It's time to wrap the year, my friends.
Recently, I saw an interview with a person who found himself in the middle of the war in Serbia, sheltering at a local monastery for a while. When he asked the monks about the perspective on all the troubles befalling them, they said "the God must really respect us, for he sends our way such extraordinary trials" – and this is the attitude that I suggest we all apply to the year ahead.
As to 2022, besides a few good news (Argentina's former president getting sentenced for corruption, Brazil's former president losing elections, Hungary's prime minister getting a bit of a push to follow EU's law, and Poland finally moving in the same direction), it's been a smorgasbord of bad stuff: wars, epidemics and the rise of the dehumanisation.
It is against this background, however, that I found the legal profession to shine even brighter: lawyers acting as the Swiss knife of the society, adapting to meet the challenge and help their clients navigate the darkening waters. Let us, then, treat 2023 as the calling to become a better person, a chance to develop stronger friendships – and the opportunity to forge a stronger community.
China back in the pandemic spotlight
Three years ago we watched the events in Wuhan unfold, hoping that an epidemic won't turn into a pandemic. And now we're back to anxiously watching China, where the policy of "zero COVID" overnight turned into the policy of "zero protection against COVID" – trying to predict the impacts from such a global disruption.
With the worldwide pandemic death toll already in the millions, it is perhaps only natural to insulate oneself from yet another page of this tragedy: it's far away, it's a big country, it's all CCP's fault, etc. – yet I can't get rid of the profound sadness at the thought of all the suffering that currently unfolds in the country, hitting the hardest those that are the most vulnerable, and who had absolutely no say in the matter.
One other thing that the change of COVID policy has illustrated, by the way, is just how unpredictable things are in China. We're used to seeing stupidity at the head of the other countries – thanks to the transparency provided by the independent media's coverage of liars such as Donald, Boris, Jair, Silvio, etc. – while China and, to a degree, Russia, were often seen as "playing 4D chess".
Now both, facing a crisis of their own making, have revealed the lack of planning and reliability worthy of the dusty shelves of the Soviet Union – and what sort of lawyers perform best in such environments? The lawyers that are quick to adapt to the reality on the ground, and use whatever legal means are accessible under the circumstances – which requires both the knowledge and the intelligence.
Either way, whatever happens in China in the next 90 days will certainly affect our industry as well – including both of our events planned for 2023; we just may not yet realise all the specific ways in which it will.
Lawyers as the Swiss knife of the society
The recent circus of America's richest man introducing a number of changes to Twitter – then rolling them back once threatened with legal action as Twitter was about to become a "publisher" rather than a "platform" – rekindled a broader discussion of what role lawyers, as a profesisonal group, play in the society.
Whether it's desegregation of schools (it's Ruby Bridges on the photo above) or ensuring clean air in indoor spaces (which Belgium turned into a law recently), lawyers work hand in hand with the civil activists in effecting the change for the better.
In the games industry, it's Epic Games that's at the forefront of using law to change the way that the industry works: whether it's about enforcing NDAs, challenging cheaters or demanding a fairer playing field from the platforms, the company's actions yield benefits for the whole industry – sometimes simply by dissuading bad actors from foul play.
This is the special power of our community: applying our skills to make a specific action happen, making words real. Developers often underappreciate how the evolution of our industry, and its business models, ultimately depends on the legal teams that can define what can be done within the medium (just look at the forthcoming challenges of the AI!).
Speaking of business models, I had to share this Polish innovation: a subscription to your daily hotdog. If this follows the progress of our own industry, we're bound to arrive at HaaS, hotdog as a service, where a monthly fee would give you access to an unlimited amount of hotdogs – I'm fairly certain there's a price point at which it begins to make sense...
The deconstruction of humans
Like corruption, dehumanisation comes in many forms; tolerate some – and before long, you may end up with violence.
Once, a developer with a struggling game told me that their sales aren't that great because 'Steam is a cesspool' and 'new users are all idiots'. Another time, a European studio head landed in hot water for blaming their struggles with sales in China on Chinese players being 'all thieves'. More recently, a publisher from Asia pulled the Russian localisation of their new game off the platform to 'support Ukraine' – thus disabling the most common language used by their players in Ukraine.
In all these cases, individuals are dehumanised based on a common attribute – whether it's location, nationality or language – to give an easy way out of a complex situation.
Outside of the games industry, the consequences can be more dire. A Polish friend who helped us prepare for Games Industry Law Unpacked in Warsaw in 2023 also volunteers with the groups that support refugees at the Polish borders. There, sometimes women and children displaced by a war get a warm welcome – and sometimes they get pushed back into a frozen forest, depending on their skin color and country of orgin (the contrast can hardly be more stark).
As we have seen with the corruption last year, dehumanisation sometimes sneaks in as a tradeoff: 'sure, our firm agreed to represent a particularly bad client – but it's just to pay the bills'. Because we know where this ends with the corruption, I urge all of us to make an effort in fighting back against discrimination whenever we encounter it in the industry, even at a small scale.
Games as communication platforms
As Canon has mentioned during this year's deep dive on sanctions at the Summit, games – and their persistent worlds – are the communication platforms that become increasing important in the regions where free speech is getting restricted.
Unless you follow Polish politics, you probably wouldn't know what all the asterisks mean on this poster:
That's because you can get fined for spelling it out.
In another country close by, even using the asterisks has lead to a detention (and the fine was 100 times higher than that in Poland, at nearly $1.000):
Heck, even people with blank sheets of paper got arrested.
When things like this are illegal –
(the obscured word is meant to look like "snow", except that it has an extra letter, which is also what "war" has in Russian...), games and games platforms offer a unique chance to communicate around the censorship.
Our own dev team used Steam to communicate about the Russian war in Ukraine, leading to review bombing from both China and Russia – but also, helping the Russian players who shared our view to feel that they are not alone, and helping the players from Ukraine to discover that most of their old community friends from Russia haven't gone mad and are against the bloodshed.
Other teams, like the wonderful Amanita Design, use their games platforms not only for communication, but also for fundraising –
Whatever happens in 2023, it will be harder and harder to separate the real world and the world of games – which places significantly more focus on the policies and the moderation process in the communities.
Can we talk about the mermaids now?
Yes, absolutely: if you missed the explanation for why the Unpacked, our upcoming event in Warsaw, has a mermaid on the logo – it's because the mermaid has been Warsaw's symbol for for centuries, similarly to the howling wolf representing Vilnius.
This week we started with the first sketches of the mermaid for the Unpacked's high-end t-shirt (you get one if you applied for a pro pass), while the pins have already arrived.
Other things are in motion, too – we just confirmed the venue for the Unpacked's lunches and dinners, which will be at the terrace of Dock 19 (we take over the whole place for both days of the conference; plus, their team will serve morning and afternoon coffee and snacks right at the event's tent).
As a reminder, this is our schedule for 2023:
In January, we'll start fleshing out the program for Warsaw, and I'll share the plan here as it starts to come together.
Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!
On behalf of Alma, Mindaugas and the rest of our crew, I wish you a merry Christimas and a happy New Year!
The last three years have been a period of personal and professional growth for many in our industry, and it's a pleasure to serve you, and to see the community evolve.
The lawyers who work with the games industry are in a unique position of being exposed to both the business and the creative sides, helping some of the greatest minds make their dreams happen.
I don't know any other profession where people would be so well-equipped to communicate and cooperate across the borders, and where you have to build for ages while seeing everything change every few years.
Stay strong, stay healthy, stay passionate – and we look forward to seeing you in Warsaw and in Vilnius next year!
/ Sergei & the team at CO /