Friday, May 30, 2008

Professional Machinima Making

The new Overcast talks a lot about professional machinima making (mostly those who went to work for a game company - ie. got sucked up by the giant production machines).

There's two things to mention:

1. How the hell did my home town become a machinima center? Edmonton, Alberta, home to Bioware (Gateway to the North, City of Champions - although not in quite some time), has 'obtained' a large number of machinima artists (see Overcast for list of the hirees). Strange. That makes two centers, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and Cambridge, United Kingdom (home to Moviestorm and Antics3D - iClone is in California). One is cold and snowy, and the other is cold and rainy (although if you moved to Edmonton in the last 5 years you really haven't suffered a true 'winter' - as in -40 Celsius winter with 7 feet of snow - I can't speak for Cambridge, although I've been there 3 times - seems nice - great pubs). Odd that these two places have become centers of excellence for machinima.

2. The discrepancy between how mod-making and machinima is received, treated, discussed, produced, and distributed, etc (by the game companies, not the general public). This pisses me off. Mod-makers have been embraced since at least the time of iD software's games and there are numerous examples of amateur mods becoming professional (ie. paid gigs - CounterStrike, Day of Defeat, Red Orchestra, Team Fortress, Garry's Mod, etc.) or even student game makers (Portal) joining game companies. But in most of these cases, the original 'mod' (the original vision of the mod maker) was released. Except for Red vs. Blue, and my Second Life, there are very few examples of machinima being picked up after the fact and released 'as is' or left alone. Perhaps game companies are not the best distributors of machinima (no surprise, they're game companies - the big reason they use machinima is for the cut scene or character interaction - not for the films themselves). Even with the recent thaw in the 'rules', this seems to be an overlooked exploration of both games, art, and film, as well as a potentially lost revenue opportunity (perhaps Uwe Boll needs to stop making films for awhile).

Like I said before, whoever moves first in this arena will win. I was hoping for Valve, but they, as always, are strangely quiet (and off promting Steam - which is quietly becoming the Walmart of online distribution). That leaves Blizzard and Microsoft (ugh). Anyone else out there with vision or are all of these game companies stuck in the last century? Time for a revolution?

BTW, does there need to be a 'Machinimators Guild'?

27 comments:

Overman said...

Yeah, that discrepancy with regard to mods and machinima reception has struck me as odd too. And aggravating.

I'm totally speculating here, but I wonder if the difference from the game companies' perspective is that mods generally require purchase of the original game for the audience to partake of the product, whereas a machinima audience - since machinima left in-engine playback as its primary distribution method - does not. The machinima audience, from their perspective, is freeloading, for lack of a better term.

Even though there's a logic to that, I think as you do that it's shortsighted to write off machinima even for that relatively sound reason. If that's what they're doing.

It should be noted that EA with regard to The Sims 2 has actually done quite a bit to encourage machinima making with their game, before anyone else was doing so (not counting id's demo recording ability dating back to Doom). And Valve most certainly had machinima in mind as one of the possible uses of the Source SDK. But both of them stop short of taking any kind of official position on the subject, or getting really actively involved. I've got to think that's driven by potential litigation issues.

I remember when Valve announced Steam, several of us thought for sure they were setting the stage for getting officially involved by providing a distribution vehicle for machinima. Why they went the Walmart route and ignored the Blockbuster Video route remains a mystery to me. It seems like an idea that would appeal to them on a crowdsourcing level if nothing else - users creating a body of content Valve could monetize at their discretion. A Valve-owned YouTubeish internet property, free of Tube's legal headaches.

But has any non-game-trailer movie shown up in the media tab of Steam since that dreadful zombie short early on? Sad.

Zachariah said...

Zach here, one of those new bioware guys, and having worked in both machinima teams and mod teams, I've gotta say, it's unfair to compare any piece of machinima to any particular mod. The two are completely different things in terms of effort in, accessiblity, and qualifications for success. It's a different kind of work that goes into each, and on the modding side of things, it's a LOT harder to get respect.

bllius said...

Overman

I simply think game companies have no idea what to do with machinima. Most of them barely know what to do with a game to begin with, let alone derivative works. I still hold out hope for Valve though. They do some surprising things, and they are one of the big supporters of community-derived works. Besides, we all know that machinima is advertising for game companies.

That said, what potential litigation issues do you see with regards to machinima that is different than with mod making?

Zach

Yah, naked deformed guy from Second Life. By your statement, then, it seems that machinima should have a lower bar to entry than a mod? Although you are right, both are different, one is a game, or an extension of game, and as such it needs to have high expectations in terms of playability whereas machinima is related to non-interactive narrative storytelling (usually). But that's like saying games should have a higher bar than any movie, and judging by most of the games I've played in my life and most of the movies I've seen, that's actually not true. Then again, most retail games go for $50, and most movies (theater) are $10. Supposedly, that means 5X the effort goes into a game (although I don't buy that argument one bit).

And respect from whom? The game companies, other mod makers, or the general public? Most games are not art, so acceptability for mods (and games in general) are typically simply derived from eyeballs (ie. how many players) and in very few ways actually reflects respectability as compared to profit.

My point was that game companies support, and even encourage mod making (are there any cases where a game company went after a mod maker? - Hot Coffee aside - which was actually hidden content put in place by Rockstar) and in a few instances some of the mods make it to retail. Why they can't do the same for machinima is beyond me?

Overman said...

@Zach - I don't think he was making any kind of statement comparing the effort of making a mod vs. making a machinima film (though having participated in some modding myself, I'd counter that it's not at all accurate to generalize that modding is harder as a rule; sometimes yes, not always.) He was just talking about them as two kinds of derivative works, seemingly similar (from their perspective) yet treated so differently.

@bllius - I'm glad you brought that up... I don't think there are any differences regarding those litigation issues between mods and machinima. They apply to both, although the potential audience of a machinima hit is much larger than that of a typical mod, because of the nature of the way they spread, the way they play on software virtually all computers have, and so on.

Still, that reason seems pretty weak to me.

3dfilmmaker said...

I'm not exactly sure what your trying to get at Billus. Your angry that game companies do not support machinima like they do mods? That they don't let the best machinima go retail like some mods have? There is over 4 thousand mods in development over at moddb.com today. Thats 4000 projects that may involve groups of programmers, artists, writers, animators, modelers, etc. etc.. Thats a huge independent arena. So you want to talk about machinima support? Support what? What are you looking for that you think is so unfair? Its not like game companies are actually blocking machinima on youtube or something. You are fully qualified to make and distribute it.. Mod making is a direct 1 to 1 mapping with game development. With Machinima it is not. Why should game companies support machinima? Free advertising? These companies are making 100 million dollar products (or at least trying to) and you want them to what? Build you tools? Distribute it for you? Give you money in praise of using their technology in a cool way? You want machinima to have the same respect as the game mods that went commercial? Then create one worthy... and even then, just like any mod, it just may end up on a bunch of hard drives leaving you with nothing in your pocket.. because I'm my opinion, if your primary reason for doing independent machinima is to make money, your not doing it for the right reasons. There are far easier methods if thats your goal.

With respect.

Ken

bllius said...

"...statement comparing the effort..."

No, I was not discussing the amount of effort going into either just pointing out the difference in how they are being treated.

Ken.

In cases where filmmakers have had opportunities to show their films at festivals, I believe there has been complete silence on the part of some game companies with respect to the rights of the filmmaker to show their work at said festival (mentioned at 2006 Machinima) whereas that same company actively encourages and has brought to market several mods. How much more effort would it have taken them to grant some rights to the filmmaker/festival to have the work shown? There are other examples.

Actually, I'm not sure what you're getting at? Are you saying that machinima needs at least 4000 projets underway before it gets noticed or that existing machinima is not worthy of being released/supported in some official capacity? That the only way any game company will support it is if it directly contributes to their coffers? Does that mean machinima has to forever hide in the shadows because the only reason to make it is for purely artistic reasons (of the filmmaker) and that this does not coincide with the purely financial interests of the game company?

Actually, I'm beginning to think that this is all about the low respect games get from the general public as compared to film (or even the gaming public) and how differentially film and games are treated artistically.

3dfilmmaker said...

Actually, first off, let me apologize Bllius. I was very cranky this morning and I think I went 'off' a little. This whole game company vs machinima thing has been going on forever. And I don't mean a while...as long as there has been machinima, there has been a fight for rights and recognition. And I guess to my initial response, its almost tiring listening to all the arguments go back and forth, year after year.

Quite honestly from a 50 foot view, things have been progressing forward. You would not believe the discussions I've had about machinima with department heads at BioWare. Everyone is aware of it, especially at BioWare since we've hired 9 people from the community. I've been in meetings with senior marketing people along with Paul and upon leaving, asking Paul if he could ever have imagined talking to game industry people about machinima and hearing such great feedback. And I bet if I could disclose how much BioWare has contributed financially to certain events you would not believe it. So when I see harping from people who haven't had the same perspective as me (and I mean generally over time, not this specific post) I think it gets to me. I've been on both sides of the fence.

But truly I feel like machinima is this little geeky kid that gets pushed around. People are so 'afraid' of breaking the rules or 'getting in trouble'. This little geeky kid makes these petty threats that if the big kids just let him, he'd show them all and be a star and shine with coolness and awe. And the big kids just tell him to sit down and shut the fuk up. And the geek does...

We've had a few geeks stand up and shine. They saw past the dependencies and rights issues and fluff and just pursued their creative drive, and for some, fought for it. And among those who have stood up for their art, they have all been success stories. They've gotten distribution deals, won thousands of dollars, gotten TV rights, traveled the world sharing their creations.

So I truly feel that eventually the machinima geeks have to stop crying and perceive that they are backing themselves into a corner because they are not equal to their brothers or cousins, be it mods or movies. Eventually these geeks have to believe in themselves and stop making excuses. Machinima doesn't have to hide in the shadows. But I guarantee, unless it fights for its own light, it can never truely shine.

ok ok that last part was kinda gay. But I think my point serves. Follow your bliss for the sake of bliss. The rest will follow.

Pineapple Pictures said...

"You want machinima to have the same respect as the game mods that went commercial? Then create one worthy... "
Ken, this is no longer about about impressing fellow gamers.
Today's challenge is to make a machinima movie which can be owned by the creators(s) and enjoyed by the general public.
Kate

bllius said...

So when can we expect some sort of official stance on machinima from Bioware?

Overman said...

You know my story with MRE, right Ken? The impediment is REAL, not the imagined delusion of a bunch of cowardly crybabies. The obstruction is real, it is documented. I have seen it firsthand. Our caution is warranted.

Can I just say as well, without drawing too much ire, that I'm getting really weary of "this isn't about money, ya know" statements? Let's just stop it, okay? It comes across like we're begrudging people who would like to find a way to be self-funded creators by insinuating that money must therefore be their highest value in the craft? It's no easy thing to attain, but it's WAY to early to call off the search or imply that search is futile.

3dfilmmaker said...

Kate. I'm not aware of when things changed with machinima where it couldn't be enjoyed by the general public? Maybe distribution is your challenge?

Bllius. Please don't hold me as a representative of where I work. I'm happy to share my experiences but If I have to worry about speaking for my employer 'officially' I'm best off just to stay off these boards. That said, I'm not sure what kind of official stance you are looking for. BioWare is one of the most community driven game companies around.

3dfilmmaker said...

Hey Overman, actually no I haven't heard your story of MRE. I've seen you've gotten 4 million plus(?) views on youtube and it may be one of the single most watched machinima films of all time (to the point of being in Guinness). So if there is a story that undermines that success I'd love to hear about it.

On money and impediments: (And let me be clear, I'm speaking as someone whose gone through this, not someone working at a game company) Its been clear since day one that in doing machinima you do not own the rights to your work. As much as that sucks and feels unfair and authoritarian... its a simple true fact. Your machinima film is riding on the backs of the game developers that built the engine and made the content and established the game into the media consciousness. The post Hugh made recently about the difference in distributing a film you made through traditional methods (i.e. 3d app, paint program, non-game engine machinima) and doing machinima spoke to this. In the simple fact of using a game engine you have a built in audience. Sims, WoW, Source.. whatever it is, you automatically have a very large audience that can take your film from zero to 10 thousand views, very, very fast. Not only this, other than the very small handful of films that have been %100 original content.. and I mean One Hundred Percent, then you are using content that the game developer created on technology that it created. Should it not have rights to control its own property?

So why WHY would anyone create machinima with the intent of making money? As far as I see it you have two roads to take, don't..which moviestorm and antics and whatever else is very happy to give you alternative options... or do..in which case you are going to have to accept there will be limitations, and think creatively around them and have possible road blocks. We've seen people take this road and be successful. No body can argue the success of
Rooster Teeth, Strange Company, LitFuse, etc. I'm no way begrudging these people. I applaud them. They worked hard and came up against the same limitations as the rest of us have and are coming out successful (if finances is a measure toward success). Other teams are creating machinima and having great public success (if media penetration is your measure of success).

So I don't know. Either I've become very ignorant to think things are actually better for machinima makers and their possibilities or people are just not seeing how far we've actually come in a short short time.

bllius said...

"Please don't hold me as a representative of where I work."

Understandable. It would still be nice to see something from Bioware as we've already seen something from Microsoft and Blizzard that clearly states what you can and cannot do and at least leaves open the possibility, ala Rooster Teeth, to some sort of creative control. Not asking for a carte blanche licence a priori.

Todd said...

Maybe all these machinima makers gone game company are doing there darndest as vocal inhousers to:
a) insure games are created with the tools that allow users to create quality machinima.
b) promote(internally) the work made with the games.
c) propel others to think creatively about finding the gray area and filling it in with black and white, in regards to licensing.
d) A machinima initiative might be something that takes time to develop when a company is not in the machinima business.

Pineapple Pictures said...

"Kate. I'm not aware of when things changed with machinima where it couldn't be enjoyed by the general public?"

It's always been that way. A niche market. Of course your definition of 'general public' may be different to mine.

"Maybe distribution is your challenge?"
There are many challenges, this is what makes life interesting.

I wonder Ken, if you've been hearing what sounds like the same arguments over a long period of time that you're still hearing those old refrains when something different is being said?

Kate

bllius said...

todd

that would be great if it is true

Pineapple Pictures said...

@ Todd. It doesn't matter anymore, things have moved on.
Kate

moo Money said...

You don't need to work for "The Man" to be a professional machinimator. I've been profiting off of machinima since before I ever made a video. It's been about 25 months now. Most people want to knock Second Life, but if you're measuring success financially, I've steadily been working with clients like Linden Lab, Cisco, and Manpower for the last 1.5 years. There is serious money to be made in machinima. I may not have made 200k on a single project, but I haven't had a day job in almost 2 years. The only "modding" I've done is lipsynching with CrazyTalk.

bllius said...

Does all of that include machinima only projects?

moo Money said...

Yes. After I was hired in May 06 to promote machinima growth in SL, I started experimenting with machinima. After a few months, dev companies in SL started asking me to produce machinima for them.

bllius said...

Were those side contracts, or did they come directly through employment ?

moo Money said...

They've been independently contracted side gigs. They were all sent to me by word of mouth. I generally don't talk about this stuff except with old school machinimators because I've seen a growing trend of people getting into SL machinima because they think they can make tons of money right off the bat. That might be why a lot of people don't realize just how deep into the business I am. I'd rather have people focus on the art itself.

bllius said...

Is this fundamentally about promoting businesses in second life? Or could these gigs be done in other platforms?

moo Money said...

I think that it would be hindered elsewhere, as Overman learned. Companies would probably love to use Sims 2, WoW, etc for machinimercials, but the creators have airtight EULAs. Not everyone will be able to get a content use license. Platform like iClone, Second Life, and Moviestorm are popular for moneymaking because the machinimator has more rights.

I see plenty of machinimators 100x more talented than me, but they won't touch Second Life, so they struggle to make any money. Just about the only other way to do it is enter contests here and there, and that would only add up to 100-3000/yr. I haven't been to sleep yet, so I'm probably rambling incoherently now.

bllius said...

I was thinking of the multitude of machinima platforms out there now that allow creator controlled content (iClone, Moviestorm, Antics3D, ZenCub3d) and whether companies are considering those as promotional assets vs. SL, which has a dedicated mutli user persistent environment.

moo Money said...

There are multiple problems with the other platforms that allow you to control your content. They're not multi-user, so you have to slowly control every aspect of your product, versus getting on skype or SL voice and telling them exactly where to go or what to do. It could be as simple as having them stand on an animated poseball. Another problem is the steep, steep learning curve. If you're not afraid to just dive in, you can take on SL pretty quickly. There are plenty of tutorials to help with that. However, I had problems mastering iClone and Moviestorm. In SL, I can buy pre-existing sets instead of building them by hand or having a set number of cookie cutter buildings. The last glaring problem that I see is the actual lack of content. Sure, there are content packs in products like iClone, Moviestorm, and Antics3D, but those all cost quite a bit usually. It adds up, and it's limited. With Second Life, you can search through a site like SLEXchange and find exactly what you want, so it's really pay as you go. I've always argued with Hugh about how much he estimated it would cost him to make BloodSpell in Second Life. There are plenty of free and cheap resources already established within the engine, some of which I personally ensured and promoted myself in the beginning, to allow machinimators an easier experience.

Of course, on the flipside, I'm sure those programs have much better framerates than SL. You could buy a state of the art machine today and it will drop bunches of frames with the patch that comes out the following week. SLers have learned to just work around it.

bllius said...

You can import a lot of content from Sketchup/Google Warehouse. And if someone else is willing to foot the bill, then all the better.

My big question is:

Are these companies paying for machinima development in SL because of the persistent world and their presence in that world? Is it because they have an island or some other 'place' that they are trying to promote?

Or is the machinima simply the end product and they do not require a virtual space at all once the video is finished?