Thursday, October 30, 2008

In which I take the Wall Street Journal to task for their "analysis" of the impact of the Beatles appearing in Rock Band

So the Beatles at long last are going to have some kind of digital distribution, and it will be in the Rock Band series. The WSJ's article on it is fairly good, written as it is for a general audience, but it contains two paragraphs that made me wince.

The first is an observation about the relative sales performance of the two games. It follows earlier portions that have made it clear that the two games are competing, and that the Beatles deal represents a big win for Rock Band. This is apparently offset by:
DFC estimates that Guitar Hero and its sequels have generated more than $1.5 billion in cumulative revenue so far, three times as much as Rock Band. However, the two games are competing neck-and-neck so far this year, with MTV's launch of Rock Band 2 and Activision's latest, Guitar Hero World Tour, this past Sunday. Guitar Hero has issued seven titles to date, while Rock Band -- distributed by Electronic Arts Inc. -- has put out just two titles.

The implication is that Rock Band is the upstart, coming from behind; that GH is more successful than Rock Band. But, since there are no sales figures for the period since Rock Band's release, or across the last two releases or really anything that gives you an apples-to-apples comparison, it's what we call a "factoid." That is, "fact-" meaning "fact," and "oid" meaning "something like." It's an ornament, but not particularly useful in helping you figure out which game is winning.

Look, if you want to compare the two games, compare them in a meaningful way. When one game has a two-year head start, lifetime sales figures aren't a very good yardstick. And since the creative team (Harmonix) that is making Rock Band was responsible for developing the first 3 Guitar Hero releases (GH, GH II and GH:Rocks the 80s), perhaps those should be counted on the Rock Band side.

The second maddening paragraph is the very next one in the article:
Beatles songs available on a Rock Band game are likely to be popular, but analysts point out that the challenge will be in reaching out to Beatles fans, many of whom are in their 50s and 60s, and marketing the game in a way that will persuade them to buy a videogame console and try the game.
The "analysts" mentioned are no doubt glad they are anonymous, because this is a dipshit statement, on multiple levels. First, it assumes that Beatles fans are mostly over 50. Hello? They're the BEST ROCK AND ROLL BAND EVER. Their appeal transcends age. Yes, lots of people over 50 like the Beatles. So do lots of people who are under 50.

Second, it assumes that you have to be a Beatles fan to be interested in their music. I'm not a Jimmy Buffet fan, but I bought the 3-song Buffet set for Rock Band. Iconic, distinctive music has general appeal. The music of the Beatles will appeal even to non-Beatles fans.

Third and most annoying, it assumes that Harmonix and MTV are interested in trying to drive console sales. They don't make consoles. They make software and peripherals, and trying to drive sales of those things is their primary concern. Adding the Beatles to their product line (especially if they do a standalone Beatles game) drives software sales to people who already own consoles.

It's one of those superficially smart-sounding observations that falls apart under scrutiny. It shouldn't have made it past the editors at the WSJ.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Pondering on the VP debate

I still haven't watched it, but I have been following the blogospheric coverage, especially through One thing that was being theorized coming into the debate was that the format, especially the lack of direct interaction, was going to favor Palin. Another was that Biden needed to be careful and not attack too much, not come across as being mean to her.

Is it possible that the format, by depriving Biden of the opportunity to interact directly, wound up helping him more than her? Not sure if it's possible to tell after the fact, but the coverage I am reading is indicating that he came off as more sympathetic and human than she did, in addition to being more qualified.

Then again, I'm not reading everything (unlike Governor Palin, who apparently reads "all of" the newspapers and magazines), so this may just be an artifact of small sample size.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

AP, IP and baffling business decisions

Okay, I'm kind of cheating here. I originally wrote this for my internal blog at Best Buy, but I really like it, so I'm reposting it out here in the wild.

Original date: 6/20/2008

I've read a number of blog posts recently about AP's decision to try to impose very strict rules on use of their content. In essence, they're claiming that quoting more than 5 words from an AP article (in a public context such as a blog) constitutes infringing use of their intellectual property and they should be paid for it.
That strikes me (and many others) as an untenable legal position -- fair use seems to me (a non-lawyer) as granting greater ability to re-use than a 5-word limit will allow. It seems to me that AP is following in the footsteps of SCO or the RIAA; unable to grow their business in the fashion they were, they're suing customers (or potential customers) to create a revenue stream or safeguard the existing one.
Whether downloading music without paying for it is legal or not (probably not), whether it hurts sales or not (also probably not, in my opinion), it's a logical and inevitable consequence of technological change. Trying to hold back the Internet by suing potential customers is not likely to succeed, and a waste of time and energy that could be put into finding ways to actually grow your business.
There's an excellent article on the AP decision over at Greg Costikyan's Play This Thing blog. He points out that AP (and Reuters) had the opportunity to own news online but have missed the boat. To illustrate the futility of their approach, he wanted to find a story to quote (more than 5 words) from, but couldn't find one:
"... I searched on "videogame," and brought up...


Not a single story.

Now, the search was constrained to the last seven days, and I suppose it's vaguely possible that AP has not run a single story in the last week that contained the word "videogame" or dealt with them in any fashion -- but I doubt that. What's more likely, I suspect, is that search is on keywords, not fulltext, and that "videogame" isn't a keyword they use."

The full post is worth reading, but does contain a couple of swear words. Fair warning. :)

Netflix goes open, and I uncloak

So Netflix has opened up their data via an API. They're also using Mashery, which lead to me discovering something that probably should have been obvious: My Remix account works over at Netflix as well, since it's not really a Remix account but a Mashery account. 

In retrospect, duh. It tells you that on the login screen. I just hadn't connected the dots. 

In other news, I changed my Twitter handle to my real name. I figured that would be easier for people to keep straight. I'm keeping this blog, though, and I'm still Brainiac4 lots of places. I'm just being more open about who Brainiac4 is.