Ambridge: the MMORPG
September 30, 2014 9:22 AM   Subscribe

But consider how much of videogaming is controlled by corporations like Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo and Apple. Their influence is far-reaching, and their decisions often show little regard for their audience. That’s dangerous. The PC is a fine and flourishing alternative, but it’s an anarchic ecosystem. There ought to be a third way, an organisation with the influence of a corporation but the interests of the people at heart. That’s what the BBC can represent. That’s what I feel we need in games.
In an impassionate editorial at Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Graham Smith draws on the Corporation's pioneering role in television as he sets out his reasons for wanting the BBC to enter videogaming.
posted by MartinWisse (37 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
...a third way, an organisation with the influence of a corporation but the interests of the people at heart.
Sounds like he's ready to learn about cooperatives.
posted by clawsoon at 9:27 AM on September 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


The difficulty is all the focus is on "games" which is the equivalent of asking for a nation to embrace silent slapstick films.

Responsive, interactive media can be so much more than a game. It would be the BBC's place to explore those possibilities, not to merely make non-corporate versions of our current entertainment.

That said, I would probably spend a week on DowagerClicker.
posted by michaelh at 9:50 AM on September 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


I agree that tech needs a Brian Cox to make it mainstream - more generally, the BBC's current coverage of technology issues is absolutely woeful, and smacks of an organisation dominated by a desire to maintain the status quo, not understanding or caring about anything new. Cutting the budget for daytime rubbish (no more cash in the attic) and Eastenders (why on earth isn't that classified as something which commercial TV could do, and therefore something which the BBC shouldn't spend money on?) and putting that into credible tech coverage would be a huge step forwards.

Currently I don't think their technical viewpoints are independent of commercial interest.
posted by dvrmmr at 9:52 AM on September 30, 2014


I am all for the idea that the BBC should make games a more important part of its review lineup (although, really what that means is finding a top-gear like popular format to put them in and not much else - certainly there is little place for RPS like content, except in the occasional culture show feature)

However, the BBC does not build televisions it makes television programs. Unless he is advocating that the BBC makes games consoles not just games, it is hardly likely to lessen the impact of Sony, Apple, Nintendo & Microsoft.

But the best argument against getting the BBC more involved with video games is looking at the games it already makes - do you want more things like the Dr Who games it makes at the moment?
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 9:55 AM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


The reason that the BBC does not cut "daytime rubbish" and that Eastenders is not classified as "something commercial TV could do" is that the BBC needs to appeal to a broad section of the british population. It is mostly recognised now that the elitism against its popular programming as "something that commercial TV could do" is basically a codeword for "something only rich educated people would watch" or "raising up the unwashed masses to our superior level" , two fallacies that Citizen Smith is dangerously close to the edge of falling into in this article incidentally.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 9:59 AM on September 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


The Beeb has a lot of IP to leverage.

Call of Duty: Dad's Army
New One Foot in the Grave DS
Grand Theft TARDIS
posted by infinitewindow at 10:01 AM on September 30, 2014 [12 favorites]


Grand Theft TARDIS would have a Dalek protagonist. Levels would be united by an open-world London, but the London would change based on what you had done to the timeline earlier.

Hard to give a happy ending.
posted by squinty at 10:04 AM on September 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


The BBC is actually very pro reporting tech, and pro-tech in general. The trouble with 'having a Brian Cox' for tech is that technology is almost always commercial, and science is almost always not. For example, the BBC has very strong guidelines against mentioning brands unless entirely necessary, and at least one tech series I know of had incredible problems as a result. You're OK with CERN and ESRO and Hubble; you're not with Google and Intel and Apple. (You _ARE_ ok talking about those in business contexts, which is why so much tech news is in the business sections).

But in general, the BBC would like to do more technology. It keeps trying, bless it. As for interactive services, it has tried many times but had no more success than anyone else. iPlayer is very good, but the not-directly-concerned-with-delivering-content bits (community, playlists, collections) don't work. I don't think they work for anyone in that sector, and you're better off providing APIs and encouraging third party innovation around the edges.

As for 'Why does the BBC do East Enders?'; the BBC considers that its job is to provide stuff for everyone, and if it didn't do very popular entertainment that stood up to commercial competition, it would lose that wide appeal and thus a major reason for it to exist at all. I think that's correct, as examples of public service broadcasting outside the UK where competition with commercial interests is discouraged inevitably does lead to marginalisation and slow death (which the commercial contenders are very happy with, for numerous reasons). Also, Who.

I've long considered that the BBC or something like it should do a search engine bound by the same sort of rules that public service broadcasting runs by - transparent, non-commercial, accountable - and I'd think that, much more than whatever meta you want to wrap around video games, would be a fine thing to have
posted by Devonian at 10:05 AM on September 30, 2014 [9 favorites]


Devonian, I think that search engine would be an excellent public service.
posted by michaelh at 10:12 AM on September 30, 2014


(the very, very sad thing is that certainly the US and probably the other top-ten economies do have vast, publicly-funded, non-commercial search engines, but owned and run by spooks. I often chew over that irony, because there's something really clever we could do there but I can't quite work out what...)
posted by Devonian at 10:25 AM on September 30, 2014


You are in a field. In the distance you can see Helen Archer. Nearby is a tractor. Exits are North, East and West.
>_
posted by marienbad at 10:46 AM on September 30, 2014 [6 favorites]


Best FPP title of 2014.
posted by Wordshore at 10:55 AM on September 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


Totally agree.

(Related: I would play Ambridge: the MMORPG so hard.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:11 AM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


>West

You are in Cardiff. Captain Jack Harkness is here.

>East

You are in Ambridge. You see a Tom Archer sausage.

>South

You are in Albert Square.

It's got legs!
posted by alasdair at 11:14 AM on September 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


Hmm I anticipate a future of amusing cultish titles with quirky controls and crap production values. Fine, sign me up. Albatross!
posted by Mister_A at 11:18 AM on September 30, 2014


The fate of BBC Jam (£150 million spent, educational content, axed before launch because of complaints from commercial educational content companies, all the content thrown away) suggests that the BBC is not going to be able to get into games programming in a serious way.

BBC Jam on Wikipedia A complaint to the EU did it in, interestingly - anti-competitive, state subsidy.
posted by alasdair at 11:19 AM on September 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


This needs to happen. I want a Blue Peter action platformer where I can play as John Noakes & Shep (like Megaman and Rush)
posted by just another scurvy brother at 11:28 AM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't know if the BBC can do ITV stuff, but we need an Upstairs, Downstairs crafted like Skyrim.

QUEST STARTED: Find which guest stole the silverware from the scullery.
posted by crapmatic at 11:29 AM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


"That said, I would probably spend a week on DowagerClicker."

Things I did not know I needed until right this moment.

Someone make it happen.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:37 AM on September 30, 2014


"...a third way, an organisation with the influence of a corporation but the interests of the people at heart."

Sounds like he's ready to learn about cooperatives.


Sounds like you're ready to learn about the BBC Charter

(Which is to say, less snarkily: I take the case being made in the linked article to be that the BBC was both designed to do exactly stuff like this, and has the enormous reach and funding to make a massive impact if it did. I'm certainly no games expert but I can't see how any existing or potential co-operative could hope to rival that anytime soon.)
posted by oliverburkeman at 11:43 AM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


The BBC used to make computers at one point.

But this is a non-starter because the very power that the BBC holds makes similarly powerful corporations nervous enough to kill any attempt at expansion.
posted by fullerine at 11:44 AM on September 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


However, the BBC does not build televisions it makes television programs. Unless he is advocating that the BBC makes games consoles not just games, it is hardly likely to lessen the impact of Sony, Apple, Nintendo & Microsoft.

He briefly mentions it in the article, but they did make the popular and incredibly influential BBC Micro. A new open-platform accessibly programmable multimedia BBC device for the living room of a new generation would be a wonderful thing to see, if it wasn't strangled at birth by Microsoft etc.

Oops, jinx on preview.
posted by forgetful snow at 11:46 AM on September 30, 2014


marienbad: You are in a field. In the distance you can see Helen Archer. Nearby is a tractor. Exits are North, East and West.
>_


>Go west

It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a Grundy.
>What is a Grundy?

The Grundys are a sinister, lurking presence in the dark places of the Borsetshire. Their favorite diet is Archers, but their insatiable appetite is tempered by their fear of falling milk prices. No Grundy has ever been seen by the light of day, and few have survived their fearsome jaws to tell the tale, especially not Joe's ferrets.
>Steal bottle of Co-op own brand vodka and vial of crack from Ed Grundy.
posted by Len at 11:48 AM on September 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


The old BBC Video Game Division was closed indefinitely while they go looking for toilet paper.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 11:49 AM on September 30, 2014


"QUEST STARTED: Find which guest stole the silverware from the scullery."

Neither the silverware nor the guests would be in the scullery.
posted by marienbad at 11:50 AM on September 30, 2014


How about a National Video Game Board of Canada?
posted by egypturnash at 12:39 PM on September 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


The BBC was actually started as the British Broadcasting Company in the 1920s as a cartel of wireless manufacturers, who basically wanted content to flog their hardware. The state didn't much fancy that, although it did (somewhat reluctantly at first) get the idea that this radio thing was going to be big and influential. So the BB Company got turned into the BB Corporation, a nominally autonomous but state-licensed monopoly, and immediately got embroiled into a battle between serving the public as it saw fit and being beholden to the state which gave it life. Which goes on until this day - if the BBC is too weak, it's not much of a threat and it tends to be left to build itself up until it's too powerful and gets restrained - modulo whatever crisis is going on at the time. The two other parties in this bizarre love quadrilateral are the commercial media interests (who officially hate the BBC, although it's not that simple) and the Great British Public (who officially love the BBC, although it's not that simple).

The BBC Micro was in collusion with the Government, which was worried that the UK was falling behind in Understanding The Micro - a fear which had been fed in part by the BBC itself, which wanted to educate the masses in technology. Education and technical excellence were (and are, to a snaller extent) still part of the BBC's DNA.. The BBC didn't make the BBC MIcro; it published a spec and granted rights to the name, but the builder (which turned out to be Acorn) ran it as a purely commercial enterprise.

I fear, very much, that when TTIP is signed there won't be a cultural exemption negotiated by the UK government (likewise no national health exemption) and what happened to BBC Jam will happen to the rest of the BBC (likewise the NHS).

It would make a smashing adventure game.
posted by Devonian at 12:47 PM on September 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


You are in a field. In the distance you can see Helen Archer. Nearby is a tractor. Exits are North, East and West.

Oh No.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:50 PM on September 30, 2014


The Beeb has a lot of IP to leverage.

In The Flash: Players are PDS sufferers trying to Give Back by gold mining for FPS players.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:50 PM on September 30, 2014


The best* thing about the BBC Jam decision is that, as any parent will tell you, when looking for excellence** the first thing many think of is the realm of educational software.

*worst
** the shoddiest most execrable excuse for quality control outside of a pop-up meth lab.

posted by fullerine at 1:17 PM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've worked quite a lot with the BBC over the past several years, having won and lost many commissions to make websites and games and R&D projects and such. Whilst I understand the special historical reasons for why the BBC has a mandate to produce 'mainstream' TV and radio that ostensibly competes with fare on ITV or Sky, it still feels completely inconsistent that they should not want to - or be able to - make interactive media as well. I don't just mean videogames (although they have made games over the years); I mean things like Papers, Please, or stuff like Fort McMoney. BBC Jam was a debacle but also one that the BBC should have seen coming.

Anyway, here's a self-plug for a series of posts on my blog about this subject: 10 apps the BBC should make, and my extended experience on BBC Digital Commissioning (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5). Because I don't expect to compete for any commissions at the BBC any time soon, I was perfectly happy to be very honest.
posted by adrianhon at 1:34 PM on September 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


That BBC Jam thing makes me really angry at conservatives for spending the last half-century convincing people that there's no such thing as a public good that should be paid for collectively.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:40 PM on September 30, 2014


I'm really looking forward to a "Keeping up Appearances" videogame. It would totally claim that it was an AAA title like Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto, while denying that it was actually an 8-bit side scroller.
posted by happyroach at 2:46 PM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Here we see Private James Ramirez, getting on that .50 cal. Now he is piloting a tank. Ramirez has no life of his own, and exists only through the force of will of his commanding officer. He is hungry."
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:11 PM on September 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


What have the BBC ever given us?
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:33 PM on September 30, 2014


Responsive, interactive media can be so much more than a game

Well the difficulty is what you mean by responsive interactive media, as there have been many, many attempts to make 'interactive media, but no not like a game as it is a worthy media objectTM, you know like cinema' many of them by film makers unsurprisingly, and have been less than compelling. Basically it's far from a solved problem, and part of the problem is the negative connotations of 'games', mostly undeservedly, but some quite well deserved. Anway people will keep trying and there will (and have) been some notable successes along the way. E.g. Minecraft was much much better before the need for it to be more of a game with goals and victory conditions came along, but rather a free form whatever the hell you wanted it to be.

The ABC here in Australia is in a similar but of course much smaller scale situation to the Beeb - Trying to do interesting and innovative things with new media technologies, whilst been incessantly accused of bias from the right, starved of funding, and accused by commercial media of being a form of unfair competition. There must be some form of interactive/educational Bananas in Pajamas game though, Peppa Pig as well.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 12:00 AM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


sigh

Responsive, interactive media can be so much more than a game. Our World War interactive episode
educational games Bitesize
interactive media frame by frame interactive of a rocket taking off
There is no Radio 3 discussion programme dedicated to videogames. Game on (5 live admittedly)

Not saying these are complete solutions, but one of the problems is that when different things are done, core audience doesn't notice. With the Beeb, problem isn't signal to noise but signal to other signals.
posted by litleozy at 1:17 AM on October 1, 2014


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