eSports: it’s game time

 

UPDATE: recently, Royals partner-at-large, Andrew Siwka, was invited onto Paul Gardner’s Radio 2GB show to chat about the eSports phenomenon. Have a listen here.


The following post was originally seen in  Everybody Knows, our new weekly newsletter publication exploring the realms of creativity, popular culture, media, art and technology. – one topic at a time. Consider subscribing now.


Picture this: Millions of teenagers glued to screens across the world, watching their favourite athletes battle it out in leagues, competitions and matches to the death – but here’s the odd thing, the athletes are hardly moving. At least in the physical world. In the near future, it’s what your kids, nephews and nieces will be following instead of an AFL or NRL team.

Why? Because eSports is live competitive video gaming. A sports industry that builds tournaments and competitions for professional gamers to compete against each other for huge prizes and the glory and adoration of million of fans. It’s exciting, widely distributed and can make kids rich.

The setups are epic. Think World Wrestling Federation with cheerleaders, spectacular stages, lasers, booming music, screaming fans and cosplay. Young, (often) male, energy drink-fuelled players vie for shares in prize pools of up to $10M. Huge pressure, epic rewards, celebrity status ensured for the victors.

Here the players are the rock stars, tethered to their high performance PCs by Beats headphones, their stages are the worlds and levels within games like League of Legends and Starcraft.

Newzoo estimates that there 205 million people who watch eSports globally, and interestingly 40% of that audience don’t even play the games they watch. Last year’s League of Legends championship, for example, drew nearly 30 million viewers, putting it in line with the combined viewership of the 2014 MLB and NBA finals in the US.

Originating in Asia, the eSports industry is now gaining popularity in the US and Europe, and that means prizes, sponsorships and endorsements are starting to reflect global impact. Global revenue is expected to reach $US465M by 2017, tripling in 3 years, the main benefactors being the publishers, event organisers and organised teams. The money itself comes from brands that want to tap into a highly attractive group of young, educated, and wealthy people. These fanbases are deeply engaged, in both a media and community sense, and are increasingly hard to reach via traditional channels.

And of course, where money goes, scandal often follows. In July this year, there were revelations that a Counterstrike-winning team had admitted to widespread use of the ADHD medication, Adderall. Normally performance enhancing drugs that are associated with physical sports build an advantage in strength or stamina. But in eSports, it’s all about concentration levels and reaction times.

Then in August, Valve’s own DOTA 2 championship was brought to a screaming halt by a denial of service attack (DDos). In physical sporting terms, this would be like hundreds of thousands of people defying security and running onto the field. Except it’s millions. And really, really hard to stop.

eSports matters because it’s an example of an industry that is built for today, one that has truly embraced a global opportunity by putting players and fans at the centre of its brand of entertainment. By using live streaming, interactivity and fan involvement, eSports delivers an experience for audiences used to being involved in their entertainment – something traditional sports will always find hard to match.
Don’t take my word for it: ask a kid.

Andrew Reeves

The little machine that commits one hundred crimes a second.

The following post is Edition 9 of Everybody Knows, our new weekly newsletter publication exploring the realms of creativity, popular culture, media, art and technology. – one topic at a time. Consider subscribing now.


 

What have you been watching this Summer? Did you pay for it all? I only ask because Aussies love to download illegally. Yep, we are right up there ranking in the top five when it comes to accessing film, TV and music on the sly. The premiere of season 5 of Game of Thrones triggered a record rate of “more than a million and a half downloads in a day”. Torrent Freak has previously revealed Australia as the leader (11.6%) in illegal sharing of Game of Thrones episodes, followed by the US (9.3%) and UK (5.8%). Aussie, Aussie, Aussie..!

Despite the laws, and sometime lawsuits, we seem to happily ignore the reality that copyright infringement is indeed a crime. And despite 30% of Australians readily admitting to committing that crime, we never expect anyone to come knocking with a court order seeking damages to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But that does happen from time to time – and those damage claims sometimes seem nuts. In the US in 2009 a Minnesota woman was famously fined $1.9M for downloading 24 songs. Locally, there was also the recent case of the Dallas Buyers Club where some 5,000 iiNet account holders were accused of torrenting the file. While they initially faced ludicrous fines in the millions, a judge effectively delivered a verdict in December of 2015 reducing those claims to a $20 single use license fee.

It’s these incredible fines that have got the back up of Peter Sunde the co-founder of the now infamous Pirate Bay. And it’s what he has done about it that has primed this edition of Everybody Knows which features an art project simply know as “The Kopimashin”.

The Kopimashin (copy machine) is a project created by Sunde under the banner of art collective Konsthack, a playful jibe on the Swedish art institute “Konstfack” (the faculty of art). The collection launched in 2015 ‘to play with hacking as an art form for political and artistic reasons and to question the status quo’.

The Kopimashin is what it says on the tin – it’s the ultimate copying machine. Using some pretty simple tech: a Raspberry Pi, an LCD display and some Python code the “Kopimashin” makes 100 copies of the Gnarls Barkley track “Crazy” every second. Based on a current run rate of eight million copies per day this translates to theoretical ‘losses’ to the label of more than $10 million – more than enough to put them to of business. But the copies aren’t stored permanently making this a great political statement but not one that can be easily taken further in the courts.

kopimashin

So why is Sunde doing this? Here’s a guy who spent time in jail last year for his role in facilitating copyright infringement with Pirate Bay.

The Kopimashin is firstly a manifestation of his commitment to ‘Kopimi’ (‘Copy me’) a belief system, symbol and set of values ‘that may be considered an anti-copyright notice’. This is an ideology that he and his fellow Pirate Bay founder are truly passionate about. And its other fans are so dedicated to it that ‘Kopism’ is now a recognised religion in Sweden. Its central belief is that everyone has the right to and should freely copy and manipulate anything they want.

And of course, it’s a statement about the ridiculous damages license owners attempt to dish out. They know regular people with a copies of Game of Thrones or Dallas Buyer club cannot and never will pay these fines – they’re simply tactics used to intimidate, silence and scare people into obedience.

Kopimashin ultimately queries our own ethics as copiers and copyright infringers. But it also interrogates the methods of a content industry that continues to employ seemingly outdated and hamfisted ways of policing behaviour around original content.

What will you be watching tonight?

Andrew Reeves

Back with another one of those ad blocking bleats

The following post is Edition 1 of Everybody Knows, our new weekly newsletter publication exploring the realms of creativity, popular culture, media, art and technology. – one topic at a time. Consider subscribing now.


So let’s get this straight: online ad blocking is not new. Since the dawn of the web, people have been trying and buying a variety of ways to stop the blinking, flashing and irritation. And as more and more options like Chrome extensions and mobile plugins have become available, in recent years ad blocking has become more widespread amongst a non-tech audience. But over the last couple of months, ad blocking has begun to pop up in more and more industry forums, vendor pitches and marketing meetings. There was the widely distributed study suggesting far wider use of ad blocking than previously thought. Then there was the tale of the celebrated app developer who famously announced it ‘just doesn’t feel good’ to make ad blocking software. And of course, when Apple moves, people take note. By incorporating ad blocking features into its Safari browser in iOS9, the industry conversation has recently moved from a constant mumble into a noisey bar room public debate.

From a behavioural consumption perspective, this feels like it might just be a natural evolution from TV’s ad-skipping and time-shifting. Alternatively, ad blocking could be seen as part of the progression from listening to commercial radio to paying Spotify and others to help us avoid ads completely. But when it comes to online advertising, it’s hard not to consider that we may be going into a cycle of ‘Creative destruction’. This is a term, also know as ‘Schupmter’s Gale’, coined by economist Joseph Schumpter, that describes the “process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, destroying the old one and incessantly creating a new one”. In other words, in this case the online ad industry might well be eating itself from within, a process hastened by its own dodgy practices, like bloated code and ad assets, and its appetite for ultimate revenue at the expense of usability and privacy. Are ad blocking people the real problem?

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Then there’s the ethics of ad blocking. Publishers, and all sorts of makers of online content, could have today’s types of revenue streams decimated in a world that embraces turning off ads. It will be the long tail of publishers hit hardest, those that don’t have close relationships with brands or agencies thus are not able to collaborate on bespoke content or arrangements. As consumers, many of us claim that if ad platforms behaved themselves, we wouldn’t object to ads at all. Or if we could simply pay publishers and creators for the content that we end up consuming every month, we’d be fine with that. But what we say and how we act are often two very different things. And many smaller publishers may not have the time to find out.

With fat ad creative and intrusive tracking code, it’s mobile users that get hit hardest. Getting rid of mobile ads can help reduce unwanted data collection and privacy infractions – and massively save on mobile data bills. It’s conceivable that with the move to mobile for the majority of our daily online activities, combined with the increasingly available mobile ad avoidance options, we’ll see a huge spike in ad blocking on our favourite devices. Mobiles put all issues of usability right up in your face – and there’s no bigger impediment to content consumption than bad ads.

Much of the industry is looking to native advertising to retain an embedded marketing presence in front of the ad blockers. But there are concerns that many of these native ad units may also fall foul of blocking software. The report from Adobe and Pagefair recently estimated ad blockers will cost publishers nearly $22 billion in revenue this year, and that nearly 200 million people worldwide already regularly block ads. These numbers seem on the high side compared to other estimates, but they surely suggest that the issue isn’t unsubstantial.

The IAB has now admitted we all messed up. A tidal wave of ad blocking might still only be on the horizon, but in the meantime let’s try and make better ads, use empathetic formats, let’s temper our greed, and for god’s sake, think of the children!

 

Everybody Knows

Now and then at the Royals, we look to engage with our friends and treasured community with publications, perspectives and ideas from the periphery. Everybody Knows is our, singular, compact electronic newsletter to help you explore the realms of creativity, popular culture, media, art and technology. – one topic at a time. We don’t want to bombard you (this time!) with a bunch of links, we only want you to pause for four minutes, read, digest and consider. And we’d love you to do it once a week. We want to feed your insatiable need for the intriguing, the unorthodox and the curious. Our only ambition is too completely remix your understanding of the world around you. One email at a time. Is that so much to ask?

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Dave
@daveking

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