Sunday, November 2, 2014

Open letter to Steve Gaynor

This is the guy I'm talking to, Google Image Search

Greetings, MR Gaynor. I would like to say I'm a big fan, but alas, I'm barely aware of your work. As of late my finances keep me from enjoying most modern games. I did see the ad for your game, Gone Home. It looks intriguing and well done.

I read your piece regarding John Walker's article on the public domain, and how games should become public domain after 20 years. And I want to reply to that, because the public domain is a subject that highly interests me as of late.

One day your game, Gone Home, will be public domain. That won't be within most our lifetimes, in modern law.  Your characters, your stories, they are yours, until after 75 years after you die(if you, as a person, own the IP. If Fullbright owns it, and it does, make that 95 years starting with this one).

But let's examine exactly what would happen if Gone Home went public domain in 20 years.

Everyone would be able to duplicate your game. Admitedly, having everyone be able to make their own Gone Homes would cut into your profits from selling the game. It is interesting, because games, unlike Music or Movies, have to essentially be remade for each platform they are on. In the 2030s, who knows what platforms will exist?  Will people start porting the Game to Super IPhone 25, Nintendo WaHoo and Game Implant? Possibly.

However, this will not stop Steve Gaynor from also doing so. What's more, as the original creator you should have priority if your game still piques people's interest 20 years down the line. As someone who is presumably still a force in the games industry, Steve Gaynor would have the advantage over most people in this. Batzarro's Gone Home would obviously hold less interest than Steve Gaynor presents: Gone Home: Game of the Decade edition.

Somebody could improve or ruin upon your work. Somebody could absolutely make a new version of Gone Home that will make people forget your version. This is less likely if Gone Home is still hot enough to be selling in two decades, but it certainly happened to Corman's Little Shop of Horror. While most of us know the the musical movie with Rick Moranis, it was once a black and white horror comedy made and never re-registered. They took something from the past and said "let's give this another angle."

On the other hand somebody could just make the a worster version of gome home. Somebody could make Gone Home into the exact opposite of what you intended.

While this could potentially make you sad, it would not (and should not) stop you from producing your own remake, sequel, or reboot of Gone Home.

Roger Corman did not crawl into a hole and die because his ideas where profiting other people and neither did Romero after his zombie movie went public domain, which, I don't need to tell you has resulted in plenty of people utilizing zombies in their work. Romero still works today. Corman still works today. Steve Gaynor can continue to work today.
You also point out that the industry itself needs this. That the people who pay for making a game would need the sales from the old game to fuel their publishing of new games. If we take that income from them by allowing ANYONE to make their own version, well, that's just bad for the industry.
Games are indeed an investment, and nobody invests hoping that their product will be feeding people decades after their death. If that seems exaggerated, well this is current copyright law.  Life of the Author(that would be you) plus 75, and years for corporate owned works(i.e. The Fullbright Company owns the right to Gone Home, regardless of if Steve Gaynor is alive or part of it or if Disney buys it)  
Vidoeogames are far too recent to be part of the public domain. The entirety of the medium is enshrouded in copyright laws designed to achieve maximum profits for IP owners, and minimum wiggle room for those wanting to use those without paying.  Many works are already being lost to this law, and I expect  the effect would be doubly harsh on the medium, if not for our ability and knack to duplicate the works ourselves.
In 20 years Gone Home will still be under copyright. The Fullbright Company will still be able to duplicate and resell it at a whim, or not, if it still owns it(and regardless of Steve Gaynor). Maybe it doesn't. In 20 years Gone Home could be a curiosity from this decade. Something we talk about infrequently, rather than revisit constantly. Maybe it's become like Ninja Baseball Batman, something you literally can't play unless you break the law. Maybe, like the Valis series and other games from  the defunct Telnet, it'll be something we talk about someday selling, rather than something we can actually play legally.
It would be sad for future generations NOT to be able to enjoy Gone Home because of some odd expectations of continual profit from the works of 2 decades ago, which, I may add, are not necessarily invalidated by someone else making their own Gone Home. But the law has spoken, and copyright hoarding is, apparently, good for creativity, besides being  good for the business. Mind you, I'm sure the business would appreciate other people's works being available to re-sell, reuse, and remix, and characters to rework.
Look at movies. As much as certain firms(Disney, most of all) have pushed for copyright to last until the heat death of the universe, they don't mind that they can use zombies, Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, and the Hunchback of Notre Dam. They don't mind that anyone can make a movie about Noah, Jesus, The Little Mermaid, Snow White(Disney, most of all). "Now owning the work wholesale" is not equal to "Not being able t, haha)to profit from it." In fact, a games distribution/development company like the Fullbright company  if game characters and concepts  and games had lapsed into the public domain, would themselves be able to work off other people's ideas.
 It would be indeed rare and special if Gone Home is still profitable in itself after 20 years as a stand alone product. But realistically most works aren't even profitable within the first DECADE of their existence.  Is it a fair trade that the majority of works that won't be profitable  should stay behind a lawsuit shaped wall of fear, just so the few products that are profitable can enjoy the continual legal protection?
So you say game companies having exclusive rights to resell their own work  will "encourage them" to make NEW product, based on the profits from old games? Won't that just encourage them to drag out their old games constantly? I mean, Capcom's profits from Street Fighter 2 on XBLA aren't telling Capcom to make Darkstalkers 4, or even (New Franchise). They are telling Capcom selling Street Fighter 2 is good, and they should do it on every new console, Phone, Tablet and anything else. Videogames are not "bands", and game publishers aren't looking for "fresh new talent".
So yes, I disagree with you on this, but, alas, to your fortune, copyright already lasts as much as 175 years, if the author where to die 100 years old. That's almost the whole of time America has existed. Corporate works at least have copyright for 95 years. That's what, half the time America has existed?
If copyright had always been like this , Oliver Twist would still be under copyright.  Sherlock Holmes would still be under copyright,  and basically most of the works in American History would only a few decades ago begin trickling into the public domain. But maybe publishers could use the windfall of those profits from works 150 years old to publish new, unproven writers, huh?
So I disagree, obviously. I think that copyright is doing to games the opposite of what it was expected it would do to the "sciences and the useful arts" in the constitution. But that's not your fault, Steve Gaynor. I am, though, trying to get more people to know about the perils of excessive copyright. In this sense, I thank you, for bringing this topic to light, so that we may discuss it.


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