'They’re getting away with it because everybody is doing it.'

Bobby Allyn, NPR:

“There is a herding effect in tech,” said Jeff Shulman, a professor at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, who follows the tech industry. “The layoffs seem to be helping their stock prices, so these companies see no reason to stop.”

Some smaller tech startups are running out of cash and facing fundraising struggles with the era of easy money now over, which has prompted workforce reductions. But experts say for most large and publicly-traded tech firms, the layoff trend this month is aimed at satisfying investors.

Shulman adds: “They’re getting away with it because everybody is doing it. And they’re getting away with it because now it’s the new normal,” he said. “Workers are more comfortable with it, stock investors are appreciating it, and so I think we’ll see it continue for some time.”

'So don't get worried and sell all your shares'

Gita Jackson, episode 2 of the new Aftermath Hours podcast (edited for clarity):

Microsoft is beginning to gear up for their first financial meeting where they’re discussing the impact of the Blizzard Activision acquisition. As sort of a runway up to that, they laid off a huge number of roles…

What really drives me wild about the Microsoft one [compared to Riot] is that Microsoft is a company that makes profit at a level that if they eliminated their gaming division tomorrow, it would have a minimal impact on their bottom line. By that same token, they could keep their gaming division at exactly the same size and those 2,000 jobs would not actually impact their bottom line all that much.

Think about how big Microsoft is. Because of the way that the economy works and the way that I’ve learned that most of economic projections are just sort of guesstimates and lies, video games for a company like Sony or Microsoft that do other things, that do consumer electronics and software, video games are not even a secondary revenue stream. They’re like a tertiary revenue stream. They’re like third in priority. They don’t need to do this. They really don’t need to do this. And by that same token, it doesn’t make sense when they have layoffs this huge. This is like a show of force for their investors more than anything else, right? To say that they’ve identified the profit centers and are trimming the fat in their new acquisition. “So don’t get worried and sell all your shares.”

In years past, I would have written extensively about the insane amount of gaming industry layoffs occurring right now. This is exactly the thing I want people paying attention to. Thankfully, there are loads of outlets covering this madness. I also haven’t had time to put my thoughts together. My jaw hasn’t left the floor. I’m flabbergasted by the current state of things, keep seeing more bad news, and frankly, I’m out of practice of research and reporting. Plus, there are much more informed people dropping insightful takes about this atrocious time, like the folks at Aftermath. (I’m really enjoying the Aftermath Hours podcast. Highly recommend.)

That said, if I had written something, I would have wanted it to echo what Gita has said here. It isn’t a coincidence that Microsoft’s layoffs came one week before their shareholder meeting. That’s not to say these layoffs wouldn’t have happened regardless, but this timing does away with any facade.

(Also, if I’m reading this correctly, Gaming accounted for about 7% of Microsoft’s FY24 Q1 revenue. I wouldn’t say it has “minimal impact on their bottom line”, but it certainly isn’t their moneymaker.)

Miyamoto: 'The border of video game is becoming less and less set in stone'

Shigeru Miyamoto, in an interview with The Guardian’s Keza MacDonald:

When Miyamoto started at Nintendo, video games were still yet to be defined. Arcades and early home consoles were sketching out the earliest versions of what would become possible with virtual worlds. In 2023, most of the world plays video games, and the boundaries of what constitutes a game are once again becoming porous. The corporate world is encroaching on the universes of play that gamers have long inhabited, rebranding them as “the metaverse”. Everything from shopping and language learning to going for a run is being gamified through apps.

“Even grandpas like me know what games are now,” says Miyamoto. “Nowadays it’s very common to use PCs and smartphones, they’re used as pen and paper used to be. The border of video game is becoming less and less set in stone. People are having a broader understanding and acceptance of the term.”

Video games do not exist.

Announcing Y-Button

Today, I’m launching Y-Button: a podcast that asks why we care about video games.

Y-Button podcast cover art

Since my previous, short-lived video game podcast Ported went on hiatus in 2016, I’ve been ruminating on what would make a compelling video game podcast. (I’m not exactly sure why Scott Taylor and I stopped recording after only three episodes, but I’m sure we fall into some statistic.) Video games are space I care deeply about, but I’m not exactly sure why. I don’t play video games often, but the majority of media I consume — podcasts, news, documentaries — is video game related.

After seven years of asking myself why I care about video games, it dawned on me that maybe I should ask other people why they care about video games. (The realization hit me when I was listening to the Smartless episode with Rian Johnson and he and Will Arnett went on a tangent about games.)

Y-Button will feature interviews with journalists, enthusiasts, creators, and media personalities covering their origins with video games, why they care about the medium, and what excites them about the future. I’m starting with some friends and aquaintences, but the goal is to branch out to both well known industry insiders and celebrities you may not have known had a passion for video games. Dream guests include Kumail Nanjiani, Emily Gordon, AOC, Chrissy Teigen, Sarah Bond, Reggie Fils-Aimé, Rian Johnson, and Will Arnett to name a few. If you know any of these folks, hook it up! (The late Lance Reddick was also a huge source of inspiration and would have been a great get. RIP.)

Publishing this podcast is a source of immense excitement and anxiety for me. Worst case, I’m very proud of the name and cover art. I spent two nights learning Blender to create the 3D rendered button — my first experience with 3D modeling. I also wrote the theme song featuring my friend Scott Wilkie on a Minimoog with the direction, “make it sound like Steve Winwood”.

I hope you listen, provide constructive feedback, and maybe even suggest or connect me with a guest you’d like to hear on the podcast. It’s available wherever you find your podcasts including Apple Podcasts and Spotify. You can find the RSS feed here.

Enjoy the show.

Gunpei Yokoi, Game Boy creator: Our competition has a color screen? 'Then we're fine'

An excerpt from the book “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World” by David Epstein:

From a technological standpoint, even in 1989, the Game Boy was laughable. Yokoi’s team cut every corner. The Game Boy’s processor had been cutting edge in the 1970s. By the mid-1980s, home consoles were in fierce competition over graphics quality. The Game Boy was an eyesore. It featured a total of four grayscale shades, displayed on a tiny screen that was tinted a greenish hue somewhere between mucus and old alfalfa. Graphics in fast lateral motion smeared across the screen. To top it off, the Game Boy had to compete with handheld consoles from Sega and Atari that were technologically superior in every way. And it destroyed them.

What its withered technology lacked, the Game Boy made up in user experience. It was cheap. It could fit in a large pocket. It was all but indestructible. If a drop cracked the screen—and it had to be a horrific drop—it kept on ticking. If it were left in a backpack that went in the washing machine, once it dried out it was ready to roll a few days later. Unlike its power-guzzling color competitors, it played for days (or weeks) on AA batteries. Old hardware was extremely familiar to developers inside and outside Nintendo, and with their creativity and speed unencumbered by learning new technology, they pumped out games as if they were early ancestors of iPhone app designers—Tetris, Super Mario Land, The Final Fantasy Legend, and a slew of sports games released in the first year were all smash hits. With simple technology, Yokoi’s team sidestepped the hardware arms race and drew the game programming community onto its team.

The Game Boy became the Sony Walkman of video gaming, forgoing top-of-the-line tech for portability and affordability. It sold 118.7 million units, far and away the bestselling console of the twentieth century. Not bad for the little company that was allowed to sell hanafuda.

Even though he was revered by then, Yokoi had to push and shove internally for his “lateral thinking with withered technology” concept to be approved for the Game Boy. “It was difficult to get Nintendo to understand,” he said later. Yokoi was convinced, though, that if users were drawn into the games, technological power would be an afterthought. “If you draw two circles on a blackboard, and say, ‘That’s a snowman,’ everyone who sees it will sense the white color of the snow,” he argued.

When the Game Boy was released, Yokoi’s colleague came to him “with a grim expression on his face,” Yokoi recalled, and reported that a competitor handheld had hit the market. Yokoi asked him if it had a color screen. The man said that it did. “Then we’re fine,” Yokoi replied.