Note: WriOps is the intersection of writing and opinions on controversial topics in the gaming industry. The opinion of this article does not necessarily reflect the official opinions of NextLevel Gaming Online as an organization.
In semesters previous, NLGO has been able to host game nights on the UW-Parkside campus with reasonable success due partly to the ability to advertise on campus and other platforms (even if it is mandatory, but we’re not looking at that) and also our ability to freely host Triple-A and Indie titles for the public to play. We’ve hosted events such as Station Eleven game night, Indie Game Night, and a Smash Bros. tournament, all of which had high profile games played at them. For all events we host we are required to advertise what games we will be hosting, and for the aforementioned Station Eleven night we wrote titles such as Call of Duty: Zombies and Left 4 Dead on our fliers and on our on-campus advert window. Generally put, our events are something good for both us and the publishers for these games: we get exposure to more people so we will get supported by the community and student body, and the public gets to play games for free and get exposure to them. What could be so wrong or bad about this?
It has come up in the very recent past (the beginning of September) that there is in fact an issue with us hosting games for the public to play, and it comes down to something we had never considered remotely, and that is the issue of copyright and licensing of copy written media. Without having the correct licensing for a given game, we are not allowed to host it for play to the public let alone advertise it alongside an event, and doing so could result in us getting sued for a possibly large amount of money. And by us, I mean NLGO and the students affiliated with it and not the University of Wisconsin – Parkside. It’s worth noting that as a club at a university, we get funding with student money that we are supposed to use to host events, and the less we spend the less we are likely to get when funds are distributed.
This, lightly stated, is a colossal wad of garbage. There is a catch however, or workaround. We do have the ability to pay for a license, of sorts, to be able to use/reference titles of games on advertising, at our events, or as part of the event name. For the low cost of an unspecified number (roughly $2000), we can use titles for these purposes. Wow! That leaves us enough wiggle room to do literally zero other things in the semester, like co/hosting events or purchase games to review. There is a serious downside to this too; if we break the rule, we get slapped with a lawsuit that could mount to be thousands of dollars, which would be enjoyable by no one involved on our side. Another outstanding penalty for not hosting events, whether it’s because we purchased the license and have no money or not and are skirting a lawsuit, is that it makes us look like we were given this pile of money for hosting events and sat on it all semester, from the eyes of the University. Politically this is detrimental because that could lead to us receiving less funding or even the disbanding of our club, which would also be no fun. So currently we are faced with two options:
Do nothing and risk the higher ups in the University struggling to find reasons to fund us because we can’t function like a club is supposed to.
Buy the license and have no money to host events like a normal club, which would make the same people look down negatively on us.
Currently it’s a lose-lose situation on our end, and really for anyone that supports our club, pays into our funding(which is anyone who pays tuition at Parkside), or for anyone who would want to attend our gaming events.
During the last semester (Spring 2018, when I was President of NLGO) we had begun planning several cross-club events that were partially or wholly reliant on our ability to use specific video game titles one way or another in our event title or ads, however those events are currently quashed until we can sort this political debacle out.
As for the companies, or other entities that are condoning this type of licensing, I would politely ask for you to stop that and calm down. Yes, I know that you are a business and need to make money, but really all you’re doing with these silly licenses is hurting not only yourselves, but also the gaming community. Part of the argument I’ve heard is “you bought the game for personal use” or some stupid argument that I’ve heard from anti-piracy people that engaging in activity takes sales away from companies.
To address the first point of personal versus public use or “for profit” means, NLGO is not making any money off these game nights we host. All of them are free and open to the public and we heavily encourage people to come and experience them, because that’s how we grow as a club and as a community. And these games are all physically made to be uncopyable and can only be played on one system at a time for each disk, which addresses the anti-piracy claims. These aren’t simple computer games where we can copy them to a flash drive and distribute them by the handful to any person who shows up with a laptop, not like we’d do that anyways. As for people complaining that hosting events like this with games open to public use are “detracting from sales of Company X” think about this: we are hosting a free, open event for people to come to and play video games without financial impact to them and we are retaining the copies of all the games we host, and the same goes for people who pirate games illegally online. The problem with that argument is that if I were to pirate Game X from Company Y, they aren’t being hurt because I wouldn’t have bought a copy of that game anyways, so it doesn’t really matter that I took a piece of software I wasn’t planning on buying in the first place (I’m not condoning software piracy, just deconstructing an argument).
If anything these events are possibly a boon to these companies because we are giving free advertisement for them to a given demographic of people who are far more prone to purchasing of these games. I can say that there have been events we’ve hosted that made me interested in a few titles that I am today. Thanks to them, I have been swayed more towards a purchase of such games.
These licence policies are also incredibly toxic to organizations like NLGO that are looking to function like a normal club but are met with a large barrier to entry (which is prevalent in gaming in general) that can completely prohibit normal functionality which further penalizes them. I think that companies, or whoever created this silly policy, should consider revising it or abolishing it so that organizations and individuals are able to spread the good word of their games to other individuals in the gaming community.
Yes, it is stated in the beginning of this and every WriOps article that these opinions do not necessarily reflect those of NLGO as a whole, but I believe that for us and the gaming community as a whole, we can rally behind these points. If you are expressing the same feelings, make your voice be heard that we do not have to deal with multi-thousand dollar licenses to play a few legally obtained games at a public event.
Stay tuned to NLGO for all WriOps pieces, click here to read our previous article.