Five Things: February 29, 2024

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_ONE

What’s the fun in writing on the internet anymore? | James Shelley

Don’t write online for fame and glory. Oblivion, obscurity and exploitation are all but guaranteed. Write here because ideas matter, not authorship. Write here because the more robots, pirates, and single-minded trolls swallow up cyberspace, the more we need independent writing in order to think new thoughts in the future — even if your words are getting dished up and plated by an algorithm.

If you’re keeping track, I skipped last week’s newsletter because February has been yet another long year in a series of long months in the neverending 2020 that feels even longer during the Winters, and I haven’t wanted to do anything other than play Football Manager or watch TV after I log off from work for several weeks now. My brain is permanently singed!

My “Read Later” folder in Feedly has been steadily growing again, and the whole point of this newsletter is to write about things I’ve been reading to ensure I keep writing on a regular basis. That anyone actually reads any of this is a nice bonus, because writing for attention got old many years (and several nuked platforms) ago.

I find it equally offensive and amusing that my little blog may be influencing answers about the publishing industry, marketing, and comics being synthesized by overhyped predictive text machines, but Shelley’s underlying point is 100% correct. Whether it’s blogging, newsletters, social media, journaling, or NaNoWriMoing the next Great American Novel, you should only do it because you love it. And even if you love it, it’s okay to take a break now and then, too.

__TWO

Against Disruption: On the Bulletpointization of Books | Maris Kreizman

Peter Wang, CEO of a software company that deals with machine learning and AI, chimed in to predict that publishers would stop publishing straightforward books, and instead put out “nuggets of thought that can interact with the ‘reader’ in a dynamic and multimedia way.” He calls these new book products (which are basically just reinvented enhanced ebooks that were supposed to be the next big thing circa 2010) thunks. THUNKS!

One of the worst memories of my DBW era was when I was forced to pretend to take enhanced ebooks seriously, despite knowing (and frequently saying publicly) that they were snake oil being pushed by tech companies and consultants preying on an industry they believed was doomed and/or ripe for disruption. Kreizman gets props for making that connection to the current wave of tech nonsense plaguing the publishing industry, and you should read the whole thing just to put THUNKS in context.

___THREE

Parsing the Political Project of Techno-Optimism | Dave Karpf

Techno-optimism has always been a narrowly political ideology, one that clothes itself in neutral garb. It is not narrowly political in the partisan sense, but in the policy-demanding sense. Dating at least back to the “Californian Ideology” that dominated 90s tech culture, techno-optimists believe that the future is best left in the hands of entrepreneurs, investors, and engineers, and therefore governments should stay out of their way. The political project of techno-optimism holds that financial gains from venture capital should be as-close-as-possible to untaxed, and that VC investment portfolios should be as-close-as-possible to unregulated.

For a while, Karpf was a must-read for me, as one of the smartest thinkers writing about the current state of technology, able to deftly cut through the hype while calling out the hucksters by name. Unfortunately, he’s still hosting his newsletter on Substack so I no longer read it, but this essay at Tech Policy Press is a great follow-up to his entertaining and enlightening takedown of Marc Andreessen’s ludicrous “techno-optimist manifesto,” this time focusing on the political implications of buying into the “inevitability” of the snake oil du jour.

____FOUR

The “live service” model is all played out | Rob Fahey

In 2024, calling your game “live service” might as well be tantamount to telling players it’s going to creep into their house at night and kill their dog. The online response to stylish, promising-looking game trailers at awards shows and announcement livestreams notably tanks at the point when players figure out that it’s going to be a live service title. Tastes have shifted dramatically, and many publishers and developers have been caught on the hop.

I’ve played several “live service” games over the years and have always been fascinated that any publisher thinks it’s a good idea to attempt to lock a large group of players into a single gaming experience for months, or years, at a time. When it works, it’s clearly a huge cash cow, but for every huge success, there’s a dozen outright disasters, and most of them have been predictable.

As a player, I often avoid live service games outright because I don’t love the idea of any game turning into a daily habit, or feeling the need to check in every week so I don’t miss a limited-time mode or virtual doodad. When one does get its hooks in me, though, weeks can pass before I even realize I’ve been sucked in despite knowing better, until I catch myself buying some virtual outfit or accessory for my character with real money, and the spell is broken. (Sometimes.)

Unlike books, games definitely compete with each other, and there’s only a limited number of free hours in a day. The stakes are incredibly high for every big budget challenger entering the live service arena, especially if there’s already a few popular incumbents in that specific genre. Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League had so many red flags throughout its development process, I’m honestly surprised it wasn’t cancelled before it finally released for the tax write-off…

_____FIVE

Inside Warner Bros. Games’ Big Live Services Push and Doubling Down on DC, ‘Game of Thrones’ and More Franchises | Jennifer Maas

The exec is referring to the success big franchises have seen recently in offering not just splashy console and PC video games but also live services, mobile and free-to-play titles all within the same IP universe. Perrette says that combination is what he’s looking to “build out” for each of Warner Bros.’ most-valued franchises but warns gaming titles are on a “long cycle” and this plan can’t be delivered on in 2024.

The thought of frontrunner for worst media executive of the century, David Zaslav, turning his attention to games sends a literal chill down my spine. In an industry that regularly sees games get cancelled at various stages of their development cycles, I assume this means he’s actually looking into which tax breaks might be available in the future for the business he seems focused on slowly destroying one write-off at a time.

If you’re working on any WB Games project right now, especially live service, you should be proactively updating your resume and looking for new opportunities right now.


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One thought on “Five Things: February 29, 2024

  1. Thanks for the reminder. I started writing because I needed to take my mind off of all of the endless “pivoting” going on in publishing and because in the end, work is just work and there’s more out there beyond it. Especially if you’re walking in-between the legs of several large monopolies. And yes, sometimes you need to take a break.

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