Monday, April 22, 2013

Exposure and Underexposure

After work I lay down with my trusty iPad and started watching videos. One thing led to another and before you know it I'd watched the entire first season (and fan film) of Fallout: Nuka Break. It's an awesome show. It's got references to weapons and abilities and items in the Fallout game (in fact, the whole series is about a guy trying to get one of those in game items; a soda called Nuka Cola). It's got special effects, cool action, an engaging story and all the trappings one would expect from a studio with a much larger budget.

Afterwards I got to thinking, man, hasn't technology progressed so fast since I was a kid? Last time just having a computer meant you were much cooler than anybody else, but now what matters is what you do with it. Play games, do work, watch porn, you name it. And anybody with any creativity can publish their works for everyone to admire.



For example, Felicia Day gained fame by producing the hit web show The Guild, a story about, well, a guild of gamers, playing a MMORPG (no thanks to Yahtzee, another web personality, I now pronounce that as muh-mor-puh-guh). Starting with nearly zero funds, she has managed to create something that previously would not have the audience it has today.

Others have done the same; the aforementioned Nuka Break was done independently, and before Yahtzee was scooped up by The Escapist he made his videos himself on YouTube. I suppose it's not too much to say that this is the age of independent media. The first I heard of the indie age was when a man we call Notch made the alpha version of his game available.

You know it. Minecraft.


With Minecraft notch has managed to create a game that was both about survival and creation. He gave us a sandbox and some blocks to play with, oh and he also put out some creepy crawlies that can and will totally wreck your shit if you're not careful. Minecraft first makes you learn to survive, then, once you have survived, to thrive. And afterwards? To create.

Since then we've paid more attention to independently made video games than before. If you need proof, look no further than the Humble Indie Bundle - a nice way to expose those unfamiliar with indie games while at the same time benefitting charities and the developers themselves.


You've also probably heard of Kickstarter, a crowdfunding project. Visitors to the site can see up and coming projects by independent content creators, and choose to back them to see other peoples' dreams become reality. Indie production has become easier and easier, all thanks to Al Gore and his dream of a world connected through a series of tubes (I'm sorry, I couldn't resist. Moving on.)

With all this focus on independent production, I wondered; what's wrong with big budget productions? Surely they can't all be evil. Of course not; the recent success of The Avengers and RDJ's stint as Tony Stark spawning two sequels (the second of which I am struggling to find tickets for to take my girlfriend to) point that yes, there can be good things coming out of big companies' productions. And yet, these seem few and far in between. The moment Michael Bay announced he was going to do Transformers, I was amazed by the special effects put into the transforming sequences and after watching was seething with rage that a steaming pile of crap was what I got. When I thought it couldn't get any worse, Bay decided to trump me on that by making two sequels, both of which had as much depth as an empty tin can floating in the kiddie pool. Why, then, does this paradox occur: the more resources and the greater talent pool, the shittier the result?

One possible reason is that independent media is entirely under the control of the content creators. They have no need to worry that they're going over budget. They don't have a board of directors to answer to, and no need to worry that investors might leave and take their cash with them. They are free to follow their own visions, for good and for ill.

Also, a limited talent pool might be for the good as opposed to for ill. When shooting a movie with your buddies, for example, you'll probably need common ground when creating content together. Maybe you all like to play videogames and mock certain parts of them. Maybe you are all fans of a certain superhero, or enjoy the same kind of music. Whatever it is, this same passion that unites you is sure to create something that pays the appropriate amount of respect to your inspiration. Being able to hire some dude can pay off if you know what you're doing, but sometimes investors think that hiring a big name actor in a role unsuited for him will pay off because they believe people will come to watch that actor. This of course is the reason why Stallone's Dredd removes his helmet, effectively ruining the 'faceless' and inhuman avatar of cowboy justice that Judge Dredd is supposed to be. People pay to see Stallone kick ass, and of he's got his damned helmet on, nobody can be sure that's Stallone.

Another reason for the success of the independent label can be said to be because it's limited to what the content creator can do at that point in time. Nuka Break was made by peoplemwith access to special effects. What if a man can draw and wants to make a video of his story? He's no good with animation and learning to animate from scratch can take too long. So what does he do?

This, apparently.

Malaria from Edson Oda on Vimeo.

Just a camera with a guy moving strips of paper on it with a voice over. That's it. But I can 80% guarantee that this is the coolest thing you'll see today. And, in the parlance of YouTube, rape the replay button on. It is said that skyscrapers were built by people who had to make do with small areas of land available. Perhaps, limitations are what bring people to greatness, not total freedom.

There are a lot of other reasons I'm sure are discussed somewhere else, but that's enough for now. So now we have a platform where content creators are free to create their visions as closely as they can and share that vision. What can go wrong with this?

One problem with a truly free platform for voicing opinions, is that it is usually the loudest voice that is heard the most and paid the most attention to. Nowadays, cast Felicia Day in your webseries and we can guarantee you a million hits on YouTube, regardless of the quality of the content. Felicia doesn't have to do anything but just show up for one second and your comments section will be filled with variations of 'HOLY SHIT IT'S FELICIA DAY.'

But what about the webseries who can't get Ms Day on their show? What about the videos not featured on Kotaku, not talked about on twitter, not getting more than twenty hits a day on their site (and 15 of those from unrelated search terms, who click back as soon as they see this isn't the content they're looking for, move along)?

Kickstarter is one solution. Aside from providing funds to indie creators, it also helps provide much needed exposure to little known projects. Visitors see a plan by somebody else to create something (a videogame, a fan film etc) and like what they see enough to back the project. They then see that the project requires additional pylons (again, apologies, couldn't resist) and share the project with like-minded friends and on their facebooks or twitters, hoping to get other like minded individuals in on the project. Rumors and gossip spread like a successful ID in plague inc, and before you know it you're being talked about on Kotaku and Felicia Day is saying on an interview with Rock, Paper, Shotgun how she can't wait to play your game.

Gah, dirty thoughts invade. Begone! Right, mind out of gutter. Sorry. Moving on.

There might be a better way to help these lesser known works gain exposure, but seriously, if I knew how, you can bet I'd have my own kickstarter I'd be begging you to back. But then, we run into another problem: if all voices are equal, then which voice do we pay attention to? Surely not all of them are winners. If you want evidence look no further than the Apple's App Store. There are more than a few metric fucktons of apps available, and not all of them are good. Actually, rouhly ninety percent of them are shit. We can't waste our time paying attention to all of them, so which ones do we look at? I'm sure, if you're like me, you've googled "Best of The Thing I Want Right Now" to help get ideas on whose voice you should listen to. For me, after I had read Batman: Hush the first time, by browser was filled with tabs opened from the google search "Best Batman Stories Ever". Leaving the streamlining of content to others makes our lives easier and our leisure time spent more on enjoying the content than trying to find content to enjoy.

Ah, but this leads to a loop. The more streamlined and easier it is to find our content, the more likely we are to be paying attention only to the loudest voices, Our current system is fighting to keep all voices equally heard but also to be able to streamline our content for our own ease of use. It's a delicate balancing act, and so far I believe we have achieved moderate success.

Running out of things to say here. I suppose there's still a future of content delivery that as for now, we have not even imagined possible. Hopefully that answers a lot of the questions we have regarding out current system, but in my experience...if you solve one problem, ten others crop up. Well, at least we are all moving forward. Granted, its slow going and we're not too sure where we're going, but at least we are still moving forward.

By Hafiz Tajuddin with No comments

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