Create New Properties

When looking at the media landscape throughout the last hundred years or so we see different media fields repurposing and remaking works from each other. Books would be turned into movies, movies into books, songs into plays, plays into books, you get the idea. Revisiting old stories under a new light was nothing particularly uncommon. Sometimes for the better, often for the worse. While remaking or reimagining works has always existed in some form, the modern media has been mostly concentrated on remaking films and television shows. This could be mostly attributed to the sensibilities that are driving franchises, which end up making the most money. A single film might be marketable for a while, but when something new comes along, customers’ attention can be easily stolen away. What better way to keep that brand on the surface by constantly pumping content based on that popular thing? Franchises have survived catastrophic failures, like Highlander II: The Quickening, though similar bombs have effectively killed any viability of an Intellectual Property for decades.

Nowadays, it seems that IPs are harder to kill than ever before and corporations are banking on them like no other. We have over thirty years old franchises still seeing new entries, and while some aim to produce a new kind of experience, others rely on nostalgia to drive things home. These decades-old things were new at some point, and while they will always be new to someone, all the major ones are deeply carved into our cultural mindset. Darth Vader, the lightsabre, Captain of the starship Enterprise, horrible face-raping aliens, Ring to rule them all, Three Laws of Robotics, the truth is out there, down down-forwards forwards Punch makes a fireball and so much more what we know is through cultural osmosis. We know these things as modern media are the continuation of stories of old. Now we have the best tools humanity has ever had to spread these new ideas and stories out there for everybody to read, see and listen to, but we’re using these tools to revisit the same old stories with a new lick of paint. Even the Marvel movies that get celebrated are largely recreations of what was already told, just with few new twists there. Twists, which ended up making Thanos, one of Marvel’s strongest villains next to Dr Doom, a lacklustre shadow of his comic counterpart with only glimpses of the shades and colours he could’ve shown on the screen.

That is an issue that all long-running franchises have to deal with; new writers. While a chance to create something special, it’s also a massive risk that they’ll just fuck things up.

While the 1990s saw tons of reheats from the 1960s, the last two decades have been constantly called the era of remakes. While not wholly accurate, we can’t really deny a trend of taking dormant past IPs and trying to breathe new life in them. Charlie’s Angels has been revived at least twice during the new millennium, and the last time they did that was a massive failure in every respect. Ghostbusters was also revived twice (with the upcoming movie being the third time) with the Atari game being a success both financially and critically. The same can’t be said for the 2016 film, which almost ended the franchise then and there. The third time’s the charm. I don’t really want to mull over all this, you know what IPs have been successfully implemented to the new millennium and what hasn’t. We never needed a new Terminator or Predator flick, but we got ’em anyway, with each new movie being worse than the last. If you need a franchise ending example from recent years, look no further than The Predator.

Not even Star Wars has been spared from reusing old content for nostalgia. Despite Kathleen Kennedy making loud statements that they will pave a new road for the modern era of Star Wars for the new audience, they’ve resorted to nostalgia upon nostalgia all the while reusing old concepts and characters. Rather than taking the franchise in whole new directions, we’ve been revisiting characters and stories that were already told in a form or another. Pretty much everything Lucasfilm is currently pushing out in regards to Star Wars is revisiting old characters and concepts. Rather than pushing the IP, it has caved in to recycle.

The same can be applied to Star Trek, where each of the new series has somehow tied itself to past characters and concepts rather than trying something new and bold. Yet we had to see characters from Pike and Spock to almost the whole cast of The Next Generation. This sort of reliance on old and comforting characters and stories is largely a safety line; you can’t really fuck up too badly when the built-in audience will slob all over the franchise whatever you do with it. Herein lies the danger; you can burn your audience if you don’t handle the legacy of a property right.

Old marketing wisdom is that keeping your current customers is easier than gaining new ones. Looking at whatever media field you want, it seems like this has been twisted to something along the lines of Creating new IP is more dangerous than banking on an existing property. While the two don’t really exclude each other, we’ve seen the built-in audience being kicked away for a decade now. From games to films and television, we’ve heard the song of Get New Audience. Gamasutra went to the distance of telling us how gamers were over, a statement that has been echoing among the gaming press for a while with no results. Considering how closed and incestuous gaming and film industries (especially in the US), it’s no surprise that the same attitude would find its way to Hollywood. Many of the products that are now being made are not intended for the pre-installed audience. The marketing of course will always try to rope them in nevertheless, but as we’ve seen with pretty much all of these new entries, they’re not really wanted.

Everything was new at some point, and media can’t really be pushed forwards with rallying around the same shit all the time. While we haven’t seen major new entries to some of the oldest modern media icons, like Tarzan, they’re still there waiting for someone to take ’em for a spin. Dare I say that’s a problem to itself. Corporations want to bank on their IPs to the extent of not giving a damn how they are being treated on a larger scale, and damaging a franchise’s reputation and brand recognition has become an ever-increasing problem in the modern era. This is due to everyone being more connected to everyone else, and information is spreading like a running wildfire. It has become far harder to screw customers over. Perhaps that is also why corporations want to bank on old IPs, as they can sell the creators as fans among equals. By this point, I hope you’ve realised that’s an utter bullshit marketing gimmick.

If you have seen Masters of the Universe: Revelation‘s first five episodes, you’re probably aware of the latest example of this. Creators claim to be big fans, yet the story is another retread of What if Skeletor wins? storyline, the characters are not accurately portrayed and their major character points are missed and even large portions of unique elements are just either misunderstood or outright twisted out of shape. For example, Orko was portrayed as a lousy character that never amounted to anything in his life, either back at his home Trolla or at King Randor’s court. This, despite every iteration making a point that he is a great magician, one of their best, who just happens to have ended up in a dimension where magic works differently, thus him having a hard time making it work. In further expanded material, Orko’s position is that of a spy who was to keep tabs on the Power Sword and whoever wields it. In this light, Orko could be said to have acted for the sake of the cause. Instead, MOTU:R gives us a pathetic creature that tries to explain his tragic situation and backstory in order to artificially squeeze tears from the audience just to be killed. It’s hack writing at its finest and gives no real justification for either Orko’s death or otherwise, as it is so long-winded that any of the characters could’ve made any half-intelligent move and saved the day.

The backlash from MOTU:R has replicated pretty much the same patterns as any of these similar revived IPs with bullshit entry has, like Ghostbusters 2016. Some fans have found it objectionable content, and they have been in turn mocked. Not their points of arguments or anything that could be considered constructive, but rather the customers themselves have been mocked and belittled in the pettiest of ways combined with a healthy dose of slander and name-calling. It’s not a rarity nowadays for creators to talk down to consumers, often even attacking them. While this might win some browny points among their peers, the consumers will associate this negative PR with the creator and the brand. The aforementioned Ghostbusters 2016 is a perfect example of a short-lived shitstorm, after which pretty much everyone outside the Hollywood bubble agreed without many mincing words that it was a rather terrible movie.

A lot, if not all, of this drama and contention, would be easily sidestepped if all these re-used IPs were completely new and original instead. In this scenario, the works would be able to stand on their own legs without the baggage of old franchises. They’d also be able to realize that whole thing of creating a whole new consumer base and choose their own target customers. This would largely prevent any old farts from using decades of content as points of comparison, and thus criticism. It would be a win-win. Except this would mean they’d need to create something new that would be in direct competition with these already established franchises, and that requires a wholly different approach.

Yet we need new content, new ideas and new stories. The media landscape can’t survive on these old franchises for the rest of the executives’ lives. These people might be the most exciting or imaginative, yet they call the shots. Creators on the other hand should learn how to play them. Alternatively, circumvent the system altogether in whatever ways they can. You may ask if making a story like MOTU:R would be possible with a new IP, and the answer is yes. As the show already relies on flashbacks, there’s really nothing that could have prevented the series to be a whole new show with a whole net setting and characters.

Do you know why the Xenomorph is the featured image? Because it is arguably the most influential movie monster that was not based on a mythical being. Its influence is felt to this day in pretty much every single field of entertainment media and you can see it being ripped off, referenced and inspired by on an almost weekly basis. Even the classic Universal Movie Monsters had their inspiration in other stories. The Xenomorph, however, was something different. It strikes a different kind of core in the audience and opened new doors for horrific creatures. Despite the Predator being considered equal in terms of design, it is more human and can be understood to a large degree. While attempts have been made to create something that could be considered to compete on the same level of sheer uniqueness, very few monsters have come even close.

The wall to create something that could be the next Xenomorph, or the next Star Wars, is stupidly high. However, the entertainment industries, especially Hollywood and its bubble, have to get ready when old IPs stop making money. Disney has seen and felt how it feels to mismanage a billion-dollar franchise and lose money more and more with each new movie with Star Wars. It’s a downhill roll, and the only way they can climb up is to put something new to the table. Yet, even now, old and established is being tapped. Be it for the core fans or in chase of a new one, this losing battle should be cut short.

The world needs new stories to be inspired by. Even when it comes to money, it would be best for these corporations to bet on it as a long-term plan. Sadly, the more time passes, the more convinced I am there are no long-term plans with anyone. It’s all immediate action and short-term gains, be it in entertainment, politics or whatever.

An Intended View

I’m blaming television and monitor marketers for the current obsession for screen sharpness. Partial blame goes for people marketing every-advancing home video media formats. Sharper image! Better colour! Higher resolution! HDMI connectivity! It’s understandable that consumers would end up wanting the best picture and sound from their home media, be it whatever. This makes sense in regards to film and music, as the original recordings usually were in a better format than what you could have at home. 35mm film is, by any measure, superior to VHS or DVD, and if we’re completely honest, any digital format we currently have. We can’t really apply the digital age measurements to what is an analogue format, much like how we really can’t apply digital screens’ resolution to CRT screens. The technology and measuring system are not compatible with each other.

In which we end up with the current era of digital technology, and how easily we disregard the technological divide. The way we see old media nowadays is probably completely wrong. The strife for ever-better visual and sound has effectively beaten down the intended method of seeing something over what has been possible, and in many ways, this has been a marketing slogan at times.

Star Wars was, much like most other movies, was intended to be seen on the big screen. If you haven’t seen the movie in a theatre, “you haven’t seen it all”. Then, the inverse should be true as well. If something was meant to be seen on the small screen, in our case a 4:3 television screen, then we really haven’t truly seen it as intended. For example, nowadays we enjoy Star Trek at least on what we could call DVD-quality, and that probably is not the way it was ever intended to be viewed, digitally remastered or not. The show may have been recorded on film, everything from set designs to costumes, and their colours, was designed and made to be shown on 1960s television. Most often the television set was black and white with the picture quality probably being deteriorated due to the received signal. The farther away you were from the city, the worse the signal would get. If you had a rotator antenna, you had the best quality. Interface from planes and trucks would be a factor. The screen quality would vary widely depending on what sort of TV set people had, and also how well people fine-tuned the channel. That’s how Star Trek was expected to be seen, and that’s how people watched it.

With the advancing technology, we would end up seeing more of what was on the film, which in many places lead to an unintended result of seeing the (literal) seams of the sets and costumes. It becomes easier to ridicule these as cheap sets and costumes, but in cases of shows like Star Trek, that’s part of the low-budget television. With home releases on VHS, Laserdisc and later on digital media, we saw the show in resolution and manner like never before. What used to be hidden technology decades older was now in plain sight, and people would laugh at it. However, put the same media in its proper timeframe and technology, and things look a whole lot different.

An issue that has to be taken with the DVDs and digital remasters is that they still showcase the “original” in much higher fidelity than originally aired

We should not forget the change in culture as well. Television was new at the time, and image quality didn’t mean nearly as much as it does now. There was no prior generation of people who had grown with worse picture quality or the like. When television was new, the picture didn’t really matter. It was what it was and you worked with it. What mattered was the content and the novelty of it. Shows like Star Trek was something new and exciting, and seeing this more cerebral television show about humanity in the stars in a hopeful manner captivated people in the long run. Nowadays, with the proliferation of science fiction shows and dozens upon dozens of derivates, it’s very easy to put the original series down both in terms of its content and delivery.

Television has the benefit of having a pure analogue format in film. The images and sounds are recorded on pieces of film and tape; they are not set in stone and are relatively easily remastered according to modern digital standards. It’s work-intensive for sure, and probably requires tons of extra work if you wish to clean every single thing, but it can be done. Sometimes you have to use multiple different sections of film from different prints of the same movie to achieve this, but it can be done.

I recommend watching, or listening, to the whole three hours video. It covers pretty much everything this particular fan’s own restoration. It covers pretty much everything from how certain elements were layered in the original movie to how he uses multiple sources to restore parts of a individual frame to gain the best possible version of a shot

This is not possible for video games or any other purely digital media format. The moment a game developer, or any other creator of digital content, defines the way their work is seen or heard, it will be stuck to that moment. While they can future-proof their work and save everything in much higher fidelity than it would be currently possible to output, e.g. a digital movie was recorded in 4k in an era where 1080p was the standard, at some point the technology will catch up to them. 35mm film movies are being progressively ruined by noise removal algorithms and smoothening nowadays, in a manner, the same has been done to video games. The difference is, video games and their consumers have a completely different paradigm that, in effect, has skewed the idea of how raster graphics should be seen.

Composite – RGB – Emulator screenshot
The emulator screencap has also cut away the overscan area, which would not be seen in a real CRT screen, but would be visible on a flatscreen. See more in this video, where the two first were nabbed from.

The above three screenshots, while usable when comparing different signal qualities coming from the machine itself and how things look in emulation, isn’t how Sonic the Hedgehog was intended to look. As we are now, sitting in front of our computers or using some palm device to read and see these shots, we are not seeing the sort of middle-hand output. The end result of a console, or any other device for the matter that was using a CRT screen, is lost to us. The image we get from emulators, digital re-releases of games and whatnot to our modern screens is inaccurate how the game was developed and meant to be seen.

However, we can surmise some things from the above three screenshots. For example, Sonic is much bluer in the composite shot, with shading and the greens melding into each other in a natural manner. The further we go to the right, the sharper the image gets, but at the same time, we lose smooth surfaces and these melding of colours. We can also see a slight shift in the aspect ratio. It wasn’t uncommon for games to have oval circles that got stretched into proper circles due to how the console was outputting the signal or how a monitor might naturally stretch it, but props for the emulator shot for correcting the aspect ratio.

Dithering is often discussed topic when it comes to the Mega Drive visuals, as many Mega Drive games use dithering to smooth out colours. You would use two colours in dithering, which would meld together on a CRT and produce a third colour, melding them all in a nice gradient. However, this isn’t apparent in higher-end cables, which would show the dithering in a much distinct and crisp way, destroying the carefully laid graphics. Retro-Sanctuary has a short write-up on dithering I would warmly recommend giving a look.

Yuji Naka uploaded a short clip from 1990 showcasing the room where games were being developed, where we see a young Naka working on Sonic the Hedgehog‘s collision. You also get a shot at Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker being developed, particularly Michael’s walking cycle. These games were developed on and for CRT screens. It wasn’t until the seventh generation of consoles when games began to be fully developed for digital screens. Most, if not all sixth-generation games that used sprite graphics, were developed with CRT monitors and non-digital cables in mind. Now, what if we took a photo of that same Sonic title screen on an actual high-end CRT monitor and compared it to an emulated screen?

Sonic the Hedgehog (1991, Sega) – Genesis

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CRT Pixels is an account that posts these comparison shots between emulators and CRT screens. There are tons of images comparisons that showcase how dot graphics, sprites or pixel graphics, whatever you want to call them, were designed and drawn with CRT monitors in mind. When an already existing artwork has been digitised, the person in charge of digitization had to take into account how the image would be represented on screen. It could never have been a 1:1 transfer of data from a painting to pixels due to the sheer nature of the technology of the era. Considering how a machine could output an image that was intended to be stretched naturally on a CRT, sometimes the graphics had to be squished in a direction so that it’d look proper when outputted. This happens a lot with Super Nintendo games, which had led to some heated discussions about whether or not its games have to be stretched to a proper aspect ratio, or whether or not the console’s internal aspect ratio and resolution is the real one. The real answer, however, is that it varies game by game, as some titles relied on SNES’ internal resolution while other developers created their graphics the output devices in mind.

Of course, arcade game developers and manufacturers had the freedom to decide on these things on their own. Capcom’s CP System uses 4:3 aspect ratio across the board, but you probably see loads of emulator screenshots in 12:7 aspect ratio. This is because, before digital screens, we had non-square pixels. This is also is one of the reasons why we can’t apply modern screen resolution standards, which counts pixels per heigh and width, when we had no pixels per see, and even then they were non-square. Displaced Gamer has a good video on the topic in a much better package than what I could do. Though I might add that it didn’t help that we had some widescreen format CRTs as well, and people always wanting to fill the screens never helped in the matter. Something that persists to this day, as so many emulation enthusiasts force their old games’ ROMs into the widescreen format.

We are fast losing the way games, and many other forms of media were intended to be consumed. Emulation and game preservation has made immense strides in preserving video and computer games’ data, and have begun to replicate consoles’ and computers’ internal workings in 1:1 emulation manners, something that probably will be impossible to fully emulate with the PlayStation 2, this scene has largely ignored the intended way these games were meant to be seen. No, that’s not exactly correct. For years we’ve got dozens of different ways to mess with emulators’ output. We’ve had tons of different filters that add fake scanlines or smooth the emulated pixels for an effect, often trying to mimic how a game would’ve looked like on a CRT screen. Different renderers are trying to replicate the originally intended form, some a better effect, some mangling them to a horrible degree. However, consoles like the Game Boy Advance, don’t really need these sort of post-processing effects, when the display itself already had square pixels. Hell, sometimes watching sharp pixels can mangle a sprite to the point of you not knowing what the hell you’re supposed to see there, but with that softer quality via post-processor filters or proper CRT screen, the sprite’s shapes and colours make a whole new shape and shades you can’t see otherwise.

A paper describing a method to depixilize pixel art is probably slightly off the intended path. This post-processing method doesn’t take into notion how the graphics were meant to be seen, but rather it ends up re-creating an interpretation of pixel graphics in a smoother form. The end result is less than desirable, but in a manner could also consider this kind of approach to aim to recreate the original underlying artwork that was then used to make the sprites. This is not, however, how the games’ graphics were meant to be seen.

Post-processing probably will end up being a way to solve the issue of how old games are being represented in the future. Perhaps we simply need high resolution enough screens to properly portray non-square pixels and colours a CRT can shows. In essence, rather than emulating just the hardware, emulators would have to take into account the cable quality and how CRTs output the picture. Granted, tons of emulators already do this, but not as default. Most often you still get a modern interpretation of square pixel, internal resolutions when you open an emulator, necessitating individuals to go into the settings menu. Menu, where they have tons of options they might not know what to do with. While we are getting copy systems that emulate hardware to a tee, they are also machines that are made to have HDMI output only. Clone consoles like RetroN and all the Analogue consoles, like the NT Mini, only output in modern HD via HDMI. Sure, you have in-system post-processing to make the games look like they’re played on a CRT. That’s the breaking part really.

A Hi-DEF NES kit modification kit

Console modifications have been around since consoles have been a thing, with RGB output and mods to circumvent region-locking have been the most popular things. Nowadays, we have these custom made boards that you solder to your older console and have it output via HDMI cable. They’re often directly connected to the CPU and video unit, so it interprets whatever the console wants output and tweaks it so the image is compatible with modern screens. Much like their copy-console brethren, they have built-on filters. Nevertheless, both of them utterly destroy the intended manner of how to view games on these older systems. They might be crisper, sharper, have the perfect colour from the palette. That may be preferable to some people, and certainly makes these old consoles compatible with modern screens, but they nevertheless destroy the intended way these games were meant to be seen.

The issue may end up being about authenticity. Modders and certain parts of the electronics consumers don’t really want to let go of these old machines and will do everything to update them for modern standards. That is a losing battle in many ways, and perhaps the approach is wrong too. While we can change some of the inner components, like the leaking caps and that, we can’t really restore old technology per se. Perhaps rather than trying to find a way to emulate the CRT screen, we should find a way how to replicate that particular screen technology. However, considering how dead CRT technology is, I doubt anyone will go their way out and try to find a way to revive it. I’m sure if CRT tech would’ve kept advancing, the shape and weight would’ve dropped, but the flatscreen tech we have now is in most aspects superior. It may still be struggling with replicating the same range of colours and true blacks as even cheap CRT could do, but their utility really beats CRTs in every other aspect.

I guess we can’t return to the intended way games were assumed to be played and seen. Much like how we didn’t have any other options to play the games “back in the day,” the same kind of applies to what we have now. The difference is, from all the options we have nowadays, from line doublers, upscalers and such, that crude reality is your older consoles were not meant to be played on modern monitors let alone be emulated in a crisp, in-hardware pixel-perfect output. These older games were played on a piece of shit telly, and that’s how they were build to be.

Of course, some Australian cunts probably would tell you there’s only one way to properly play the game, e.g. using SNES’ internal resolution and not give one flying fuck about intentions. Consumers have created options for themselves, and only relatively recently game companies have awoken to what emulator filters have been doing for a longer time. Filters themselves need to be completely re-evaluated, as there used to be rather heated discussions between people who wanted those raw pixels and the people who used all sorts of filters. Of course, neither party were absolutely correct, though if you managed to attach your PC to a CRT screen via S-Video cable or something, then there was no need to use filters.

In the future, we will lose the intended method of viewing games, and the rest of the media, which were created in analogue means as intended as the world proceeds with digitalization. With time, we’ll either lose them altogether to time, or most probably, they will be replaced with the closest possible approximation. No amount of remaking, remastering or modding can save old media. All we can really do is preserve and repair them in order to keep things in their original form as much as possible. At least in gaming, emulation will always be the second-best option to the original thing, and to some, emulation is already superior to the original hardware. That of course is not playing or seeing games as intended, but that has not been a factor to many at any point. What matters to many is the sharper image with higher resolution, even if that would effectively destroy the carefully balanced image the developers put all their effort in creating.

A Lostworlds novel is still lost to the World

Kenneth Flint’s The Heart of the Jedi is a cancelled 1993 Star Wars expanded universe novel. In 2015, it was published on The Star Wars Timeline in a re-edited form to fit the Legacy Expanded Universe of Star Wars, and has been now independently published on Amazon. The book is being sold with no profit in mind, only to cover the printing bill, but sadly this work isn’t the same as that 1993 cancelled book.

Why was the book cancelled in the first place? According to the author, Bantam Spectra considered the book not to fit then-new Expanded Universe timeline. We don’t have anyone else’s take what happened, and Flint’s Behind the Scenes story (readable at The Star Wars Timeline) is only his side we officially have. To get the whole picture, we should get someone who worked at Lucasfilm and Bantam, and was involved in the book to get a whole picture. We can assume that it was conflicting with other higher priority works under production, but we’ll probably never know. Nevertheless, Flint’s recollection does read like an education piece about not putting all your eggs in one basket. You can read a lot of pain between the lines.

Joe Bongiorno, the editor, wrote notes that he wanted to go give this “last Expanded Universe” novel the proper treatment like every EU novel before. It was never made to fit the then-new canon, but has been edited to fit the Legacy continuity for the given reason. This required shifting events slightly, renaming a planet (or rather, using a planet with little prior background) and changing things like shapeshifting species being more a common knowledge rather than something new due to something happening about ten years later in the old EU. While Bongiorno assets that no great changes were made and that the work is “essentially the same,” that’s not cutting it. While these edits were made under Flint’s blessing, it’s selling the audience and the work itself short. These edits mean the original cancelled The Heart of the Jedi is still unpublished as it has been replaced with this edited version.

You may consider this splitting hair. The book is now out there in physical form, and has been readable since 2015 online. However, the issue similar to the restoration of any old thing, be it a work of literature of furniture. It doesn’t matter how much the work has been edited and to what extent, but now that it has altered content, it needs to be treated as a new version of that cancelled version. The issue isn’t that it has been edited to fit the canon, new or old, the issue is that it was edited from its originally intended form. An argument can be made that if The Heart of the Jedi had been published in 1993 or later, it would have necessitated going through further revisions to fit the continuity that was being established. That would have been fine, that’s the nature of the beast. However, this does not stand twenty-two plus years after its cancellation, as the book was something fans were asking about for years on end. There was no need to go back and change it around. Fans, who were the target audience, would know the history and understand how it stands. This could have been a great act of preservation, a massive move to showcase a cancelled piece George Lucas himself supposedly liked. Yet, what we have in our hands now is an edited version of that particular book. Making changes to fit this work to the canon, when it never fit any canon, was a straight-up mistake.

The flavour blurp on Amazon funnily asks the “House of Mouse, don’t sue me”. Whatever your bottom line is on how Disney has handled Star Wars as a property, they still own it. Disney should have a case for property infringement. You can argue however much you want that this is a non-profit work (which in itself doesn’t actually mean profit isn’t made by someone) or how it is for collectors only, but there should have been permission from Disney to make things clear-cut. Clearly, there is a demand for old Star Wars books and Disney can easily argue how this book diverges purchases away from their official works. I’m honestly surprised the lawyer team hasn’t moved in for the kill yet. This isn’t exactly filling the bill for being transformative, it’s not a parody and you could argue it is diverging profit away from official Star Wars books. It might not be the most sensible move on their part regarding PR, but Disney hasn’t really given one flying fuck about that when it comes to Star Wars. Maybe this is flying under their radar.

Sadly, a lot of social media posts I’ve seen pushes Amazon sales as some sort of middle finger towards Disney. This really isn’t how it should be seen, but a number of users have claimed to have purchased the book just because Disney isn’t seeing a dime on it. I find this incongruent. While the old Star Wars is still in demand, this work isn’t the actual old Star Wars.  It was still made to fit a mould that it was never intended to be in. This is contradictory in spirit, but I guess buying an edited Lostworlds Star Wars novel in physical form is deemed a worthwhile effort. As a side note, Lostworlds refers to numerous unpublished, cancelled or lost pieces of Star Wars media. The name was coined by Kevin Furman for his site, until it went down in 2004  someone on the Jedi Council Forums, though Kevin Furman was the first one to collect all the information for this site, which went down in 2004. Thanks for Kevin to point this out in the comments. The Star Wars Timeline resurrected and continued on with Furman’s efforts to catalogue these lost media.

If I haven’t stated my case on this clear enough, it’s not that the edited version of The Heart of the Jedi has been edited to fit the Expanded Universe. It could’ve been the new or the old, doesn’t matter. It is that the book itself was edited at all. That I can’t support as someone who wants to preserve and archive media in its most original form. To illustrate this in another way, the situation is just like with George Lucas and his Special Editions. They are, after all, “largely” the same movies. Maybe one day we’ll see the original, unedited version of The Heart of the Jedi published on The Star Wars Timeline.

Y’know, I’d be nice if I could center the Featured Images.

The “true fan” is a blind customer

With Monster Hunter Rise getting a demo on the Switch recently, I decided to visit their recent stream about the game. ‘lo and behold, I saw the usual people throwing stuff like As a community we… and Only true fans… among other stuff to counter criticism or whatnot. This kind of fan behaviour has been as old as I can recall. It is effectively a way to push down someone who might voice an opposing opinion that might devalue a product in some manner or raise issues that might impact negatively. For example, people noting that the somewhat recent Capcom leaks showcased how Monster Hunter Rise has already been slated for Steam release a year after the initial Switch version got told down that only true fans would buy it on the release and then purchase the Steam version later to support the game. There are quite many people who purchase games twice just to show their support, which largely screws up the actual user numbers and twists the true popularity of a product.

It’s not a toxic behaviour as much as it is pathetic. This sort of blind consumer behaviour can be seen everywhere, especially on forums and closed circles where new ideas or opposing ideas are actively purged. If there’s a live-action adaptation of a book series or something like that coming up, e.g. The Wheel of Time, I’d almost recommend checking some forums just to see large the difference between proper criticism and fellation. Corporations of course love people who feel deeply connected to their brands and go out to defend whatever decision is made and whatever product is put out. There’s a whole industry behind creating a positive image as forums and other platforms like Youtube are filled with people getting paid to give a positive view. It’s a livelihood for sure, and a way to market directly to the customers without directly associating with the corporation and the brand itself. With electronic gaming, it is very common for streamers to make contracts with companies to play their games for a certain time while giving only borderline criticism as dictated by the company. Once the contract expires, the game changes. NDA, of course, keeps these streamers quiet of their real thoughts and what they think of the games they play. Nothing wrong in this as long as the whole thing is being disclosed, but stealth marketers don’t come at you telling they’re marketing something to you.

A blind consumer doesn’t think about the product’s value or anything else related to it really that doesn’t directly concern his own emotional attachment. There’s a large amount of justifying your own purchases and decisions that comes with the saying A true fan… as they have to make sure their decision to invest into something fully is met not only on a personal level but also on a peer level. Perhaps there is some feeling of superiority in there to boot. Hence, when they’re met with no real peer rewards for them being a fan, their world gets shaken a bit. It’s not too rare to find someone who has invested most of their time and resources on something they think will be met with high praise only to find out that they’re more ridiculed than anything else. Perhaps criticising their loved brand itself is enough to shake their views and make them feel threatened.

Customer blindness is often a composite of choosing to be blind and unable to see through emotional attachment. Because how people think isn’t binary and we can accept contradictory statements as true and valid, we can often find ourselves rallying for the brand we love while ignoring its faults, yet do the exact opposite for another brand that shares the same faults. A true fan disregards all the bad things a product and a brand has. Even the positives sometimes seem to be lacking in a discussion, as everything stems from the emotional attachment. While it’s nice that people have something they truly love and are enthusiastic about, corporations are entities that mostly use this exact thing to make more sales and squeeze out that little bit more money out.

Of course, the whole stealth marketing wants you specifically to think in a certain manner that makes a purchase. Direct marketing does only so much. Corporations have embraced the idea of positive word-of-mouth being the best advertisement anyone could have, and they want to make sure your friend or a person you follow on the Internet gives a good word for them. There’s a kind of state of the cold war between customers and corporations, where the customer doesn’t have any other avenue of influence outside voting by their wallet, as corporations have everything in their hands, including your fellow customers that promote the corporate brand for free.

The idea of community giving voice behind one person is equally laughable. There is no one community for anything, there are multiple ones of different sizes and kinds, with some being as small as two. If someone claims that they are voicing the community, the best thing really is to disregard them and/or ask for reference where the community has voiced their opinion as a whole. Surely nobody would be bold enough to claim that they know what the community, or multiple communities, think without first taking proper steps to have everyone heard. However, if someone analyses a certain community, or follows their actions and thinking from an outside perspective and makes deductions based on collected data would be in a position to say what a community of people think. That’s what marketers do, and that’s why marketing has become rather effective on the Internet. Sneak in some people in these communities to slowly but surely change the opinions and views to cater certain point of view that benefits the corporations, and presto you have another set of people willing to market the brand for free.

The best thing to do would be not to be a true fan then. Each consumer is ultimately an individual despite whether or not they belong to a community. Each of us has to make our own decisions based on our own, whatever we base them on. Ignoring peer pressure or validation for our own opinions is not easy. In these matters, your own opinions trump all, as it only concerns you in the end. I doesn’t matter what a reviewer or a friend says or thinks, because ultimately you’re the one who has to evaluate the product for yourself. In other words, the best way to combat stealth marketing remove yourself from the negative influence that goats you to validate someone else is to take responsibility of your own decisions and actions they lead into.

Skies and lands promised

Cyberpunk 2077 is on the news and its reception has been mixed, to put it diplomatically. It’s been compared to No Man’s Sky in various aspects, like how many promised elements seemed to be missing and was ridden with bugs. As NY Times puts it, when a game is supposed to be The Biggest Video Game of the Year, expectations are high, especially when there’s almost a decade’s worth of marketing and hype behind the title. An expansive world that would be endlessly explorable just doesn’t happen without sacrifices or will be sacrificed in favour of other elements that make up a video game. I’d say that’s largely a no-brainer, as some of the more expansive worlds that have intense detail and hidden content often end up having less structure and directed play, which is contrasted to games with a tighter field of play. Take The Legend of Zelda or The Hunter: Call of the Wild as examples; both have massive worlds that can take years to properly venture through, but their main “quest” if effectively letting the player do whatever they want with few main objectives. I admit that this comparison is a bit off to Cyberpunk, but the reality is that open-world games have been an industry standard for about two decades, or more depending on how you want to define open-world.” It’s something that’s hard to realise properly, often ending up empty or played being walled from exploring every nook and cranny, but that’s the spot where both technology and game design puts up a challenge. The whole open-world genre, if it can be called that, has a history of being built on promises and failed expectations and yet the core video and computer game customers seem to expect even more. Clearly, the gaming industry hasn’t broken through how to do fully living 3D world yet, which isn’t just a technological challenge, but also a matter of paradigm. Perhaps putting fewer resources into licenses and hiring real-world actors would lease resources to where they truly matter.

The marketing for Cyberpunk 2077 was a massive success. It sold the game to the consumers and investors like no other. While Cyberpunk 2077 will stay as a cornerstone game in terms of technical achievement and such, all the refunds the customers have been demanding because of the game’s bug-ridden nature has caused a cascade effect, where damage control has brought even more worries. CD Project Red promised refunds for all, and all Sony and Microsoft could do is follow suit. Sony kind of screwed in this, as CD Project Red promised things before proper channels were established, causing Sony to also pull the game from PlayStation Network. Microsoft hasn’t done yet on whatever their consoles. With reviews going left and right, sometimes only to the negative to attack the whole deal and other times going to the complete opposite to defend the title, CD Project Red’s stock value plummeting over 40% since early December and the possibility of physical games getting refunds too, investors do have a reason to worry. They are, after all, considering a class-action lawsuit as they see CD Project Red having mispresented the game in a criminal manner in order to receive financial benefits.

I doubt there is any malice in any of the game’s failures. It’s just how these usually go with games that come with a stupid amount of hype. Game development is stupidly hard, and while some people do it for passion, and others just because it is their job. At the end of the day, any corporation has to cut their losses at the expense of something and push a product out. They have to make a profit No product is truly finished when it leaves the providers’ hands, no game is truly finished. Some are less than others, but at least we’re well past the days when you bought a highly visible licensed game only to find out you couldn’t finish the game because one of the levels was intentionally made unclearable because they never finished the last few levels of the game. There were quite a few of these during the 8-bit computer days. Cyberpunk 2077 just happens to be a victim of circumstances that are rather common when it comes to the electronic gaming industry. We certainly need cornerstone titles that push the technology forwards, yet more often than not these titles have been less successful than the games that have pushed the play part. I presume Cyberpunk 2077 will make a decent amount of money down the line after CD Project Red has managed to put a new spin on their marketing, fixed all the most common and outrageous bugs and the gaming media has placated and absolved them of their gaming sins.

There’s a lot of emotional reaction to the whole deal. We can’t fault consumers from reacting as harshly as they have, as CD Project Red’s PR did their job admirably. Sadly, that just didn’t meet with the expectations, or with reality in some cases.  I’ve discussed the nature emotional of marketing, corporations and customers to some extent in recent years, and with some, we’re seeing core fans feeling like they were betrayed by someone they felt a close emotional attachment to. CD Project Red is closely tied to Good Old Games, or just GOG as they go nowadays, and they have their fair share of diehard fanatics, just like Steam. As the customer feels betrayed by a brand, there’s often a harsh whiplash, but also a need to find justice. Sometimes its refusal to purchase any more products, sometimes it’s venting on social media, sometimes physical harm towards the game itself. Sometimes all three and then some.

To use No Man’s Sky as a point of comparison again, the game did get effectively fixed about a year later. Promised content and play mechanics were added as well as a large amount of bug fixing. While the game still has a bad rap overall, the devs took it upon themselves to make it the game it was supposed to be. While we can debate whether or not the game is what it was promised to be, there are chances that CD Project Red will do the same and spend the next year relentlessly fixing and patching the Cyberpunk. Unless the investors go for the throat and gut the whole company. Investors are often treated as the worst kind of being right after company executives, yet these are the people who have to make the decisions that will either make or break products, and through that, people’s lives. When multiples of millions are in the play, taking chances and risks is a bit scarier task than most would think.

We can’t fault the customers’ reactions, they were taken by the hype created by the marketing. In the same breath, we can’t really fault marketing for doing their job that effectively. Considering the kind of game, development time and hype that was involved, the current state of Cyberpunk 2077 should have been expected as an industry standard, not as some sort of terrible exception. There is no real solution to a situation like this. Rarely we get a piece like Star Wars that has everything together in a perfect way with good timing. Even if the game’s bugs and overall state would have been up to much higher calibre, from what I’ve seen it would still have been found disappointment in how it plays. From all the footage, streams and the odd review I’ve seen, Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t actually push any boundaries when it comes to play mechanics. On the contrary, it seems it’s rather middle of the road and does nothing spectacular. Maybe that’s the sacrifice you have to make when you make a vast world driven by a story rather play. Maybe these games are just getting too big for their own good, and end up feeling smaller than they really are. Though personally I’d love to see customers reining in their expectations and the companies directing their marketing and PR to make the most realistic claims and ads with no embellishments. That won’t ever happen, but a man can dream.

 

 

Price hikes, brands fighting and other musings about streaming

Back when I was a pupil at a blacksmith’s the one thing I learned the most is that the cheapest thing you produce often makes the best profit. In our case, it was a necklace, a hammered iron cross on a leather strap. In reality, the piece was laser cut from a generic steel sheet that we just heated up and gave some texture. Cost about twenty cents to produce, sold for about twenty to thirty euro. We sold those enough to warrant a new batch on a weekly basis. People might be unwilling to pay fifteen euros for a handmade handle for a door or a forty for a bottle stand you can attach to a wall, but jewelry always sells higher. Jewelry always sells, it’s something people get and understand. Its value is hammered into the people’s minds from a very young age, pun not intended. While this isn’t the razor-razor blade sales model, where you sell something big and expensive at a loss in order to sell something smaller multiple times, like a razor and its edges, selling people stuff they perceive is valuable at a proper price is far more lucrative. Drop that price a little lower, and you can slowly but surely rack that up once you’ve established how the customers see that price and understand the value you intend for it.

Streaming has become largely the new television. While we still talk about “series,” the word has again transformed to mean something else with streaming. It’s barely serialized anymore in its traditional sense, but I guess we can apply it just fine as these twelve-hour long movies are still chopped into twelve episodes. Television might not go anywhere in the foreseeable future, but consumers will find their chosen entertainment from streaming. Perhaps television will be relegated more towards serious matters like news and such, but before I see that happening, I hope I’m buried six feet under. With people being forced to stay inside and their other liberties being culled in order to battle the Shanghai Shivers, all these streaming platforms have been making a bank. They’ve got a whole year under their belt to get new customers in and assure that what they offer is essential and important. In some eyes, theirs is an essential service.

Just like how we could hike up the price of that piece of steel by giving it a perceived value as a piece of jewelry, streaming services want their service to be seen as the most valued. The only true way they can compete is with IPs, with Netflix amassing everything under the sun that Disney hasn’t, turning it into a cartoon and calling it anime. Netflix Originals, which often have nothing original in them, is their best bet alongside numerous other IPs they are able to showcase thanks to overseas licensing deals. Disney+ has that whole Disney library under its belt, and they’re desperately trying to make Star Wars work. Warner-Brothers movies are going to appear on HBO Max, because the theatres are still closed and they have to make money in some way. Amazon is coming out with that The Lord of the Rings and The Wheel of Time series sometime in the future. Apple TV or whatever their own service was called were was to have The Foundation series, but that looked like a trainwreck from the start and anything but The Foundation. It looked like a generic SF war series. With modern television series, and by extension all the streaming series, looking just as good as the movies in the cinemas, something has to buckle. That something of course is the customers’ wallets.

Disney announced recently that Disney+’s subscription will hike up in price next March, as they are restructuring themselves to market their products directly to the customers through their streaming service. They’re not the only ones either. Hulu and Netflix joined the club and most likely everyone else will follow suit, assuming move high-budget movies and shows will be produced to battle for the consumer’s wallet. Weirdly enough, one service finds itself with too many subscribers, that might end up causing further price hikes thanks to needing more hardware infrastructure behind the scenes to make all things work as intended. In any case, it will be easier for these services to raise the price every now and then once the perception and their place in entertainment consumption have found its true footing, which probably means traditional television dies slowly out and movie theatres become something else. Maybe they become places for prestige showings, where you can finally eat a pizza or a burger in, or maybe they’ll manage to eke out a niche to live in.

This is a format war like we never had before. Prior to streaming wars, even if one format won over others, none of these big companies ended up pocketing most of the money from the consumers directly to their pocket. The information age has now allowed for companies finally to sidestep formats and the limitations they pose for them, i.e. they finally have full control of the media the consumer consumes but can not own at any point, and thus maximize the money they pocket. In that, this isn’t a format war but something new. While some moan how there are more than few streaming services out there, they’re ignoring the sheer danger of streaming monopoly would have. Some argue that Disney and Netflix share the media streaming monopoly and should be broken up. General consumers are quick to trade security and variety for comfort and ease of use. If one or just two services survive, all the eggs are in one basket and the consumer rights are very easily trampled on. However, because streaming is direct-to-customers with nothing in between, like it was with previous formats, there’s nothing holding them back from exercising the utmost bullshit corporate tactics they are able to employ.

Perhaps streaming services should get a similar frontend similar to television, where all services are gathered under one streaming device or program through which the customer can decide what to watch. Perhaps some of these streaming services would be free and be run on advertisements, maybe a few of them are government-run for news and other information bites. The consumer might be able to then pay for special services that they specifically want to watch without losing that comfort of having everything under one roof. You could either label these streaming services with a number or a letter for easier access too, though just listing them in alphabetical order probably would do just fine. Now, why does this idea sound familiar? I wonder…

Nintendo continues to fight piracy at the expense of the customer

Nintendo has been fighting piracy since they started the whole electronic gaming business. Donkey Kong the arcade game itself was a prime target of piracy, with copied arcade boards popping up frequently due to its popularity. The NES / Famicom piracy was massive despite the whole physical cartridge thing, with numerous Asian countries producing copies of the system and selling those systems and games across the globe. Hell, the Soviets / Russians enjoyed Dendy console as their mainline NES copy, with effectively all games being pirated copies of some kind. The SNES saw this practice much less, but few did fall between the cracks, with Super Noah’s Ark 3D being the most known in the West. Now, the N64 barely saw any piracy, as the concentrated efforts had moved to the PlayStation. In some ways, you can determine what system is the most popular in any given system generation by how much effort is there to put piracy into effect and how successful it has been. It’s no surprise then than the GameCube piracy was less enticing than PS2, mostly because a more popular system also has the most games for people to take a crack at. Then we come to the Wii, which wasn’t just a popular system, but a massive success and its piracy wasn’t just easily accessed; it was made into something everyone in the mainstream could do by themselves and take advantage of. Before this most systems required either external carts, an external device plugged in or physical modification to the PCB to make piracy easier. With PlayStation, you could just have your local electronics store install a BIOS chip that jumped over checking if the disc was legit or correct region. Then you could burn PlayStation games willy nilly. There was also an external box that allowed you to boot into a special menu and skip that checking routine. Wii U mostly had piracy because it was easy to implement after the Wii, but it never really had titles people were interested in. There’s a reason why Nintendo kicked it out rather fast and started the 9th console generation well before Microsoft and Sony were putting their systems out.

Seeing Nintendo considers themselves taking a hefty blow in their sales because of piracy with the Wii (in reality, it’s because Nintendo effectively abandoned the system mid-way through its lifecycle and gushed out garbage instead of putting further effort into high calibre titles) they have been taking rather heavy-handed actions against piracy with the Switch. Such things like the Switch having physical traces on the PCB that get burned out with certain updates to effectively suing everyone who might enable the system being cracked open for whatever reason. The latest hit was against Le Hoang Minh, who was selling RCM Loader, a dongle that would enable homebrew to run on the Switch. While Nintendo can’t attack Minh for piracy per se, their attacks as of late have been against groups selling dongles like this, or groups that are offering service that would modify the Switch to run homebrew software. In Nintendo’s eyes, these are all against the rule of law and End User Agreement as well as breaking copyright by circumventing the system’s protections. Nintendo DMCA’s these people often and drags them to court.

I’m not going to dance around the subject and claim that people who are purchasing these items and services have the end intention of running homebrew on their system or other more legitimate methods. It’s rather clear that piracy is one of the many end-goals here and both consumers and corporations have to live with it. However, most actions these hardware companies take to prevent piracy end up damaging the legitimate customers. For example, Sony removed the ability to run Linux on PlayStation 3 because someone managed to find a way to run homebrew through it. Not only a complete element was removed from the system, but Sony ended up paying millions because of that as they had advertised the system with Other OS capability. Now that the Switch destroys physical traces on the system, it might cause troubles down the line. Of course, fighting piracy with online-only systems and digital-only sales is one method of battling piracy as well, both of which don’t do favours for the general customer. If anything, battling piracy has only caused customers to lose control over their games and system, which actually has turned a minor section of these customers looking into homebrew and piracy even more in order to take full control over the products they bought and own.

Is Nintendo in the right in their crusade against these homebrew enablers? They believe so, and they believe their DMCA’ing and taking legal actions to protect their intellectual property that they see is being infringement by circumventing protections. Team-Xecutor, one of the more prolific teams offering homebrew for the Switch, accused Nintendo of legal scare tactics and censorship. There’s little doubt Nintendo wouldn’t try to intimidate groups like Minh and Team-Xecutor first before taking full legal actions, although throwing censorship in there is a dubious claim. However, all these products that enable homebrew can be seen as part of the Right to Repair movement. Apple and Nintendo, and effectively everyone else who offers electronics, is in the same boat here, as third party products, be it goods or services, would take repair and service revenue out from their pocket. In some cases, like with Apple and third-party repair parts, they would lose control over the overall device and its parts. This is under the guise of offering better and more qualified service, which is straight-up bullshit. This total control over the systems has stemmed from customers trying to fix their own devices or had third party members trying to fix it for them and then claiming warranty from the corporation. It was more or less a 50/50 chance whether or not they would repair or replace the product, but more often than not they’d end up replacing it simply because that was the cheaper option. Nowadays large amounts of customers still play the system and claim warranty on functional items. Stores rarely check these products and simply send the supposedly faulty device back and the customer gets a new device for free, and another few years of warranty. Warranty which they’ll go claim back, effectively getting a replacement device every few years. This is just one common example of how the customer-provider relationship is being abused constantly by the consumer. It becomes rather understandable why companies would want to take total control over the devices and software the customer purchases simply to prevent unnecessary losses gathered from customers effectively screwing them. In the end, all the customers at large get screwed.

Whether or not these products that allow homebrew on the Switch actually infringe Nintendo’s rights in any way are less important than the results they cause, and that is piracy. While piracy is seen as a massive threat to any entertainment industry and portrayed as such, it is in actuality completely different beast.  There is no better form of advertising or showcasing the value of a product other than giving it in the hands of the customer himself and the giving freedom to go town with it. Many films and music albums have been sold when people have seen and listened to a pirated copy and the same applies to the game industry. Game demos was found to damage game sales because they showcased how terrible those games could be. All sales are final is the mantra certain companies want to repeat, as they know the product they’re selling is in many ways faulty. Both sides should find a way that wouldn’t infringe either side in good faith, but that’s something that won’t ever happen because that’d require consumers to change their habits and mindsets to a large degree and corporations to lose most of the control they have over products they’re now selling. Seeing as global corporations are moving towards abolishing the idea of owning anything you buy, replaced by a subscription model that would give them complete control over the product as well as make them more profit, that’s something we’re never going to reach. Ultimately, piracy, IP and trademark infringement are used as excuses to further destroy whatever control and ownership the consumer. You’re more or less expected to consume just the same but never see the end product truly in your hands. If and when things are digital, this applies doubly so. Even with a company like Nintendo with a family-friendly image, the end goals seems to be the same as with every other company; work to consume, but never to own or control what you are consuming.

Beware the words “Leave it to use”

For the slightly-less-than-a-decade, I’ve kept this blog I’ve noticed one thing that’s been increasing year by year; the reduction of customers’ agency.  It’s been going on ever since World War II, as corporations became ever more global and information technology kept maturing towards the globally connected era we’ve entered. It’s all about the control of the product, nothing more, nothing less. You would think this just a minor problem, but considering things like homes, cars, the everyday equipment we use to make food, you name it, are products that corporations wish to gain control over. This would be laughable if it wasn’t already taking place with the media we consume.

The finest example of how customers lose agency is with streaming media and online stores that don’t give you full freedom to the product. The examples, of course, are Netflix and Steam. Their users have allowed convenience to take over their own agency, the control of the product they consume. While both Netflix and Steam allow you to consume the content they provide at your pleasure, it’s under their rules. Netflix decides what you can watch in its selection much like how Steam’s library decides what you are able to buy. While this seems natural, it also means they are a controlling middle-man, the ones saying what can and can not be on their virtual shelves. Not only this works against the consumer with the limited selection, something that the Internet has made moot when you could buy whatever game with slight searching, but that’s not possible nowadays as the majority of PC games have become Steam-linked. You are unable to play them without the digital console in the middle without resorting to cracking them. Even when you buy the physical disc, chances are that the default installer instantly jumps to Steam with no other way to play it. You have no options, you lack the control. The same goes what Netflix offers with its model, taking away the control of the product. The difference being here is how Steam allows needs you to download the games and to some extent meddle with them and you retain the right to play them, as long as you go through Steam. You have no control over Netflix. If a show is dissipaters from the catalogue, it’s gone.

Subscription is the word for both. You subscribe to the license or to the service, which means the users are completely willing in most cases to waver away their own agency and control, and all the responsibility those bring with them, to the corporations running these services.  In the case of  entertainment media this seems fair, yet again the customer has no control. To many the idea of having physical media at your house seems distasteful, some even hate the idea of physical items taking space. Both of these are things that require the customer to carry weight on their backs rather than dumping them elsewhere. Despite there being many who don’t want that physical media are happy that alternatives exist, but there are no alternatives that would allow them to extend their own agency and control over the products. All they are getting is the equivalent of a movie ticket.

Hollywood was extremely afraid of losing control over their product when VHS was first introduced in the 1970s. What would happen if customers bought their own copy of the movie, which they could watch over and over again? The theatres and studios would lose money now that they couldn’t control the product the customer owned. They introduced a move to install a magnetic wipe head into VCRs, which would gradually blank the tape as it was watched. By the third time, the customer would lose most if not all of the tape’s content, forcing them to buy a new copy. This idea never came to be, but its vestiges are now in the types of Netflix, where the customer has no control whatsoever.

Netflix has taken everything out of the customers’ hands. The product, at a glance, is the service of streaming series and films. It’s also the second-best way to save space by allocating all that to Netflix digital services, as long as you’re willing to wave away your rights. Much like Steam, Netflix can cancel your subscription at any point they see you breaking their contract. Similarly, some argue that you never bought movies, films or games in general, just their license. The difference, of course, being that by having a physical item in my hand negates this, as none of the companies can come to my home in any legal measure and take that product away.

All this is highly debatable and most people will dismiss both of them. However, this service model of a subscription is being extended to things like cars, printers and washing machines. Rather than buying a machine of your own, you subscribe to a service of which you pay monthly. You would never own it, just pay for the privilege to use someone else’s machine. If something were ever to happen to it, or the service owner deems you to break any of the rules, you’re screwed. It’s the same with cars, and now with smart cars driving themselves, even the responsibility of learning to drive is taken away from the customer.

That’s all this is ending up, ultimately. When the customer is losing their agency and rights to own anything, everything is locked out from their hands. Apple is a massive example of this as their practices both in hardware and software is as anti-consumer as it could be. Their updates are bricking older machines, they refuse to sell spare parts to their devices and offer higher-cost exchange programs instead. The systems are built to fail as well, with flaws that could be nothing less than intentional. Apple’s systems and products are a lifestyle, and their customers buy into that as much as they do into their products. Of course, whatever you do on your Apple devices also means Apple has the right to sell your data to advertisement companies and such, something that they have in common with Google and other big tech companies. Even with Steam and Netflix, they get data from their users they can make money on. Your privacy is nonexistent, and that is sadly something we all have more or less accepted a necessity. It shouldn’t be, and this is one of those points where the law is behind the times. I’ll outright argue that selling user information should be considered an illegal invasion of privacy despite whatever agreement clauses these companies put into user contracts. It’s one more thing where consumers lose agency, and it’s one of those things gets talked about yet nobody is making any moves to actually do anything about it.

The whole Right to Repair seems to be doomed. Companies like John Deere and Apple are fighting it in very dirty ways, but this is all about controlling the product again. They don’t want complete control over the product, but also the way they’re used and everything tied to them. Both corporations aim to lock the customer to their dealers alone in a manner nobody else could service their devices. With John Deere this is even more evident in how this would effectively remove all the competitions from the aftermarket and repair section as there has been a rather long tradition of optional and alternative parts from cheaper manufacturers. Parts that might have been slightly worse, but had the exact same performance. With John Deere moving more and more towards a similarly closed ecosystem to Apple, farmers will find themselves unable to find parts to fix their machines without needing to pay premier prices, but also they’ll find themselves in a situation where field modifications or modified software locks them out and bricks the system. It’s a matter of time, not whether or not this is possible. Apple is already doing this. You can’t even change the screen or the camera between two new Apple iPhones without the phones freaking out and making features inaccessible. It appears that smart devices are the ultimate way to lock control away from the users unless they decide to modify the system to remove these elements, e.g. de-Google an Android phone. Even then, if something is burned to the hardware to make the device effectively non-functional intentionally, the only way for the customer to go would be to not buy such a product and go for another product that wouldn’t infringe the customer’s control. This isn’t even a question if someone would want to modify or not, if there were a need or not, but rather simply whether or not the customer would be able to. When the customer doesn’t have any choice and all there is one singular option, we’ve lost large portions of personal and individual rights to what we’ve put our efforts into gaining.

Hell, you can’t even buy a non-smart TV anymore. Everything has a chip innit to spy on what you do with the device.

What’s the ultimate end goal here? At this pace, the customer will end up losing more of their rights and the agency they have towards the things they purchase. Purchasing itself will turn into a subscription with products, and products will be tied to a service.  With that, the customer’s control over is taken away, after which more and more of our lives will be controlled by an outside power. When you leave everything to the corporations, they’ll take it gladly. The customer is expected to consume, but only under the terms of the provider with no personal control whatsoever.

Most of the previous could be considered a small nuisance, something which we could let go. However, it’s a slide that won’t stop. While ownership is a contested concept, what’s behind it are ultimately strong values of determination, personal responsibility and willing to take control one your own life. These should be clear things to adults. You have to find a way to make a living in order to strive towards your own personal goals. Some of these goals might be at work, others in personal life. It asks determination, and responsibility to carry the necessary tasks out. We can’t play all day long doing nothing or live on other’s wing. Certainly, there are those who would provide for others, yet that means losing your own agency and control in the same manner corporations are taking away customer’s agency. Making our own decisions while we are dependent on someone, or something else, makes us only a slave to the system which can exert control over us however it would wish to. Hence, we must take control of how we live, which requires the two first aforementioned bits. Yet we’re willingly and constantly allowing corporations terrible consumer practices and invasions of privacy as well as underhanded service models to undermine all these. Hell, all those devices at your home, that listen to you during every moment, were introduced by likes of Amazon and Google rather a governmental power. Rather than a nation becoming that stereotypical evil oppressor we know to hate and fight against, we’re gladly willing to let all our responsibilities go and embrace these devices with open arms. At this rate, there will be two points; One where the customer refuses to give away his freedom to choose how they live with all the responsibilities it brings; the other where everything we have is owned by someone else and we have no control over our lives.

It all really ends in taking responsibility on the actions and decisions we make. Something like taking a loan for school is ultimately a decision and a responsibility we must make, and then undertake the task of paying them back. The alternative is that we have no responsibilities, and thus no choices to make.

How much value you give it

While looking up some footage of paste Aleste games on Youtube and NicoNico fora possible future post, I happened to see a video asking if the upcoming Aleste Collection was worth buying. I don’t go for these kinds of videos, because the answer is personal for everyone. If you find value, joy or usefulness in something, that the purchasing a product is probably your best bet. Price is determined just how much you value these elements in that given product. While we can discuss and argue the objective and subjective values of buying anything and if they’re worth the purchase, but ultimately our purchasing habits are based on the whole idea of personal value. We don’t buy what we don’t value personally. Sometimes it’s not the item itself that we value, but the prestige and the status it brings. A classical example would be brand clothing, shoes and bags that cost more than most people make in a year’s salary as they’re status symbols first and foremost. The materials and work put into these pieces in no way would match up with the price they’re going for.

Buying games, or entertainment media in general, shows how much we value it. Especially if it’s something we don’t have to do or make ourselves because making good entertainment is stupidly hard. Let me rephrase that: Good entertainment is stupidly hard to make. It’s rather easy to make lousy entertainment with all your energy and effort you can muster. Even then the most incompetent works can be found entertaining for all the wrong reasons, which has allowed ‘tube channels like Red Letter Media to build their career on. That’s a whole another subject though. If you read the guest posts that are coming up in few more parts in the upcoming months about Star Trek Enterprise, you’ll probably get an idea how much it irks the consumer when something that’s been done well, masterfully even, subsequently turns into slog and quality goes to the trash. While it has always been a contest between consumers on what’s their favourite series is and what’s the worst one out there. You’ll find people arguing over what they value in a show over another. For some, the fact that Voyager has Janeway as the captain is enough to consider it as the best entry while others will say that about Deep Space Nine with Sisko. While we are taught in school the value of objective assessment (or at least the media education we got did, your mileage may vary depending on your education system) and how to assess material purely on its true merits rather than subjective points, we will more or less always default to liking something and simply say something is good. While we can use our noggin’ to think on merits and describe them in a proper fashion, the default in discussions on the Internet seems to be subjectivity being the king. While I could chide about this, there’d be no real reason. That subjectivity is the winning march of marketing and emotional contact we make brands and products.

It could be argued that we don’t need much in our lives and that our houses would be rather empty if we didn’t value non-essential. You can argue what is and what isn’t non-essential, but let’s put the line between what allows you to live and what’s extra. Some people need computers on their line of work, others don’t. Nobody really needs television, as news unrelated to our daily survival is mostly an extra (is my house going to burn down thanks to that forest fire?). Books, movies, other forms of entertainment we have either on our shelves or are paying to access via a subscription are, in the end, just extra as well. We could put the time and effort to produce whatever things to entertain ourselves just fine. That is a rather harsh line and view to make, but it all ends up that it’s not the most effective way of living or making a living. Life might become rather dull and not everyone learns the expertise to make the best of things. More often than not, what you are able to create is not at the level of delivering the expected quality for others, no matter how much time you put into it. You can also argue that entertainment, or play, is essential to human nature as all higher or more advanced forms of life play. It seems to be an essential part of life and being able to continue to live on. What the stimulation entertainment gives us is in many ways essential as it’s a form of play that’s transformed and mutated into further forms. Some people are able to play with things to the point of no one else being able to match them. If you’re reading that as art being rather non-essential thing, something that’s taken to an extreme extent and at its core may not be necessary to society, that’s what it is. Playing itself seems to be an essential thing to life, and art overall is taking forms of play further and further, giving it new meaning. We’re not satisfyed “just” to play around at some point, we have to take things to a point where there’s “meaning” to it. However, that’s just another argument attempting to raise your eyebrows, as the whole point is the other side of the coin; what could be non-essential is necessary nevertheless due to its nature of stimulating us and willingness to give up resources for it.

Take this blog as an example. The main point isn’t to entertain anyone. If I were, this blog would be nothing but Muv-Luv and Guilty Gear posts. I’m entertaining myself with these posts. There’s no value for me to trying to cater or sell it as a service, as that would lessen my own entertainment value. While the emotional connection to this thing is close to nil, it does offer me other benefits like forcing myself to consider more than one side of things. While in the persona, being in the middle of the road and consider things from outside my own angle of view has benefitted me, but that’s a past thing now. If you find a value of some kind in these typings, that’s just a big bonus from my end. I hope you value whatever entertainment you happen to find. The blog’s not a necessary thing for either of us, but it has some value, seeing it’s worth for me to exchange the time I have to write this trite and you to read it.

However, there is a downside to all this. We tend to value what we can’t have or what we can’t afford. You might want that Gucci bag, but your monetary situation doesn’t really allow you to. We end up taking loans to pay what we can’t afford. Often this value comes from outside, like a car that has high prestige to it, but has no real use or is cumbersome. Cars like the classic Countach or DeLorean from Back to the Future are hailed as exemplary cars in design or due to their pop-culture status, but as real cars, they were rather shit and not suitable for any proper driving. Both had deep flaws you wouldn’t find in cheaper cars, yet they were valued higher and in few ways still are. We are willing to overlook significant flaws either in our own situations or in the products themselves, if they meet our wants. What we want may not be what we need, and marketing has made it a finely tuned craftsmanship how to tell and influence us in order to tell us what we need. What we feel we need is rarely in connection what we truly need, yet that want for something is often too much to handle.

Pizza Pizza

As long as I can remember, Domino’s Pizza has been the butt of jokes to the point even my Vietnamese associates know a few. They had a massive problem with PR and their pizza for numerous years and found themselves in a downward spiral in the mid-2000s, striking the all-time low in 2008 when their stock price was just three dollars. Nowadays they go for around 380 bucks. It wasn’t the easiest route.

Despite Domino’s hitting their lowest point, they experienced a massive PR crisis following Michael Setzer’s and Kristy Hammond’s Youtube video showcasing how much they loved to ruin the food they were preparing. They pleaded guilty a year later. This video effectively confirmed how Domino’s food was prepared in the minds of the consumers, further enforcing the jokes that were made and pushed customers away. It didn’t help that the video ended up being one of the top search results if you searched for Domino’s at the time. Even disregarding this incident, Domino’s was seen as some sort of crime against food and ingredients, or as Adweek’s short story put it on their focus testing, it’s startling to hear the degree to which consumers regard Domino’s as the embodiment of culinary evil. During this and numerous other focus tests Domino’s pizzas were called all sorts of names and claims of them using fake cheese and the like in their products were common, hence the jokes of the time. Some of them have survived long enough to be part of pizza-eating culture.

Domino’s decided that they need to turn their ship around and hard. Ever since their record-low stock price and the whole PR disaster with Setzer and Hammond, Domino’s began to comb through their complaints and reviews for the most common negative mentions and comparisons, as mentioned in their four and a half minute documentary what they were doing. This video, while being a corporate produced piece, is one of the things Domino’s did to have that boat turned. They went back to the recipes and worked on them and revised what they were doing wrong. Supposedly more training was given to the workers to prevent the mishaps the aforementioned video caused. Domino’s, in all effect, owned that they were rather shit company with workers who didn’t care if your pizza was terrible or not. The linked video shows how proud Domino’s was after they went and created new pizzas, which were more or less made from scrap. Everything from the dough to toppings was tested multiple times over and changed wherever needed. Whether or not this is all true will probably be always an open question, yet even from this video it is evident how much money Domino’s spent to revise their image by revising their image through their product. They even went as far as providing their focus group members with these new pizzas to test and get their opinions. They made these into ads, no less.

Domino’s Pizza owning up and takings steps to deliver to the customer the kind of pizza they wanted while making a public, transparent stunt out of it all has made them the most valued pizza restaurant chain. While some still retain the image of Domino’s being the worst kind of pizza you can have, that’s rather outdated view by about a decade. That, and they probably never had Greek pizza. Domino’s stocks have been in constant rise, and they’ve been trying to renew customer interest in various manners after their renewal, like collaborating with Hatsune Miku in Japan. part of their whole shtick of being transparent to at least some extent, they’ve allowed Food Insider to make a short video how their pizza is made and delivered, though personally, I have to say I’m not exactly excited by the idea of the dough being made elsewhere from the spot. Delivery food is making some nice bucks at the moment, so Domino’s made some nice bucks earlier this year as people didn’t want to leave their homes.

What’s your point? I hear Wes asking me there. My point is that Domino’s pizza listened to their customers, changed their product and working methods to better fit the demand. Not only they were willing to take in feedback and were honest about it to themselves, but were willing to make rather transparent transition from what they were to what they wanted to be. Customers love that, and that made them a billion-dollar company.

This same set of ideas can be applied to any industry on their basis. While the creative industries want to sell the image of one creator or a team of creative individuals delivering an earth-shattering piece that can only be experienced in so many fashions, the reality is that any product needs to be carefully planned out and balanced between the original intent and the customers’ wants. That is far harder than you would expect, as some corporate cultures do everything by data alone, which can lead to discarding feedback in total and the only thing that says anything is sales data. This can be combined with long-term career businessmen, who are hard stuck on their own methods of working, as it has produced large revenues up to that point already, making the total renewal of their productions hard if not impossible. In the foodstuff world, this is easier to do than e.g. in automobile production or the like, where you can only begin to start this process with the next series of cars rather what you already have in production. With games, music and film this could be implemented in an easier manner, but it requires humility among these egos, and that’s something the self-clashing creative industries do not see too often. Imagine if, for example, EA would make a public announcement that they’ve listened to all the feedback they’ve gotten through the years and have begun to consider how they produce, develop and publish games, as well as how they tackle advertising in their games or in which manners lootbox mechanics function. It’d take years for them to root out these methods and manners they’ve cultivated throughout the years and end up putting efforts into making games that wouldn’t nearly kill their workforce or would contain whatever is currently the most underhanded way of making that extra money. Something like this happening in the creative industries is as likely to happen as a pig flying through your window. It happens on occasions, but extremely rarely.

Few posts ago I wrote how I’m tired of the PR game. Domino’s Pizza turned their PR disaster into a chance of renewing their image through transparency. Because transparency to that effect would necessitate losing face first in order to gain higher PR wins in the long run, you won’t see this happening with franchises like Star Wars or any of the botched film franchises. You will never see one of the head honchos stepping up, admitting the money they spent on a movie bombing like no other was a mistake and that they will look into renewing and satisfying the customer. That would go against how things are presented to the audience, the whole Hollywood/ creative myth, how glamorous it is to be a successful creator. Yet even sure-shot franchises like Star Wars, Alien and The Terminator have slumped, the latter two effectively becoming more or less dead thanks to the latest movies. Hell, even the Predator franchise is back in the casket after The Predator managed to fuck up the series. As much as it often goes against the corporate grain, transparency and honesty are two things the customer values. If a corporation manages to be open about their faults and missteps about themselves and is visibly improving themselves, that creates almost natural emotional connections to both your current customers and your possible customers.

The one place where transparency should be the most important bit is in crowdfunding like Kickstarter. If you’ve run a Kickstarter and have managed to each your funding goal, every single thing you do with the money or with the project should be logged in without censorship shared with the backers. All the good you do is doubly more worthwhile when you admit fucking something up and explaining the methods of either supplementing or fixing what’s gone wrong. With crowdfunded products you have to remember that these aren’t your customers; these are the people who funded your project. Being transparent with them is the least you can do. The PR game wants to mangle and twist every screw-up into something positive in false manners, and more often than not the customer can see through that. It’s up to each individual customer how much leeway they might allow the PR game, and most often you can see it in the form of taking their business elsewhere. Of course, if you proceed to attack the customer when you want them to buy something from you, well, not everyone is masochistic.

Perhaps Marvel and DC should take after Domino’s Pizza. Japanese comics have been outselling American Superhero comics for some time now. In the face of this fiercer competition from beyond the ocean, it would be a good moment for American comic companies and creators to stop for a moment if they’re doing something wrong.