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Biden Tries Games, Sweeney Tries Government

Biden Tries Games, Sweeney Tries Government
By Todd Mitchell • Issue #2 • View online
It’s hard to believe we get to talk game development here in your inbox again already. Thanks so much to everyone for your support and feedback on Issue #1 last week. The site hasn’t been quite as active this week because of TREMENDOUS progress on my upcoming interview book! This newsletter will be a great place for updates about that when the time comes, and they are coming. This time we have presidential Mario Kart races, new features in everyone’s favorite retro fantasy console, and the continued battle for change in the mobile space—including some new faces! Let’s dig in.

Biden’s Relationship With Games Is Complicated
As of the middle of the week, everyone is still talking about a brief glimpse of President Biden playing Mario Kart Arcade GP DX with his family at Camp David, thanks to a now-expired Instagram story posted by his granddaughter Naomi. In a story just as compelling: Mario Kart Arcade GP DX exists at Camp David.
While this is a feel-good story of little overall consequence, it does seem to indicate we’ve crossed an invisible threshold separating the time where the majority of American voters agreed to rally behind anyone who could evict Donald Trump from the White House and where we are now—a world where there’s time to think about the new president’s position on less-critical issues. This is a good thing.
Many outlets concluded this story with a mention of the Biden/Harris Animal Crossing island from election season. This is reasonable given its recency, but together the stories paint a potentially misleading portrait of a pro-gaming president. The truth is a bit more complicated.
Folks around the industry were quick (and correct) to condemn Donald Trump for bringing up violent video games in the same sentence as guns after a mass shooting. Many have forgotten that Biden took the lead on behalf of the Obama administration to do the same thing after the Sandy Hook shooting. Although he initially promised he was approaching the industry with “no judgment,” several meetings and town hall discussions culminated in the administration calling on the CDC to study violent games (among other media) as a potential cause for gun violence. To his credit, he said there was a need for “well-funded studies by really first-rate people” in what may have been a reference to early video game studies that seemed to agree with his concerns but were later discredited. He later commented to religious leaders that there was “no legal reasonnot to place a punitive tax on violent games, apparently overlooking first amendment protections on such media in addition to a Supreme Court ruling expressly rejecting the idea that a legislative body can suppress such content because it finds the ideas or images unsuitable.
More readers will likely recall the “little creep” and “teach you how to kill people” comments during President Biden’s meetings with Silicon Valley executives (he confirmed he was speaking about a representative from the game industry). There is much debate on which specific game industry representative he was speaking about, but there’s a high probability the individual was a publishing executive who hadn’t been involved in anything particularly egregious.
Ultimately, Joe Biden is a career politician, and career politicians in the United States rarely care one way or the other about video games unless they need a win when gun control legislation is out of reach. It’s clear he’s one of many Americans unconvinced by studies disputing any causal link between video games and violence, and this is a difficult belief to correct. The majority of American voters agreed it was vital to elect Biden and for much more important reasons, but we should probably expect to see the new president lean away from video games when he’s on the fence, and if a movement starts to overturn the existing protections for games, we may see a whole lot more.
(Podcast Interview) Canada's Pandemic Response Allowed One Studio to Ship Its First Game
This week on GameDev Breakdown I spoke to Viktor, a friend from Twitter and the developer of Eggnog Incorporated at Blue Pin Studio. He was a good sport to do a phone call while recovering from a cold, and we had a great discussion about how Steam has changed, how the pandemic created an unexpected opportunity to ship his first game, and his expertise in Fable speed runs which I had no idea were a thing.
Viktor is a Russian-born Canadian citizen who has benefitted from Canada’s early and steady support for workers sheltering in place due to Covid. Rather than sitting idle, he and a friend turned a Ludum Dare project into a full game and launched to a positive reception, all since mid-2020. He’s unsure of how things will change when the world returns to its new normal, but that hasn’t stopped his team from working toward its next release, a 2D retro-inspired RPG.
New PICO-8 Features!
Anywhere I’m active, occasional PICO-8 news tends to follow. PICO-8 subjects its developers to absurd limitations, its games rarely receive the player attention they deserve, and there’s little or no significant way to profit from being great at creating projects with it. Everyone loves it anyway, and I am no exception.
A feature update dropped on Monday including some technical updates that advanced users will probably appreciate. Among these changes are new SFX filters intended to introduce wider variations for the existing instrument sounds, a complete set of 256 characters called P8SCII (or, PICO-8 Standard Code for Information Interchange), a tool for custom fonts, sprite fill patterns, multipoke (early BASIC style), locked mouse pointer—which I’m struggling to comprehend, very cool custom menu control, and plenty more. Don’t miss the impressive dancing rabbit in the announcement graphic.
Epic Hasn’t Taken Down App Stores Just Yet
News about this story did not trend in the order you might expect: through Twitter I heard, “Hey Epic was behind that App Store regulation bill in North Dakota!” To try to answer the question, “What App Store regulation bill,” I did a quick Google search which revealed it had already been voted down in the North Dakota state senate.
The situation (apparently) is that Epic, not content to wait for its May 2021 trial date, hired lobbyist Lacee Bjork Anderson to provide state senator Kyle Davison with draft legislation that would prohibit “digital application” platforms from forcing developers to rely on a platform’s distribution or transactions exclusively, use a platform’s in-app payment system over an alternative system, or retaliate against developers for using such alternatives. If that sounds like exactly what the Fortnite lawsuit is about, it’s probably because that is exactly what the Fortnite lawsuit is about. The bill was obliterated in a 36-11 vote.
Tim Sweeney has stated in a Tweet that, while he “can’t take credit” for the actions of the Coalition for App Fairness, Epic is “proud to be a part of it.” He has been active in critiquing media coverage of the bill and has even taken on a number of individual critics on Twitter.
Can App Distribution Be “Disrupted?”
I received an interesting PR email on Monday alongside the official launch of “Artie,” which promises an “instant gaming platform” that aims to eliminate the need for dedicated game apps. At the heart of the platform seems to be Unity-compatible technology made to publish games within other apps such as social media and messaging applications. The press release mentions top investors from gaming, technology, sports, and entertainment, and the company includes team members from Activision/Blizzard, Infinity Ward, Disney, Facebook, and other big names.
The announcement took direct aim at the same app store arrangements Epic is struggling against, saying “Artie’s platform benefits the mobile gaming industry which has long yearned for an alternate distribution solution to app stores and their 30% fees…”
It’s worth noting that “30% fees” no longer uniformly applies to all developers.
I reached out to the company on Monday to request clarification on how it intended to reduce risk for companies adding games to other apps that are normally subject to store approval and revenue cut after Fortnite’s recent delisting over the same violations. A representative acknowledged receipt, but provided no further comment as of Sunday.
Whatever the answer is now, isn’t it likely to change after Epic vs. Apple kicks off in May? Given the opportunity, I’d ask someone at Artie a lot of questions I think they’d find difficult to answer, but it’s interesting that we’ve reached a point where so many serious developers are this dedicated to solving app store agreement disadvantages after all this time. I’ll be keeping an eye on my inbox for responses or new developments.
If you enjoy the newsletter, check out what’s going on at CodeWritePlay.com, reach out to me on Twitter, or email at Todd@CodeWritePlay.com. The podcast, GameDev Breakdown, is available absolutely everywhere. Don’t hesitate to reach out with stories you’re interested, feedback, or anything I’ve missed.
Catch you next week!
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Todd Mitchell

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