The New “Direct Market”

Note: This entry has been cross-posted to Shouting Loudly, where I tend to put most of my policy-oriented writing.

The Register notes that while Manhunt 2 may have been effectively banned from distribution in UK stores by the British Board of Film Classification’s refusal to assign a rating (again), the game could still sell online, via direct download (link via Game Politics).

Sound familiar? If you’re familiar with the regulatory history of the comic book, another medium stereotyped as juvenile, it should. The <a href=" Code Authority similarly banned certain comic books from newsstand distribution by refusing to grant approval, which killed entire genres of crime and horror comics for years. The medium only began to see adult work widely distributed again through a direct market of fan shops (which was partially built on a network of converted head shops that had been selling underground comix). This is, as the previous Wikipedia link notes, the “dominant” channel of distribution for comics today. It’s also notoriously unstable and frequently resistant to reach beyond an aging group of superhero fans, rather than appealing to new readers. Comic stores also have a reputation (sometimes deserved) for being inhospitable to newcomers.

Would the “direct market” of digital distribution for games be more open and accessible than the direct market of comics? I’m not sure it would be, at least not at first. It certainly hasn’t pulled comics out of its own network of specialty stores. Despite proclamations that webcomics would be the future of comics distribution, able to reach whole new audiences, they are still overwhelmed by content aimed at geeky niche audiences. (And while I’m not sure that things will stay that way, it’s worth noting that there hasn’t been much of a move to suggest otherwise just yet.) While online distribution does get around the physical problems associated with specialty stores (such as infrequency or occasionally surly staff), it does still require a certain degree of technical aptitude. It makes retail locations destination stores, where hardcore fans could find what they want but newcomers and gift-buyers would be unlikely to tread. Moreover, digital distribution limits the kind of technologies one can use to consume content: Webcomics generally can’t be held in the hand and flipped through until converted to print, and downloaded games over a certain size would need to be on PCs, despite that consoles are the platform of choice for many.

Of course, we’re only talking about one game still—Manhunt 2—which hasn’t even been announced as being distributed digitally. The whole issue could be moot. I’m just very wary about announcing that direct downloading will be the savior of game distribution in the wake of overly restrictive industry self-regulation.

October Link Madness Continues: Comics, TV, Academia, and More

Got some more links to burn through today, and even more after this. And I still owe Z. a reply on why the “games as art” question is worth asking at all. And I’ve got half-finished posts lying around about video game genres and Nintendo’s “urban” clothing. I’ll address these in more, all in good time. For now, lots of links in no particular order.

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Early October Link Drop

I’ve been letting some links I wanted to post fall by the wayside as I work on revising a paper for resubmission, applying for jobs for next year, and putting together a presentation describing research done through Annenberg’s SummerCulture 2007: Lisbon program. (For those who wished us luck: Thanks, and the presentations went well!) Anyway, read on for some things that may be of interest.

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The XKCD Event

A couple days ago, Jordan sent me an email linking to a forum thread for the popular geek/nerd/stick-figure webcomic XKCD. The forum thread discussed some coordinates and a time noted in a recent strip, which had been changed from a location in upstate New York to those of a small park in North Cambridge (42.39561 -71.13057 2007 09 23 14 38 00). This quickly turned into a discussion of who was going to make the pilgrimage to this park on September 23, 2007, at 2:38 PM local time (or 10:38 AM, which is 2:38 GMT). Fans started meetup threads at the XKCD forum, Livejournal, and elsewhere (just google “XKCD event”).

The original strip ends with a person explaining that he went to the coordinates revealed to him by a woman in a dream, where he discovered that “It turns out wanting something doesn’t make it real.” This makes for a sad and touching sort of ending, but also left the door open for something much grander.

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The Formal Legacy of Webcomics

I recently learned about an exhibit on webcomics starting this week and running several months at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in New York (link via Journalista). From the above-linked page:

Infinite Canvas: The Art of Webcomics brings comics from the web page to the MoCCA stage. The exhibit explores three aspects of online comics: the unique format and design of webcomics, their appeal to niche audiences, and the transitions between web and print comics.

Curator Jennifer Babcock, who also draws the syndicated webcomic C’est La Vie, explains that webcomics are free of the space constraints and editorial censorship to which printed comics are often subjected. Webcomics also provide an outlet for a greater diversity of creators and audiences, she says, resulting in numerous niche-specific features.

I’ve already pondered on the issue of webcomics reaching niche audiences on this blog, so I’ll set that aside for now. What puzzles me somewhat about this exhibit, however, is the focus on the “unique format and design,” especially the decision to title the exhibit “Infinite Canvas.”

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