A thought struck me whilst in a news agents, something obvious and already widely known, but I
suddenly caught the grasp of the whole notion rather than the individual pieces we usually ignore.
The media industry, or “big content” as we call it, functions based on a compartmentalised waterfall of secrecy
that starts right at the top, and trickles down through each compartment until it reaches the bottom, where it is
old and common knowledge and no longer valuable. This model is in the process of being completely sidestepped by
means of the open ’Web.
During the ’90s, the only way I knew what the news was, was by buying a newspaper, or waiting until the 5 ’o
Clock news that evening. If I wanted to find out about the latest gaming industry news, I bought a magazine. It was
simply your only choice. That didn’t mean it was bad (CVG in the Ed Lomas days, Edge—w00t), it was just all
This system worked because the magazines got their information from games companies in the format and quantity that
games companies wanted—all games journalism was an extended form of marketing, you could call it. Those games
companies negotiated expensive deals to get IP rights from the film
industry above them. All this setup meant that information flowed through approved channels only and going from one
industry to the next usually involved some money exchange, despite everybody basically being a part of the same
The games industry is a highly closed space which required years of education, experience and simply blind-sh!t-luck
to enter. You go up through college, you go up through university, you get experience as a low-level code monkey and
then you hope for a break. You follow the approved channels up, and then what gets created follows approved channels
back down to the consumer. The film industry or television industry or music industry or publishing industry is no
different, they are just one compartment of many. What goes on inside the black heart of Hollywood is nobody’s
business but those approved channels they allow information to exit through.
This system is really, incredibly effective. It’s structured, organised and ensures that talent rides the elevator
up to the top, works within a black box, releases advertising, and then you go to the cinema to see the film. It is
how media is done.
This system only works because—like a clock—all the cogs are well oiled and mesh together. What ruins the flow
of this system is when people don’t use it. It is entirely dependent upon the consumers going to it as their only
source. They go to the cinema to watch films, they read newspapers for their news, they watch the TV for their
entertainment and they buy the DVDs.
A 14 year old boy has topped the free apps category on the
iTunes store with his game “Bubble Ball” by being downloaded over 2 million times. That’s double platinum,
bear that in mind.
In the traditional established industry, the only way this boy could have sold two million copies of a game was if
he went to college, then university, then got a job in the games industry, and then worked as
part of a team in a games company, who were subject to the blinkered view of the game’s publisher and then that
game went on to be successful after a marketing blitz. He would have unlikely to have a even touched a PS3 dev-tool
before he was already employed in the industry.
This 14 year old boy just shat over the entire media industry’s business model.
As soon as something comes along that reaches consumers outside of their system (be it game / music / video / book),
the media industry is only able to report about it post-facto. It has no inside-information, there was no carefully
scheduled advertising campaign, there was no higher authority than the individual involved. A games magazine will
not be able to stand out from others without exclusivity. Even if it’s not exclusivity of the games themselves,
it’s the exclusive access to the games companies above them.
When I can use IM or IRC to talk straight to the
independent developers of
a game, whilst they are developing it, there is no exclusivity for
traditional magazines. Yes, they may contact such developers in order to get exclusive interviews
&c., but the tables have turned—instead of the magazine being fed its steady
stream of game news from above, it has had to go out and ask for it instead. Exclusivity is no longer guaranteed,
and nor is their privileged position in the industry.
This is becoming increasingly common. Minecraft has also sidestepped this industry,
showing that reliance on the games industry and publisher’s exec’s ideas of what the market wants is no longer
the final say on what the market gets.
Bedroom coders are able to make something sellable, even compete with the established games industry, without having
to first be employed in order to be able to afford, or even touch the development tools and distribution channels.
I can sit down and start making a game idea without having to pitch it to an exec first. What a world of infinite
possibility that opens up.
Since their entire business model is based on closed systems strung together acting as the only “legitimate”
sources available, the only way they can keep pace with technology is to use it to enforce boundaries. They are
distinctly interested in “no more innovation, just upgrades”. DVD was an upgrade to VHS. HD was an upgrade to
TV. BluRay married the two, and 3D will ensure you have to buy both again. Don’t confuse new technology with
innovation, there is not an ounce of innovation in this history. It is the exact same business model playing itself
out on ever new formats. There will always be new formats that tie you to new technology, with all that
content wrought by exclusive deals between industries. Your only source.
This is why I feel the Nintendo 3DS will be a failure, or rather a successful road to failure: Nintendo have secured
themselves such that all talent must be channeled through them. I can publish a game on the web and reach a billion
people, but the effort required of me setting up a games company and getting big enough to become a third party
developer for Nintendo and doing everything through their channels, is an order of magnitude bigger. There is no way
that I can put good content on the 3DS no more than I can release a film in cinemas nation-wide.
Sure, Nintendo can approach successful independent developers and ask them to port games,
some have, but it is exactly as said before—the
tables will have turned. If Nintendo have to go out and ask people to port for them, rather than being an
established channel which games developers choose first in order to access exclusive distribution, then they have
all but lost already.
Just twenty years ago I would have needed some serious capital and backing in order to publish my content to as many
people as I now reach on the web. I would need a company, employees, distribution channels—a business model. Now I
just upload and the rest sorts itself out.
This is where we are going. When one day a YouTube user tops the record charts, big content has no answer to that.
When Minecraft sells a million copies, they have no answer to that. When a 14 year old tops the iTunes store, they
have no answer to that. It does not fit their established world view.
In the future, kids and students won’t say “I want to work in the music industry” or “I want to work in the
film industry”, they will say “I want to make music” and “I want to make films”. The media jobs of the
future will be the ones you make yourself.