Compete with two similar products, not with one same

Some time ago I read an article about why video streaming platforms like Netflix will go by the way of the Dodo soon some time ago. The main argument was IP and copyrights and how they strangle the system. Not in the way you’d think, but because they allow companies to have a monopoly over a single show and not allow it to spread around to other streaming services. This supposedly leads into a position the monopoly over a show leads into an unfair competition as other platforms don’t have the tool to compete, the same show. I wish I could remember where I read this, because its so goddamn dumb. I have to wonder at what point we dipped over that consumers think two different platforms can’t compete with each other unless they have the same product in the lineup. That is nothing less than misunderstanding how two competing companies compete with their products. This to stay relevant to the blog, we’re of course going to use games as an example.

Super Nintendo and the Mega Drive competed each other just fine without largely sharing the same library. While the SNES dedicated itself to be a role playing machine alongside other games with slower pace, MD was more about the arcade action, all the while PC Engine had loads of shooters and B-Tier action games. Despite their preference in genres being rather clear, especially in the US, where MD had a sort of infamy for sports games among certain circles, the three consoles did compete directly with different entries in the same genres. Sega had Alexx Kidd to counter Super Mario Bros. before Sonic the Hedgehog was around the corner, and PC Engine had titles like Shubibinman and Valis, though Valis is more known for its Mega Drive entry in the Overseas market. Nevertheless, the series’ halcyon days were on the PCE. All these offer a different kind of platforming experience with their own flavour of style and approach, with varying degrees of success.

On the RPG side, Sega had its Phantasy Star and Shining series of games, with Koei bringing its Uncharted Waters series to the table. PC Engine had Cosmic Fantasy, Cadash, Vasteel and such, though Far East of Eden was first largely a PC Engine game before it jumped the ship when PC Engine effectively died. SNES had its fair share of RPG most already know, ranging from Dragon Quest to Final Fantasy.

The point I’m trying to make with all that is that streaming services aren’t dying because one service has a monopoly over a show. While it is true that people don’t really want to subscribe to a service just because it has one or two shows they’d like to watch, and seemingly have gotten used to the idea of everything being one place, these companies compete with each other with their unique libraries and takes on the same base concepts. Any station or streaming service could have tackled Game of Thrones with their own high-budget, semi-realistic adult fantasy epic if they had chosen to do so. None of them even seemingly attempted this. The same can be said for Star Trek Discovery, though The Orville was its direct competitor, and by all means, did get far better reception and is the show with superior writing. Star Trek Discovery currently stands as the show with the stupidest writing among all shows we have now, which doesn’t exactly spell promising future for the upcoming Picard series, especially now that Amazon picked it up after Netflix supposedly doesn’t want anything to do with modern Star Trek. I can’t blame them.

Back when The Addams Family debuted in 1964 on ABC, it was followed by The Munsters six days later on a rivaling network CBS. It is often mentioned that Bewitched first aired at the same time as well, though on ABC. While this sort of pace of production probably will never be matched nowadays, shows also have longer pre-production and hype period before they ever come out should make it easy for different channels and streaming service to put up their competing shows. While The Munsters enjoyed better ratings, it has been criticised for relying more on elaborate make-up and special effects over creative writing and show content. Perhaps that why The Addams family has stuck harder to the global pop-cultural schema while The Munsters hasn’t seen as much growth or appreciation, despite that relaunch attempt with Mockingbird Lane, a serious horror take on the series, which got less than appreciative reception.

Two different providers rarely compete with each other with the same product; they compete with two products that offer the same baseline consumer experience. This is why console business has become more twisted, as both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 offer largely the exact same baseline experience with all the multiplatform games, which means most of the third party companies don’t really care which one might succeed more over the other. Well, unless the first party games manage to install a large userbase, then the third parties will follow in-suit. All the generation winning consoles had the largest library of games exclusive to them.

While television (streaming is just modern television) and gaming are two different kinds of medium and forms of entertainment, the comparison is still apt. A monopoly over a single product is not a problem in itself, as long as the product is not one single, all-encompassing product that allows no other to enter the market. That’d be true monopoly then. We can make jokes about Microsoft and Windows all we want now, but that’s effectively what people who wish there would be only one console, one streaming service or one provider for anything really. No company will be altruistic if they have the whole market in their hands, they will take as much control as possible and squeeze. Much like how Disney is doing by amassing larger and larger amount of media property and companies under their belt. Disney is already the largest media empire we have, and if things continue to move to this direction, we are going to end up with few extremely large corporations controlling the media landscape.

However, Disney still has competition with Warner-Brothers. Perhaps the most relevant competition is their Looney Tunes against Disney’s Merry Melodies, or in modern era, DC vs Marvel. Two isn’t exactly a healthy market and there are more comic labels out there, like Dynamite, but the Big Two are most well known across the world. It is far from a healthy market still, and the competition is questionable at best at times. On silver screen however, Disney has taken the lead in the Superhero movie department with better quality scripts, though the future can be questioned.

While these corporations have ownership over whatever they are legally owned, nothing can keep from other companies or individuals using these materials as a source of inspiration and create something to compete. However, fans will always be willing to make fan games or fiction instead of creating something new and original. One of the many reasons why original homebrew and indie scenes can be very fresh places to visit occasionally due to new ideas propping often up, independent of the major providers. DL Site isn’t good just for porn, but for for wholesome new games and other content as well. Sometimes both.

No, streaming services aren’t going bust anytime soon because they can’t compete with the same show. However, if they are not able to provide a quality alternative, like how The Orville is to Star Trek Discovery, then that’s problem either in the creative lead department, mismanagement, or simply because that section of the consumers is not their target audience.

Streaming as a new-old phenomena in gaming

If this blog hasn’t hammered one thing in by this point is that video and computer games may be relatively young medium compared to literature, music, film and other forms of entertainment like theater, but at its core the reasons for playing these games and methods are not new in themselves. Nevertheless, the evolution of technology does mask old things with new coat of paint. Old things in a different way for the new generation.

This whole post started from listening to a discussion about streaming, to be frank. It is true that streaming has become a way of life and making a living to certain people, and its the kind of work that almost permeates the streamer’s life. If you’re also doing normal video work on Youtube, preparing pre-scripted material with voice over, graphics and video, that’s off from everything else alongside streaming. No kid who wants to grow up to be a streamer should think that’s its an easy or stable job. On the contrary, being a content creator via streaming and video creation takes loads of hard work to get good at it, and even then you might fail because you don’t find the audience or your charisma just isn’t up to the task.

Streamers on platforms like Twitch and Youtube are self-employed. They do no work for Amazon or Google they’re just users like any other. Youtube may have started as a site for people to put videos on that couldn’t be longer than ten minutes, but it’s evolved to this massive network of content providers, which essentially means Google has outsourced the content at their site to people who do it for free. Sure, there are partner programs and such, but ultimately users are external from the company itself. The same applies to Twitch. The money is made from sponsorship and donations from viewers.

None of this is new, and comparisons could be spun to whichever direction we’d want. For example, peeping shows on the net rely on monetary donations from the watcher for the provider to provide some visual titillation and more. Another example could be anyone doing public sports, who has been slabbed all over with sponsorship logos on their shirts, pants and who knows where.

Arts patronage is more or less a dead concept and has evolved into modern sponsorship, where it used to be high-position people like kings and queens supporting their chosen people for arts and crafts, while nowadays the equivalents would be large companies and individuals. There was an interesting paradigm shift about ten to twenty years ago with modern technology, which took place in very slow pace, where tipping someone for their content moulded into the donation via Patreon and other services we have today.

All this is new for current paradigm of electronic games regarding the users themselves, both content providers and supporters. While it all really stems from people wanting to watch other people doing something for their enjoyment (IRL streaming and such are just another form of Big Brother), modern communication technology has broken the wall of interactivity between the watchers and actors. For example, you can watch Casposaurus’ videos and comment on them, to which he’ll most likely reply in a cuntish way. You can also watch his streams and directly interact with him via the chat. The last wall breaks down when you can go to his Discord channel and talk with him directly about pretty much anything. We’ve come from people discussing about things on an online forum to real-time, anywhere at any time. It may not seem like a major change, but the underlying element here isn’t just being able to connect with the audience, but who is doing the connection; a person.

Generally speaking, the separation between a provider (e.g. a corporation) and its consumers is beneficial as it providers a buffer between the front and the back. While this buffer exists between the example content provider above, it is much thinner barrier. You can’t exactly contact a script writer or director directly and discuss their latest episode or a movie with. With streamers and other content providers, that is a solid possibility with most of them.

Content providers who take up streaming and video making as their full-time job are dependent on their content. If the barrier between the user and provider is thin and the product is themselves rather than the content they make, their personal actions and choices can and will affect the rate of viewers and possible revenue. Internet Drama may be fun to watch and laugh at times, yet it can have heavy consequences if those actions cause major loss in viewers. While providers can state that they won’t change their methods or content whatever the sponsors say, the reality is that they have to create content that satisfies at least certain audience. Effectively, providers create something they think to be of value, and hope their submission is worth the patronage of the crowd, that the value can be found in them.

Watching a streamer is akin to watching a sports. People don’t watch sports just for sport itself, because simply watching it for the technical execution can get a bit jarring on the long run. It’s the “drama” they watch it for, the tension of things. The same can be said of streamers’ audiences, who are not looking for just well played game, but the self-contained community surrounding it all. What’s the value viewers hold in the streams is different, though we can generalise them as for the viewer, for the community or for the style of content.

Stream community and cultures have a low-entrance barrier as anyone can enter it either as a viewer or streamer themselves. Everything related to the communities and the sub-culture is easy to understand and grasp by just looking at it for a moment, similar to sports. This is somewhat opposite to high-entrance barrier parts of culture, like high art galleries or opera, where the viewer has to put more of that grey matter into work to get the intended enjoyment. As such, it is only natural for video and computer gaming to adopt something old in a new way for itself, considering it has became one of the largest entertainment industries.

Netflix style gaming

Some time ago I was asked what do I think will be the next big thing in gaming. Usually I tend to argue that digital will not replace physical release for some time now (digital distribution has been said to obsolete physical media for some fifteen years for now) but I do recognize that cross pollination between the media is common. The future of gaming can once more found in the past, and that probably will be streamed games.

Streaming games isn’t anything new and few companies have already tried it few times over. Nintendo’s Satellaview service is perhaps the most prominent example next to OnLive’s cloud gaming. These two functioned rather differently, with Satellaview requiring a specific cartridge that would download and save the game on the cartridge itself, whereas OnLive’s MicroConsole TV Adapter (that’s what their console was called) would access a title on OnLive’s servers and stream it directly to the console.

Netflix’s and other streaming services’ success is something modern game industry is probably highly envious of. Games and movies don’t only affect each other visually speaking, but also how the industries sort of work. Modern mainstream game industry is just as corrupt and full of itself as Hollywood is, and both are envious of each other of their successes and products they put out. The consumer really loses in this little battle with each other.

It could be argued that modern technology isn’t up to perfect game streaming yet. Satellaview was more or less a similar service to Steam in how the game required a specific setup in order to be played, and OnLive’s service stated that the user needed to live thousand miles of within their server in order to get quality service. The Internet speeds are the bottle cap of the system overall, and as games require more and more oomph from the machine, the machines need to reflect this in their hardware. However, hardware still doesn’t reflect the quality of the games, as that’s still up to the developers how their games are designed and optimised, two things that seem to be missing from current mainstream industry.

One of the main reasons why companies would want to aim for game streaming is that they can claim it to be fighting against piracy through that. Claim is the choice of word here, because game companies don’t like people trading their games with each other. It’s better for them if everyone bought their games new from the stores. A streaming service would keep their the control of the market in their hands. Purchasing of games wouldn’t be a thing as the consumer would subscribe to a service. Except for the DLC, that would always be a separate thing. Of course, the user wouldn’t need to use any of his HDD space for the games due to cloud based service. In regards of history archiving, stream-only games would be hard to archive for future generations. Satellaview games suffer from this, especially with the radio broadcasts that went with them. Even now, a game that has its license expiring will be removed from stores and online services whenever applicable, and the same will apply to any streaming service.

Of course, the ownership question always pops up. With a streaming service, you would only own the console you would use for streaming, and for computers you wouldn’t probably own the software. You’d need to subscribe to the service itself and would have no control over anything in the end. Without a doubt, regional variants would continue to exists, just like with Netflix and other streaming services that limit what can be streamed in which country. This sort of regional locking is something that isn’t an issue with modern consoles any more, but with stream-only services a user wouldn’t be able to access games from another region without a VPN.

Which if the Big Three would launch their own modern game streaming service first? Sony certainly should have the basics for it, as they bought out OnLive. They should have all the documentation and basic framework how to set up a similar cloud gaming service. Perhaps this could be their ace in the hole to compete against Nintendo’s hybrid console. Microsoft on the other probably won’t do anything of the sort for a while now before they see how Project Scorpio turns out, and probably will mimic whatever Nintendo and Sony put out while trying to trump them with something over the top (see; Kinect and WiiMote.) Nintendo on the other hand seems to be already testing some waters with Switch’s paid online, as the current word on the street is that Nintendo’s paid online service has been delayed until 2018 and rather than offering a game for the subscribers to play, they will be able to access a plethora of classic games. Of course Nintendo would only offer classic games and nothing newer, as they don’t give a damn about their classic lineup of games. On the surface it does seem nice, with the cheaper price and all, but this most likely also means Nintendo won’t give two shits about Virtual Console, which was one of the reasons people bought Wii. Perhaps in their eyes a streaming service of these classic games could increase console sales, especially if the service was cheap enough.

I admit that companies hoping to take control over the consumers’ consumption of goods into their hands does sound like conspiracy theory to an extent, but no company would pass such an opportunity, because ultimately it is all about the money. By having all the string in your fingertips, a company could log in all the preferences of a consumer, supplement them, hit the right spots and sell the information forwards while still selling their own  product (i.e. subscription service and DLC in this case) to the consumer. The current consumer trend is to give control of products over the companies, and Steam probably exemplifies this the best alongside with Netflix. Certainly it is cheaper and you don’t amass large amounts of discs on your shelf. Perhaps there is too much trust put into these companies with all the information we give them.