Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Emperor has no clothes

It drives me nuts...

Even though I know it shouldn't...

I mean, really now, who cares about one little podcasting network anyway?  In the grand scheme of things such concerns are less than trivial if not inconsequential.  If a beloved icon of tech journalism like Leo Laporte chooses to delude himself while his Rome is burning what business is it of ours if he chooses to believe otherwise?

If TWIT vanished from the landscape of Internet content the number of people who actually cared would be lower than the percentage of LGBT's in the Tea Party.

...and the king of Tech punditry would do just fine thank you...


Over the past few months I've continued to witness a sea change at TWIT with the most obvious symptom an exodus of popular hosts and programming.  In their place bizarre additions like Marketing Mavericks, a show based on sucking up to the kind of people who dreamed up click-through ads and stadiums named after cell-phone companies.

And then there's the ads!  Oh those god awful ads!  Where do they find these products??

Of course, not everybody agrees with me...

"I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it people like me!" Stuart Smiley

If you can sift through the barrage of delusional self-affirmation and staunch denial of anything contrarian that pervades today's TWIT, there are still gems to be found on the network. 

Shows like This Week in Law, This week in Enterprise Tech, Windows Weekly and the grand old man of the group This Week In Tech still shine.  Unfortunately, to find them you'll have to ignore the cognitive dissonance that promotes Tech News Today (TNT) as still being relevant or Floss Weekly and Ham Nation as being interesting.  Incidentally, after almost 6 months, TNT still consistently ranks far behind Tom Merritt's Daily Tech News show and has yet to break into the top 10 on most ranking authorities. 

With the often abrupt departures of popular talent like Tom Merritt, Brian Brushwood and even Iyaz Akhtar, the void that remains has been filled (with varying degrees of success) by hosts like:

Father Robert Ballecer,  the affable and upbeat "digital Jesuit" who is increasingly ever present and likely  heir to TWIT if not for his "other" job.  

Chad Johnson, OMGCHAD and newest Laporte protege' who is often called upon to beta test new programming like the short-lived This Week in YouTube and RedditUP (currently in beta.)

Sara Lane, a stalwart TWIT personality and second only to Laporte in the sheer volume of shows she hosts.  As one of the few remaining alumni from Laporte's TechTV days, Lane appears loyal to Laporte but one has to wonder if those convictions have been tested since the surprise departure of so many TWIT colleagues from the network.

And of course, Laporte himself who recently took back hosting duties of TWIT's tech review show Before You Buy after former host and producer Shannon Morse left TWIT's full time employ. 

Shannon Morse, the contractor, now only appears once a week on TWIT as co-host of Coding 101 with Fr. Robert Ballecer.

Morse, known most prominently from Darren Kitchen's Hak 5 was a recent addition to the network in the past year.  Her decision to trade a full time gig at TWIT to be a contract host for one show (while doing at least 2 others for Revision 3) can only be viewed as a foot out the door.

The only time a full time employee converts to a contractor these days is when somebody is on their way out and Laporte taking back hosting duties of Before You Buy underscores just how "out" Morse really is.

But let's be fair here.  While TWIT's apparent missteps are beginning to border on habitual, it's not entirely their fault.  Take a look at those same podcast rankings that are so damning to TNT and you'll find a saturated landscape.  Everybody and their brother seems to have a tech podcast.  Couple that with the fact that the novelty has worn off.  There's very little new information out there and "revolutionary" is just a marketing buzzword.  Technology isn't "magical" anymore and even your grandmother can use an IPad.   

Go ahead, check The Verge, TechCrunch or even TNT (if you can stay awake) and the content is without fail a daily march of ad nauseam reviews of yet another "revolutionary" smart device.  Lest we forget the constant security breaches of well known web properties and tech pundits desperately  inflating their copy by reviving long dead adjectives like, "plaudits."

Not very exciting...

Short term gain leading to long term consequences.

That TWIT advertising has increasingly strayed from a tech focus to products like razors, jewelry and snacks may be an indication that tech just isn't that sexy anymore.  Unfortunately, it also frequently results in content straying from technology to heated debates over single versus multi-blade razors.

Viewer's of TWIT could likely care less about razors, underwear and harvest rice sticks when they're watching Security Now or Windows Weekly.    At times even the hosts seem annoyed as they hawk often ridiculous and contextually irrelevant wares.  With an average of 2 to 4 live ad reads per TWIT show, anything that strays from the content runs the risk of losing an easily fickle audience.

Where TWIT may once have been a destination rivaling its progenitor, TechTV, in the past year it's become more akin to G4.  In case you don't get the analogy, G4 began as a cable channel focused on video games and gaming culture and ended with a schedule largely consisting of Cops reruns and infomercials.

TWIT's bizarre programming changes, a trend of topically irrelevant advertising and exodus of talent paint a dark picture of the network's future. 

It's high time ego and hubris take a back seat. 

Rome is burning and the Emperor has no clothes...

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Lord of Ultima and the slow death of Free to Play

Darkness has fallen on Caledonia and once powerful empires have met their oblivion by no fault of their own.
Lord of Ultima is dead, killed by a revenue model incompatible with its keeper.

Those looking for someone to blame need look no further than Electronic Arts (EA.) 
It appears that EA sees no value in what has been described as "niche" gaming.  "Niche" in this case applies to gaming titles that weren't designed to leverage the online cash cow that premium memberships and endless DLC offer in more recent titles.

Lord of Ultima's shutdown is just another casualty of the ongoing implosion of online gaming. 
It's a growing trend following on the heels of a bomb dropped by Gamespy in April when they announced that their longtime gaming services would cease on May 31st.  Even if you've never heard of them before, chances are you've used their services at one point.  Gamespy provided the online middleware for games on platforms from PC to Android.

More recently, EA announced it was dropping online support for many popular older games on June 30th.  A few notable examples include Crysis 2, Battlefield Vietnam and Need For Speed hot Pursuit 2

Yes, most of the games getting the cut are a bit long in the tooth but a pattern's been developing .  It wasn't so long ago that online gaming was a choice not a requirement.  Multiplayer games only needed to involve as many people as you could gather at a LAN party and it didn't matter if your Internet connection was down.

As game development has moved from a few hotly anticipated titles to annual installments of varying quality it seems it's less about the game than the franchise it spawns.

Producing a sub-par game is irrelevant if you can prime the hype pump with the promise of a seemingly never-ending stream of content. 

For a price...

With that has come "always-on" requirements for single player games, frequent server outages, half-baked triple-A titles and increasing prices to cover "development costs" even as publishers shut down their development studios by the dozens.

I guess all that bandwidth is expensive...

It's a model incompatible with games that are truly "Free to Play" and in its wake has come an avalanche of titles that may start out to be free to play but are almost always "Pay to Win."

Lord of Ultima was somewhere in the middle.  There were ever more intrusive opportunities to purchase upgrades and buffs to improve the experience but if you were willing to suffer a little more inconvenience than your well heeled competition you could  still do well.

That option runs contrary to a model dependent on the cash value of players.  After all, they're a discerning bunch and won't tolerate banner ads and endless spam flooding the email accounts they registered with.
They say nothing in life is free and it's a fair enough cliche'.  Servers and bandwidth aren't free and the "Free to Play" model is built on the assumption that dedicated players will gladly loosen the purse strings every once in awhile to improve their experience. 

But "once in awhile" isn't good enough anymore and more often than not "Free to Play" isn't free at all.
The model has been perverted.  The experience has become more about the store page than the game itself leading to a score of me-too clones and one-offs looking to cash in.  Some are even blatant about it but they're the exception not the rule.

The practice of "Pay to Win" frequently hides behind the mask of "Free to Play" which  is nothing less than "Bait and Switch" and it's killing the gaming industry.  It's bad faith and that's not a sustainable business model.

Spend a little time reading the Wall Street Journal and you'll find out that companies often receive a valuation based more on their "good will" than the products they produce. 

In that kind of scenario, EA's value is heading over a cliff...