It’s All About the Games, EA!

Image Source: https://www.dexerto.com/business/ea-shares-plummet-after-battlefield-v-delay-announcement-151830

Recently, Andrew Wilson, the current CEO of EA said some things in an investor call that illustrate why I no longer purchase EA games until they are severely discounted, if at all. His comments underscore a deeper problem with EA. It, as a company, is far too invested in what its investors want and not enough invested in what its customers want.

The Customer is Always Right

“The customer is always right” is the primary adage in the business world–that is, until you reach a certain size (Megacorporation size, is what I term it) where the customer no longer becomes the focus (or core) of your business. EA is a gaming company–it creates video games and sells them to people (customers) who enjoy playing them as a diversion or hobby. Like all entertainment media, there is a risk involved that the buying public will not like the product and you will lose money. It is in EA’s interests to minimize this as best they can in order to make a profit, stay in business, and grow as company.

The problem is that based on Andrew Wilson’s comments in the investor call, (and I’m paraphrasing here), he seems to think that most of the problem is a presentation one and that the old ways of marketing don’t work and the company needs to have a conversation with its fans.

Andrew, no. Just no.

I’ve been a “gamer” since 1984 and I saw the rise of EA (then Electronic Arts) from a small game publisher of unique titles (Starflight, Skyfox, The Bard’s Tale series) to their growth with sports titles, into the megacorporation they are now. In their early years, they were focused on compelling content and the selling of games.

Now they are too focused on the idea of services, gimmicks, and the latest gaming crazes put into their games to increase their revenue, whether or not it makes sense to their games (loot boxes anyone?) How does this serve consumer (and please don’t give me the laughable line about “added value”–which is corporate doublespeak for pay us now for the game and pay us later for additional stuff we created in the hopes you’ll give us more money for the same product so we don’t have to take a risk and develop a new product you, as consumers, might not buy from us because its not very good).

The Investor Wants a Quick and Maximum Return on Their Investment

While not wrong, investors don’t really care about games as “art” (good experiences for their company’s customers). They want to get a much money back from their original investment as possible in as short amount of time as possible. Their goals are almost antithetical to that of the company in which they invest (in most cases). They look for the quickest, easiest way of getting money, whether or not that makes sense for the business in question. Don’t believe me, well when EA’s prime competitor Activision, fell on hard times recently, an unnamed investor apparently wondered why Activision didn’t have a game like EA’s suddenly (& surprisingly) successful Apex Legends in its portfolio–or so the story goes–again paraphrasing from sources.

Say what? EA itself didn’t know it was going to be a hit, so how could Activision have known? And now that they do know, what is Activision supposed to do? Make an Apex Legend “clone?” But wait, we already have Apex Legend, why do we need another?

In that particular investor’s mind (which I’m going to extend to cover to most megacorp investors), that thing “over there” is successful and “printing money,” so go do that thing and then we’ll be just as successful and printing money too. The problem is, that in most cases, especially entertainment, that’s not how success works. It has to be both very good and, at the very least, at least mildly original (but usually highly so, or at least original enough within a fairly established genre–which is what Apex Legends was, a “new” & “fresh” take on the Battle Royal genre). Derivatives rarely fare as well as the original, but try telling that to an investor–good luck with that!

Simply put, EA won’t get itself under control (and no other gaming company will either) until it remembers that investors are not its focus–its customers are. Stop trying to “monetize” customers with gimmicks and services and the like for your investors and return to creating compelling content that customers crave and cannot bear to be without and you’ll find that customers will buy your products and your quarters will be (mostly) safe.

In other words, you know those “games” that you think are “old fashioned?” They’re actually what we, your customers, are looking for. Please stop treating us a “resource” to be exploited, but as customers looking for a great product with great value at a reasonable price. If your investors don’t like it, then I humbly submit, that may very well be where your problem, as a megacorporation, actually lies.

Sidney

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  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft — Character Draft “Finished”)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)

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An Oligopoly Does Not Free Market Make

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Image of an Arrow with Most Competitive and Least Competitive business types. Image Source: https://www.reviewecon.com/oligopoly1

Oligopoly

Oligopoly–noun–a state of limited competition, in which a market is shared by a small number of producers or sellers.

So, this blog post has been sitting around on my hard drive for a while, but I decided finally to write this as I was going through advertisements for Internet services in my area. I have a Fiber-optic connection at my home that delivers “Gig” speeds– it can transfer data at very fast speeds and I currently have it set up for 1 Gigabit transfer speeds, although they offer 10 Gigs, 100 Gigs, and I believe 1000 Gigs (but that is primarily for businesses and requires special equipment) for additional prices. Considering that Comcast Xfinity and AT&T are still in the Megabits (Megs), I have all of the speed that I need for streaming, gaming, etc. As I don’t bring my game system or streaming devices with me, I don’t really need a full fledged Internet when I’m at school (between my GTA office and the library, I have pretty much enough internet access to do schoolwork & other school-related access).  So, for me, I only need a basic internet package to check email and the like when I’m at my apartment.  But–guess what I can’t buy–yes, you win a prize! In a capitalistic country, I can’t buy the product I need, I can only buy the (over-priced) product that the company wants to sell.

Things that make you go Hmmm . . .

So, the reason that I can’t buy a simple 19.95/19.99 per month dollar internet package, but instead must buy an overpriced 40 dollar plan, is that Internet companies got local governments to classify them as a “Utility.” Once that happens, that means that only one or two companies get to be in the market and those are the only companies through which you can have service. Now, as this is local in nature, not everywhere in America does this, but in Murfreesboro–a college town, mind you–there are only 3 main choices for internet (really 2, as the 3rd is a small company that seems to have “satellite” based internet.)  The two main sources for home internet (2, mind you) are, yes, you guessed right again, Comcast Xfinity and AT&T.  Both offer, as their lowest cost packages, 40 dollars for internet (home).  Hmmmmm. Let’s see, 2 companies, who are competing for business have the same price for their respective products.  Hmmmmm.

Okay, I’ve seen this before–when two gas stations are on the same corner, they tend to have the same prices.  But, when I’ve seen other gas stations around the city, the prices are highly variable. Prices, when there are multiple competitors, vary all across the city. Internet is NOT a utility, it is a service, just like cell phones or any other consumer item.  However, the Internet service providers (you’ll notice how the term ISP has gone away since the 2000s when it was at its height because of the ability to get local governments to give them a virtual monopoly or oligopoly).  In this case, the loser is the consumer–in this case, me. I know what I want, but because of the “tricks” used by corporations, they get to bypass the normal “market forces” that economists always claim will keep capitalism rolling along.

Call me a (Free) Radical

I’ve complained about this topic before, but this is essentially why I feel that there is currently an imbalance in power between corporations and consumers. Like the post on AMC that I did last year, corporations now have too much power to side-step rules and market forces because the government no longer feels that monopolies/oligopolies are detrimental to consumers. In essence, “those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.”  The seeds for Tomorrow’s Robber Barons are being planted in these policies where the corporations are allowed to sidestep the “market forces” that would constrain their profits by allowing consumers to choose what is best for them, rather than having the corporations choose for them. At some point, these monopolistic/oligopolistic practices are going to come back and bite us all in the rear, but for now, and for as long as I can, I going to be a radical and say No!  I refuse to purchase internet service for 40 dollars when I don’t need it because I have another service that is far superior in price and speed elsewhere. Until either Comcast or AT&T offers a lower priced option in my market that is more in line with what I–as a consumer need–instead of what they–the corporation–wants me to purchase–I do not plan to participate in an oligopoly. Step up corporations, do what’s right by your consumers, not what’s right by your shareholders.

Sidney

Who Owns Fandom?

HarryPotter

Fans dressed as characters from the Harry Potter Characters. From The Associated Press.  Image Source: https://apnews.com/77daf58afa7f4bf2a45f93a93a59cdc8

Word Count (What I’m Writing); Updated every 2-3 Days (mostly)

  • 1st Draft – “Project Dog”
    Goal: 2500 Words
    Current: @500 words (+250 Words)
    I’ve written on it for two days and I’ve managed to get about 500 words written (I’ve hit my 250 word goal both days)!
  • Whale Song Revision (Fantasy Short Story) (2nd Draft)
    (Researched an article on Whaling, think that I have the two characters–a brother and a sister who are on the opposite sides of the issue.  Still, no Writing so far). Need to find a place to work in revisions–I can draft new material just fine, but I don’t seem to have any time to work on “drafting” revisions.

Currently Reading (What I’m Reading); Updated Weekly (mostly)

  • For Fun:
    Transhuman edited by Mark L. Van Name and T. F. K. Weisskopf
    Just started this anthology – it was given to me at a LibertyCon some years ago, but I’ve just now gotten around to reading it. I may not finish it/read all the stories, but so far, I’ve read the first story and liked it.
    The Belgariad David Eddings
    Last week was NOT a good week, so I needed some “comfort food” for reading and my go to book for “comfort food” is the Belgariad (followed closely by Diane Duane’s So You Want To Be a Wizard.)
  • For School:
    Afrofuturism (by Ytasha Womack): This book describes the academic genre of Afrofuturism (essentially African American Science Fiction that deals with social issues in culture).  I just finished Chapter 5 today and I’m at the beginning of Chapter 6 (this book has 10 chapters).
    Wrote out a fairly extensive list of possible research topics to explore from chapter 5. Really intriguing book.
  • For Research/Personal Development:
    Great Aircraft of WWII by Alfred Price and Mike Spick (for Project Skye)
    Great Aircraft of WWII is a book that I’ve had in my collection for sometime–I’ve glanced at it periodically, but never read it cover-to-cover.  Now, with Project Skye, I intend to do just that.

Warner Brothers (& Corporations) Want ALL the Moneyz

So, those who work in corporations might want to cover their ears (eyes?) for this particular blog entry because I’m going to take you to task for some of your less than savory practices. Yes, we live in a capitalistic society. Yes, content/copyright holders should make money from their content. No, others should not be allowed to profit from works that they themselves did not create. BUT . . . and this is a “big” BUT (hence the capital letters), there is a point where you can go too far, and I’m sorry, but Warner Brothers has crossed the line. What am I talking about? Well, it seems that Warner Brothers is taking a dim view of Harry Potter “Festivals” that are taking place across the country according to an Associated Press Story from June of this year: https://apnews.com/77daf58afa7f4bf2a45f93a93a59cdc8.

Warner Brothers HATES “Fandom,” BUT They Do LOVE their Fans MONEY!

Give me money to see my movies. Give me money to read my books. Give me money to buy my merchandising. NO, you may not use our characters if there’s even a chance YOU might make a profit from them, even if it is 1) for a good cause, 2) for fun, 3) not intended as a primarily-for profit enterprise. Warner Brothers wants to create a “fandom” in order to have a built in audience (consumer base) for their “franchise” (books, movies, merchandising, etc.), but they’re unwilling to let their fans express their creativity through (specifically) these festivals where they get to dress up as and “role-play” as their favorite characters from the series. Yes, as an author, I’m fairly protective of my work, so I understand wanting to “control” your creations. But at some point, you “have” to let go and allow your fans to “inhabit” your world and your characters.

Money, Money, Money . . . MONEY!

So, the above heading is the line from a song.  And this is the problem–corporations exist to make a profit . . . but here’s the thing: there’s no such thing as an APPROPRIATE amount of profit. It’s make as much money AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE. Unlike small businesses, where you need to build relationships and build trust with your clients, a corporation doesn’t need to do this. In fact, the entire Investor dynamic, encourages a “slash and burn” approach, slashing and burning the property/properties they own (or acquire) to make as much money as they can in as short of time period as they can. Where a small business is focused on growth and not extending their lines too quickly so as not to sink into a never-ending spiral of debt that they can’t recover from, corporations (because of their capitalization) rarely have that problem (their problem generally comes from not being able to assess market changes quickly enough to take advantage–K-Mart vs Walmart, Circuit City vs Amazon, etc.) Activision, unfortunately, has for last 10-15 years followed this “slash and burn” technique and they are rewarded year after by their stockholders but are reviled by gamers–and EA has tried to copy their model year-after-year.

Until corporations learn the lesson that Keanu Reeves’s character quoted in Speed that goes something like this when trying to get the wounded bus driver off the bus: “How about a little humanity?” The line goes on about having plenty of them left to kill. I would change that to: “there’ll still be plenty of MONEY for you to get from us in the future.”

Please corporations (Boards and CEOs alike), stop being Scrooge and wanting ALL THE MONEYZ IN TEH WORLD!

And yes, the misspellings are intention 😉

Sidney




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Perpetual Copyright

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Image Source: SlideShare

As I was doing research on the character Kathryn Janeway for yesterday’s entry on Star Trek Voyager, I discovered something pretty amazing that I thought I’d point out.  The idea that we should have “Public Domain” for knowledge that is older has fallen out of favor due to lobbying by corporations.  Corporations are retroactively branding old pieces of knowledge and information as “new” and this will affect how we as consumers interact with knowledge and information in the future.

For instance, I was looking at Wikipedia and one of the entries on Janeway said that another actor (Genevieve Bujold) dropped out of filming and the actress that we now recognize as Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) replaced her for that role.  I was intrigued so I clicked on the footnote/citation and was taken to a nytimes.com article that explained the whole Janeway actor situation.  The date on the article is 1994.  However, if you read and/or scroll to the bottom, you’ll notice that the copyright date is 2017.  Now Congress has changed the copyright law recently with the Digital Millennium Act so as to address online violations of copyright, but copyright (to the best of my knowledge) is still defined as coming into play when the work was created in a fixed form or published (available for public consumption).  The copyright of the article should be 1994 which means that is when the clock starts for it to fall into the Public Domain (where anyone has a right to use it for whatever purpose), not 2017.

Now, I know that nytimes.com probably uses CSS or HTML 5 and the outer layer where the copyright notice goes is different from the layer/frame with the story, but it is telling that they leave the 1994 date for accuracy, but the change the copyright date to current year for economic reasons.  And nytimes.com isn’t the first place where I noticed this trend of companies “locking down” their information.  Microsoft was big into doing this when Windows was the dominate Operating System in the 90s and 2000s.  Their splash screens showed copyright dates of 19xx-20xx, implying that their technology was perpetual so don’t bother trying to decompile their technology because all of it (even the older tech) would always be theirs in perpetuity.

This is important because the Public Domain is important.  Disney grew to be the behemoth that it was through fairy tales that were in the Public Domain.  However, now NOBODY can even begin to reference Disney’s work without a lawsuit.  Imagine the irony.  Sure, you can do Snow White or the Little Mermaid, but your conception of those fairy tales had better be very, very far from what Disney has done or you’re risking a lawsuit.  This also hurts because the Public Domain needs to be refreshed with new ideas.  Right now, only corporations like Disney and Microsoft and the like (and really popular authors a la Stephen King) have the power to command vast empires of content (which is one of the reasons why I was so set against the Dark Tower), whereas those with ideas and a strong Public Domain might be able to remix works well enough to forge their own empires (i.e., become a new Disney–taking from the Public Domain and remixing old ideas into new ideas).  Perpetual Copyright is an idea whose time needs to go away if we want new ideas, new talent, and new blood to enrich our creative content.

1 Dollar = Four Quarters, Right?

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Dollar Bill and 4 Quarters Image Source: Leeds Radio

So, I just want to make sure that the rules of US commerce haven’t changed?  1 dollar bill still equals four quarters, right?  No one loses money in the exchange–you’re just changing the same amount of money from one form to another, correct?

My question is rhetorical as I know that this is still the case.  I’m just trying to decide when American businesses decided it was not in their interests to change money from one form to another.  I currently have tire with leak–the tire is due for replacement when I take the car in for major surgery (service) in about 2 weeks, so I’m trying to “nurse” the leaky tire along as best I can by making sure that it is filled with air.  Now, when I travel back and forth from school, I try to make sure that the tire is filled because one of the major causes of highway blowouts is under-inflated tires (a tire gets fairly hot at highway speeds because of friction).

Yet, this morning when I stopped at a Service Station in Murfreesboro to fill up the tire, I was told by the cashier that there wasn’t any change in the register.  Not to call the attendant a liar, but having worked retail and having worked at a library’s circulation department that handles money due to fines, fees, etc., I KNOW for a FACT that you don’t start the day without any change.  If it is the fact that you’re afraid to open the register because you might be robbed (as I had to fill up the tire earlier in the week on Wednesday), then you need to take out all services that require COIN-BASED transactions, such as AIR.  I need $1.50 in QUARTERS to complete the transaction, but if I have $1.00 bill AND .50 cents in Quarters, I CAN’T BUY your product even IF I have the money to do so.

THIS is what businesses get wrong, both small and large, mom-and-pop stores and corporations.  They treat the CUSTOMER as some sort of HOST that they can “leach” money off of in order to fatten their bottom line, but then turn around and treat us as the PARASITE to be when we aren’t fulfilling our “host” duties.  The air machine is located on their property.  Even if they don’t see a direct profit from the vendor of the air hose, there is a contract in place in which the gas station sees a small “kickback” for allowing the vendor to place it on their property.  This is how most vending machine operations work.  However, most vending machines today can accept dollar bills and coins, and some, like the ones on campus, can take debit and credit card transactions.

Airmachine_Long Island Weekly

Air Machine (Coin Operated Only) Image Source: Long Island Weekly

So, even though I had the money to complete the transaction because of an unhelpful (or fearful) attendant and lack of modern technology on the vending machine/Air Machine, I had to risk a highway journey on an under-inflated tire, knowing full well the risk that I was taking.

Don’t Be Evil.  It’s a simple concept that American businesses large and small have simply lost and can’t seem to understand.  It would be far cheaper to make the transaction than risk a lawsuit if something untoward had happened during the journey.  I’m not looking to rob the store with a dollar bill in hand–I’m looking to make a transaction to convert the money that I have from one form into another so that I can use the service that you provide (it is on their property, they advertise the cost, but deny access when the form of the money you have doesn’t match the form that the machine takes, and then deny access again by refusing to change money via a one-to-one equal transaction.

And then businesses and corporations wonder why they then must hire “image/reputation clean-up firms” to massage their online and real world reputation because of their self-damaging practices.  There’s a reason that Comcast Xfinity isn’t just simply Comcast–as the owners so burned customers that they had to “rebrand” the service in order to attract new customers and stay “competitive” in the cable market.  For my part, the gas station has lost a potential customer as I will make sure that I never spend a dime at that particular station again.

You want customers to come back time and time again to buy your products?  I’ve got one simple rule for you: Don’t Be Evil.

Advertisers vs Creators vs YouTube

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YouTube Removing Ads from non-advertiser friendly videos Image Source: Search Engine Journal

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Screenshot of YouTube Monetization Image Source: 9to5google

This post probably won’t be as long as usual as I have meeting to attend in a couple of hours, however, I just wanted to get it out there since the topic (and the creators’ responses to it) mirrors my own frustration(s) this summer.

The topic is a simple one (& one that ultimately comes down to money), advertisers and Google seem to be in a war against the content creators that have helped YouTube grow and they have instituted a change in policy that is forcing many YouTubers to either change their content/format, seek alternate funding methods, or leave YouTube for another platform (like Twitch, or other streaming/video services) altogether.

Here is an example of one such YouTuber’s frustration: ACG
And here’s another: The Horror Show

Advertisers
Advertisers want viewers and they want their ads to appear in front of (and during) videos in order to sell their product or service.  They also want to control their message and how their message is displayed and on what content that it gets displayed upon.  In other words, they don’t want their message to be linked with an offensive site or offensive content.  Yet, the sprawling nature of YouTube doesn’t allow them to go in and hand-pick content, so they have (apparently) successfully and recently lobbied YouTube to create fairly restrictive algorithms so that their material appears on only the most family friendly content.  Again, this is because they want their messages to BOTH reach the widest audience possible (families) and not be associated with “objectionable” material, but they don’t want to spend an additional money to hire a person/a team of people to navigate YouTube to manually indicate whether their brand is being served or hurt by appearing on a particular video.

Creators
Creators are crying foul because of the draconian nature of the algorithms deployment.  Even if the content itself isn’t objectionable (such as review), the way it is presented (i.e., with a couple of swear words) is enough for YouTube’s algorithm to deny monetization to creators and their videos.  However, even in Avengers: Age of Ultron, there’s a running gag about characters swearing and Captain America calling them out on it, and the gag is that they call him out on calling them out (if that makes any sense).  The reason why it’s funny is that in today’s world swearing is “allowed” (which I don’t personally agree with) and to call someone out on it marks you as old fashioned.  The Marvel movies are own by Disney Studios, a company known for its “wholesome” image, yet their most successful movies are in the PG-13 category these days.  It is unfair for advertisers to require their ads play on “G” rated content in a society where even the wholesome, family friendliest of companies content is in the PG-13 arena and they have a valid point.  Most creators already don’t make enough from YouTube to qualify even as a “hobby,” let alone a full time/part-time self-sustaining job and this change really hurts them.

Frustration with the system

If you watched the two videos, you can see the frustration of the creators.  They create content for a system and yet have an emotionless set of algorithms determine what can and cannot be monetized.  This is the exact same frustration that I felt this summer.  They work within the rules of the system, but the rules keep changing and they keep changing in a way that benefits others instead of the very creators who provide YouTube with the lifeblood of content that the site needs in order to survive. In many ways, this is much like AMC all over again as YouTube (and their owners, Google) have taken their eye of the ball and given into the greed that pushes away consumers to other platforms and then decry the fact that users/consumers no longer use their service and/or their profits are down.  Google’s motto used to be “don’t be evil.”  I think that they (and other businesses) should adopt this as the first line of their mission statements, not the last.