By Andrew Segna, JD ‘12
Edited by Lee Welling
Video games have evolved from a niche hobby to an important mainstream form of entertainment and artistic expression in the United States. A May 2009 Ars Technica article stated that Americans are more likely to spend time playing video games then going to see a movie. Video games can now be considered a peer of music, movies, and television. As in these other industries, there has been a recent movement outside of big-budget and high-profile games. Small development teams with limited resources have begun producing unique games that push the boundaries of gameplay and story-telling. Current independent developers grew up on the personal computer (PC) and are familiar with its open nature, meaning that with the PC developers can have unfettered control over their products’ creation and distribution.
This open nature is not without flaws, such as piracy. In response to these flaws, developers have begun moving to other platforms, most importantly the Xbox 360 and the iPhone. The popularity of these devices and their ease of use present an enormous opportunity for independent developers. The evolution of these platforms, however, also presents a significant impediment to the growth of independent games. The flawed free and restrictive natures of the Xbox 360 and the iPhone threaten the financial success of independent games. In contrast, Microsoft’s control over the Xbox 360 and Apple’s control over the iPhone enables these two platform holders to achieve their own goals. The interests of the platform holder and independent developers often do not align, which negatively impacts the latter entity. Independent developers are so intent on producing profitable games that they focus on surviving on the platform instead of changing its structure for the betterment of their peers. In order to overcome the harms of these platforms, this Comment will argue that a legal aid organization should guide independent developers in overcoming Microsoft’s and Apple’s status as repeat players in their respective platforms. (more…)