||Ramblings 8: Mergers, Microsoft, E3 and More
May 17, 2002 Paul Sullivan
Summary: Our resident editorialist, Paul, drops some more of his insight on recent industry events, including the completed HP merger, the neverending Microsoft trial, The Sims as top selling PC game ever, and more!
| Legal Issues||Page:: ( 1 / 4 )|
After all the legal wrangling, the back-stabbing, the press conferences and the hype, it looks like the battle is over and the HP-Compaq merger has been completed. The families of the founders were against the merger from the start, citing the appointment of CEO Carly Fiorina as a disastrous mistake and that such a merger would doom the company to years of debt and a represent an unacceptable departure from the core values that HP had stood for over the decades.
Of course, Ms. Fiorina maintained all along that the old HP Way was holding HP back from becoming a modern powerhouse. That the family was lamenting the past and not keeping pace with the blistering IT marketplace. That HP must shed its traditions and face the realities of a new business world where the strong and the bold survive and prosper. They killed off the calculator division, started breaking the company off into pieces and prepared HP to become a lean, mean takeover machine. She worked hard to convince institutional investors to toe the line, promising a huge return on their investment should they play ball (at least according to court documents) and indicating that a failure to merge would seriously hurt HP's potential for large leaps in profits.
The end result was a slam-dunk for Fiorina. The founding families were rebuked, as Compaq voted overwhelmingly for the merger and HP narrowly approved it. The court sided with Fiorina against the opposition and Fiorina was able to kick the dissident family member heading the opposition flat off the board. Like her or not, she played the power struggle to the hilt, and she now stands supreme.
As an outsider, I find this to be an incredibly interesting insight into the types of power struggles that usually go on behind the scenes in our industry. We know that Ion Storm had its shake-ups, as did Digital Anvil. We hear about problems in gaming companies all the time, and read about mega-mergers as one company gobbles up others teetering on the brink of failure. Microsoft is buying gaming companies left and right over the last few years, and as we now know, even tried to buy Nintendo. Rarely do we see such things played out right in front of our eyes, warts and all. I have a new appreciation for the hardball these folks can play, and I'm glad I'm just a game player and not a game maker.
Is E3 really all it is cracked up to be? I'm not so sure. Big events like this are hyped all year round and gamers lap it up like thirsty dogs at the water bowl. At least the folks behind Duke Nukem Forever have opted not to show up at the event and hype the game that is taking FOREVER just to get finished. Epic is cranking titles out at a rapid pace, so they have some credibility, as does ID Software, because they have an excellent track record of putting up the goods. Doom 3 should be a masterpiece, none of us doubt that, but who figured on Unreal Tournament 2003 being released this June? Unreal 2 looks promising, and is far along in development.
So what of the games that have been talked about year after year and never seem to show up? Well, many of those titles have been cancelled. You read about it all the time, particularly with MMPORPGs lately. The project is too ambitious and spirals out of control. Warcraft III will come to market this summer after all, but in a much smaller package then first envisioned. Less races, etc. It will still be very cool, just smaller.
Maybe companies like Croteam have the right idea. Release what you have, charge a little less for it, and follow it up with more content as it is finished. After all, Serious Sam has done quite well indeed, and the improvements from the First Encounter to the Second Encounter are noticeable. Had they waited another year or two to finish all three parts, the game may have looked dated and uncompetitive by comparison. As it stands, both games have sold well and filled the void as we wait for next generation products from Epic and the folks making Doom.
SIDEBAR: I'd rather pay $20 for a short game and enjoy it now than pay $50 for a longer game in 2 years.
| Rantings||Page:: ( 2 / 4 )|
The Case Continues...
For the love of sanity, when will this Microsoft trial end? The other judge was so Anti-Microsoft that it wasn't even funny, but the new judge seems to be Pro-Microsoft. I thought judges were supposed to be impartial? I guess people bring their political views to the courtroom after all, eh?
Microsoft was found to be an illegal monopoly. Of that there is no debate. So what is all the fuss about? Why not just break them up into two or three smaller companies and let each of their stocks skyrocket so all of the people involved can get even richer than they are?
The states are asking for things that a lot of users have been asking for - the right to select which parts and pieces of the Windows operating system you want to install or remove from your system. How come we can remove Media Player in earlier versions but not now? How come XP's Media Player not only tracks all of your music and movie viewing but also takes over streaming media functions regardless of which player you specify should handle them inside the browser? How come they are trying to shove MSN messenger down your throat and don't let you uninstall Outlook Express of all things? Why can't Microsoft just cave in, make a few "token" adjustments to let people remove what they want and get it over with? They already dominate the OEM market, and it looks like that won't change at all as a result of this settlement. It also looks like they will continue to dominate the Office market, because they won't have any additional bundling restrictions imposed and Sun has decided to charge for Star Office 6. It's not like Microsoft is going to suffer from such a small adjustment, right?
Game Controllers Are Too Boring!
I was sitting down playing Comanche 4 the other day, a game I really, really like, and I realized that I was playing the game with the keyboard and mouse and not missing a beat. How did that happen? When did we move from these killer joysticks with 300 buttons and complicated configuration software to playing flight games with the keyboard and mouse? We need a resurgence in the game controller market. We need Gravis, Thrustmaster and Act Labs to keep on cranking out some innovative solutions! Light guns, joysticks, game pads, the works.
Sims: What's The Big Deal?
Somebody help me here. Why is the Sims the most popular PC game ever created? How come it isn't Quake or Doom? How come it isn't one of the founding games that started it all? Why is it this exercise in voyeurism known as The Sims Franchise? Is it not bad enough that Myst was the best seller before that? At least Myst had some redeeming qualities, such as incredible graphics and some pretty well done puzzles, but The Sims?
At least SimCity had some intelligence to it. SimCity 2000 was a pretty fun game to play, every now and then. In some ways it is like StarCraft, where you manage assets and try to ensure positive flow of goods so you can build more things and grow to dominate the map. Yeah, the only people you fight are city hall and angry, garbage throwing environmentalists who are mad because you put up another power plant, but the game had a rhythm and a goal.
But to micromanage people? Isn't that why people have kids, become teachers or enter into management? How sick is it that you have a follow-up called "Hot Date" where the goal is less than honorable? What is this world turning into? Are our lives so unfulfilling that we have to live vicariously through tiny computer controlled people?
It's a disservice to all hardcore gamers when a title like The Sims can outsell first person shooters like Doom and Quake. Come on people, slap yourselves on the forehead and get in it in gear! We have to show people what they are missing! Maybe it’s a conspiracy and the sheep are simply being guided to the trough that is easiest to eat from. Never forget: Soylent Green Is People.
SIDEBAR: How come hardcore gamers can drive the industry to new heights, demanding ever faster video cards and CPU's, but they can't break the sales records set by games like Myst and Sims? How horribly wrong is that?
| TIdbits||Page:: ( 3 / 4 )|
If I never see another removable magnetic media product from Iomega, I'll be just fine. They have never bothered to drop media prices to a level that makes sense, and as a result their Jaz drives have floundered and their Zip drives are getting killed by optical media. Remember the "Click of Death", where you pop a disk into your Zip or Jaz drive and it would just sit there, clicking, and before you knew it the disk became totally unreadable? I sure do, and their pathetic response to the problem soured me on them completely, even after years of being a loyal fan. Did you have as much trouble getting warranty replacement disks from them as I did? I have to pay $3.95 shipping for a $10 disk? Please, I can purchase 6 gig of CD-R's for that same $10. Their peerless product seemed intriguing, back before 80 gig drives were $99 at CompUSA. Now, they are also highly over priced.
Optical disks are a great thing, but the optical drive market is confusing as could be. I cannot believe that we are looking at 40x and higher rates of burning. It is utterly amazing. How fast is fast enough? Of that I'm not sure, but I know that it is becoming harder and harder as time goes on to pick a drive maker to purchase from. TDK, for instance, switches OEM suppliers all the time, so you never really know just what you will get with a TDK drive. Cendyne has four or five constant OEM suppliers, and even though their drives may say 32x, on any given day you may end up with a drive from Asus or Aopen or if you are lucky, Lite-on. It is enough to drive you nuts.
The Softer Side
One thing that I have discovered is that Nero 126.96.36.199 has really matured into a stable product that gives me much more consistent results than the perpetually trouble plagued Easy CD Creator, now manufactured by Roxio, the Adaptec spin-off. The deluxe version of this program has been buggy for years, but now even the basic version is less than stable and I'm sick of them sacrificing function for form. Nero supports formats that Easy CD barely acknowledges, and it has a much better level of success in making disk to disk copies than the Roxio made CD Copy application. Roxio's web pages that have you login just to download bug fixes and patches is a total annoyance, and I have no trouble jumping ship over to Nero full time now that they have stepped up to the plate. By the way, CD-Mate has replaced Clone-CD for me too. It is simpler, easier and more reliable than Clone-CD, and is almost always faster too. If you have not given that product a look, you really should.
As fast as gaming machines have gotten over the last few years, it seems like the software makers are going in the opposite direction. The kind of fat, bloated code that passes for game demos and final releases is embarrassing. Is there any reason you can think of why Comanche 4 chokes on resolutions above 1024x768 even on an AMD XP 2000+ with a Geforce 3 TI 500? There should not be. The explosions actually look a lot cheesier than I expected, and who really cares that much about actively deforming terrain textures? I love to play the game, but I'd rather play it at 1600x1200x32, you know? Does Comanche 4 look better than Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 Arena? Not to my eyes. So why is it so darn slow?
Do any of you use products from the AutoDesk affiliate Discreet? You know, makers of 3D Studio Max and the newer Gmax products? If you are a game designer you probably have, but now even MOD makers are needing tools like this to put out good levels for some of the new gaming engines. However, if you think Microsoft has predatory pricing and monopolistic practices, you better take a look at AutoDesk. I've used their software from way back in the day, when AutoCAD was just starting, and over time they have become one of the biggest players on the planet, and boy, do they know just how powerful they really are.
For example, they have this policy about upgrades that is a real pain. You pay $800 for AutoCAD LT 98 for instance, thinking that you can always upgrade when a decent new release comes out. But they have changed the policy so that if you did not upgrade to the minor changes in LT 2000 or later, you no longer qualify. As if LT was not bad enough, think about how you must feel if you spent $2000 on AutoCAD so you could do 3D modeling, and they pull the same stunt? Instead of $295 or even $495 upgrade, you may have to shell out another $2500 for the newest version. How many independent gaming companies can fork over that kind of dough for everybody in their office. I mean, I'm all for being legal, but they should not make it so expensive!
SIDEBAR: I think some companies are doing more to force piracy on users than anybody. How can we afford some of these upgrades, especially when thanks to all of these mergers, we have fewer choices than ever?
| Endgame||Page:: ( 4 / 4 )|
Bits And Pieces
I'm so sick and tired of copy protected music. I not only hate the entire concept, I hate the fact that you can't really tell which albums are protected and which are not. I've decided I'm not going to buy another music CD for the foreseeable future. The record industry is not getting another dime out of me until they stop this nonsense.
That said, for those of you who wish to know what CD's might in fact have protections, you can check out a nice non-fan site called Fat Chucks. There is a lot of content, including lists of CD's that may be affected by this travesty. For those who are just flat fed up with the RIAA and their Draconian ways, there is another site called, smartly enough, Boycott The RIAA. There is some text there about the industry, the actions of the RIAA and now, they even have some forums to discuss the whole mess.
In keeping with the tradition of my little bonus "boycott", I'm going to keep on listing those Pre-FM CD Tracks Of The Week, where I herald the playback of music that existed prior to all of this copy protection garbage. In keeping with the popularity of the new "First Family Of America":
Pre-FM CD Tracks Of The Week
- “Crazy Train” from Ozzy Osbourne
- “Iron Man” from Black Sabbath
- “Bark At The Moon” from Ozzy Osbourne
- “Fairies Wear Boots” from Black Sabbath
- “Rock n' Roll Rebel” from Ozzy Osbourne
All The Rest
Have you, like me, been wondering what the deal is with the licensing fees for DivX? After all, they sent out a bunch of warnings to web sites across the globe telling people that they better pay up if they want to be able to make DivX movies available for download on their site. You did know that didn't you? Well, if all my facts hold straight (yes, I did get this directly from the DivX guys and cleared it with my Editor just to be sure) then you may be shocked to know the real numbers. If you want to use the basic DivX 5 codec, you have to fork over $1,000 for a perpetual license. If you qualify for the "Pro" category and want to use the Pro version, you better be ready to pay an annual licensing fee of, get this, $15,000. Fifteen Thousand Bucks a YEAR?
Thank you kindly, I'll let Microsoft get its claws into me and start using Windows Media formats for free. Oh, and did I tell you, DivX 5 regular is version specific, so anytime you go beyond 5.x you have to pay another $1,000 for a perpetual license of the standard version? No wonder companies like Microsoft dominate the market. Could you imagine paying $15,000 to play Macromedia Flash content on your web site? To show CompuServe GIF's?
I'm in a quandary here. The way these big companies get us hooked is to give us something for free, drive all of the competition out of business and then start charging money for what used to be free. But come on, $15,000 a year for a web site that tries to eek out a profit? What kind of terrible choice is that to make? I'm sitting here hoping that the PER SECOND and PER MINUTE fees that the Mpeg4 guys want to charge never make it. It is bad enough that the Mpeg4 group wants to charge just to encode it, but now they want to charge for decoding it too? I gladly paid for PKZip back in the day, but PKUnzip was always free, you know? This is some bad, bad mojo folks, and I'm taking my bat and my ball and going home if it keeps up...
SIDEBAR: Sick and tired of all these hidden charges? When you turn left, does your wife tell you she meant your other left? Is college worth the money when you have to pay back all of those student loans? Tell us what YOU think in our (soon to require registration) Comments Section!