Playing to win what exactly?
At the end of the school semester, I always try to cover a topic that has only recently emerged. Hands-down this semester that topic is the Metaverse.
Last week I wrote a bit about my imminent trip to the Netherlands. As soon as first publish that one, Mario kart dropped an Amsterdam-inspired racing map. It blew my mind.
Provided you don't stray further than a mile or so from Amsterdam Central Station, the map, titled Amsterdam Drift, the map does a pretty decent job of summarizing many of the major architectural features. There are windmills, of course, but also the fairy the north of the train station. It may be my own aging mind but I do believe I recognized some of the buildings along the way. It is a reductionist impression of a place where I spent six years of my life. And now I get to visit it from afar, just like that time I revisited Florence playing Assassin's Creed.
Back in the real world, the topic of the overlay of interoperable technologies that are expected to form the next iteration of online society is wildly popular among both my financial and creative clients. All of them seem to want to know what the future looks like.
The answer of course is that it's up to them. Or rather up to us.
Previously I’ve expressed my reservations with regard to the ownership of the Metaverse. Are the four dozen or so conglomerates that make up a consortium earmarked to build the first version really the companies that we want in charge, especially given the fact that they are almost exclusively run by men?
And as the notion of a next version of the web gains in popularity, there are several other critical questions we can ask. What to make of the large corporations that are already experimenting with the Metaverse? It seems to be mostly the legal departments and marketing divisions that have taken it upon themselves to pioneer the space. A few weeks ago we learned that Victoria's Secret is filing patents to secure its place. And after coming to terms with the Wendy-verse, we now have to contend with a “confusing and unsatisfying” Chipotle-verse. After centuries of technological development, we’ve finally arrived at a high-definition synthetic world in which we assemble burritos.
Fortunately, history shows that quickly-built digital storefronts lack the staying power of their analog equivalents. What matters most is not the space itself but rather the experiences it encourages and inhibits. Among its greatest affordances is the conversation about what we want it to be. As technology lurches forward every decade or so with the introduction of a brand new, disruptive, innovative, next-big-thing type of offering, we have, for a brief moment, the opportunity to reflect and build better.
In a brilliant essay published this week, titled “Why the past 10 years of American life have been uniquely stupid,” my NYU colleague Jonathan Haidt describes the corrosion of democracy and splintering of civic discourse as a result of the widespread popularity of social media. It is a hefty write-up but well worth the effort.
Even before the metaverse has manifested do people have strong opinions about what should and shouldn’t be part of it. A lot of it makes sense. Most of us have no interest in a continuation of the bile that permeates social media nowadays.
Among his proposed solutions, Haidt points to the innate need for unstructured play. Specifically, our ability to negotiate and compromise with others in the absence of parents, police, or politicians, he says, is key to teaching the next generation the necessary skillset to rebuild. Able to psychologically benefit from our own accomplishments or, conversely, experience the psychological loss that comes from failure we become, on average, better equipped to navigate the world.
That leaves us with nothing more, or less, than possibility space. Currently, we can inscribe onto the metaverse all of our best ideas without being held accountable for them. It gives us two options: either we abandon the whole experiment outright for fear of it becoming another polarizing online destination riddled with corporate interest and faux neo-capitalist promises, or we can take a bet on ourselves.
As I send off another batch of students into the world, I hope I’ve struck the right balance between what Gramsci called the pessimism of the intellect and the optimism of the will. Knowing what happened to social media, how can we build a virtual environment that presents a space for experimentation, exploration, and unstructured play?
That’s a verse I’d like to sing.
On to this week’s update.
Quick head’s up on next earnings round
Last quarter legacy publishers like Electronic Arts, Take-Two Interactive, and Activision Blizzard all reported disappointing results. In short order, none of their respective releases—Battlefield 2042, Call of Duty: Vanguard, and Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy—performed well. To make matters worse, the next CoD release has been delayed by another year and God knows if we’ll ever see another Overwatch release.
Problems, unfortunately, are likely to continue. For one, the market is going to soften in the coming period, especially for publishers that have been making the most of the financial momentum that came with the pandemic. In the past two years, we’ve seen enormous demand for interactive entertainment as well as a strained production line. As publishers struggled to set up their work-from-home strategies, lots of work was, unsurprisingly, delayed. It’s been easier to sell games than it’s been to make them during the pandemic and now that the winds are slightly changing, we’ll see a few of the major publishers with a more modest release slate.
An overall softening of the games market as we enter the warmer season and Covid restrictions are gradually lifted will undoubtedly negatively impact the amount of time and money people spend on games. As the cost of capital starts to increase and talent becomes more sparse, we can expect to see continued consolidation among the largest firms and platforms.
Netflix loses subscribers and investor support
Earnings were not great but hardly surprising given Netflix’s position and the shifting market landscape. The firm has been foreshadowing the decline in subscriber numbers over the past several quarters. Its wild entry into gaming was an indication that it needs to look beyond video streaming to keep its business humming.
The announcement of a cross-category launch of Exploding Kittens shows Netflix’s willingness to try new things, but it is not the type of release that is going to save the farm. In addition, the increasing competition from other platforms that have finally started to catch up has irrevocably pushed Netflix into an expensive fight as it is now forced to regularly release costly exclusive film productions—the kind you can watch in a few hours. That’s a tough business with a subscription model, especially as its core markets are reaching a saturation point. It should also be noted that the spike in inflation has a negative impact on video entertainment, among which Netflix is the highest-priced service.
Finally, the combination of a subscriber decline and even worse guidance for the coming period will scare off any optimists and further depress the stock. The rumored plan to launch an ad-based tier to the service may change its course, but not until after a period of tests. In the meantime I expect Netflix to start cracking down on password sharing to increase its revenue potential in the short term.
Bobby Kotick’s ex allegedly pressured UK tabloid to cut negative press
Honestly, I hadn’t been paying attention to which exec has been dating who in the video game/social media matrix. But there sure is a lot of smoke if we are to trust there’s no fire.
The WSJ ran a story this week that alleged that Meta’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, had pressed a gossip weekly to shelf not one, but two stories that put her then-boyfriend Bobby in a bad light. How does that even happen? I picture Sheryl and Bobby sharing a helicopter ride back to their enormous houses after another exhausting weekend at one of those eyes-wide-shut mansions.
“Hey, looks like the Daily Mail is running a negative piece on me. Can you help me out, Sheryl sweetie?”
“I’ll take care of it, Bobby-bear.”
What really confuses me is that Kotick is in a lot of trouble for running a firm with a toxic work environment, and Sandberg sees herself as a champion for women’s leadership and more inclusive workplaces. Seems odd that something like that would never come up.
MONEY, MONEY, NUMBERS
One More Game raised a $22 million Series A round led by Lightspeed Venture Partners.
By 2025, says Mod.io CEO Scott Reismanis, ten percent of consumer spending will be on content created by other players. I disagree; I think that’s too low.
Playable Worlds, led by Raph Koster and Eric Goldberg, raised a $25 million Series B round led by Kakao Games. Word has it that their tech stack is the real star.