Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Artificial Scarcity (or: Damn You Konami)

I didn't want to buy a PlayStation 4 today. Yet as I type this, my new PlayStation 4 is downloading a game demo called P.T. that, as of tomorrow, will no longer exist.

I blame Konami. Also publishers' failure to come to grips with an increasingly post-scarcity world for intellectual property. But mostly Konami.

Back up a bit. When I was a young lad I came across a book by David Peters (who is Peter David's secret identity) called Psi-Man: Main Street D.O.A. It was book three in a series starring a telekinetic Aikido-master Quaker and his telepathic German Shepard. It was, frankly, awesome: funny, action-packed, sexy, and skewering the living hell out of Walt Disney.

When I got older I looked around for the rest of the series, but it was out of print when I found it and things hadn't improved. I ended up asking Peter David himself if it would ever come out as an eBook, and he explained that 1. it was a work-for-hire series he had no control over (that something like Psi-Man was work for hire is still bizarre to me) and 2. that it was out of print for a reason and unlikely to be revived again. I still haven't read the complete series.

Some years later, I got heavily into Warhammer 40,000 and Black Library, and found out that a limited edition book called Xenology existed which detailed the biology of a bunch of their alien critters, including a mysterious ratlike race called the Hrud. I like Skaven (their swords and sorcery mysterious ratlike race) and hunted for a copy. Sadly the book was out of print and could only be had for heavily inflated prices from eBay resellers (now Amazon - currently starting at $92).

I'll admit it, I sinned. I located a PDF of the book online, struggled through five pages, and then gave up and deleted it. (Pirates are not known for quality. I'm lucky I didn't get a virus.) I've kept an eye out, but despite the publisher's print on demand experiments the book is still not available, and I still haven't read it.

Flash forward. Some time ago video game publisher Konami released a game demo called P.T., or Playable Teaser. It turned out to be the announcement for a revival of the classic horror franchise Silent Hill, now Silent Hills, created by the legendary Hideo Kojima in cooperation with the brilliant Guillermo del Toro and starring white-hot actor Norman Reedus. And fans squeed with delight.

Then last week, after a strange and half-public breakup between Konami and Kojima, del Toro confirmed that the game was no longer happening, at least with Kojima. Then Norman Reedus tweeted that it was flat-out canceled. And this past weekend, Konami announced the demo was going to be pulled from the PlayStation store entirely, never to return.

I'd been looking forward to playing Silent Hills when it came out. It was one game that sold me on the PlayStation 4 over the XBox One. (Persona 5 was the real seller. The Last of Us and Bloodborne haven't hurt either.) But I wasn't planning to go out and buy the console for another year, when more of the games were out and I had time to actually play them.

But... hell, I was weak. And I couldn't let the chance to play P.T. go by. It was already a unique and masterful piece of marketing and horror game design, and by the end of the week it'll be a video game legend.

The thing is, there's no real reason this should happen. Yes, the game P.T. is trying to sell no longer exists, but the demo alone was a critical hit and as far as I know, it costs Konami nothing to keep it on the store. But for whatever reasons the game is being consigned to the dustbin. Within a decade it'll be gone forever, beyond recovery.

Similarly, we've entered an age of ready access to digital books, where there are no physical reasons for anything to go out of print. You don't get charged to maintain a book on Amazon, even if it doesn't sell. But scads of back catalog material will never be uploaded, never be made available again.

Sometimes there are good reasons for this: it costs money to make a decent quality eBook and publishers have limited resources. And sometimes there are bad reasons for this, such as when game companies use copyright law to prevent fans from even doing the minimal updates needed to keep abandoned games playable

But either way it's a shame, and it feels so unnecessary to lose works of art this way. We've got enough to worry about with file format lock out, hardware obsolescence, and the damn DCMA without self-inflicting more wounds to society's collective store of knowledge.

Now if you'll excuse me, P.T. has finished downloading and I need to go scare myself shitless before Solid Snake breaks into my house and wipes the hard drive.

Update: I played P.T. For like five minutes. That's when I got too scared playing it alone in the dark to continue. Seriously, if you have or can get a PlayStation 4, download this demo. If you have a PSN account but no PS4, order the demo and hope you can redownload it later. If you're out of luck entirely, pray for a fan port.

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