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CURRENTS
Issue #161
August 31, 2014
Well Rested
Front Page

Welcome to another issue of Currents, where video game industry headlines are broken down and editorialized. You may have noticed that I've taken a bit of a break from writing as of late. This can be attributed to a few things. Outside of the current Zoe Quinn drama that is making contemporary online video game journalism pretty much unbearable, yours truly was in great need of a vacation from all commitments. The hope is to get back on the editorial bandwagon in the very near future, though the realities of real life have been shifting my priorities on a pretty regular basis.

I've recently begun to share space with my wonderful girlfriend and at the end of September we'll be moving into a new apartment. We should have been spending the past few weeks packing and painting, but we've been preoccupied by other things like beating Super Mario 3D World and watching all of BoJack Horseman on Netflix. I highly recommend doing both, but not at the cost of other activities.

There were a few topics that I thought about discussing this week, but didn't have enough content to work with in order to write a full opinion-article. One of these would be the New 3DS and New 3DS LL. There's a lot to consider with these two new devices, and in a few key ways they very much are new: added shoulder buttons, added control stick, improved internal specs, exclusive games (including Xenoblade Chronicles), and Amibo support. That said, I can't really comment that much on how this could confuse consumers or whether this is a good step because there just isn't that much information available on the device or Nintendo's strategy. All we really have is a video:

If I could ask you readers some questions this week, they would be:

  • What do you think will happen to Twitch under Amazon's leadership?

  • Are you surprised by 4Chan's support of The Fine Young Capitalists?

  • Are you planning on buying a PS4? Did you have a PS3?

  • BONUS: Thoughts on the New 3DS/New 3DS LL?

The big news in the video game industry these days is the recent acquisition of the Twitch video streaming service by online retailer Amazon for $970 million in cash with an expected close date later this year, as first reported by The Wall Street Journal. This news comes three months after Variety had reported that Google was seeking a deal with Twitch for approximately $1 billion.

In a statement from Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos: "Broadcasting and watching gameplay is a global phenomenon and Twitch has built a platform that brings together tens of millions of people who watch billions of minutes of games each month — from The International, to breaking the world record for Mario, to gaming conferences like E3. And, amazingly, Twitch is only three years old. [...] Like Twitch, we obsess over customers and like to think differently, and we look forward to learning from them and helping them move even faster to build new services for the gaming community."

Twitch CEO Emmett Shear also commented on the deal, stating that the deal will allow the company to "create tools and services faster than we could have independently" and will "mean great things for our community." It's hard for me to see how a deal with Google would inhibit Twitch from doing the same things, but regardless, this represents a huge opportunity for Amazon in terms of video game and retail marketing to Twitch's demographics. I'm just not extremely clear on Amazon's longterm prospects.

At one point in time, Amazon was just a simple online retailer — mostly focusing on the distribution of books. It made a name for itself by being one of the only platforms to recommend certain items based on your purchase history. After some strong success in the late 90s/early 2000s, they diversified, selling DVDs, CDs, and eventually video games. As consumer needs changed, so did the business. They would offer items like apparel, electronics, furniture, food, toys, jewelry, and power tools. The direction was very clear in terms of the company's focus. However, since becoming a mega giant in the online retail space, that direction has become muddled.

Amazon now also sells MP3s, in a similar fashion to Apple's iTunes music service, as well as computer software, in a similar fashion to the Windows Marketplace. The company also began to ramp up its consumer electronics, evolving the Amazon Kindle from a simple but effective e-book reader to that of an Android-powered tablet. They also moved into the turf of Android-based video game consoles and TV streaming devices with Fire TV, and more recently into the smartphone market with the Fire Phone. More recently, they've started a cloud computing side to the business, thrown Amazon Prime into the subscription video streaming race against giants like Netflix, developed a drone strategy to delivery packages, introduced a grocery service covering 48 of the United States called Amazon Prime Pantry, and announced the acquiring of video game studio Double Helix Games and now Twitch. That's a lot to take in, and it makes me concerned.

I agree that a growing business should grow in more than one way, but my biggest problem with Jeff Bezos' leadership is that he is always chasing the next big hit for the company, and most of the avenues taken have been short-sighted or ill thought out. As a prime (excuse the pun) example, the company's consumer electronics have all failed to make an impact in the marketplace since the original Kindle e-book reader. The Kindle Fire's momentum was destroyed by the iPad Mini, the Fire Phone only launched on one carrier in the US and the response has been lukewarm, and the Fire TV game console has face middling reviews and is actively being outpaced by Google's Chromecast, Roku's streaming stick, and the Apple TV. All were products built on good intentions, with consistently poor execution. Amazon's acquisition history isn't too stellar either. The company has acquired 44 companies and invested in several others, but only a small handful of these organizations were allowed to operate independently. Most were either absorbed into the behemoth that is Amazon or killed entirely post-purchase.

The current strategy that Amazon embodies is one of "grow fast, profit later." It's something I see with a lot with the tech start-ups that I work with professionally, but it's a bit odd for a company that has been around since the mid-nineties. It's also fairly risky. It's been a crap shoot over the past few years regarding whether Amazon will post profits or not, which wouldn't be a problem if the share prices weren't also rising dramatically and dividends being paid out whenever possible. Jeff Bezos, however, likes to reinvest whatever the mega retailer does make back into the company — which, again, wouldn't be a problem if he had a clear vision of where to throw that money at.

Acquisitions, investments, and product development have been all over the place. It's clear that the goal is to chase sales wherever they may be, rather than fostering sustainable long-term profit; basically throwing everything they can think of at the wall and seeing what sticks. It's been argued by some that this is one of Amazon's edges, but the unfortunate double blade to that edge is that it puts the performance of other areas of the business under a squeeze any time the current product or services strategy doesn't pan out. That's my concern with Twitch, considering the numerous failures launched by the company as of late.

Twitch may be walking away from this deal looking pretty swell at the moment, but business autonomy and strategic independence rarely lasts when a parent company's investors begin to lose their patience. Since the start of the year, share prices have dropped 20% and more than one investor has been willing to criticize the long-term pain for long-term gain strategy imposed by Jeff Bezos. If Amazon continues to perform poorly with its consumer electronics divisions, my fear is that investors will clamp down on the company and the way a number of its divisions, especially Twitch and Amazon's separate video games division, will operate will change significantly in order to once again drive profits.

Overall, I feel more concern for Twitch in Amazon's hands than I would have Google's. Google has a proven ability to support and grow video streaming services (YouTube), and has both strong yearly profits and tons of cash on reserve. Amazon, however, has long been unfocused in terms of its own growth and has approached new markets, like video gaming and streaming entertainment, in a shortsighted way thus far. I would love to say that the Twitch we know and love today will be the same beast in five years, but I honestly don't believe that it will.

Source: The Wallstreet Journal

There seems to be this shared narrow-minded view of 4Chan, an image board website, as being the modern internet boogeyman: full of hackers willing to doxx, racists and/or sexists willing to promote bigotry, and anti-social justice warrior types who would rather live in an echo chamber than hear an opposing opinion. And while I acknowledge that those types of people are certainly out there, really the same can be said about the rest of the internet.

Generalizing 4Chan, a site made up of several unique and freethinking communities with a bit of overlap, doesn't really make sense. Especially in light of what the website has done for The Fine Young Capitalists. The image board made a massive sign of support for female game developers and the growth of creative and equal opportunity ideas within the industry by supporting The Fine Young Capitalists in a few different ways.

For those who haven't been keeping up on the drama, the Zoe Quinn controversy highlighted not only some issues of professional ethics and editorial integrity within the video game industry, but also touched on her willingness to torpedo the development of a game meant to promote the strength of female developers. Following this controversy, Zoe Quinn had claimed that her contact information had been doxxed in retaliation by 4Chan — a statement that today looks like a bit of a frame job. 4Chan's many groups denied any involvement, and in response the members of the video game board (/v/) donated to The Fine Young Capitalists' IndieGoGo campaign. The very first day, the community pledged $5000 and the campaign has since reached $40,000 of its $65,000 goal with 27 days left to contribute.

4Chan was also working with The Fine Young Capitalists' director Lola Barreto to create a new icon to represent equality in gaming. They came up with the character Vivian James, a non-sexualized girl who "doesn't care if you're gay, fat, ugly, or queer." She wears a baggy hoody and jeans, and only wants to game with you if you like to game. 4Chan's /v/ board wanted Vivian to be a representation of what real female gamers are: normal people who happen to play games. Interestingly, 4Chan and The Fine Young Capitalists recently presented a video celebrating graphical engineer Corrinne Yu — using Vivian as the poster child.

That isn't to say that there hasn't been a hiccup along the way though. The IndieGoGo campaign was hacked and shut down by an anonymous hacker who told the board to "Stop harassing Zoe and stop proceeding to insult the industry." Once the campaign was live again, the creators were subject to more abuse from random internet denizens claiming to have connections to Zoe and even Anita Sarkeesian publically bashed the campaign, criticizing the willingness to accept donations from 4Chan users. Still, the campaign goes on and some of the games are actually looking pretty sweet.

For my own mental sanity, I've refrained over the past month from discussing the Zoe Quinn nonsense. I'll continue that trend today. I don't care to dig deep into the facts and conjecture of this complicated situation at all. Other people already have and I implore you to seek them out. The only thing I really wanted to highlight is that appearances can often be deceiving. Regardless of what you might have once thought about the 4Chan community, today they have done a good thing for video gaming. Their willingness to promote and support this pro-women campaign should be applauded. And I do applaud it, even if I'm the only one willing to.

Source: The Fine Young Capitalists

Nine months, ten million units sold; Sony's PlayStation 4 is selling well — too well, according to some. "The ten million [unit] sell-through in the first nine months is well beyond what we had hoped for," said PlayStation worldwide studios president Shuhei Yoshida in an interview with Eurogamer. He also made a point of stating that the console's success did make him "a bit nervous," as according to him "you need to understand why your products are selling well so you can plan for the future." Well, today we may actually have answers.

Sony's shiny new console has been poaching people from Nintendo and Microsoft. According to data from an April Nielsen study provided to Re/code, 31% of PlayStation 4 owners didn't own a PlayStation 3, but did own a Wii or Xbox 360. Also interesting, 17% of PlayStation 4 owners didn't own any system during the last console cycle. Proof positive that many gamers aren't terribly concerned with brand loyalty.

That's how it was for me, for the most part. I owned the original PlayStation and loved it. The same could have been said about the PlayStation 2. Both were great machines full of excellent third-party support from some of my favorite companies. The price of both systems were also fairly attractive in their lifetimes. The same could not have been said about the PlayStation 3 immediately after launch. In fact, I would argue that between price and library quality the system didn't become one worth owning until its third or fourth year on the market. Hell, I didn't even pick a PlayStation 3 until last year, well after I had already own an Xbox 360 and Wii. In terms of a hardcore gaming device, the Xbox 360 just seemed to be a better deal... until it wasn't anymore.

Looking ahead to this new console cycle, I can honestly say that the problems that would have stopped people like me from buying a PS3 just aren't there for the PS4. The console is reasonably priced, comes bundled with services like PS Plus (which is a huge selling point), a promising library is on the horizon, and the future return of excellent franchises like Uncharted and Metal Gear Solid is being eagerly anticipated by many. Which isn't to say that Sony shouldn't stop working hard to develop the platform – on the contrary, Sony should be doing all it can to maintain this momentum for as long as possible. Still, a good start to a promising console.

Sources: Re/code

That's it for this issue of Currents. Shout out to Sarah McGarr for the new 'Currents' icon. You'll see another issue again in a couple weeks, but stay tuned to RPGamer for all the latest RPG news, reviews, previews, and interviews.

Your dork from the Great North,

Trent Seely

Stalk me on Twitter: @InstaTrent

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