Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The non-piratable game

Is it possible? Can you have a game that no-one can copy, 'steal' or duplicate. how about one that doesn't require a purchase, yet can still gain revenue. How about one that's new, cutting edge, and doesn't require you to have spent £300 in the last 6 months on a video card to play. It does exist. So, a big YAY from those people who, like me, play games for the GAME and not the fancy visuals.

Part 1 - the personal Rant
For the most part, game makers seem to be following Hollywood's modern formula
  1. Don't worry about the story [gameplay], worry about the visuals. That's the important bit.
  2. If possible, make it a sequel, or as near identical as possible, to a pre-existing game, the more successful the better.
  3. promote the game as much as you can, advertising, merchandising, tie-ins, contests - enacting.

Thus we have games where gameplay is abandoned in favour of looking good. My own personal test of a game is to play it on the very bottom graphical settings and judge it by that. A good game should be unaffected by it. It is, after all, a game you play, not a game you watch. I've been playing games on computers for 20 years (well, 1 month shy of 20 years) when the resolution was less than 1/4 that of a standard TV, and we felt lucky to have 8 colours. This meant that game companies had to make the games good. With the increase in processing power, especially graphical processing, gameplay seems to have taken a back seat to visuals. Doom3 or Quake 4, for instance, are functionally the same games as doom and Quake, but you won't be able to run the new versions on a P100 like you could the old ones. The new Heros of Might and Magic game requires a graphics card with better specs than the entire computer needed to run the games in the series. Over time, have these games really added anything new? I used to play a game called Delta Force 2 online. It was graphically acceptable, had voice talk, you could play a 32 player game online using a dialup modem, and in single player mode the computer reacted to any noise you made. That was in 2000. Apart from an increase in graphical resolution, what has changed in the last 6 years for FPS games? Absolutely nothing, and yet you'll see adverts and reviews saying 'this is new, exciting and better than before. The amount of innovation in the games industry is low. Some put this down to piracy, or 'its what the gamers want'. Piracy isn't an issue, because people tend to want to buy good games. People don't have a problem with supporting games where the gameplay comes first (see previous N2N piece about GalCiv2). Moreso if the game is unique, and had a lot of time and effort put into it. look at how popular "The Sims" has become.

Part 2 - the point
Sorry, but I really have no patience for the mass-produced samey junk that passes for games. Instead, I came across one this weekend that is both fresh and unique, has no copy protection, and no absurd system requirements. Instead, it's a website based game, involving the Internet itself. in that respect, its similar to the in memoriam (aka missing since January), where you have a set of puzzles, and you have to actually find the answers. missing could still be copied, however, and played, and as time went on, doing the requisite searches didn't lead to the same pages they once did, hint/solution pages would be google-bombed above them, or just the way pages are indexed and ranked might change. Thus we come to the next development, and the point of this piece, Perplex City.
An online game, played out in stages for the last year or more. special time-centric tasks, and a real sense of community. websites and game-blogs updating at random times through the say, with new stories, info and data. These may lead to IRC chats, or meets at certain places. There Might be a program released that only works on a certain type of computer (running OSX and having inertial sensors) or an online AND real life treasure hunt around Clapham Common.
I hear you thinking and wondering how its paid for then, since this sounds quite expensive, especially when you hear there's a £100,000 prize at the end of it. Answer is there are cards, and that's the second half of the game. there are 256 cards, being sold in 4 release groups. They're in packs of 6, and each has a puzzle on it. Scratch off a silver bit (like a lottery ticket)- and enter that code and the right answer to the website. The cards, when combined, make up a map, and have some other puzzles on them. Its a very unique system, and its very nice to see someone taking some time to bring some ingenuity, effort and real flair to the games market. The amount of work in just creating the story, let alone running it is staggering (if you factor in that many of the characters in the game have email addresses which they will reply to you from) makes you wonder if it is just a game, or actual really real.
I guess why this sort of game is called an 'alternate reality game' (or ARG). This is the first time I've encountered one (excluding the aforementioned In Memorandum) and is a type of game I can only see growing. The problem will be, however, being overly saturated with them. Meanwhile, other companies will release Unreal tournament 17, and blame piracy for it not selling well, whilst other people make games you want to play, want to spend money on (and will doubtlessly spend more money on than 2 high priced regular games). Mind candy 9the company behind this game) are doing as others should. They're 'thinking outside the box'. by funding via puzzlecards, instead of the traditional subscription method, they're enabling all levels of finance to play, you can spend as much as you want and play. the only physical items are the cards, and each has a 12-digit ID which can only be used once, so copying is out, and since it works via the web, that P2 gathering dust is up to the job. From all the game players who play for the games, I and others thank you for being able to play a game with no copy protection worries.

Perplex City Wiki, for all the info about the game

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Traveling Pirates

MPAA claims to be losing billions, but its figures, in comparison to other amounts of money lost thanks to the internet - this time to public coffers - don't stack up as being so big after all. Online travel firms cost some cities 1/3 as much per person, as the MPAA claims it lost to 'piracy'.

I know this subject was only just talked about, here but in the last two days, I saw two stories involving the internet and public money that caught my eye. The first was that the prosecution of 6 men for 'internet piracy' cost the UK taxpayer £18.4 Million ($34.3M) in legal aid fees, and another £750,000 (roughly $1.4M) for the cost of prosecution. This was, the court case stemming from what is known as "Operation Blossom". Admittedly, this case was in the 2004-2005 judicial cycle, but was brought up in a letter between two Labour MPs.

Meanwhile, another story that hit my eye was concerning online travel firms in the US, and how they're doing cities out of tax. A federal suit filed by the city of San Antonio (thats in Texas) claims online hotel booking agencies, including Expedia and Travelocity, has, according to city lawyer Michael Bernard, "shorted the city about $10 million (£5.36M) since 1999." Nor is San Antonio alone in this as Los Angeles and my second favourite US city, Atlanta, are amongst other cities filing similar suits.

An important thing to remember is that in these two cases, it's not a company that's lost money, its the people living there. Additionaly, the amounts are real, calculable, and are being produced with records for, or by, court, whereas the MPAA's loss figure is an estimation in a study it itself paid for, where an inflated figure is beneficial. All 3 cases show ways in which people are (allegedly in some cases) losing money thanks to the internet. The question is, just how much is everyone losing?

If we look at it as amount lost per citizen, we get some very surprising results. Of course, we also have to remeber that the $10M San Antonion amount is over the last 6 years. (pop figures from CIA world factbook and US census data 2000)

Table of losses expressed per-person

Anyone else notice that online travel are apparantly duping San Antonians for 1/3 as much as the MPAA losing, per person, per year. how many stories have you seen on the hotel tax evasion? How many people sued, threatened, homes raided over it? Anyone predicting the end of the world unless it stops, and lobbying for new laws to make sure it does? To the people of San Antonio, its a large lump of change, but they're not pressuring anyone to have their rights revoked. As for the UK, £18M is about the estimated annual running costs for the New Law hospital (source) - a brand new fully equipped hospital in Scotland.

When you think about who is losing what money, do the unsubstantiated (alnd almost certainly inflated) figures put out by the MPAA seem that bad? Lets be glad the cities lawyers have kept their head and common sense, and not thrown acusations about, sent threatening letters, letters to expedia's hosts full of false and unsubstantiated claims. Good to see some people can use the law in an internet related case, and not act like a scene from Monty Python.

Ben jones

External links
San Antonio sues
Operation Blossom costs
Exchange rate used £1 = $1.86432

Monday, May 15, 2006

Blocklist Balderdash

Use a blocklist? Think it makes you safe, allows you to share with impunity? Think again. I will say this now, up front, and clearly.

The amount of overall protecton given by a blocklist is minimal at best.

Oh, don't get me wrong, for certain things, IP blocks are usefull, but for most things, they're not. Why, you might ask, and the answer is simple. If you wanted to read the news site The Register, you would go to www.theregister.co.uk, you wouldn't go to, which is its IP. Or rather, which is currently its IP. And there we have it. IPs CHANGE, that's why we have domain names. Certainly, some places will have fixed domain names, but only those who've actually bought their groups of IP addresses. Home users are not what we'd call fixed IP.

Well, what does this mean? It means that anyone can use a home connection pretty safe in the idea that these blocklists won't affect them at all. This might not seem like a big deal, but its their major weakness. There is absolutely nothing at all, stopping the head of anti-piracy for some company going home, and using the DSL connection he has there. he can log there as easily as he could at work. There is, after all, no rule saying copyright enforcement can only be done on a corporate network. Heck, he could even then charge the ISP costs to the company, citing it for work. Doesn't grab you? Why don't they then use the other common resource in a busy office building - telephone lines. They can easily get some dialup modems and use them in the office. A free AOL CD or two, and they have a connection. Doesn't matter that dialup is slow, its not the transfer of data they're interested in, its who's doing it.

Think I'm joking - take a look at the people connected to you next time you are using your favourite P2P app.
It may well say on port 6356 (an IP picked at random from a knoppix DVD torrent) - that comes out to be a BTcentral.com user, but who is that person, and who do they work for? Can you be sure that the AOL peer in your list is not an investigator for the BPI, MPAA or any other such body? They all know the tricks and the limitations of such software as well as anyone, if not better (it is their job, after all, to know about them). Don't be mislead by the actions, and press releases, their technicians and loggers are very competant, and advanced - its the lawyers and PR people that give the impression of a eunoch running a family planning clinic.

Indeed, in some cases using lists can work against you. After all, who uses such lists, is it the kid downloading the very occasional song, or the hardcore downloaders? Why, the latter of course, the slight/casual user doesn't know, or worry about it that much. So, the ones that download heavily are the ones to target. Alas, theres no way to tell from a torrents userlist which group, light or heavy, they are in, since every torrent is seperate from each other. Solutions? Well, you could scan every torrent out there, and look for recuring IP addresses, but that has two drawbacks.
1) its very time consuming, and resource intensive. and
2) we're back to the dynamic IPs again - without a court order to the ISP, theres no way to tell if the same person was using the same IP on both monday and thursday. They might have had a power cut on tuesday night, and their modem obtained another IP.

Thankfully, blocklists to the rescue!. The easiest method is use the blocklists themselves to identify the heavy users. Its very simple and uses two groups of systems (doesn't have to be a group, can be just one system in each). One group uses IPs on the blocklist, the other doesn't. Collect peer data from both, and after a while, compare lists. the major differences will be the blocklist computers will be on only one list. Voila, IP addresses obtained. Your 'protection' has been turned into identification.

Of course, that's just the main disadvantage of the system. There is a second one, and thats best described with the old computing acronym - GIGO. In other words, the quality of the list is only as good as the person thats compiled it. Any personal bias, or other skew will similarly skew the list into ineffectiveness. I wrote about a fine example of this just over 2 months ago.

Well, thats the big minus points in such a system, there are some advantages however. Such lists, used as a hosts file, for instance, can stop annoying and irritating popup ads. They can also prevent some of the torrent poisoning that goes on, although most torrent clients should manage to deal with that on their own. These are only minor pluses, however, and not really much of a benefit.

There is one simple thing to remember in general. If something is publicly downloadable, like a blocklist, it's effectively useless. Can you see, use and edit the blocklists? What stops copyright enforcement people getting the same lists and altering their strategies to work with these lists? Absolutely nothing. A high speed connection might be usefull for downloading, but a dialup connection is all that's needed to log people infringing copyright. The only way a blocklist can be effective, is if it blocks all potential 'snitch' IPs. Alas, that means blocking every single ISP in the world, and then you've blocked yourself from any sort of transfer anyway.

Just as a side note - I remember discussing the merits of the comparative method back in 98, when I was a copyright enforcer. That was 8 years ago, if you still think blocklists are a good idea, and worthwhile, you go right ahead, and can I also interest you in this fine bridge?

Ben Jones

[Editors note: Thanks to kdsde for pointing out some of the typos in this piece]

Friday, May 12, 2006

Study a Study!

In the last week, there have been two 'loss statements' made by two prominent industry bodies. On May 3rd, the MPAA issued a press release saying they lost $6.1billion in 2005 to 'pirates' whilst on the 10th, the ESA's Chunnie Wright, senior anti-privacy council, announced that the videogames industry had lost more than $3Billion.

Staggering figures – some $9 billion dollars (£4.8 billion) lost, stolen, if you will, from their coffers. Was it though? How was that figure arrived at? These we don't know. The problems are three-fold
  • how the figures are calculated – I've never found the determination of the number of units given in any one of these press releases, citing loses, and costs to this industry, or that industry. With no conclusive determination of the global units distributed in all mediums, you can't get anywhere near a reasonable determination of total units. The segment you use might be representative (ie average) and so can be scaled up to match the world, or it could be non-representative, either quieter than the norm, meaning the study is understating, or they've gotten a particularly high concentration of infringement in their sample, which makes their study overstate the case.
  • How the cost price is given. DVDs, movie tickets, computer games, CDs, they all cost different amounts. A Star Trek box-set can cost $99 whereas a store like Walmart will have other DVDs on sale for $5.50. There is also the different pricing between US and UK, just for the same film. On amazon.com the DVD is available for £9.09 ($16.96) whilst on the UK site, its available for £11.96 ($22.30) – that's more than $5 difference for the same film, by the same company in different areas. So when calculating the lost price, is it all the at highest price, the lowest price, or are they just assigning an arbitrary value for these discs.
  • Thirdly, the assumption that a download is a lost sale. This isn't the case, and has never been. Its a cost analysis. If I (or anyone else) like a movie, TV show, or game, we will pay for it and own it, providing and here's the rub, the cost isn't greater than our interest in the product. Add that into the quality problems and that of of product compatibility, you have a large problem. Its hard to find objective reviews of a film, tv series, game or application nowadays. If it were a car, I would be able to go to the place i was buying, test drive one, see if its what I want, and if not, look at something else. Then when I buy it, if I'm not satisfied with it, I can refuse it and get my money back. If are considering Mission Impossible 3, what have you to go on – the advert/trailer (which only shows the best bits of the film, and sometimes bits not even in the film) a review featuring as much personal relevance as the reviewers medical most times. And nothing else. If I then pay my money and see it and am not happy with the film, finding it a turgid rehash of previous films with sub-standard plot, can I get my money back? Nope. Such trial methods can be successful in software, but has become more of a lost art in games, and a downloaded copy, can be as much a validation that is not what was wanted (a potential lost sale, depending on level of initial interest) or if it was a potential buyer encouraged by what they saw to buy it (or a sale creation, rather than one lost)

That, in a rub, are the main problems facing the movie, music and software industries and their studies at present. We don't get to see the studies. We don't get to see how these facts, as ascertained by the study's commissioners, are arrived at. A friend of mine (the my editor and sometime proofreader) is a fan of military vehicles of all types. If I then said to him that I could make a new tank gun for only £200 that would defeat any amour out there, he'd ask him for proof of his claim. Heck, if I said I could do one for £200,000 he'd still ask to see how I arrived at my determination. There's been a big fuss in the US over the last few years, about the WMDs in Iraq. People are asking to see Bush's evidence now, and questioning the blind assentation. Questioning statements of fact (and sometimes statements by FACT) until sufficient proof has been rendered is the basis of progress, and civilisation. Fermat's last theorum was an assentation without proof, and people fussed over it for hundreds of years.
So, what's to be done? Well, I've done all that can be done, and sent a request t the MPAA asking if I can see how LEX came by their report's conclusion. After all, a 1½ page report, mostly filled with quotes is hardly informative. Until then, use your brain, and trust the facts that they can actually substantiate with proof.

“But Wait!” I hear the MPAA say, The data is released – and what good data it is too. Let me summarise it for you in much less than 1½ pages.
Pg1) Statement by Dan Glickman, a statement that the data is to be used to prod governments in a direction for lawmaking, a statement that previous studies were incomplete, and that one other study made an estimate of some losses, and finally, 31 words as to how the study was conducted and its comparison to previous studies
Pg2) Another Glickman statement, a summery of the findings of the study, and a graph showing the US percentage, and the MPAA's definition of terms (including that they consider fair use copies to be 'illegal'
Pg3) 'Chart of calculated losses in countries, to both MPAA members and non-MPAA members. Then another raph, this time showing the study's estimation of the market lost to piracy.
Pg4) Another graph showing MPA members and their estimated losses, with a caveat that different markets were analysed differently, and then a table showing guesses for losses in tax revenue in certain countries to different reasons.
Pg5) The really weird stuff. Their profile of a pirate. Basically, they identify the most common trends in the data they collected, by age, by gender, and then by a mathematically incomplete graph about college students.
Pg6) A timeline showing certain selected MPAA enforcement activities. This is followed bya list of 'education' programs which have almost without limit, bent and twisted the truth.
Pg7) Certain (again selective) highlights of litigation and legislative efforts, plus a list of new rights enforcement methods that are being looked into

that's it. Not a single explanation of how ANY data was actually collected, information about sample sizes, statistical variation, or grouping. Two interesting things to note though. On page 4, it was noted that some of the 22 countries were surveyed in different ways (which I would generally think means its non-comparative). Its nice to see them actually having the guts to remark that some of their data is nonsense, even if it is in passing, and then ignored. The second is an inference of mine based on what's written on page 5. It seems to be that they say you're more likely to pay to see their films, if you're not at college. Are they drawing some sort of link between a persons education level, and the perceived quality and value of a movie?

Ben jones

External links
MPAA's press release statement on the study 78kb PDF
MPAA's summery of the study, as described above 118kb PDF
report of ESA's speech at E3

(Footnote – the currency conversion used was the rate of 1 GBP = 1.86432 USD as given by gocurrency.com for May 10th)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Talk to me

Here at N2N, we're trying to keep a fair balance between being excessively pro-copyright enforcement, and pro-user ideals. It's a hard tightrope to walk, and sometimes we don't always manage it. We have sevreal people working on this, of course, you only see me, ben writing, but we have an editor, and a proof-reader (usually)

It can be hard sometimes to come up with topics and stories to write about, and sometimes its hard comming up with the effort to do so. There is, as you might have noticed, a comment system on this setup, which is nice, but sometimes things don't fit neatly into a repnose to a psot, so there's an email link at the side.

this also goes for any news tips or stories you would like to suggest I write about, or, and especially, if you have recieved some sort of notification from your ISP, or a media representative. I am always on the lookout for interesting, ambigious or illegal DMCA notices, and suchlikeThe law is the law, fair enough, but it shouldn't be abused or mis-represented.

Please note I cannot give legal advice, nor would you want it as I am not a lawyer.

There's a mail link at the side there ----------->
or you can send an email to dmcawanted@gmail.com All correspondance is strictly confidential, and i or anyone else, wlil not print a word about anything confidential without first getting your permission.

Ben jones.

FedEx wants to sniff your Disk

Ok, I'm not usually one to blow my own horn (I'm more of a string and percussionist, rather than brass) but in the words of the great Stephen Colbert *ahem* I CALLED IT!

Let me explain if you will. About 2 weeks ago, I wrote a piece about how the struggle for copyright protection and enforcement is resembling the war on drugs to a greater and greater extent. It was with great amusement and a correspondingly large amount of incredulity that I get a message early (for me) on a Saturday morning from one of the guys over at slyck and p2pforums. What was it about? Why a sniffer-dog for counterfeit DVDs of course. You can't run a good war on anything these days, without a cute quadruped utilizing their great olfactory sense to deter crime.

This is great, but also worrying. Its great that so much money has been spent on such a novel solution (and that not having such outlandish ideas would give me nothing to write about) but it's worrying about what this means in actual practice. After all, what is a DVD when it comes down to it. Some Lexan, some aluminium, some die for a re-recordable. Lexan and aluminium are no good for sniffing - you'd get all sorts of other stuff (from watches, to safety glasses0 so it'd have to be the dye. So, you've got a disc, you've sniffed it out. Sadly (to some peoples thinking) possession of a (re)recordable DVD is no offense at all. its only an offense depending on what's on it, and, lest we forget, copyright infringement is only a civil offense.

So, they got a DVD-recordable, found in a package, then what? Does it have to be of a movie, or game? Could it not be some video footage I filmed at my kids birthday party, and are sending to some family members that can't get there? Is there anything wrong with my disc? well, Its been opened, and accessed, for no good reason. Or, lets go with situation number 2 - there's some footage on there that appears to be of a copyrighted show or movie or piece of software. Is that bad. well depends, you see. does the person sending have the rights to copy and send them to the package recipient.

There's the rub. That's why its a civil offense. i, for one, have some copyrighted material to which I have distribution rights. If I choose to send that material, in a DVD to someone, there's no offense or infringement, criminal or civil. It appears copyrighted through, and how will the dog handlers know if I'm authorised to distribute said disc? Will they, on detecting it, hold it as 'evidence', meaning that my legitimately made and legitimately distributed disc has been seized and confiscated because someone else has decided its not, and that's the problem. Its not such a far-fetched scenario either. i personally do some beta-testing for certain pieces of software. Luckily most of the data and applications are small, on the order of a 5 minute transfer, but if they weren't, I'd get them sent to me on a DVD-r (or CD-r). It'll look like a 'pirated' disc, filled with 'stolen' software, when its no such thing. ditto anyone's personal, fair use backups, when moving, or travelling, or just being put into storage. This action affects lots of different people, in all aspects of business, and the only people it benefits are a small number of large media conglomerates. Lets reiterate what the FACT press release says, as well, eh.

They were amazingly successful at identifying packages containing DVD’s, which were opened and checked by HM Customs’ representatives. While all were legitimate shipments on the day

FedEx UK managing Director Trevor Hoyle

If you are still unsure just what I'm talking about, let me try an analogy, and borrow a little bit from the media conglomerates. Lets simplify things and step back ooh, 20 years. There's no widespread net usage. modems are those big clunky boxes with the rubber cups you put the telephone handset into. The communication system is being used for criminal purposes still. this time its the ransom note, the blackmail letter, the posted threat. not only are they a major threat to people, they're easy to identify. Everyone knows such messages are made by cutting letters from newspapers and gluing them onto a backing sheet, giving no handwriting 9must be true they were all like that, because Hollywood has said so). So, they've had a great idea. Lets get a pair of sniffer-dogs to recognise the smell of 5 most popular paper glues, and of course, Sellotape, and have them stiff for it in the post. After all, only such messages use adhesive materials, don't they. ooops, along with all the collages demanding '$5 MILLION OR THE KID GETS IT' is the collage demanding that the sender loves their grandmother so much shes sending this picture. Or how about, instead of glue and tape, they sniff out photos, I mean, ONLY criminals would send photos through the mail, wouldn't they, so they can prove they have someone/something, without being caught.

Its clearly idiotic to open packages because there's a recordable disc in there. not when not only is possession legal, but the legality of any content found on it is impossible to determine at the time. Drugs, yes, they're illegal to posses, having drugs at all is bad, unless you've a valid transportation certificate, and in which case, you'd not be sniffed anyway. its time for some common sense, and what's more, its time for a little bit of actual thinking, both by the organisations involved, and by our elected officials. Corporations don't vote, people, ie you, do.

Ben Jones

External link
FACT news page about the operation.