One of the most interesting aspects of the gaming world for me is the LAN party. Sure, online play is great, but the social atmosphere of playing a networked game in physical proximity to the other players on a LAN is fantastic. LAN play and online play hardly compare.
Just a couple of examples: there are few lamers and griefers at a LAN party thanks to the social norms resulting from physical proximity; and, sure, you can use headsets to talk during online play, but it is nothing compared to the before/during/after social interaction of LAN play.
Anyone interested in seeing gaming thrive even more should be supporting and encouraging LAN play.
However, setting up such LANs can be burdensome: hauling around and setting up network gear, PCs or Xboxes, and enough displays is not easy, nor is ensuring all software is patched and up-to-date.
Of course, there are commercial establishments called cybercafés or LAN centers where you can join a group of friends in LAN play without the hassle, for a fee. Many also sponsor regular league play and tournaments. However, the cybercafé industry is new, small and fragmented. Most are barely profitable. Though I like to think of them as the new bowling alleys, they haven't really caught on. [Disclosure: I run a small company on the side, GameJockeys, that will set up a private LAN party for corporate events, parties, etc.]
Game licensing is a serious concern for cybercafés; they realize they need it to operate legally, but it has been hard to come by. Most software companies don't understand their needs and have difficulty negotitating such small licenses with individual members of a fragmented business community. This is changing, however, with companies such as Microsoft offering licenses through cybercafé organizations like iGames such that as long as each copy of a title is legitimately purchased, cybercafés may use them. This licensing arrangement benefits the struggling cybercafé industry and the game industry as a whole by promoting social LAN gaming. [disclosure: GameJockeys is a member of iGames]
On the other hand Valve, a company that has thrived in significant part because of LAN play, is taking a different tack. They are requiring cybercafés to use some seriously problematic software to run the games (Steam) as well as charging what is, for cybercafés, a significant amount of money to have any Valve game available. Fair enough. If that is how Valve wants to license its games, that is their choice. If LAN center customers want to know why Valve games aren't available, that can readily be explained to them.
Of course, these requirements are relatively new. Prior to these licensing requirements, some cybercafés operated in a bit of a grey zone, making the games available in their centers as the licensing issues were worked out. I'm not sure why BattleGround PC Gaming was making Counter-Strike - the five-year old game which is freely downloadble as a Half-Life Mod - available in their center without a proper license, but they did.
Well, Valve Software has sent BattleGround PC Gaming a cease and desist letter. Normally, such a letter would offer three options: a) cease using the software; b) license the software; or, c) get sued. In a bullying fashion, Valve has dropped option a). Rather than simply allow BattleGround PC Gaming to stop using the software, Valve is demanding that BattleGround pay up front for a one-year license or get sued.
What Valve is doing is legally permissible. That doesn't make it right. Perhaps fans of LAN gaming and the professional gaming leagues ought to consider whether Valve's aggressive, overbearing stance is helpful to the gaming community or not. Next time you're considering playing a game of Counter-Strike, why not consider Halo or Battlefield instead?
The text of the License or Be Sued letter is below:
March 11, 2004
+ TrackBacks (0) | Category: CyberCafes | Freedom of Expression | Privacy
February 02, 2004
Larry Lessig has written a brief note about a California Appeals Court decision that eviscerated privacy rights in cybercafes (mandated telescreen upheld). There is a Law.com article here (Internet Cafe Ordinance Sparks War of Words). Read the decision (Thany Thuy Vo v. City of Garden Grove [PDF]). The issue that has Prof. Lessig rightfully incensed is an operational requirement for cybercafes that forces them to monitor (read over the shoulder) what people are doing on cybercafe screens, whether it is reading email, browsing the web or playing a game of Counter Strike. However, there are other major issues involved and the decision has some very important victories in it for those who care about the First Amendment.
| Category: CyberCafes | Freedom of Expression | Games | Privacy
October 27, 2003
C|Net News reports a highly disturbing story from China (China to consolidate Net cafes):
Nearly all of China's 110,000 Internet cafes will be consolidated under the management of larger, mainly state-owned companies in the next three years, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
So much for freedom of expression for the masses through the internet.
Regulation of cyber cafes is something that I've been doing a lot of research on recently. I'll be posting much more on these issues in the near future.
+ TrackBacks (0) | Category: Civil Liberties | CyberCafes | Freedom of Expression