All entries for May 2010

May 12, 2010

We've come a long way (baby)

It’s been a day eh? I wasn’t going to write about the whole Prime Minister Cameron thing. It makes me angry. I’m angry at the 40 Labour MPs that said they wouldn’t accept a ‘rainbow’ coalition, and by deduction therefore would prefer a tory government. I’m angry at the media, who collectively refused to give the notion of coalition government or electoral reform a chance, with even the normally fairish BBC sticking to the Murdoch narrative that what’s been happening the past few days were dodgy back-room deals. In fact what we actually had were political parties talking to each other and compromising to reach mutually beneficial agreements that everyone can live with for the first time in decades. When you put it like that, it almost sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it?

I could rant for ages, but I won’t. Because with the whirlwind of the past month in politics, it’s easy to forget how far we’ve come. Mitch Benn has just release an album of songs from the 2010 election that he wrote for various places. On it there’s a couple of tracks that pre-date the first debate which was less than a month ago. There’s a line in one of the tracks about no-one knowing who Nick Clegg is. If you go back and watch anything like Have I Got News For You or such from the same period you get the same thing. “No-one knows who the Lib Dem leader is” was all set to be this election’s “John Prescott is fat” joke. An obvious, accepted punchline that you can always fall back on.

Now it looks like that same man is going to be Deputy Prime Minister. He’s an assassination away from the premiership. And while I’m not going to encourage that (I’ve seen what happens ) perhaps we could arrange for him to take a quick visit to the US then have the ash cloud come back for a while.

While I jest, it’s kind of amazing. The Lib Dems were a joke, and even though they didn’t increase their vote hugely, there’s few people out there now that don’t know the name Nick Clegg. The Murdoch directive to the papers was always to ignore the Lib Dems. To pretend they didn’t exist. As such, to a lot of people, they may as well have not. Now they’ll have a number of cabinet posts and will be impossible to ignore. Now I’m not crazy. They’ll mostly be smeared by the papers and used as scapegoats for any bad Tory decisions, but at least they’ll be talked about. At least at the next election people will stop and think for a second about this third party that appeared out of nowhere to apparently wield significant power.*

And so to electoral reform. We wanted a hung parliament and as the adage goes, be careful what you wish for. While they’re often described as a bunch of cocks, this Parliament was a somewhat familiar one to me: as well hung as it was, it had a tendency to swing uncomfortably to the right.**

As such, the chance for full reform to a proportional representation system has been lost, and may not come around again for a while. But we are getting a referendum on the alternative vote system. That’s not going to help much directly: it just leads to bigger swings for the two bigger parties and a few extra seats for the third party, but it will complicate our voting system. And that’s brilliant. As it will make people think about it. The way we vote and the way the election is presented are at odds. There’s a huge number of people that simply believe that they’re voting for Clegg, Cameron or Brown. They don’t understand the constituency or first past the post system. But unlike a certain Labour MP who claimed the British public wouldn’t understand PR last night, I don’t think we’re dumb. I just think the media or the political parties spend the time to educate people on how their vote works. Because a presidential style race is far more fun for the media to cover, and FPTP means that the parties can focus their campaigning on specific areas without having to deal with the electorate as a whole. AV won’t fix that. But it’ll get people thinking. Once we’re past “put a cross next to the party you want” and in to “number them in order of preference” people will start to ask “how does this work?” and when they do, they might realise how unfair it is. Even a referendum will mean explaining the system to the public: even the Tories will have to explain how FPTP works in order to defend it. Reform might come a bit more slowly that we’d have hoped but it will come.

Lib Dem ministers in cabinet. A Lib Dem deputy PM. Concessions from the Tories on tax. A Green MP. The BNP locked out of Barking Council. The first tiny steps to electoral reform. Yes, Cameron has the keys to Number 10. Yes, it’s going to suck. And it’s a real kicker that we came so close to having something really awesome and lost it at the last minute. But thick back just a month and if I’d told you things would turn out this way you’d think I was living in some crazed fantasy dream world.

It’s not all we ever wanted, but from the expectation of a Tory majority government to this? We’ve done pretty damn well.

*They won’t actually have much of a say, of course, but if the papers want to blame them for every unpopular Tory decision, they’ll have to pretend they do.

**I know everyone is doing that ‘well hung’ joke but I don’t know if anyone else has done it in quite such a convoluted fashion.

Thoughts on the big news of the day

So EA are going to start charging second-hand buyers an extra $10 to play their games online:

Here’s what I said about it somewhere else in answer to the question “What else can EA do?”

How about adopt an approach to games that is actually profitable and works? Interesting, isn’t it, that EA can’t make a profit whereas there are a fair few indie developers that do.

The approach the big publishers take these days goes something like this:
1. Make loads of really expensive games.
2. As long as they look like they’re going to be good, spend that same amount again on marketing (this is true: 50% of the average game budget is spent on marketing).
3. Accept that most of these games will make a loss, often a huge loss.
4. Hope that a few of them get reviewed and recognised as AAA titles which will then make huge profits.
5. Hope that the profits from 4 exceed the losses from 3.

Now I’m sorry, but I don’t have much sympathy for that approach. How about EA make smaller games which cost a quarter as much and sell them for half of the price, so they’ll undercut the second-hand market (as they’ll be selling for DVD prices) and make modest profits on every title.

Of course, they won’t do this, because doing this means they’ll never see the huge shareholder dividends when they make that one game that launches a whole franchise of new AAA titles. But they’re gambling. That’s their choice. Don’t defend them for it. They could be a profitable company, they’d just rather take a chance at being a hugely profitable company instead.

And I say all this as someone who: a) only ever buys new games, b) has never sold or traded in a game in my life, c) never plays boxed console games online and d) has a Gold sub just for Catan, Carcassonne and Magic.

The industry is broken, yes. And second-hand sales are out of control, granted. But the solution is to fix the approach. Make games cheaper or offer incentives (like the initial form of Project $10) to buy new rather than penalise second-hand buyers.

And while people are talking about being ‘fair’ to EA and such: no. The world doesn’t work like that and EA doesn’t work like that. They’re imposing on your ability to sell on something you legitimately bought, a practice that happens in no other industry. It’s against a right enshrined in US law at least. It impinges on our capitalist rights. And while it might not be fair, don’t you for a second believe that EA are some fluffy bunny that bring hope and joy everywhere. I bet the people working in their disc-pressing factories aren’t paid a ‘fair’ wage. A lot of the developers they acquire aren’t treated ‘fairly’.

EA are hardcore big-business capitalists, and I don’t have a problem with that. Just part of that is accepting that there is a second hand market and not trying to tread on it. And we should all be fighting for that as our capitalist rights as consumers, because while it might be a better world if we all did, you can’t expect EA to treat you or anyone else with the same ‘life is fair’ ‘do the right thing’ attitude as some people are suggesting we treat them.

Dean can’t even bring himself to write about the real news of today, though at least he’ll be better off with the 10k income tax threshold. As a friend put it on Twitter “It’s a tax cut, they just had to be persuaded to give it to the poor.”

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