Game development 'hampered by IP'

Hardware limitations are the least of the problems facing games developers today - they can be worked around, unlike some legal problems

Intellectual property is the biggest single threat to game development today, ahead of censorship issues and even hardware limitations.

According to Jon Hare, widely regarded as one of the godfathers of gaming for work on such titles as Sensible Software, Cannon Fodder, Wizball Wizard and Mega lo Mania during his time running Sensible Software, the single biggest obstacle in game development is trying not to violate IP rights.

"It is virtually impossible to create a game these days without infringing on someone's rights," said Hare, speaking at the Game Developers Conference in London's Earls Court Exhibition Centre on Wednesday. "Until legislation is brought in that says games can be like newspapers and mention other people's names, we will continually face the threat of being sued."

Right now, said Hare, if a famous personality's name is used in a game, the developers are accused of exploitation. But the problem is not confined to use of names.

"We recently made a video for a new soccer game and showed it to the publishers," said Hare. "When they looked closely they saw that the football boots had three stripes on them. We were told to take them off."

"Creatively it's a disaster area. We have to work very closely with the legal department." Game creativity faces other threats too, and these range from censorship issues to hardware limitations but, said Hare, IP rights remain "the single biggest threat to creativity."

Sensible Software, which is now owned by Codemasters, has come up against most obstacles. The controversial and never-published Sex n Drugs n Rock n Roll (SDRR) never saw the light of day because of the sensibilities of publishers, said Hare. In SDRR, the main character was shown in a dream sequence on a cross, for instance. "The lawyers said that was the only ratings-related issue in the game and that we would have to change that, so we had him strapped to a star instead." However, this was not enough for the publishers, who refused to distribute the game, said Hare.

"The perception of games is still that they are aimed at children. It is difficult to re-educate the market that games can be aimed at adults and that this does not necessarily mean they are just interactive porn. SDRR was aimed at 18 to 50 year olds, but the perception was that because it was a game it was aimed at children."

Sensible's problems with SDRR occurred in the mid-90s, but the company has hit obstacles more recently with Mike Tyson Heavyweight Boxing. "With this we didn't get approval from Sony in the US until very very late in development. Issues like this affect creativity -- everyone starts getting edgy." On top of that, said Hare, some retailers refused to stock the game because, he said, they did not want to be associated with Tyson.

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