ENG110-A Fall 2018 Ryan Garvan Prof

ENG110-A
Fall 2018
Ryan Garvan
Prof. Joly
Blog Abstract
Despite being relatively new, third-party video game engines like Unity and Unreal have been driving forces in the rise of independent game developers. Their availability and power have made it easier than ever for people to bring their visions to life. However, they have also helped give rise to droves of low-quality games that are pieced together from third-party assets and sold in online marketplaces, which has harmed their credibility in the eyes of consumers. If you frequent PC game storefronts like Steam or itch.io, it may interest you to learn who is really at fault for these “fake games”.
Blog 1: “Too Easy”
It is far easier to make and distribute video games today than it was 30 years ago. In the 80s and 90s, organized development studios were typically the only ones making commercially viable games, and they often had to make the engines for their games from scratch and distribute their games to physical stores. Nowadays, third-party tools allow amateur or low-budget developers to handle every part of the game creation process, and the omnipresence of the Internet allows games to be uploaded for purchase without the need for costly physical copies or publishers. However, while these tools have been largely beneficial to the video game industry, they have also contributed to the rise of shadier developers who attempt to exploit third-party resources solely for personal gain.

Engines
For the uninitiated, a game engine is a piece of software that acts as a base for one or more video games. Common tasks performed by game engines include graphics handling, audio playback, networking, user input, and even physics simulations (1). Some companies like id Software and Electronic Arts prefer to use in-house engines that they develop exclusively for their own use (2)(3), but smaller developers without considerable financial backing often turn to third-party engines, which allow them to reduce development overhead without pouring resources into low-level systems programming. There are three types of third-party engine: service-based engines like Unity offer low-cost licenses for commercial use of their services, royalty-based engines like Unreal and CryEngine are free to use but require commercial products made with them to pay royalty fees, and open-source engines like Godot (4) and Cocos2D are completely free to use and developers can be modify and redistribute them as they please (2).

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Consumer-oriented game engines have been around for longer than you might expect. The first among them was 1983’s Pinball Construction Set by Bill Budge, a game for the Apple II personal computer that allowed the player to construct their own pinball machines (5). This was the first in the genre of “game creation systems” that allowed players to construct games of particular genres using pre-made game elements (5). Although these programs are more suited for hobby projects than commercial development, there are exceptions: the most notable among them is the Japanese company Enterbrain’s RPG Maker, a series of programs for creating JRPG-style games that was first released in 1992 and has remained immensely popular among amateur developers to this day (6).

Later on, in the early 90s, id Software started to create proprietary systems code for their first-person shooter games, the most notable of which being Doom. This was the first instance of a company using something that could formally be called a game engine, as the company went on to reuse the code that constituted the Doom engine in later games. Following this, the use of proprietary game engines became widespread among professional game development studios, especially within the first-person shooter genre of games. However, while these engines were useful for their creators, they were closely guarded and rarely shared with other developers. (2).

That all began to change with the release of Criterion’s 3D graphics software RenderWare in 1997. RenderWare was unique in its time as a piece of video game middleware that was designed from the ground up for third-party use, and several other companies followed its lead over the next few years by creating a slew of dedicated third-party game engines. The chief among those, of course, was the Unity engine, which was released by Unity Technologies in 2004 as a more general-purpose engine for making many different kinds of games that was far more beginner-friendly than many of its predecessors. Unity is arguably the most popular third-party engine available in the modern video game industry, and countless independent or “indie” game developers have had great success with its help. While there are other engines like it, this blog will focus primarily on Unity, due to its prominence and massive influence in the video game market. (2).

Distribution
As game engines came into being and evolved, so too did the digital distribution of video games. At first, games were only distributed as discs or cartridges on physical store shelves, but, as with game engines, this began to change sooner than most people realize. The very first method of digitally distributing games was a peripheral released for the Intellivision console in 1981 called the PlayCable, which allowed players to download and play games over their cable TV signal. Other companies proceeded to dabble in similar console add-ons, but digital distribution only really began to see the light of day with the dawn of the Internet, which allowed small developers to upload games to their websites for players to download free of charge. (7).

Then, of course, the logical progression was to create proper distribution platforms capable of charging players to download games, which was first implemented in 2001 as an online service called Stardock Central by the eponymous game developer Stardock. This revelation was followed only a few years later by Valve Corporation’s famous online PC game storefront Steam in 2004, which went on to gain near-monopoly status as the world’s most popular online game distribution platform. Other storefronts like Electronic Arts’ Origin and CD Projekt Red’s GOG have also managed to gain reasonable amounts of traffic, but none can compare to Valve’s tremendous success. (7).

Later in Steam’s life, in 2012, Valve introduced the Steam Greenlight service, which allowed any Steam user to upload a game and attempt to get onto the Steam store for only US$100. Games were voted for by other Steam users, and games that received enough votes were put up for sale on the platform. (7). Greenlight ran until 2017, after which it was replaced by the Steam Direct system. Direct serves the same purpose as Greenlight, acting as an avenue for independent developers to get their games onto Steam, except it foregoes the voting system entirely and simply allows developers to put their games up for sale for US$100 per game. (8).These systems opened Steam up to a vastly greater number of developers, and as a result games that might have previously been overlooked by Valve’s internal curation process were now able to reach Steam’s millions of users. However, as I’ll soon discuss, it also opened the storefront up to lower-quality games that may not have belonged there.

The Catch
For the most part, these technological advances have been positive forces. However, in recent years, a looming issue has threatened their reputations: fake games. A “fake game” is a video game, typically made for personal computers, that was made with minimal effort, and often minimal contribution, for the sole purpose of exploiting online marketplaces like Steam for profit (9). These games are usually made with third-party game engines, and, moreover, they often make heavy use of third-party assets. What this means is that the creators of fake games visit online asset stores such as the Unity Asset Store to download or purchase pre-made game components made by other developers and use them in their own games. While this has legitimate applications in game development, fake games are notable for being composed mostly or even entirely of these third-party assets, with some going so far as to take an asset that can function as a working game on its own and resell it unmodified. (10).

Although they are a relatively recent phenomenon, becoming prominent around 2015, Steam and other online game storefronts have been inundated with fake games to the point where they can cause genuine problems for customers and other developers using those distribution platforms (9), and, as they are mostly made with Unity or other such engines, the public blame for their existence has often fallen on those engines (10). That said, Unity and co. have also been used for many beloved, high-quality indie games, and they have continued to repeatedly show their capacity as professional tools to this day. The question, then, remains: who should be held responsible for fake games?
Works Cited
“Game Engines – How Do They Work?” Unity, Unity Technologies, unity3d.com/what-is-a-game-engine.

Meloni, Wanda. “Rev up Your Engines.” Computer Graphics World, Jan. 2015, http://www.cgw.com/Publications/CGW/2015/Volume-38-Issue-1-Jan-Feb-2015-/Rev-up-your-engines.aspx.

Electronic Arts. “A Software Development Toolset for Game Creators – Frostbite.” Electronic Arts Inc., Electronic Arts, 2 Apr. 2018, http://www.ea.com/frostbite/engine.

“Introduction to Godot Engine.” Godot Engine Documentation, Juan Linietsky and Ariel Manzur, docs.godotengine.org/en/3.0/about/introduction.html#doc-about-intro.

Barton, Matt. “The History of the Pinball Construction Set: Launching Millions of Creative Possibilities.” Gamasutra, 6 Feb. 2009, http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/132316/the_history_of_the_pinball_.php.

“History of RPG Maker.” TsukuruWeb, Enterbrain, web.archive.org/web/20070825121948/http://www.enterbrain.co.jp/tkool/histry.html.

Höglund, Niklas. “Digital Distribution of Video Games for PC.” Arcada University, 2014.

Sarkar, Samit. “Valve Shuts down Steam Greenlight, Replacing It next Week.” Polygon, Polygon, 6 June 2017, www.polygon.com/2017/6/6/15749692/steam-direct-launch-date-valve-greenlight.

Frank, Allegra. “Valve Removes Nearly 200 Cheap, ‘Fake’ Games from Steam (Update).” Polygon, Polygon, 26 Sept. 2017, http://www.polygon.com/2017/9/26/16368178/steam-shovelware-removed-asset-flipping.

Dale, Laura Kate. “Unity – Does Indie Gaming’s Biggest Engine Have an Image Problem?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 6 July 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jul/06/unity-indie-gamings-biggest-engine-john-riccitiello.

Blog Bibliography
Articles
“Game Engines – How Do They Work?” Unity, Unity Technologies, unity3d.com/what-is-a-game-engine.

This article from Unity Technologies collects some useful basic facts about what game engines are in one place.

Meloni, Wanda. “Rev up Your Engines.” Computer Graphics World, Jan. 2015, www.cgw.com/Publications/CGW/2015/Volume-38-Issue-1-Jan-Feb-2015-/Rev-up-your-engines.aspx.

This article explains the history of modern game engines accurately but concisely and even provides detailed information on the histories of Unity, Unreal, and CryEngine, three of the leading engines in today’s industry.

Electronic Arts. “A Software Development Toolset for Game Creators – Frostbite.” Electronic Arts Inc., Electronic Arts, 2 Apr. 2018, www.ea.com/frostbite/engine.

This article introduces EA’s Frostbite engine and explains what it is used for.

“Introduction to Godot Engine.” Godot Engine Documentation, Juan Linietsky and Ariel Manzur, docs.godotengine.org/en/3.0/about/introduction.html#doc-about-intro.

This article introduces Godot Engine and explains that it is free and open-source software.

Barton, Matt. “The History of the Pinball Construction Set: Launching Millions of Creative Possibilities.” Gamasutra, 6 Feb. 2009, www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/132316/the_history_of_the_pinball_.php.

This article explains the origin and legacy of Bill Budge’s Pinball Construction Set in great detail.

“History of RPG Maker.” TsukuruWeb, Enterbrain, web.archive.org/web/20070825121948/http://www.enterbrain.co.jp/tkool/histry.html.

This article from Enterbrain depicts the long history of their RPG Maker series of game development programs in a compact list form.

Höglund, Niklas. “Digital Distribution of Video Games for PC.” Arcada University, 2014.

Niklas Höglund’s thesis paper collects a great deal of information about the conception and evolution of digital video game distribution in one place.

Sarkar, Samit. “Valve Shuts down Steam Greenlight, Replacing It next Week.” Polygon, Polygon, 6 June 2017, www.polygon.com/2017/6/6/15749692/steam-direct-launch-date-valve-greenlight.

This article documents when Steam Direct came into effect, as well as how it differs from Steam Greenlight.

Frank, Allegra. “Valve Removes Nearly 200 Cheap, ‘Fake’ Games from Steam (Update).” Polygon, Polygon, 26 Sept. 2017, www.polygon.com/2017/9/26/16368178/steam-shovelware-removed-asset-flipping.

This article explains what “fake games” are and why they are problematic for the video game industry.

Dale, Laura Kate. “Unity – Does Indie Gaming’s Biggest Engine Have an Image Problem?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 6 July 2015, www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jul/06/unity-indie-gamings-biggest-engine-john-riccitiello.

This article discusses the impact that fake games have had on Unity’s reputation.

Rose, Mike. “More Games Have Released on Steam so Far in 2014 than All of Last Year.” Gamasutra: The Art ;amp; Business of Making Games, 15 May 2014, www.gamasutra.com/view/news/217675/More_games_have_released_on_Steam_so_far_in_2014_than_all_of_last_year.php.

This article provides useful statistics that demonstrate Steam’s current saturation issues.

Sterling, Jim. “Unity Interview: Talking Asset Flips And Steam Saturation With The Brains Behind The Engine.” The Jimquisition, www.thejimquisition.com/unity-interview-talking-asset-flips-and-steam-saturation-with-brains-behind-the-engine/.

Jim Sterling has spoken at length about the issue of fake games. This article in particular features an interview with a Unity Technologies representative who explains the company’s motives for many of the decisions that have contributed to the issue of fake games.

James Internet Ego. “Unity Has An Image Problem, But It’s Mostly Our Fault.” Destructoid, 17 July 2015, www.destructoid.com/blogs/James+Internet+Ego/unity-has-an-image-problem-but-it-s-mostly-our-fault-296220.phtml.

Although it is a semi-anonymous opinion piece, this article makes many salient points about Unity’s reputation issues and their potential causes.