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Where’s the value in fan creations?

One (of the many) points of contention with copyright law is how much it limits fan-created works.  Last week I wrote about a fan-made sequel to the classic video game Chrono Trigger that publisher Square-Enix forced to stop (only a few weeks before release). This fan-made sequel would never have replaced an official sequel. It was a labor of love from fans eager to promote their love to other people.  Cory Doctorow points out, under copyright law, you’re allowed to criticize a work but not praise it.

Under fair use, I can criticize any copyrighted work. I can use clips or excerpts from it to support my criticism. But if I want to promote or praise the work, it’s considered a derivative work, and I have to get permission the copyright holder.

But as my IP classmates say: “Without copyright law, no one will make Transformers.” And “No good has come from remix culture.” These are the future of IP law.

This is where fan creation gets pushed aside. It’s not only the content providers that over value their content. Consumers also give commercial content a higher value than fan or user-generated content, often recognizing professionals do it better (whatever it is). But this assumption under-values the real benefit of fan content.

Video games are the best example of this. Many games have whole-heartedly embraced fan content, providing free tools for fans to create their own levels and add-ons to games.  Fans help extend the longevity of the game with their own creations, extending the shelf life and value of the game for users. Even with tons of free content, game developers will release their own add-ons and fans will pay for them (sometimes even releasing fan content as official content).  These game developers are not scared of the competition – they know the professionally made content will have a larger, more captivated audience because of the fan content.  Other media are slow to realize how beneficial fan made content is for the lifespan of a project.

Fan content doesn’t compete with official content – it’ enhances it (I say official content because fan content can be commercial).  Only devoted fans of the Lord or the Rings would take time to make “Hunt for Gollum.” And only fans of the franchise will go out of their way to see it. Any non-fans who see it will quickly recognize it is not an official production and if they like it, they’ll find the official versions. And if they don’t like it, no harm done (increased expose nevertheless helps).

And to say no value comes from fan or remix content? Let’s understand what that is: All those Disney movies from Snow White to Cinderella to the Lion King are based on fairy tales, Shakespeare, and other already written stories, remixed by fans to tell new, exciting tales. West Side Story is no less entertain for remaking Romeo and Juliet and yet Romeo and Juliet remains popular to perform. Movie versions of books and plays often increase the popularity of the original work. Letting fans create labors of love cost the content creators nothing, but gives them every opportunity to gain. Let fans be fans.

Action figures aren’t as much fun

Years of withdrawal after my parents threw out my action figures inspired me, after I ran away from home (to college), to begin collecting again. I started collecting at the early stages of Toy Biz’s Marvel Legends and the already churning DC Direct line. Every few months, about a dozen new and awesome figures earned a place on my shelves (yes, I open them…and play with them). And this went on for a few years until now I have a modest 300 or so figures.

But recently, the wind has left my plastic shell. DC Direct has shrunk their action figure lines to four characters instead of the previous five. When one or two of these figures is Superman and/or Batman, it doesn’t leave room for much variety. And Marvel Legends now under Hasbro have plummeted in quality, loosing most of their articulation and featuring cheap looking sculpts with plain paint jobs.

DC Direct Trinity line, from DC Direct

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7 reasons I prefer my PSP to my iPod

PSP, from Sony Everyone needs one portable gadget to carry all their music and movies. And I must go against popular opinion and say I love my PSP more than my iPod.

7. Multimedia

The PSP provides MP3, video, and image viewing with built-in speakers and a radiant 480p screen, far bigger than any iPod screen. I can then plug in my PSP to watch videos, either UMDs or MPEG-4s (just like your iPod), on my television. The larger screen even works better for reading comic books and websites. And if you’re ever bored, you can keep many flash games you find online to play on your PSP.

6. Wireless and web browsing: no extra charge

It only took six years and six generations of iPods before Wi-Fi and web browsing finally came built into the MP3 player. The PSP has had an impressive web browser for years with wireless networking to play games. The PSP had an RSS reader built-in.

5. Expandable memory

Want an more TV episodes for that long plane ride? Just have too much music for one iPod Nano. Well for the PSP, you can buy one, two, four, or eight gig memory cards giving you unlimited space for all your media. You can buy three four gig memory cards (about $40 each) and a PSP ($169) and spend less than the $299 iPod touch with eight gigs.

4. Easily replaceable batteries

So did that battery in your iPod crap out? Now you have to replace your whole iPod. Or worse, were you watching a video in the car ride to grandma’s when your battery dies? If you had a PSP, you could just switch out a new battery. Keep two around. Or three. And never worry about being without your precious music, movies and games. And you never have to wait for those annoying appointments to have college student do what you can do yourself.

iPod Nano, from Gizmodo 3. Homebrew and accessories

While both Apple and Sony aren’t happy about random people making random stuff for their hardware, PSP has a much larger and successful homebrew community, creating eReaders, ISO loaders, original games, and GPS services with maps. One downside are the current best accessories, like the video camera and official GPS have yet to be imported to the U.S. Europe also will be getting live TV, instant messaging, and a video download service, many of which are soon to be coming to the U.S. And until that happens, I can always use Remote Play with my PS3. I might be across the country, but give me a wireless connection and I can be enjoying all the games and movies on the attached 500 gig hard drive.

2. Games

Pretty obvious, the PSP plays games. This handheld is a power house almost rivaling the home console PS2. While the console has had more misses than hits, there’s far more quality games for the system then the iPod which has, well, none. From an original Grand Theft Auto game to classic remakes of Final Fantasy and Mega Man, the PSP offers a nice assortment of value-adding games. And if those games aren’t enough, try out flash games from the web (which you can save onto your memory card) or play some free homebrew games. All the features of an iPod and a game machine. All for a …

1. Lower price

You get more features than the $300 iPod Touch for the price of an iPod Nano. And a lot more features than the iPod Nano…for the same price.

And no I did not forget the UMD movie format. UMD is a waste. But the PSP can play all your digital movie files just as well, on a wider, bigger screen than any iPod. Just wanted to remind you of that.

Every Monday, I force my opinion on you, my fearless readers, ranking the seven of something geeky.

College students: video games the new beer…even better together

Halo LAN party, from LostPear.com Picking the right college affects everything. It decides whether you get a good job, good money, get married, and now, whether you’ll beat BioShock before the summer.

The Global Gaming League ranked the top 10 best colleges for video gaming. They ranked schools based on student population, techiness, and the quality of internet connections. Surprisingly, no Ivy Leagues made it in to the top 10 which I can only blame on prejudice against rich, white kids.

Ironically, Digipen Institute of Technology, with one of the best video game programs in the country, was number five. Other schools like UCLA (#4) and University of Southern California (#6) are also very well regarded academic schools. So I say this is proof video games is good for education. Yes, is. (For the full list, check after the jump).

Compared to further research by Anderson Analytics and Pew Research, half of students surveyed admit gaming cuts into their studying. Only nine percent use games to avoid schoolwork, and 83 percent play less than six hours a week. Not surprisingly, male students played for fun while female students played cause of boredom.

For now, I doubt schools will be advertising their attractiveness to gamers. But I wonder if, much like party schools, students will care about which schools care about its student’s tech geekiness. Just always remember. Independent studies are your best friend. Study the history of Grand Theft Auto. Your homework: beat Grand Theft Auto III over the weekend. Complete 100 taxi missions and get extra credit.

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Geeks rule the roost of social bookmarking

Newspaper editors can relax. Geeks aren’t replacing them yet. The Project For Excellence in Journalism reported a study compared the leading stories on social bookmarking sites like Digg, Reddit, and Delicious to 48 mainstream news outlets, finding great differences in the types of stories that get the most visible placement.

Social bookmarking sites, who’s stories are chosen by anyone with an account on the site, have a greater focus on blogs and other user generated sites like YouTube. These stories rarely overlapped with the lead stories in major news outlets. Social bookmarking sites focused more on technology like the iPhone and video games, crime and celebrity stories, and a lack of international coverage.

The study tries to hold social bookmarking sites to task for being standards of what’s news and what’s not. The study says:

Despite claims that the Web would internationalize consumers’ news diets, coverage across the three user-news sites focused more on domestic events and less on news from abroad than the mainstream media that week. Yahoo News, both on its main news page and three most popular pages, meanwhile, stood out for being decidedly more international that week.

Unfortunately, the study forgets one important detail about social bookmarking sites: the people. Social bookmarking caters to niche, often geeky audiences who pick stories they like to recommend to others. Digg thus far is not positioned nor intentioned to replace standard media outlets for news coverage. Instead, it helps the social community around the site find articles, websites, and features that would interest the community. Finding popular stories increases your clout among the community. But like any social community, sociability is only as good as the community.

Digg, Reddit, and Delicious are still catering to early adopters, often tech-savvy individuals, much like how Wikipedia features more articles about Star Wars characters than world religions. There’s nothing wrong with this, even though this study seems to portray these bookmarked articles as trivial. They are not trivial to the people who take the time to post them or the people who make them popular. There is a difference between what people need to know and they want to know. The question should be who is responsible for each.

Tasteful sex and violence sell more video games

Mature video games sell great. Good reviews help to. A new study from Electronic Entertainment Design and Research (EEDAR) revealed several factors in video game sales. First, mature rated games sell better and get better reviews. And games that get very good reviews, Metacritic scores above 90, sell 531 percent above the average game.

So maybe this means means we’ll see more mature, quality games.

Okay, maybe not. But this study does present some ideas game publishers should consider. First, gamers like good games. Let’s not try to bash the video game critics (like Sony pushing Lair critics to reconsider their scores) and instead make games they like. Because it seems, gamers and game critics agree on what makes a good game.

Bioshock, from IGN The second, and more important point, is mature games not only sell better even with fewer retail outlets, but get better reviews. Maybe gamers and critics alike just want gross violence, hence, but I believe this reveals gamers like more grown-up games. Clean, wholesome games like Mario and Zelda offer excellent gameplay but lack rich storylines. While violent video games get all the press, subject matter in games is severely censored for sexual and graphic subject matter.

As the recent Manhunt 2 controversy showed, there is no market for Adults only rated video games. Sony and Nintendo won’t allow AO games on their consoles and major retailers won’t sell the games. Whatever your preference, censoring the creative minds behinds the games will not promote video games as art, but instead inspires more Grand Theft Auto knock-offs.

Recently we’ve seen what mature games can produce: Bioshock. This critical darling has a gallery of ESRB no-nos (they don’t seem to like eating little girls). But Bioshock real brilliance is less in gameplay and more in storytelling (while still having awesome gameplay). You inject yourself with power-ups like a drug; a drug that turned everyone in the games’ world insane, for example.

As movies have shown, grown-up subject matter often allows for more developed stories because you don’t have to avoid references, language, or imagery that makes the experience more immersive and believable. Mature games get better reviews and more sales because they are better games. The creators don’t have to censor their stories, visuals, or ideas. Imagine what might happen if video games could actually deal with complex emotional issues (which always have to do with sex). Your character could choose to cheat on his wife. How many evil points should that get you? Dealing with more complex and yes, mature issues, will lead to more complex games. The world isn’t black and white and neither should our games.

Take pride in your console of choice

Take pride in your video game console. It’s only human.

MyArcadePlanet’s David Keating writes an interesting article trying to explain the psychology behind gamers and their (our) fanatic pride for one console or another. He says, simply, owners of Xbox 360s will love the 360 but trash the PS3 and vice versa simply because he or she owns one. Not owning one makes the other bad.

Psychologist Kurt Lewin theorized that when people are faced with a choice between two equally positive items, (for example, the choice between a PS3 and a 360) they experience stress. Lewin went on to posit that after making their decision people alleviate this stress by immediately viewing their choice as being vastly superior. So all of the sudden, the two previously similar things now appear very different in the consumer’s mind. This suggests that when a gamer is in the store trying to figure out which console is for him, he is secretly afraid of making the wrong choice. So much so that once the decision is made and the credit card has been scanned, his mind goes into overdrive as he rapidly accentuates that console’s positives while mentally eliminating the negatives. In a matter of seconds, the other console under consideration just moments ago becomes, ‘a piece of crap that only a loser would buy.’ “

Source: Anatomy of a Fanboy: A Psychological Analysis of Console Gaming’s Super Fans

Keating’s theory has wider affect. Console fanboy fanatism is probably not limited expensive purchases but also comic companies (Marvel vs. DC), franchises (Star Wars vs. Lord of the Rings) and gadgets (iPod vs. everything else). So just remember the next time you make fun of your friend for buying that Dreamcast or Gamecube. They love them for the same reason you still think the Jaguar was the bees knees: because you bought one.