Setting the Standard

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

Part thirteen of my ongoing culture column; originally published by Next Generation, under the title “The Road to a Universal Platform”. Now, despite my wittering most of these title and spin changes have a minor effect on the article. This one was… regrettable, though, as the article sort of makes the opposite point: though a universal format may be our inevitable destination, the notion is terribly premature. And yet because of the title and the spin, most people jerked their knees in response without actually reading the article. Oh well. Here it all is, as originally framed.

David Jaffe recently came under some criticism for a few statements to consumer website 1UP about his future visions of the game industry. The big headline, repeated across the Internet for a day or two, was “Ten years from now there will be one console”. It was an unguarded comment, following his own nostalgia for the days of rampant console exclusivity. Jaffe expressed annoyance at the current standard of cross-platform development, and wondered if it was coming to the point where the only distinguishing factor from one console to the next would be its first-party software. From there he made the leap that this small distinction might not be enough justification for multiple consoles – therefore, he figured, perhaps we’re on a road to a single universal platform.

There was much tittering in the aisles; a few people made comparisons to Trip Hawkins’ dreams for the 3D0 – a console standard that, much like a VCR or other piece of home electronics, would be licensed out to any manufacturer with the initiative. In fact, that comparison is pretty appropriate in that both Trip and Mr. Jaffe have the same reasonable – and actually rather clever – idea, with the same understandable flaw. Continue reading “Setting the Standard”

Five That Didn’t Fall

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

Part nine of my ongoing culture column for Next Generation. After the popularity of my earlier article, I pitched a companion piece about companies that had lived past their remit, yet technically were still with us. On publication we lost the framing conceit and the article was split into five pieces, each spun as a simple bottled history. In turn, some of those were picked up by BusinessWeek Online. Here’s the whole thing, in context.

A few weeks ago we published a list of five developers that made a difference, helped to shape the game industry, then, one way or another (usually at the hands of their parent companies), ceased to exist. One theme I touched on there, that I got called on by a few readers, is that although in practical terms all the listed companies were indeed defunct, several continued on in name (Atari, Sierra, and Origin), living a sort of strange afterlife as a brand detached from its body.

This was an deliberate choice; although Infogrames has been going around lately with a nametag saying “HELLO my name is Atari” – and hey, why not; it’s a good name – that doesn’t make Infogrames the historical Atari any more than the creep in the purple spandex with the bowling ball is the historical Jesus. (Not that I’m relating Infogrames to a fictional sex offender – though he is a pretty cool character.) The question arises, though – what about those companies which live on in both name and body, yet which we don’t really recognize anymore? You know who I’m talking about; the cool rebels you used to know in high school, who you see ten years later working a desk job, or in charge of a bank. You try to joke with them, and they don’t get a word you’re saying. You leave, feeling a mix of fear and relief that (as far as you know) you managed to come out of society with your personality intact.

The same thing happens in the videogame world – hey, videogames are people; all our sins are handed down. This article is a document of five great companies – that started off so well, ready to change the world – that… somehow we’ve lost, even as they trundle on through the successful afterlife of our corporate culture. And somehow that just makes us miss them all the more. Continue reading “Five That Didn’t Fall”