What's original? Cloning games versus making games


Raph "Theory of Fun" Koster has a wonderful, readable, theory-rich article that helps unpick the discussion about when a game is a clone of another game, when it's a skin, when it's a variant, and when it's a new game.

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Comixology adds DRM-free option! Excelsior!

Unlike some of its stablemates, the Amazon-owned comics platform is to allow authors and publishers to distribute their work without the shackles of proprietary rights-management, writes Cory Doctorow

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Back doors in Apple's mobile platform for law enforcement, bosses, spies (possibly)

Jonathan Zdziarski's HOPE X talk, Identifying Backdoors, Attack Points, and Surveillance Mechanisms in iOS Devices, suggests that hundreds of millions of Iphone and Ipad devices ship from Apple with intentional back-doors that can be exploited by law enforcement, identity thieves, spies, and employers.

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Kickstarting a doc about making a living in the arts


Olga writes, "Director and photographer Allan Amato is making a documentary film about how creative people wake up in the morning and persevere at being inspired and choosing to make art their living."

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Comcast retention rep's network boasts expose company to liability

When the Comcast Rep From Hell insisted that Comcast had the "fastest network in the USA," he was speaking on behalf of the company -- and it was a lie.

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Harpercollins will offer discounted ebooks to print book owners

They're the first major publisher to sign with Bitlit, an app that lets you send a photo of your book's copyright page with your name inked on it in exchange for a deal on the ebook.

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DRM-free indie ebooks outsell DRM-locked ones 2:1


Author Earnings has published its latest eye-popping data-analysis of ebook sales and rankings on Amazon.

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Newspapers' unmatched credulity about their own future


American Society of News Editors president David Boardman rails against the happy-talk optimism of the newspaper industry, who insist that the decline isn't that bad and will shortly turn around.

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Rupert Murdoch wants to buy Time Warner

The kingmaking evil billionaire offered $75B, and said he'd sell off CNN to avoid competition inquiries.

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Makerbot now on sale at Home Depot stores

Home Depot stores in California, New York and Illinois are now stocking Makerbot 3D printers in their aisles, with staff on-hand to demo 3D printing for a wide audience.

Economist examines empirical evidence of file-sharing on box-office revenue

A paper from University of Kansas economist Koleman Strumpf (whose work we've featured here for years) empirically examines the impact of file-sharing on box-office revenues.

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Jeff VanderMeer's name-your-price bundle of great, indie New Weird fiction


Jeff VenderMeer has curated a name-your-price bundle of New Weird fiction of great repute and deep weirdness, hosted at Storybundle.

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Airborne police surveillance is a PVR for every car-journey in a city


America's police forces have demonstrated a bottomless appetite for army-style crowd control and CIA-style surveillance, and the private sector has stepped up to the plate in a big way.

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Hair Highway: sculptures made from human hair plastic

London's Studio Swine has created a beautiful and provocative collection of art-pieces made from human hair in resin.

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FTC sues Amazon over in-game purchases by children

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Online retailer Amazon is accused of hooking millions of dollars from underage users making unauthorized in-app purchases. The Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit Thursday charging that the company willingly allowed kids to set up purchases without the consent of their parents.

Though most were for smaller ammounts, some of the charges ranged as high as $99, and typically were for game weapons, clothes and other virtual bullshit installed on its Kindle Fire gadget.

"Amazon’s in-app system allowed children to incur unlimited charges on their parents’ accounts without permission," FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez wrote in a press release issued by the comission. "Even Amazon's own employees recognized the serious problem its process created. We are seeking refunds for affected parents and a court order to ensure that Amazon gets parents' consent for in-app purchases."

Amazon's in-app purchase system, established in 2011 to help the firm catch up with competitors Apple and Google, was relatively rudimentary and lacked locks or passwords to prevent unuathorized users racking up huge bills. Within a month, internal emails show that Amazon was aware of "problems" that were "clearly causing problems for a large percentage of our customers," according to the FTC's lawsuit.

Amazon only added passwords months later, and did not apply them to purchases of less than $20 for a year. Even then, according to the suit, Amazon did not disclose that doing so once would enable further purchases for more than an hour.

The FTC settled a similar lawsuit with Apple earlier this year, when the company agreed to institute stricter policies and paid $32.5m in restitution. Amazon, informed of the pending lawsuit, said that it had no plans to change its system as Apple had, and would fight the action.

"We have continuously improved our experience since launch, but even at launch, when customers told us their kids had made purchases they didn't want we refunded those purchases," Amazon's associate general counsel wrote in a response to the commission.

Part of the FTC's suit, however, alleges that the refund process itself is intentionally obscure and "rife with deterrents including statements that consumers cannot, in fact, get a refund for in-app charges."

Games aimed at youngsters are at the heart of the controversy, as they are typically free to download and play, only to bombard the user with enticements to pay for the virtual bullshit. The enticements are often clevery designed to "blur the lines between what costs virtual currency and what costs real money," writes the FTC, using visually similar icons and other psychological manipulations to generate unfair and unexpected charges.

Earlier this week, UK regulators ordered Electronic Arts to stop marketing its sleazy mobile game Dungeon Keeper as free-to-play after gamers complained that it was effectively unplayable without in-game paid upgrades.