Monthly Archives: June 2013

Economics and Gaming

A short aside.

Every so often I just want to grab a whole bunch of tech writers and game makers, shake them by the lapel, and yell “YOU LIVE WITHIN A LARGER ECONOMY”.

I know. It sounds obvious! But whenever I read a discussion of “AAA” gaming and consoles and resale and all of that, nobody ever really seems to think about it. There’s never anybody who steps up and says “maybe people aren’t buying these games because they can’t.”

Maybe they’re trying to find the cheapest entertainment options, ones that leverage devices that they’re already able to afford thanks to instalment payment plans (hello, mobile!), because they don’t really have any other choice.

Maybe they live in places that don’t have the sort of Internet connections you want them to have because those places are cheaper to live in.

Maybe they buy and lend and trade and sell because it’s the only way they can experience anything like the console games that they grew up with.

Maybe they aren’t buying new PCs because they can’t justify the price tag for something they already have, even if they’d like to upgrade, and are only buying tablets because they’re technically new devices and (people forget this!) are actually really damned good ways to teach your kids things. People will go deep into hock for their kids’ sake.

Maybe they only shell out for Call of Duty and Madden because they know their friends have those, know what they’re getting, and can’t damned well afford to take a chance on non-refundable entertainment products.

Maybe not. But the point is, you have to think about these things. You have to remember what the hell is going on in America and around the world. You have to remember that Silicon Valley and the lucky techies there and elsewhere with the good-paying jobs are the EXCEPTION rather than the RULE. Maybe you have to pay a bit more attention to what the rise of Apple as America’s most profitable company is saying about the possible permanence of the shift of the economy to extreme polarization.

You aren’t in a bubble. You’re part of a larger system, and that system is really, really not doing well right now.

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“Poors, Foreigners Shouldn’t Get Xbones!” sez Gizmodo writer, commenters

The worst part about Kyle Wagner’s Gizmodo piece about the Xbox One isn’t the touching-if-bizarre faith that games would be cheaper under MS’s old system. That’s just being Bad At Economics and it’s not terribly rare among people talking about these issues.

(Though it is slightly weird coming from a technology writer who’s addressing Microsoft.)

No, what’s disturbing is reading his response to Jason Schrier, who rightly called him out on his assumptions, because the defenses quickly devolved to this:

The 24-hour limit is more problematic (especially since some hacker collective probably would have just bricked the thing for a week at some point), but at that point, they do have a choice to not buy an Xbox One. That sounds cold, but you can (and really in that case, should) wait a few years and see if it’s right for you then. New consoles are $400 and $500 luxury items. They’re not smart purchases, for the most part, and ensuing models (with built-up libraries) might get there in time for improved connections.

and this:

We do tend to focus almost entirely on the US. Being the US Gizmodo site, I don’t think that’s entirely unreasonable (also, we just don’t have the context of living abroad in those areas), but yes, we should address that at least some.

and this: (Albeit not from Kyle, but from a commentator:)

To be honest, Jason, consoles aren’t a democracy. They’re luxury items— a profoundly first-world offering…

What the hell is wrong with people?

No, you apocalyptically entitled DUMBASSES, consoles are not only for the one percent. The five hundred or four hundred or whatever for a new console is drastically different from the hundreds of thousands of dollars in housing costs between different parts of the United States. Someone who lives in a rural area, who has ties to that area that goes beyond “I’m so poor that I shoot squirrels for me proteins!” just might just be able to afford an Xbox One, even though they’ve got spotty Internet! And if someone saves up for one in a place with spotty Internet, they should be able to USE the damned thing!

As for that “first world” stuff…okay, as a Canadian, that particularly annoys me. Almost all the television functionality of the Xbone would be unlikely to work here, because we’re too small a market for these companies to really care about and we’ve got these ridiculous television licensing arrangements which mean that YouTube is terrible now, let alone Hulu et al. We also have crap Internet connections. That doesn’t make us not a first world country. Until recently, we had a better standard of living than the Americans did, and we likely will again once we free ourselves from our collective addiction to digging up black flammable goo for cash. 

But even outside of the “first world” (a term that’s a cold war relic in the first place), consoles sell quite well. Half the reason Sony is even a contender is because the PS3’s third-place finish in the United States was made up for by solid presences in places like Asia, South and Central America, and Europe. If you look at worldwide numbers, Sony almost kinda-sort won the last generation. That matters!

Who the hell are these idiots to presume that only the United States matters? Have they completely forgotten where the NES came from? Japan! Remember, that big ol’ console market that Microsoft isn’t even going to be selling the Xbone in? Have they forgotten where the free-to-play revolution sweeping gaming started? Asia! Hell, one of the Xbone’s big showcase titles, Witcher 3, is being developed in Poland, an Eastern-European developing nation! One that, guess what, the Xbox One wasn’t going to be available in, either!

I don’t CARE if you’re a US-focused site. I don’t care if you and your friends are wealthy and live in wealthy neighbourhoods  Console gaming is a global industry across all classes.

If you’re going to write about it, keep that in mind.

If you don’t want to, just stick to salivating over whatever Cupertino is telling you to salivate over this month.

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Microsoft Blinks

And how. After the drubbing by Sony and the entire media over their even-worse-than-I-had-anticipated DRM policies, they turned around and said “okay, fine, whatever you say, just stop hitting us.”

So, oddly enough, I ended up being right. Microsoft can learn. It’s just that they have to take the absolute worst kind of drubbing, the absolute nastiest sort of backlash, before they’re willing to do it.

It doesn’t mean that the Xbox One is bereft of problems now. The exclusives don’t really grab me, their attitude towards indie devs is baffling, the always-connected Kinect thing is still vaguely creepy, “TV” thing is a joke just waiting to be told, their choices on system memory could come back to haunt them, and the price is still too damned high, largely due to the aforementioned Kinect. But at least it’s now something that someone could plausibly want. 

(Though, as Jim Sterling ably points out, if they changed their mind once, they could always change it again…)

If nothing else, it’s a welcome rejoinder to all those smug asshats who call themselves “journalists”, “analysts” and “enthusiast press” that continue to jabber and bloviate about how the “vocal minority” are unrepresentative of the broader whole. That was bullshit and IS bullshit. They may not be 100% representative, but they’re closer to the truth than you’d like to admit. Maybe they aren’t where you are, with your sympathetic ear towards the publishers moaning about production costs and resale “theft”…but maybe you are the one who isn’t representative.

It’s also a victory for user’s rights. Huzzah. We’ve needed a few of those.

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