Sunday, September 13, 2015

Commercial Media and the Internet Wilds - The Future of Art in the Metaverse

I went on a bit of a tirade on Copyright yesterday in my frustration, but I did say there were more factors for this than a minor qualm like this and one of the biggest one's revolves around Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality's potential to destroy modern economies. One might think VR would be a boon to digital media as it increases the general value of digital mediums by making their direct boon to the user much greater. After all, we're paying money for digital media right now that only covers a few of our senses, so having all of them would only merit a greater contribution wouldn't it? This is very much the case if you're ONLY using VR's sensory immersion factors, but if you add in the interactive boons of VR and AR, you'll quickly find a beast the likes of which media companies would think only possible in the twisted realms of Lovecraft's works or 4chan: an empowered user base. May sound a bit underwhelming as a threat, but let's have a look at history to get the idea.

We often look at technology's progress by the things they enable us to do. I find that many people tend to look at the growth of computers as a factor of a reduction in size and increase in their power over time. Desktops beat out giant room sized computers by being more accommodatable, laptops beat desktops with their portability, smartphones trumped the portability of laptops even more. The most obvious enabler of the changes in dominance between these platform on the surface would be the improvements in CPU tech that enable smaller form factors, but I'd argue the much bigger factor to helping any of these models successful was UI improvements. Desktops really hit their strides once the combination of a GUI, and Mouse & Keyboard enabled a common user to viably explore the potential of the digital-sphere without referencing a brick sized manual (mostly). Laptops needed the dawn of wifi and a good trackpad to work out best. Smartphones were around before the iPhone, but try to find a popular smartphone now days that doesn't bear the capacitive touch screen rectangle image.

Even most powerful computer in the universe would be bottle-necked by the limitation that is current user interfaces. But more than anything, if the average joe can't easily grasp the full potential of computers enabled by current interfaces, it means there's still a bottleneck and they aren't getting the full use out of their tech. What happens though when we remove this limitation and enable even an infant to have the power to wield a computer freely, as though it were it's own body? We get a user base with the ability to do whatever they want in the digital space. A user base free to do as they please with anything that should enter their virtual domain. A user base of billions that now knows how to pirate like the best of them. Oh boy.

The point I'm driving at here is that even with smartphones, there are still many people out there that can't quite take advantage of the user interface and seek out the aid of savvy users to get the full use out of their products. My dad still has to ask me about how to set up a bluetooth connection to the home sound system. Brother needs help figuring out how to get a file off of his phone. Sister can't even properly look something up on Google. These are functions that a tech nerd like myself can perform easily, but the average joe needs assistance to comprehend. Should a VR system with the depth and complexity of something like Sword Art Online appear or better, we'd have a system that enables users of all varieties to manipulate and use their computers as they wish. And if you think that people will continue to pay for music, movies, games, or any other current or future entertainment media when a torrent is literally a "thought" away from starting the download process, you may want to have a few more frank discussion with your social circles. Worse yet, if everyone's able to do something, it's hard to enforce any legislation that would prevent the action, and there is no direct harm to the consumer at large for it's existence, then it will almost be guaranteed that legislation will have to begrudgingly accept the situation and simply seek out a compromise. Just look at the history of prohibition to see how fruitless such practices can be. You could say that streaming of software might prevent that a bit, but I fail to see how any passive media (audio, video, tastes, haptics) could possibly avoid being recorded on the user's end. After all, you can't download a Netflix movie, but you technically can record the monitor the video it's playing on and keep the file for yourself. It's illegal, but there's no way to verify this has happened save for admitting it or being caught in the act.

Where does this leave copyright then? Unfortunately, it means that anyone with a creative output must be wholly ready to accept the reality that the moment they make anything public, it will be out of their control and in the hands of the general populace to do with it what they will. You can sue a person or two, but you can't sue everyone and that's the reality the music and film industry have been struggling with enough as it is.

I'm going to be honest, I think it's a bit sad. This wasn't something I'd considered in my initial pursuit of Virtual Reality and quite frankly, it's only added another worry onto the list of worries that I have formulated in my foray to understand VR's potential. AR is going to be just as guilty in this area, but regardless, it's feels a bit bizarre to think about. VR and AR are in a way being developed to better help us express ourselves, but they may very well end up killing commercial artistry as it exists. The only way I can imagine someone making a living as an artist in this kind of system is through commissions, crowdfunding, and content mastering.

A commission is just that, a commissioned piece of art. You can't steal that since the thing being paid for is the creation of the work itself, the labor if you will. With crowdfunding, it's similar to the commission model, except that the suggestion of the creation is on the part of the creator and the call to action is for the community to enable the creation. It's an inverse commission if you will. Content mastering will likely be the future though and it's something I myself may be experimenting with in the near future. This leaves content mastering as the weirder item (also the one I kind of made up).

When I say content mastering, I'm referring to the practice of releasing a peace of media in either an incomplete or blemished state, and having the audience pay to either finish the work or remove the blemish. An example of this would be me making a drawing and posting it on Deviant Art, but at a sub native resolution (240p vs native 4k) with a huge watermark in the middle and a bunch of random noise all over the image, with a progress bar on the side that has divisions of $500, $1000, and $2500. The model here would be to have the audience pay money to reach thresholds which steadily undo the blemishes artificially placed over the work to get the best experience. The original upload is flawed, but bears enough of the promise to possibly get people to put up the money to have it available in it's best form. The only current analogues to this I can think of for this would be the practice some sites have of allowing users to pay to remove ads for a set time duration, the early access model where people pay money to support an in progress project (though it'd be worse in the model I've described here), and putting DRM in products (though this model usually isn't optional, but again, cracking will be child's play later so forget about such defenses being viable). Just a note, when I say I may be experimenting with this, I'm more operating in reference to assets. I'll be providing a lot of the stuff I develop myself to the community for free, but if people want to feel less self conscious, I'll be placing some assets and even games in the near term at total pay thresholds. If the RPG for example made a million dollars in profit over 2-3 years, I think it'd be cool to just drop the pricetag entirely and let people have it and its assets for free since they're unlikely to provide me anymore benefit and it'd be a nice way to thank the community for the support they provided. Long term though, well, I'm honestly not sure what the fate of society will even be under the weight of the "realities" impact on culture.

So what's the conclusion here? When VR and AR tech give people the ability to manipulate digital media at will as well as experience said media to the best capacity, likely to such an extent that no person would ever willingly pay money for content they've already experienced or is at their disposal in any capacity. This going to shake economies founded on pleasure of any form (tasty foods, arts, luxury housing, performances, etc) down to their very cores to such a degree that they may recess down to only fractions of their former glories. No one can predict the future, but I'm personally unnerved by this very real possibility, being that I myself like to consider myself a content creator. But on the other hand, I think it reinforces some ideas that could have value even from a philosophical standpoint.

There's often a heated dialogue between commercial artists and fine artists over the idea that selling art perverts its spirit. I've experienced the impact of this recently with the YouTube channel's meager earnings alone, so I can only imagine what it must be like at the bigger leagues. When I think back on the drive that made me be creative when I was younger versus what did so when I made videos just to make videos for the channel just a few months ago, I feel dirty, as though I'm ruining something beautiful and pure with an ugly desperation. There are many regrets lain about in my mind over the choices I've made over the past few years of my life from a creative perspective, but looking at it from more of an adult's standpoint, I can also see the the merits of the other side. I may have been working with trying to make ends meat on the mind, but that was only because there was ends meat that needed to made. That's the corporeal reality all creatives face. I don't think there's anyone of sound mind on Earth that doesn't want to be able to make a living from doing the things they love, whether that be watching TV, making music, or games. Reality of the situation is though that many people who do manage to do just that tend to make statements remarking on the way that it effects their output. A hobby just isn't itself when it's a job. Sword Art Online wasn't a game when it became a matter of life and death. It's an idea that's been staring me in the face since the inception of this channel, and yet it took experiencing the darkside first hand for me to notice. Maybe I'm being too cynical and am letting a mood sweep me up to make a harsh judgement too early, wouldn't be the first time. But with each day I spend making small amounts of progress on my many pursuits after work, I can't help but be reminded that some of the best drinks, meals, and rests I've ever had have come after the worst thirsts, hungers, and workouts.

No comments:

Post a Comment