on August 4


And also how something like the latest Assassin's Creed feels more like it is "publishing" commoditized content than being an authored thing in its own right.
posted by straight at 2:03 PM on August 4


There are a lot more words than ideas in that there writin'.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:49 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]


like, a buttload
posted by Sebmojo at 2:52 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]


I kind of liked his brief introductions to McLuhan and Hegel. But then he gets bogged down in a vague rant about new media. His twittering about Twitter is a derail— Twitter doesn't care about us, sure, but then we exploit Twitter for fun; it's doesn't shed any light on game development. Games may not cost much money, but they do cost money, which changes the dynamic entirely.

So far as I can follow him, this is the heart of his complaint:

Maximum distribution means maximum competition between ‘content creators’ alongside minimum risk for the marketplace itself. Not only does this make it difficult for developers to carve out an audience; it also creates tremendous downward pressure on the value of our work. Anyone intending to charge money for their videogame faces an army of competitors willing to give theirs away for less, or for free.

Welcome to creative endeavors, dude; don't quit the day job.

By his own admission, his problem is "an army of competitors". What are the predatory capitalists supposed to do to help him? "Curate"? That is, single him out as worth a bunch of money and relegate his rivals to the fate they deserve? Then one of them will write an essay complaining about how devs can't make money.

Also, I dunno, how can he simultaneously complain that there are so many competitors it's hard to charge money for games, and complain about developers charging money for DLC?

I'm a gamer, not a game developer, and I like Steam. Under the previous business model— i.e. buying games in stores— you could buy the AAA games released in the last year or two, and that was it. Now you can buy most anything from a publisher's catalog, plus indie games that would have never made it to the shelves. It seems like an improvement to me, and I don't get how "balkanizing the Internet" would make it better. (As just one point, if every dev has to build their own sales site, that's a huge waste of their time and an invitation for things to go wrong.)
posted by zompist at 3:51 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]


Reckon I'll chime in some random thoughts on the Steam Store experience. Where it stands for me after ten years, I probably use it the most of the digital content portals. I gave up on the Itunes Store awhile back, Amazon continues to be the monolith, but the most of my gaming transactions go through Steam. From what I understand of Valve's innerworkings, both from casual conversations, and articles posted online, they're a fairly benign dictatorship. Folk who are hired there are usually there to fill a niche, or create a niche to be filled. Drift within the corp is encouraged. That's help make Valve as a publisher of their own in-house titles, one of the most critically successful, diverse, and profitable, in no particular order. Their forward thinking on hiring top-tier brains in economics, ergonomics and fields wholly outside of traditional guildshop game studio positions, speaks volumes. As a game house, they've several of the main attractions.

As a storefront, I think their philosophy is fairly anarchist. They don't disclose their take, but it's assumed to be 30% of retail. When they are asked about improving the Steam client/storefront/api, their big plans seem to be moving them even further away from customer service. They want to basically allow new shopkeepers to come in, brand, and tailor content to their user/fanbase. The problem with the storefront, is several traditional avenues of customer support are whittled away further, or are completely gone altogether.

If you buy something, returns are basically a no-no. It's a buyer beware system that only rewards the well informed consumer. Valve expects this to be 90% of their audience, and that's being generous. Valve is encouraging folk to try out new things, in regards to self publishing. Early access, greenlight, and kickstarter-types have an inherent risk in them. If you impulse buy something without due diligence, you stand a good chance of at best, not getting the experience you want, at worst, out-right fleeced. Valve drags their feet in going after scam artists and folk abusing their publishing platform. Part of this is, they probably need a larger, more dedicated storefront team, but because of their philosophy, other juicy projects within and that internal drift, the Steam Store is getting the shortest end of their many pillar/sticks.

What Steam offers is affordable, timely, exhaustive libraries of game titles, content updates, steamworkshop support & sustainability, a rich browser experience with near-instant access to user-driven game guides, forums, written technical support and direct interaction with developers.

What you won't get is an Amazon talking head in a box, or someone to walk you through any difficulties you might find.

I've never had a sour experience in my near-decade long years of service, but I may be an anomaly.

The most vitriol I've heard leveled is from, well, cheaters of the system, in whatever way. And when they get caught, it's never pretty.

Vavle's dominance is the reason for much of their shrug/apathy interaction with the userbase. GOG.com's Galaxy platform could be the kick in the shorts Valve needs.
posted by chainlinkspiral at 3:55 PM on August 4


Advice for brendan vance, professional game developer, bullshitter; on how to write like Adam Curtis.

- Do exactly what you have done but cut it down to 3 page scrolls of text.
- Use many more images to not only break up the wall of text but to give the text powers it can't have by itself.
- Don't use stale image macros; GIFs of Citizen Kane clapping won't cut it in modern "Curtisian" critique.
- Don't call yourself a bullshitter, let people make up their own minds on that point.
- Do use cultural touchstones at every opportunity.
- Reconsider using Assassins Creed 5 as a cultural touchstone. Referencing post-HALO AAA games would be a better approach.
- Do not use the first person. History should always be happening to other people.
- Encourage the reader to recognise that history has happened to them and by association they have been involved in things of great cultural and historical significance. This is truly the secret sauce of the "Curtisian" approach.
- Link playing indie games to being involved in things of great cultural and historical significance.
- Make youtube videos of yourself playing indie games and explaining the cultural and historical significance of people watching you play indie games.
- Profit.
posted by vicx at 1:51 AM on August 5


Well, this wasn't the thread I was expecting. Nor was it the one I was fearing, so there's that. Anyway, I just wanted to point out that the people Vance is referring to here are MetaFilter's very own pb and mathowie: "On one hand our dreamers hoped to make the world more free as in libre by building accessible tools for creating things. They’re the reason why you no longer need HTML skills to leave a comment on a blog, and indeed why blogs and comment sections exist in the first place."
posted by Kattullus at 2:01 AM on August 5


There are a damned lot of comments here about how this person is complaining about how hard it is to make money when the thesis appears to be "capitalism sucks the soul out of everything."

I think part of it's because he associates charging money for certain things related to producing a quality, soulful product without explicitly saying so. Which I suppose is its own comment ont he hegemonic nature of capitalist systems.
posted by Zalzidrax at 3:10 AM on August 5 [4 favorites]


I think part of it's because he associates charging money for certain things related to producing a quality, soulful product without explicitly saying so.

Someone should really write a critique of Hegel's acceptance of the liberal market society.
posted by wobdev at 7:29 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


Insults to an author's intelligence and education level who is clearly thinking things out seem like kind of examples of the phenomenon he's talking about.

This is what internet discourse has become: deciding that everyone's ideas are "content," products and positioning statements and "branding" that isn't a journey toward new ideas, but instead are fully-formed and should simply be dismissed if you find a single problem with them or something they weren't looking at.

So he's anticipating Marx--why, precisely, is that a bad thing? Why would someone anticipating Marx's arguments in the 21st century, or even (gasp!) talking about the problems capital is causing today that it wasn't causing in the 19th century when Marx was writing, be an occasion for people on Metafilter to be like "lol lots of words do u want $$$ dood??"

This is someone who has been thoroughly steeped in capitalist thinking, who is starting to find the structures that prop up artificial demand and artificial scarcity in our society. And his discomfort, his aching, gnawing feeling that something about the situation we are in is *wrong,* that people in "neutral content provider" positions are making all the money while the idea-havers of all stripes suffer from a lack of income, a lack of real choices, and a lack of alternatives--that's real. That's something he's not alone in.

I see a thread full of people stepping in with an article that genuinely discusses big ideas, and ignoring the big ideas in favor of defending third-party content-neutral distribution capitalists--work that those folks actually pay a large number of people reasonably good salaries to do. What do you think Valve is going to do in exchange for your free PR work?

Supposedly, these new systems have made it easier than ever to make content available, and make it easier than ever to pay content creators. So why do I see dramatic, across-the-board wage suppression in creative industries? Why is a good rate of pay for a magazine article or a short story less now than it was sixty years ago?

It's because everyone decided it was fine to "share" on the internet...but it's not truly peer-to-peer, and instead middlemen take pieces of every pie. In order for the "do what you love and give away the result" culture to work, a basic income guarantee is an absolute, non-negotiable necessity. Otherwise, expect to see more and more things that are currently classified as "work" that you get paid for transitioned into gamified, social networked "user experiences" that you can do "for free."
posted by HowardLuckGossage at 12:00 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


What do you think Valve is going to do in exchange for your free PR work?

Customers stating that they find Valve useful for not only purchasing games, but for also for distribution of updates, multiplayer services, user-created content, and finding out about new games makes them neither a shill or an unpaid PR toady. In my case, if Valve's services cease to be useful to me, or something better comes along, I'll look elsewhere. Dismissing someone for mentioning those benefits as a "free PR worker" seems a lot like the dismissing you speak of about what the internet has become.

these new systems have made it easier than ever to make content available, and make it easier than ever to pay content creators. So why do I see dramatic, across-the-board wage suppression in creative industries?

I don't challenge the fact that 'the system' is to blame for most of the problems content creators face. What I don't hear as much about is consideration and discussion of how the enormous number of content creators, both professional and amateur out there may also be contributing to the decrease in wages, the difficulty of getting noticed, and earning a living. Do we try and separate the groups, as in 'this designer can make money, but this one can't' or somehow prevent people from creating content on their own time for free because it somehow robs the professional designer, or prevent freelance workers from offering cheaper prices? How can a system that attempts to regulate a profession avoid the side-effect of excluding and/or punishing a portion of the existing group of practitioners? A content-neutral platform, even with its problems, seems preferable to guilds and groups in other industries, such as the film industry (ex. No DGA card? Then you can't direct a film over a certain budget and use people who are members of the Screen Actor's Guild & many others, as then those worker's memberships are at risk) that offer protection in exchange for exclusivity.

I'm open to new ideas that may offer a solution. In this case, I found the linked article's philosophical approach a bit excessive. Perhaps I was too harsh in my first reaction to it.

It's because everyone decided it was fine to "share" on the internet...but it's not truly peer-to-peer, and instead middlemen take pieces of every pie. In order for the "do what you love and give away the result" culture to work, a basic income guarantee is an absolute, non-negotiable necessity. Otherwise, expect to see more and more things that are currently classified as "work" that you get paid for transitioned into gamified, social networked "user experiences" that you can do "for free."

I'm currently working on an add-on for a game that will probably take me a better part of a year to complete, fully aware that I will never be monetarily compensated. I'm OK with that, because in return I not only will have something to be proud of that others may enjoy, but I will have learned and/or honed all sorts of skills along the way. Steam offers a very effective way of distributing my work more effectively than if I had tried to do this a few years ago, before the game was integrated with Steam. Does this make me one of the bad guys, even as an amateur?
posted by chambers at 10:09 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


Random day after musings. I find the author intelligent, but the reading harsh. Not in damnation but in half-light. The philosophy doesn't work for me, as it takes an end-game stance that veers ever towards absurd. Groovy, but not my bag. The most interesting aspects of the piece are ones I don't find being addressed as much. Standards & Obsolescence in new market/creative spaces. The interesting thing I find is the hivemind propellant of steam creator culture. How much of a night job it is for the creatives whose passion or bottom dollar lies elsewhere. There is nifty stuff in there if you know where to look, sometimes between the cracks.
posted by chainlinkspiral at 10:31 PM on August 5


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