Crash Dot Com Part 10: Blame Goes Uphill

By Shamus Posted Thursday Jan 12, 2017

Filed under: Personal 97 comments

So now I’ve told my story. It didn’t end with a bang, but that’s how it goes sometimes. I realize this might be a bit of a let-down for the reader. We had all of this buildup of stress and tension, only to have the story end without any fireworks. Not only did Chekhov’s gun never go off, but it turns out Chekhov pawned it halfway through the second act, and anyway it was just a replica. While this makes for a dud of an ending, for me it was a tremendous relief. I’m very glad I didn’t have to live through any fireworks.

But as a way of artificially creating a sense of having some kind of denouement, let’s try to figure out what I learned. These events left a huge impression on me, and that has shaped how I view business, leadership, and accountability. In turn, that has shaped a lot of the articles I’ve written over the years.

What Went Wrong?

It ends with you, too.
It ends with you, too.

Like most of the other dot-coms, the virtual mall guys built something nobody wanted or needed, and it went bust. I can’t say for sure what went wrong at the top, because I never had a clear picture of who owned what or which people were in charge of which others. I couldn’t see anything going on above my bosses.

But from my viewpoint in the trenches it seems pretty clear that everyone embraced a fundamentally flawed idea to put a layer of videogame on top of a regular web store, and then tried to do it in too much of a hurry. Lots of business types jumped in, thinking that their previous experience at running companies would see them through in this new frontier. Their weakness was that they were so uninformed about technology that they couldn’t see just how serious their knowledge deficit was. They didn’t know what they didn’t know.

I think the idea of shopping in a game world is a bad one for all the reasons I’ve talked about. But if you were going to do it, you would have needed a lot more time than anyone ever considered spending on it. Everyone thought the big challenge was to design the buildings and build the space, but that stuff was never that big a deal. I say this as the guy who was initially in charge of building it. The work I was doing was so much less important for success than the work nobody was doing.

The real challenge of building this sort of experience would be working out how to make it intuitive, reliable, and convenient for people. How can we make shopping fun? What can we do to entice people to enter the space in the first place? What parts of the experience will frustrate or confuse? How can we get people to engage with the space so they’re interested in showing up even when they’re not specifically looking to buy something? I’m usually not big on focus groups, but this is one case where using a focus group makes some kind of senseGood focus group: “Does this user interface confuse you?”. Bad focus group: “Do you like this character design?” Don’t asks focus groups for creative input. They’re not artists.. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that in this context a focus group would count as R&D, and their feedback would be a company asset.

I can't understand how this happened. I read a whole article on airplanes before I started. I'm practically an expert!
I can't understand how this happened. I read a whole article on airplanes before I started. I'm practically an expert!

It would take a long time to gather this data. It would take months of speculation, experimentation, and observation to work out what the final product should look like. In the meantime, you’d need a stable cashflow to support the R&D. A good way to do that would be to open a simple web-based store and get that working. Get your databases, suppliers, and distribution networks in place so they’re already running when your virtual mall is ready for beta.

I realize that nothing I’ve said above is particularly profound. This is just a list of sound businesses practices. The bosses didn’t mean to abandon them. They just made the deadly assumption that they could figure this stuff out as they went along. They assumed that because they were good at running all these other businesses that they should be able to jump into this new industry and enjoy the same level of success. I’m willing to bet they tried to make a virtual world that worked like a conventional retail space because they came from a retail background and that’s what they understood.

The Naysayer

While we are projecting Q3 profits lower than our original forecasts, we remain confident in our position as a leader and are committed to quality and innovation as our core values.
While we are projecting Q3 profits lower than our original forecasts, we remain confident in our position as a leader and are committed to quality and innovation as our core values.

While this experience isn’t the first thing that taught me to question the conventional wisdom of corporate structures, it is the most personally significant. If you’ve ever wondered why I’m so keen to criticize EA and Ubisoft or why I spent so many years second-guessing everything John Riccitiello did, this probably explains it. People tend to assume the people at the top know what they’re doing. Some people assume these seeming-idiotic moves must make sense from some higher perspective.

If they do something that seems foolish or destructive to us plebs, then it must be because of some wisdom they have that we don’t, right? It’s just too strange to think that someone might be at the helm of a company and be fundamentally unqualified for the job. But it happens. It’s possible for them to be so ignorant about what they should be doing that they don’t even realize they’re making a mistake at all. It’s like being the captain of the Titanic, except not only is his ship sinking, but he has no idea there’s anything wrong until he notices his shoes are wet.

The leadership of a company sets the values. They establish the company culture, decide who their advisers will be, and set the direction for what products they will make and how they’ll get made. You can’t do these things if you don’t understand the business you’re in. You can’t just tell your underlings, “We’re committed to making world class games!” and expect them to make that happen. You have to actually understand what it takes to create a world class game. I’m sure John Business was very dedicated to making a successful online store. The problem wasn’t a lack of commitment. The problem was that he didn’t know how to get there.

And speaking of disasters...
And speaking of disasters...

When I complain about games being EA-ified, a common defense is that, “EA didn’t make them do that! The developer chose to that for themselves.” Whether we’re talking about adding multiplayer nobody wants, or cutting out bits of a game to be sold as DLC, or streamlining out key features to make a game more like the standard tentpole shooters of the day, there are lots of decisions that come from the developers. This leads people to exonerate the EA leadership.

It’s true, the people at Maxis did indeed choose to turn their fundamentally single-player game into an online disaster. But they did so because their leadership had embraced an overly simplistic and wrong-headed model of how gaming workedThis links to my own blog. I’d rather link to the source article, but Gamespot’s links have rotted away. That’s fine. I’m sure they’ll get the hang of this internet contraption one of these days.. Yes, Maxis incorrectly thought that multiplayer would improve Simcity. But they thought so because that’s what their bosses told them. We tend to trust the smart, rich, successful leaders above us, so if they say everything will be multiplayer someday, it’s easy to assume they just see farther than the rest of us. When John Business says that virtual malls are the future, it’s easy to believe it because he’s got a track record of knowing what he’s talking about.

And even if you don’t really believe in the vision – even if you think that virtual malls are a bad idea or SimCity is a fundamentally single-player experience, you’re likely to go along with the plan out of basic self-preservation. If you deviate from the plan and the product does poorly, then management might punish you. But if you’re toeing the company line? It doesn’t matter how the game does. Your boss isn’t going to indict you for embracing his vision. If management doesn’t understand their knowledge deficit then bad ideas will live on, even long after they’ve been revealed to be bad ideas.

Step 1: Bad idea. Step 2: Make it worse. Step 3: Refuse to recognize failure. Step 4: Insist that everything is fine. Step 5: Repeat.
Step 1: Bad idea. Step 2: Make it worse. Step 3: Refuse to recognize failure. Step 4: Insist that everything is fine. Step 5: Repeat.

I’m sure lots of people at Ubisoft recognize that UPlay is a ridiculous liability. It’s a feature nobody wants or needs. It makes the product less appealing to the customer. It doesn’t benefit Ubisoft in any perceivable way. It cost money to create. It continues to cost more money to maintain and support. It’s a hassle for the end user in a domain where convenience is literally the most important feature, even more important than price. I’m confident lots of people at Ubisoft realize Uplay is a terrible idea. Perhaps even the people who built it. But someone at the top doesn’t understand the business they’re in and so this mistake drags on, year after year, long after it should have become obvious this isn’t a good idea.

I knew the can of beans design was ridiculous, but I built it anyway because doing otherwise would have required me to do battle with people far above my pay grade. During The Meeting, any of the other guys in the room could have asked me to elaborate on my concerns. But there was no way to do that without directly challenging John Business.

If the person at the top doesn’t know what they’re doing, then effectively nobody knows what they’re doing. Human nature is to push blame down through the ranks, but the truth is that systemic failures come from the top.

Clearly my subordinates are to blame for all of this.
Clearly my subordinates are to blame for all of this.

If you don’t know the business, then you can’t devise new products. Sure, you can hire people to do that. But when they bring you an idea, how will you know if it’s any good or not? If they bring you two, how will you choose between them? Will you hire someone to do that job, too? How will you choose that person? How will you know if they’re doing a good job? If a project fails, how will you tell bad luck from incompetence? If a project is a success, how will you tell dumb luck from visionary genius? Do you have a way to quickly correct mistakes, or do you have to wait for them to fail conclusively in public, and then discontinue them once the damage is done? If a product is in development, can you tell if it’s on the right track, or do you have to see the thing nearly to completion before you find out you just spent a fortune making something nobody wants?

The person at the top can’t know everything, of course. But they need to understand the business they’re in. They need to understand the customer’s needs and expectations, or they’ll end up making the mistakes that John Business did. His problem wasn’t just that he didn’t know how to build a virtual mall. The problem was that he assumed he did.

If there’s one idea I’d love to kill forever, it’s the assumption that the people at the top know what they’re doing by virtue of being at the top. I’d like to put an end to the notion that “knowing about business” is the key to running a company. Having an MBA isn’t the key to running a company any more than passing your driver’s test makes you a Formula One driver. That’s the first, most basic step, not the final achievement. Mastering (or correctly envisioning) a particular domain is the key.

I want to stress that I’m not saying John Business could have been successful if only he’d listened to me. Sure, I could have advised him on user experience and environment design, but it’s pretty clear those weren’t the only problems with the project. Those are just the parts I understood. If you put me in charge of running a store – virtual or otherwise – I’d be just as clueless as Mr. Business.

No, I distinctly heard you say, "after YOU".
No, I distinctly heard you say, "after YOU".

It’s one thing to see millions of people be wrong in some distant, abstract way. It’s another to sit across the table and watch them be wrong. It’s still another to look back a few years later and realize an entire industry was very wrong for years, and that billions of dollars were wasted as a result. In the dot-com craze, I watched large numbers of people – many more than appear in this story – do “obviously” dumb things and end up paying the price. John Business wasn’t some lone madman. He was one of thousands of sane but uninformed people who all made similar mistakes. This sort of thing happens.

This whole ordeal is why I’ve been so attracted to working for myself. I never want to find myself in another meeting where someone asks me to build them a cardboard ocean liner and they spend the entire meeting arguing about what color it should be.

So that was my adventure in the dot-com bust. It was a strange time that left a pretty big impression on me. I don’t work in the corporate world anymore. I work on this site. If you’d like to support that, you can do so on Patreon. If you’d like to continue the story of my life from here, then you could read The Twelve-Year Mistake.

Thanks for reading.



[1] Good focus group: “Does this user interface confuse you?”. Bad focus group: “Do you like this character design?” Don’t asks focus groups for creative input. They’re not artists.

[2] This links to my own blog. I’d rather link to the source article, but Gamespot’s links have rotted away. That’s fine. I’m sure they’ll get the hang of this internet contraption one of these days.

From The Archives:

97 thoughts on “Crash Dot Com Part 10: Blame Goes Uphill

  1. AndrewCC says:

    Shamus, I’d like to point out that sometimes the bosses DO KNOW what they are talking about.

    In the paragraph where you criticize Maxis for turning the latest SimCity into an online game, you link to which is you bashing big publishers for predicting singleplayer is dead.
    One of the first things you do is advertise an earlier article where “Earlier I already took them to task for making silly predictions of a disc-free future. ”
    In it you say : “I predict that in ten years people will still be predicting this box-free future, and it won't be any closer.” The article is from Feb. 2006.
    I’d say, and I see no way you can argue against it, that as far as the PC is concerned, the prediction did come true completely, even earlier than the 10 years too. Granted, back in 2006 it would have been hard to predict how much Steam would take over PC gaming.
    What I’m saying is you don’t know everything either. Which is ok.

    1. Rainer says:

      I don’t think he ever said that he knew everything…

    2. 4th Dimension says:

      I don’t think he is arguing that they are ALLWAYS wrong. He is arguing that they can be wrong, because they are human, and humans make mistakes and we and they should arcknowledge mistakes made so they don’t happen again. Also he argues that in this industry they are more likely to be wrong because at the helm of major publishers are people who know bussines in general but not the industry.

      1. Benjamin Hilton says:

        As I understand it, his main argument is simply against the assumption that the people in charge always know what they are doing.

    3. Phill says:

      While it is obvious now which way the trends are going, we’re still not at the box free stage. The sales of digital download versus boxed for PC didn’t reach a 50:50 split until 2015, and boxed is still very much with us for now.

      1. krellen says:

        Especially after you factor in consoles.

      2. Muspel says:

        While boxed sales still exist, it’s becoming increasingly common for box copies to just contain a Steam activation key (or for the game on the disc to be basically broken until you patch it).

        1. Matt Downie says:

          I gave up on boxed games when I bought Skyrim and it immediately needed to download several gigabytes of data in order to work. The DVD saved me no time, wasn’t needed to play the game, and wouldn’t allow anyone else to play the game if I gave it to them. So basically I’d bought an activation key and a purely decorative box.

          1. galacticplumber says:

            The important thing to argue was that Shamus didn’t say, to my knowledge, that boxed would never be demonstrably suboptimal in most aspects. He just said it would still happen and wasn’t likely to go away any time soon. Ten years later and, oh look, it’s still happening with even higher frequency than he likely anticipated.

          2. Scampi says:

            I only ever stopped buying boxed games because they are without fail (!) tied to online platforms AS Steam, Origin, Uplay etc.
            Had they managed to maintain giving me a game WITHOUT the annoying hassle and intrusion of giving multiple big untrustworthy companies my personal data and possibly access to my machine while guaranteeing the survival of said untrustworthy companies and their business schemes, I would STILL prefer buying my games boxed. I’d also like to add that the same companies ONLY became untrustworthy to me WHEN they introduced forced DRM measures that required me to register with them in one way or another.
            I may be a rare exception who still refuses to do business with people whose schemes I out of principle despise, but the point is: there is no reason to buy a boxed product if the boxed product will require dealing with the same hassle as the digital product ON TOP of not being of any value and therefore a waste of real shelf space in case the company goes belly up.
            I don’t think owning a boxed product would be that much of an inconvenience if it still had the advantage of being available without the registration etc. The companies pretty much through their policies devalued the boxed product and I think the original issue with boxed games is not so much the amazing advantage of digital downloads (which I still fail to see) but the inconvenience of having to deal with the original DRM-schemes anyways.

    4. Benjamin Hilton says:

      I’ve never understood the argument that “you were wrong one time, so you can never be right again.” Discless media becoming a thing and all games being multiplayer all the time are not causative nor correlative. And neither proves that the people in charge know what they are doing.

    5. Duoae says:

      I still mostly by physical media for my consoles because it’s more convenient and ‘safe’ as a purchase. I’d do the same if I could for pc but often you still have to contend with a 10+GB download and online store activation anyway so there’s no upside to buying physical on pc now anyway. The industry forced this move, not consumers.

      You still see a huge proportion of console sales as physical media so I think it’s safe to assume that it would also be the case on pc too if it were a viable option. So in that case I think Shamus’ prediction is correct because I doubt he would have predicted that everyone publishing on pc would force the change and that retailers would drop support as well.

    6. Andrew Blank says:

      If you read the article about the disc-less future it includes things like operating systems. in fact the largest quote is specifically talking about operating systems. It’s not just a point about games but all software. So maybe PC gaming is close to disc-less now (It isn’t even disc-less there are still disc sales) but there is still a LONG way to go before all programs are distributed over the internet.

    7. Dreadjaws says:

      This comment is so petty I’m surprised Shamus didn’t respond to it. Let me summarize why your argument is bad.

      a) You assume Shamus said people at the top can never be right. He never said such a thing. He said believing they’re always right is silly. That’s it.
      b) You assume he said that he’s never wrong. Again, he never even implied such a thing. Hell, he outright states his mistakes very clearly all the time. He’s a humble guy.
      c) You’re comparing apples to oranges. A prediction from a user in the industry spanning several years can’t possibly be compared to one made by a CEO working in the industry that actually acts on his own prediction without even bothering to see if there are signs of it ever becoming true.
      d) After all of this, your example doesn’t even work. An all-digital future is still far behind. Yes, in terms of PC games (and PC games only) that’s clearly where the industry is heading. But not only it’s still not there, but the rest of the industry (PC software, console games, movies, music, etc.) is far from it.

  2. Zekiel says:

    “Not only did Chekhov's gun never go off, but it turns out Chekhov pawned it halfway through the second act, and anyway it was just a replica.”

    Shamus can I just say that you are a very entertaining writer. Thanks!

    1. Mephane says:

      I think Shamus has some Terry Pratchett in his writing style. :)

      1. MichaelGC says:

        I think he mentioned on the Diecast once that he’d not read much/any TP. I remember it because my immediate reaction was to go all ohyoumustdoso, but Dark Souls and the ohyoumustplayit thereof was a big thing at the time, so I managed to resist.

        Not that him not having read many/any contradicts what you say, o’ course! That sentence is indeed the right style o’ fing, style o’ fing.

        1. Andy_Panthro says:

          As someone who, in the last six months or so, read through all 41 Discworld books… I have the definite and sudden urge to tell everyone to read them!

          1. MichaelGC says:

            Siryessir! I mean, I’ve read them all before, of course, but doing that sounds like a truly excellent idea…

            Now then. “In a distant and second-hand set of dimensions, in an astral plane that was never meant to fly…” Oh yeaaaahhh, that’s the stuff!…

          2. MadTinkerer says:

            Too late, I already did. :D

            I also recommend every other book he ever wrote, with Dodger as my personal favorite.

      2. Dork Angel says:

        I have read Shamus’s book The Witch Watch and can confirm he definitely has some Terry Pratchett in his writing style… :)

        1. Duoae says:

          It’s funny because I actually can’t stand Pratchett’s laissez-faire attitude to continuity and had to stop reading after the third book (though everyone assures me they’re the worst ones and the very next book gets it so much better).

          However, I really enjoyed the Witch Watch and didn’t think there was much Pratchett in it at all. ..

          1. Ciennas says:

            I only ever found a copyof going postal, which I later found out was pretty much self contained, only referencing other books in a sly winking way, as the protagonist is also a newcomer to those going ons.

            I’d totally recommend that one. It was really good AND didn’t punish you for not reading the others.

          2. MichaelGC says:

            There might be a connexion there. If you’ve only read those Pratchett books which folks believe are unrepresentative, and if the similarities only appear in his other works, then it’d make sense that you don’t see any equivalence between the writing styles, because you’ve quite literally not seen those bits which are being compared.

            1. Duoae says:

              Well, that could be true but there’d have to be some cause to believe that. The Venn diagram of people telling me that Pratchett’s later books are better than the first three do not currently intersect with those saying his writing style is similar to Shamus’.

              If I was going to say what was similar from my own reading expanse, Shamus’ book reminds me a bit of the flow from the Kingdom of Landover series by Terry Brooks. Whereas Terry Pratchett really ‘tries’ for the comedy (in my opinion) Brooks (and Young) do not go that far, instead allowing the reader to find any humour that they might within the written work…

              1. MichaelGC says:

                I guess my point wasn’t really about finding the right people to tell you things and thus fill out the diagram – you’ve already demonstrated some resistance to such with the rejected comment that ‘everyone assures you.’ (Rightly so, in my opinion – I would guess that my own approach would be much the same.)

                My point is more that you are in a weak position to say what Pratchett’s writing is like when you’ve read three books out of ninety or so. Leaving aside what people say about these books, they were written when he was very young, and before the later grand plans for the Discworld had really begun to take shape. So, if these three are indeed unrepresentative, those facts would be potential explanations for why. Note the ‘if’ – I’m not trying to persuade you that they are, but only that if you reject the testimony of others (which is fair enough!), and you also don’t check for yourself, then you’re not on firm ground to suggest that they aren’t.

  3. Joshua says:

    I’ve worked for several companies now in the past ten years doing accounting. I’ve gotten a chance to directly work with plenty of CEOs/Presidents/CFOs/etc. who were GENIUSES and who understood their industry very well, and yet still made horrible, bone-headed mistakes.

    I remember asking why we were going through with a merger at one of them, what the benefit to everyone was, and the Controller (my boss, an otherwise very smart lady) gave a convoluted answer that didn’t really address my question very well. Sure enough, within 2-3 months after the merger, the people at the top were freaking out because it was a huge disaster.

    1. Torsten says:

      Part of these issues seem to be the problem of knowing the business and knowing what role to take there. Being an industry expert does not mean that a person can fit into any role in the business.
      That goes on any position, not just business people being the sole visionary leaders in engineering projects. For the dozens of bad software projects gone under because of business leaders not understanding the technical issues, there are dozens of successful game companies that went bankrupt because of game programmers not understanding finance.

      1. Elemental Alchemist says:

        there are dozens of successful game companies that went bankrupt because of game programmers not understanding finance

        A good example would be Troika. Former co-owner Tim Cain has stated several times that their downfall was deeply linked to the three owners not having the appropriate business acumen, nor actually wanting to run a business.

    2. Zak McKracken says:

      I think a big part of this must be how often people think they’re making a rational, strictly logical decision, but actually are just following their noses. That and the fact that for many business decisions, there are no known solutions. So, you just make it up as you go, sound positive and confident (because a confidently executed suboptimal strategy is still better than a very good one to nwhich you don’t commit). And over time, if it works out, you develop a “sense” for right decisions, and a belief that you’re good at this.
      Until some circumstance changes and or intuition is wrong. Them all the previously learned behaviour will work against you.

      The best about this? If the catastrophe never happens, people (including yourself) will construct amazing stories about how you knew beforehand how well it would work out, and derive some sort of religious codex from it. It doesn’t matter how many failed with the same strategy because you’ll never hear about those people.

  4. Tizzy says:

    A couple of comments about the dot-com era when this happened:
    1. Making shit up as you go along could be seen as reasonable, as there was a huge premium to be made on being first to market.
    2. Selling what people didn’t want or need was the whole point of the dot-com boom. This was a time when payment infrastructure was barely in place, a minority of people were online, and online financial transactions were met with distrust.

    Number 2 is especially hard to fully grasp these days, even having lived through it. We’ve seen the benefits of online shopping, we got the majority of people on board with using the internet, we get synergy from the whole social media thing which didn’t come until much later.

    I mean, to this day, people still snarkily call Amazon a “nonprofit”, but do we all remember how much more precarious the company’s situation looked at the turn of the millenium? Even with an objectively good concept that was well executed, you still needed to get enough customers and investors on board fast enough to make up for the rate at which you’re burning through cash.

    Ultimately, these factors made it look like figuring out what people wanted and needed could take a backseat to vying for position and name recognition. And that remained true until the people with the money got fed up with gambling, or maybe needed their cash for something else, which gave us the dot-com bust.

    1. Ciennas says:

      Rewatch Futurama. 300 Big Boys closed out with a snarky jab at Amazon. It is one of the most poorly aged of all the gags they made, and only then with hindsight.

      It hadn’t occurred to me that Amazon wasn’t the de facto winner at the time. Man, we could be in the timeline where made it big.

  5. boota says:

    man, every time i think about sim city i’m really bummed. i have almost finished my degree in urban planning, and have come to realize how much more interesting the concepts of sim city are from an academic point of view compared to for example cities skylines. too bad the gameplay doesn’t match its socio-spatial themes

  6. thak says:


    “What parts of the experience will frustrate OR confuse?”

    …”it's easy to assume they just see FARTHER than the rest of us.”

    “I never want to find myself in another meeting where someone IS (DELETE IS) tasks me to build THEM a cardboard ocean liner and they spend the entire meeting arguing about what color it should be.”

    1. Josh says:

      “towing the company line”

      1. Chris Robertson says:

        To be more precise, this has historically been “toeing the party line”. The used version (in context of parties) is gaining popularity. The used version (in context of companies) not so much.

        1. Erik says:

          “Toeing” the line is correct; “towing” the line is a homophonic mistake, and makes absolutely no sense if you try to parse it.

          I do have to say, this category of error really irritates me beyond reason. Things like “for all intensive purposes” or “nip it in the butt” are like nails on a blackboard to me.

          1. bubba0077 says:

            While “toeing the line” is historically correct, “towing the line” absolutely still makes cognitive sense, unlike those other examples. Line is also a synonym for rope or cable, and one used for towing is actually called a towline. “Towing the company line” would be figuratively pulling in the company’s preferred direction.

            1. Shamus says:

              This is how I’d always interpreted the idiom. I had no idea the other version existed until now.

              (Doesn’t help that I’ve always heard it spoken, but never written down.)

        2. Blackbird71 says:

          “Gaining popularity” does not make it correct.

          1. MichaelGC says:

            Well, words are symbols defined in use, so much as I hate to have to admit it, yes it does. Literally. That said, the whole system remains ever in flux, so attempting to make an annoying usage unpopular by calling it incorrect is an entirely legitimate strategy.

            So, you carry on! :D

            1. Ciennas says:

              Sort of. One must first acknowledge that the irritation comes from within. Many many people get so awful in their effort to correct the mutatious amalgamate of language, and get so nasty as to make the effort awful for all.

              A soft touch works best, and to never ever take it personally.

              Besides, there’s linguistics Rule Zero: if you understood me, then it doesn’t matter.

              1. MichaelGC says:

                Certainly. Linguistics rule zero is another way of saying that words are symbols defined in use. I would guess that someone getting truly awful in their efforts hasn’t fully absorbed this, if they’ve realised it at all.

                Anyway, as with many things, you can proceed with care and understanding, or you can be a git about it. Nothing I said recommended the latter!

            2. Blackbird71 says:

              I disagree. Yes, words are symbols, but they are symbols with defined meanings. Putting a number of those symbols together in a sequence produces a new meaning. Changing one of those symbols for another that looks similar, but has a distinctly different meaning, will also change the meaning of the full sequence.

              And this isn’t even a case of intentionally swapping those symbols; it is a case of people using the correct sequence of symbols verbally, but then making an error when they express those same symbols in visual (written) form, primarily because they literally do not understand what they are saying. It is a mistake born purely of ignorance.

              Let me throw out an example. Let’s say that our society has established a law that all motor vehicles must stop at intersections marked with an octagonal sign. Now, what if a growing portion of the populace do not stop their vehicles at these octagonal signs because they mistakenly believe that an “octagon” is the shape with three sides? These people are using the incorrect symbol, but by your argument, they are actually correct just because their ignorance is spreading, i.e., “gaining popularity”. When one person who can correctly identify an octagon is hit by one of these clueless people who can’t, who was wrong and who was at fault?

              “Toeing” and “towing” have distinctly different meanings. More people using the wrong word (or rather, typing the wrong word when writing out what they think they are saying) does not make such use correct, it just means that more people are making the same error.

              Words and symbols have meanings. Yes, those meanings can change over time or be redefined, but that change requires a consensus of society rather than just an increase in misuse. Yes, such an increase can eventually lead to such a consensus, but until I can look up “towing” in multiple respected and accepted dictionaries and actually find the definition for “toeing,” this particular expression being written as “towing the line” is still incorrect.

              1. MichaelGC says:

                The analogy doesn’t work because in that example there are additional laws being broken beyond those of symbology. Where there aren’t such additional bolstering considerations, strong enough to supervene, what is or isn’t correct remains the greyest of gray areas. As I say, I wish it wasn’t so!

              2. Mousazz says:

                I’m sorry, but I have to disagree with practically each of your statements.

                Yes, words are symbols with defined meanings (except when they’re not, such as homonyms), and yes, putting those symbols into a sequence (a sentence) provides an entirely new meaning, but idioms differentiate themselves specifically BECAUSE they hold, due to an arbitrary (, usually unconscious) decision between similarly speaking parties, a figurative meaning different from that which would be normally inferred by intuition from the sequence. “Toeing the company line” implies there’s a line belonging to a company which a participant toes, yet there isn’t, as the idiom is but a euphenism for “conforming to authority”. In that case, replacing (unconsciously) a symbol with another (usually a homonym), in such a way that the original figurative meaning would still be valid, doesn’t break the idiom, even if the original (and, frankly, useless) literal meaning is lost. Of course, such changes usually DO break the figurative meaning, but not in Shamus’ case. Like Bubba above said, interpreting it as figuratively pulling in the company's preferred direction is also logical (at least as much as idioms themselves are).

                How can a person use a correct sequence of symbols verbally if he doesn’t understand what he is saying? The way I imagine it, at some point Shamus heard the idiom “Toeing the company line”, interpreted the words he heard in his brain as “Towing the company line”, quickly mulled over and came to the conclusion that that interpretation of the idiom makes sense, and used it afterwards. Of course, every time he said “Towing the company line”, other speakers always interpreted it as the correct usage of the idiom, “Toeing the company line”. Typing the wrong word when writing out what one thinks one is saying is a writing error, and from what I understood, Shamus never meant to write anything else.

                Your example with traffic rules is silly for a multitude of reasons. First of all, road rules like that try to describe symbols used at traffic not just with words, but also with images to clear any possible confusion. Second, most countries operate under a principle that ignorance of a law is not an excuse for breaking it. Third, in case of vague laws, the correct interpretation can and sometimes is unclear. The Selective Draft Law Cases was a sequence of suits against the United States government challenging conscription during WW1 based on the 13th Amendment’s prohibition of involuntary servitude. The plaintiffs were denied, but the boundaries of just what exactly the 13th prohibits weren’t as clear before these suits took place.

                And finally, regarding meanings of words and symbols, what is the concensus of society but a widespread misuse? Many official dictionaries now include the word “literally” to informally mean its opposite – a synonym for figuratively. Besides, would I still be justified in using the word “gay” to refer to someone as joyful and carefree? Obviously, they’d get offended if I used it incorrectly, because they think I’d mean they’re homosexual, even though that usage only came about during the 20th century (evolving from generally meaning sexually immodest).

  7. AR+ says:

    “And if there are some who think that a prince who conveys an impression of his wisdom is not so through his own ability, but through the good advisers that he has around him, beyond doubt they are deceived, because this is an axiom which never fails: that a prince who is not wise himself will never take wise counsel…”

    ~The Prince

  8. Seamus Loftus says:

    I really enjoyed this segment, as I have had something similar happen to me.

    After failing to get my degree in Computer Engineering due to not being prepared for college right after high school, I ended up working on the manufacturing line for IBM. IBM paid for college tuition, and I started on my path towards a Software Engineering degree. The company made me sign an agreement that said I would work for them for two years after I graduated.

    Fast forward to my graduation, and I started to look for work in the company. I had two job offers within IBM. One with a depressed traditional software development group, and another with an upbeat quality engineering group. Noticing the difference in attitude, I took the job with quality engineering. Little did I know that I would be working on one of the newest quality engineer’s pet project, a data analysis tool that simplified the overly complex database that the engineering team was sick of digging through to find the information they need.

    I was a brand new just out of college developer, here to help this electrical engineer build new software. Management went along with it, not realizing that I was inexperienced. Companies expect a developer to code outside of class work, and working a full time job while attending college did not provide me that luxury. Though we built a system from scratch to support the engineers, due to numerous layoffs, I was axed as a tooling guy and not mission critical after the original manager that hired me was let go in a previous layoff.

    Management should have went to bid on a project or contracted the more professional IBM Global Services software development group instead of hiring a brand new software developer just out of college to get their project done. In the 17 years I have been in IT, I realized they are trying to make educated guesses on how the ship should be steered in both government and private sector.

    This also set back my career, as I was not in a traditional software development team, and I had to learn how the process worked in my next job with the state of Vermont tax department.

    As a side note, It’s amusing to me that we live a couple of states apart(I am in Vermont), have close to the same first name, and both of us have been software developers around the same time, and also have a love of video games. You have also gone a step farther and became a writer, something I’ve always dreamed about.

    1. Decius says:

      I work enough with federal government to say that nobody is steering that ship. It’s an emergent system that has created the rules by which the rules change (not the laws; the regulations that actually determine what happens), it that process nowhere involves “somebody that has the ability to predict the broad effects of this change thinks it’s a good idea.

      Typically in government when a change happens, it’s because an edge case caused somebody to notice and implement a demand to correct the ‘problem’, and the typical change in policy is to carve out a special treatment for the specific edge case that got promoted to attention.

      Those who know about edge cases know that trying to carve out exceptions to edge cases results in making more edge cases around the exception.

  9. MrGuy says:

    But from my viewpoint in the trenches it seems pretty clear that everyone embraced a fundamentally flawed idea to put a layer of videogame on top of a regular web store, and then tried to do it in too much of a hurry. Lots of business types jumped in, thinking that their previous experience at running companies would see them through in this new frontier. Their weakness was that they were so uninformed about technology that they couldn't see just how serious their knowledge deficit was. They didn't know what they didn't know.

    This is the dotcom era in a nutshell.

    The thing was, to some degree, everyone was aware that nobody knew what they were doing. People were still exploring what an online experience was even capable of. And what people would find compelling. And whether big ideas were possible, or if people would come.

    Online everything (commerce, news, social connections) were tiny, but growing explosively. There was land to be claimed, and everyone believed that the first one to capture a market could potentially become a billionaire. There wasn’t a roadmap, and people poured cash into lottery tickets and shiny business plans, because they didn’t want to be left behind. Nobody really knew what would draw people (apparently, it was Hamsterdance), and whether it would be easy to translate visits into money (hint: no).

    That’s not to excuse some of the crap that went on, especially in the later days when investors started working the pump-and-dump IPO angle. But my slightly nostalgic look back at the early days is that we didn’t know anything about how to do business in this new world, but nobody else did either, and everything was fueled by the excitement of “Could this work? Maybe it could work! We could change how people do X forever!” There was no time to wait until we really understood what people would respond to. Or what was technically possible, since the technology was evolving too.

    I miss the days when passionate people were willing to take major risks on the bleeding edge because they genuinely wanted to change the world.

    1. Tizzy says:

      And there was no way to know what would work. no focus group could possibly help you, when their answer is: “what’s an internet?”. It’s very hard to understand your customer base when it will only pop into existence several years from now.

    2. Bloodsquirrel says:

      Interestingly enough, while the whole thing looks like folly when you consider the individual actors, it was collectively the right thing to do- a massive possibility space opened up, and massive resources were dumped into exploring it and figuring out what could be done with it. The rush to get in on the ground floor sent people into every nook and cranny looking for something of value, and the result was a whole new world of business being built, from the ground up, with incredible speed.

    3. Erik says:

      In a real sense, they didn’t know what they didn’t know, but they did know that they didn’t know what they didn’t know. :) It was all about the potential, the idea that the first person who *did* figure it out would make a fortune.

      Even at the time, I found it amusing that the business types all were quoting the lesson of the Gold Rush at each other, that “the miners didn’t make money, the people who sold them equipment made money”, so they all tried to build stores online… and most didn’t take the next step of looking around and realizing that the “miners” in the new online world were the people building the online stores, and that the “storekeepers” were the people selling website development tools and hosting services.

  10. AndyHat says:

    That amusingly wrong Gamespot article is, of course, still available at

    1. Blackbird71 says:

      I think a key flaw in their reasoning (regarding single-player games being “an aberration”, etc.) is that they fail to take into account the existence of other forms of solitary entertainment. Have none of them ever read a book? Yes, humans grow up playing schoolyard games with friends, but they also enjoy time to themselves, and they seek forms of entertainment that suit those times. Single-player games fill this need nicely.

      1. Philadelphus says:

        Plus, personality plays a part: an introverted person like myself wants””indeed needs“”a lot of time by myself, for which single-player games are great.

  11. This entire article is the reason I laugh myself silly when people say “anyone could do the CEO’s job”.

    1. galacticplumber says:

      And, to be fair, Joe everyman of the street could probably passably imitate one of the less competent ones. The real question is what percentage of the population can do the job not stupid.

      1. Bloodsquirrel says:

        Nah. People underestimate how many diverse skills you need to manage a company on that level.

        There’s a reason that John Buisnessman guys wind up in those positions. It’s because- aside from whether you understand the market and can make good decisions on where to steer the company- the more basic job of running the company’s day-to-day activities, making complicated financial decisions, understanding things like the logistics of supply chains, having leadership skills, etc requires a hell of a lot out of someone. It also requires an incredible amount of energy and confidence to be able to make even the kind of minor decisions that CEOs make.

        Hiring and firing people alone is such an incredibly important skill that the lack of it rules out most people right out of the gate for a position of that level. A lot of people would struggle like hell just to fire someone. You’ve got to have enough ruthlessness to do that.

        Grab a random Joe off the street and put them in that spot and they’ll be immediately overwhelmed. Even someone who understands the market and the overall business would have the whole thing fall apart on them without the skills and experience necessary to handle all of the complicated legal, financial, and operational issues that come with running a company that size.

        That’s why game companies have had such a hard time. There’s a limited overlap between the group of people that dump hundreds of hours into a video game and the group of people who have all of those other skills. And that’s aside from people who have the understand of the development part as well.

        1. Deoxy says:

          Oh, I can agree with you as to why John Business ends up there, but I disagree that they do the job well. There’s a reason Dilbert has been popular for decades.

          John Business is almost NEVER a good fit for the that position… but having one close at hand is incredibly useful. Failing at the business aspect WILL destroy a company, after all.

          But only running the business side will ALSO destroy a company, just not as quickly, and it will almost NEVER achieve any kind of greatness.

          Bone-headed stupidity, like Shamus points out, often comes from interchangable John Business types being put in charge of businesses they know nothing about, because they know “business”. While this provides rich fodder for Dilbert, I would be willing to forego that pleasure for the sake of avoiding bone-headed stupidity.

          From experience, the best CEOs are the ones who are NOT John Business… but are willing to put in the work to understand and do that part of the job, anyway.

          1. Bloodsquirrel says:

            You’re making the same mistake that John Businessman made when he underestimated how much he didn”t understand about the technical/gaming side of things- it’s not anywhere as simple as just having a John Businessman close at hand; you need to know enough to know whether the guy knows what he’s talking about. When he says “you absolutely need to do this” you need to know when it really is that black and white and when it’s just him pushing to get his way. Unless you’ve actually been the CEO of a fortune 500 company, then I can guarantee that you don’t even know what you don’t know about being one. It’s no more realistic to expect someone who has no head for high-level management to get by because he has an adviser than it is to expect that a John Businessman who doesn’t understand gaming to successfully substitute that understanding with a gamer on hand to talk to occasionally.

            You’re biased toward the things that you can see as obvious mistakes, without realizing how many catastrophic mistakes a non-John Businessman would make in that position because you’ve never been in that position and don’t know what those mistakes are. A lot of things that nerds think are great ideas can prove to be abysmal failures. Hardcore gamers often have *massive* blindspots because they underestimate or look down on the parts of the gaming market that lies outside their interest. Imagine the kind of fanboyism that crops up with gamers being allowed to influence major business decisions- it would be an unmitigated disaster.

            Hell, we don’t even need to speculate. Remember Daikatana? Or Duke Nukem Forever? Or Silicon Knights? Those were the kinds of fiascoes that came from having a non-John Businessman running things.

            The best CEOs are, without exception, the guys who are both good John Businessmans and genuine aficionados of the kind of product that they produce, but those guys are hard to come by in a lot of industries. Steve Jobs loved tech, sure, but he was also downright ruthless in his business dealings and had a knack for branding and marketing. There’s a reason more people know his name that Steve Wozniak’s. Bill Gates was the same way- he wasn’t just a tech guy who was kinda good at business, he was the guy who saw the holes in Apple and IBM’s strategies and positioned Windows as the new OS for big business. People complain about Windows all the time, but it’s telling that they never make the kind of mistakes that the Linux community insists on making (like their CLI obsession) that keeps Linux from ever become a mainstream desktop OS.

            tl;dr- You’ll never know how wrong you are about how to run a business until you try running one and actually get to see how your ideas work out. That’s the advantage you’ll always have over John Riccitiello.

      2. Zak McKracken says:

        While I’m all for getting upper management off the pedestal they’ve had their underlings build for them, a reasonably good manager must have a large set of skills which almost noone simply has. And that’s just what you need to not look silly in front of other managers. Only then do you need a decent (ideally better than decent) understanding of the jobs of the people working for you, the basic humility to remember that those peosple sometimes know better than you, and the smarts to realize when that is the case or when one of them is just trying to look important.

        …but yeah, there are still some incredibly and obviously incompetent people in rather high positions. The thing that bugs me is that the punishment for incompetence is too often a fat severance pay and a new, slightly better-paid job elsewhere, when for lower ranks it can mean the end of a career.

  12. wswordsmen says:

    Having read the end of this I realize I have been overly judgemental the entire time.

    Sorry about that.

    Now I will continue the same mistake anyway. It is your bosses fault. He should have brought you or some other engineer on before agreeing to John Business’s idea in the first place where you could have told him it was crazy and not to tie the company to it (a contract to make and maintain it would have been fine.) Being in a technical industry and not consulting the people who actually do the work before accepting a job is a really bad idea. If someone like you spotted several major flaws in one meeting then you probably could have seen at least one before the deal was signed.

    Also I think the biggest red flag that everyone missed for several years is the lack of someone else technical that you could discuss tech with at the meeting.

  13. NoneCallMeTim says:

    Technical people and non-technical people mixing is a place where I see the Dunning-Kruger effect so often:

    Basically, it is the idea that people with a little knowledge think they know more than they do, and people with a lot of knowledge tend to rank themselves as knowing comparatively less because they understand the magnitude of the situation.

    1. Gethsemani says:

      Trust me, you haven’t seen the full glory of the Dunning-Kruger effect until you’ve worked in healthcare. People who spends 2 hours googling their symptoms telling off experienced Resident Doctors for their lack of knowledge, when the Resident is hesitant to just slap on a diagnosis without first ruling out other options. People who will go on long spiels aimed at the nurses about the danger of the medicines they are taking, while the nurses can rattle off all common side effects in their sleep.

      It is the problem of any situation where well trained and educated professionals meet people whom they are supposed to work with, but those people don’t know much about the field in question. They will usually try to catch up and then grossly over-estimate how much they’ve understood after a weekend reading up online and checking out the top selling books on the topic, compared to a professional who has spent over a decade learning about the field through structured studies and work.

      1. …so imagine my utter surprise when, during an appointment with a consultant haemotologist, he off-handedly told me to “go google” an aspect of my condition (pernicious anaemia). Guys…. you CANNOT have it both ways.

  14. MichaelG says:

    Evolution has equipped us to sit around under the trees grooming one another, sucking up to the higher ups, and then playing status games with one another.

    The fact that these apes created a technological civilization never ceases to amaze me.

  15. Nimrandir says:

    This retrospective has made me think back to my time with my previous employer (I was and still am a college professor). However, my situation featured a lot of people who were willing to question the decisions of the person at the top. I suppose academics are feisty like that. Most of those people found themselves no longer employed by the school, with quite a few outright barred from an otherwise-open campus.

    On an unrelated note, I found the comment about the rotten Gamespot link amusing, because I picked up the Enhanced Edition of Baldur’s Gate over the holidays, and I went to that site for the first time in years looking for an old game guide I had used for the original version. As far as I could tell, the guide is no longer hosted at Gamespot, which was a bummer.

    1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      The President of the University isn’t the person at the top. The President is barely the wait staff as far as academics are concerned. How many people were willing to publicly declare that some major name in their field was wrong, overrated, or incomplete? (I am also a professor.)

      1. Nimrandir says:

        I concur, but without dredging up the details, it suffices to say that this particular president disagreed with that view. This was my first job after graduate school, so I lacked the perspective to recognize the dysfunction.

      2. Zak McKracken says:

        Well, around here, the head of the Universities are more like the CEOs of some companies. He sets the reven — I mean operating surplus goals, and you better deliver. The other currency is number of papers times impact factor.
        (I’m not quite a professor…)

        1. Nimrandir says:

          Fortunately, that model is not in force everywhere. It may help that I am at a smaller, private, teaching-focused institution.

          1. Zak McKracken says:

            Oh, that’s interesting. I would have expected a private institution to be much more revenue-focused than “regular” ones.

            1. Nimrandir says:

              Oh, revenue streams and budgets are important, and they come up more often than we faculty want to hear them. I just haven’t experienced the same amount of administrative meddling (for lack of a better term) at the level of academic programs.

  16. Sunshine says:

    On “They built it and no-one came.” Even though it wasn’t your area, do you know how they were promoting the mall? I assume they had more of a plan than:

    1) Build a virtual mall
    2) Internet! E-commerce! The New Economy!
    3) Profit!


    1. Son_of_Valhalla says:

      E-commerce should be efficient, not time consuming like driving to the grocery store. John Business did not exactly know what he was doing.

      1. Sunshine says:

        Yes, but before making people walk around a MMO mall, they need to make them aware that it’s out there, and not just assume customers will materialise from the ether, right?

        1. Syal says:

          My guess is real-space posters and maybe some Active Worlds ads.

          …how do ordinary malls advertise, anyway? Do they even need to?

          1. guy says:

            I think they try to get in the papers for their big opening, and they put up signs on nearby highways sometimes, but mostly they’re the sort of gigantic building that people in the area know exists and has stores in it.

      2. MrGuy says:

        E-commerce should be efficient, not time consuming like driving to the grocery store. John Business did not exactly know what he was doing.

        And that’s 20/20 hindsight. Because that’s a lesson the industry hadn’t learned yet. And it wasn’t entirely obvious.

        The other side of the argument would be that people would want an online shopping experience that felt as familiar as possible. They wouldn’t grasp or embrace a new shopping model that felt like picking things off a list. Online shopping (people like John Business thought) wouldn’t take off until they could make it “feel” like the “going to the mall” experience people were currently comfortable with.

        So (in this case), he tried as hard as he could to make the experience feel as familiar as possible. You browse through aisles. Pull things off a shelf. Pick them up and look at them. Put them back or place them in a cart. You walk over to the register to check out.

        It turns out he was wrong about this – people DID embrace an online shopping experience that was much less immersive than brick-and-mortar shopping. But you’re wrong to say the fact that he thought this was the right approach means he didn’t know what he was doing.

        I’d argue the focus on motion controlled experiences and especially the current push for VR-everything is the same idea recycled – that people want their online experiences to feel as much like their real world experiences as possible. I’m personally as skeptical about their long-term success as I would have been about John Business’ success, because IMO it relies on a promise the technology isn’t close to keeping yet.

        But enough smart industry professionals disagree with me that I wouldn’t say “they don’t exactly know what they’re doing.” They might be proven wrong eventually, but that’s not the same thing. And this time, they may be the ones who are right.

  17. Alex Broadhead says:

    The notion that ‘a good businessman can run any business’ has approximately the same truth value as the chestnut that ‘a good manager can manage anything’. If you do not have the technical background to tell good from bad in a particular business/group, you cannot even begin, as you don’t have any way to measure success/failure, ask for help, plan effectively, etc.

  18. Son_of_Valhalla says:

    This is similar to Curt Schilling and 38 Studios. You brought up examples of EA and Ubisoft making clearly bone-headed mistakes, and there are also more obvious ones as well.

    Long story short, 38 studios shut down after releasing Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. It was, by all accounts, a spectacular game, with great gameplay, colorful visuals, and a somewhat not good story that works just like a typical Bethesda RPG.

    Then came the fall. While Schilling knew the talent to create a game, he unfortunately did not have the business know-how to execute it successfully, and he spent $50 million of his own money to support the project. 38 Studios failed, and we may never seen another KOA game :(.

    That said, failure can stem from the designers suggesting a dumb idea. Whoever thought of Oblivion’s Horse Armor DLC? Is that still a relevant meme?

    1. Sunshine says:

      Still relevant as a byword for bad DLC. Also, I think there is actually Horse Armour DLC for Metal Gear Solid V, offered without a scrap of self-awareness.

      1. Philadelphus says:

        I will always love Paradox Interactive’s tongue-firmly-in-cheek Horse Armor DLC for Hearts of Iron IV (in the spoiler at the bottom of the post).

        1. Sunshine says:

          That was fantastic, and the “National Dog” system was even better.

    2. Matt K says:

      To be fair, 38 Studios failed because they sunk most of their money into an MMO that never materialized (and if it did would have failed anyhow, see Kotr or ES Online or APB). The game KoA was made because they already needed more money for the MMO and they could use a lot of the already developed stuff. So no matter how much KoA made, the studio was likely going under anyhow.

      It’s sad that they didn’t see the same issue that Runic did and get out of the MMO market and instead make a sequel to KoA. Originally Torchlight 1 was going to be a teaser game for a MMO ARPG. But Torchlight 1 did well and they probably saw how expensive the MMO was (and how little they’d probably bring in) so they scrapped the idea and made Torchlight 2 and soon to be Hob (which looks pretty decent).

      As for the game, the storyline was actually pretty decent. At the very least they made a “you’re our only hope” story without creating the dissonance of doing side quest when everyone is about to die immediately.

    3. Nimrandir says:

      I picked up that game for four dollars or so in a PS3 sale, and I have yet to play it. Yay backlogs?

  19. Hector says:

    One issue I’m a bit surprised about is that nobody suggested, or apparently even thought about, a feasibility study. Yes, I know they’re the bane of many engineers and can turn into time-sinks, but I would have thought a fairly simple study would have identified some major areas that could be improved, as well as substantial technical challenges.

  20. Dork Angel says:

    The definition of incompetence is you don’t know you’re incompetent.

  21. Benjamin Hilton says:

    I can fully understand a CEO making this sort of mistake….at first. What I don’t understand is how it continues to get made. Are the people at the top so far removed from reality that they never see the simple logic Shamus described? Are they fully cognizant of that logic but assume it only happens to other CEO’s? Something else? At a certain point not learning from your own mistakes and those of your colleagues starts to beggar belief.

    1. Deoxy says:

      There’s a reason Dilbert is still popular after all these years. No one can explain this stuff, so all we can really do is point and laugh.

    2. Matt Downie says:

      Some things look impossible from one end of history. “Pod-casts? We already have radio! Where’s the audience? Nobody’s got the bandwidth to download an hour of audio – that’s what, seven hundred megabytes? And if they did, where would they store it? How are you going to get them to spend two hundred dollars on WAV-file-players? And how are you going to teach them to use them? And nobody’s going to download podcasts until there’s people recording them, and no-one with any talent is going to waste their time recording podcasts until there’s an audience. And even if you could magically overcome those problems, how much do you think you could to charge per episode? I can’t imagine there’s going to be any profit in it to justify all the expense.”

      Sometimes, if you ignore the naysayers to pursue a project, the impossible problems turn out to have solutions.


      1. Falcon02 says:

        I think a lot of that “Sometimes” you’re talking about is the importance of coming in at the right time.

        With your example before Podcasts became a thing half a dozen things independently got created and created the environment to allow Podcasts to be more prevalent. Most of them are Technological (broadband, MP3s, portable digital players), a few are more sociological.

        “Pod-casts” in 1990’s would not be successful for all the reasons you mentioned, but “Pod-casts” in the 2010’s are the norm, because we have the technology and the changes in society to make them feasible and successful.

        1. EricF says:

          And 90% + of the early podcasts were created and distributed for free by people who are passionate about some topic, and just wanted to get their opinions out there.

          Now it’s probably 69% passionate independents, 30% employees/official corporate distribution, 1% supported by Patreon or other direct subscription models.

  22. Jamie says:

    Timely: secondlife is #5

    “the promise was never realized. Businesses found there wasn't much money to be made there, and many users turned their attention to other sites.

    But a lot of people don't know that Second Life is still around. Not only that: It's still profitable and has a million users who play games, attend events, and visit fantasy regions. Second Life makes its money by taking a cut when its users create and sell virtual content using a virtual currency called “Linden dollars.””

  23. Dreadjaws says:

    As someone who’s had to work under management of some pretty incompetent people, I always get an eye twitch whenever someone says something along the lines of “Those people are at the top, they know what they’re doing”.

    That’s supremely annoying, as it presumes honest, hard work is the only way to the top. That’s not even wishful thinking, it’s preposterously naive. I can tell you two other easy ways someone can get to the top: lying and deceiving or riding on the success of others.

    This is specially baffling when it comes to people who are constantly proving their incompetence, like our old pal Bobby Kottick. Or how some people actually believed Microsoft when they said for the umpteenth time that this time they’d actually really want to improve PC gaming.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      There is a nice joke about the people at the top:

      One day,a rooster decided to climb this big tree.But flap as he like,he never could get far off the ground.Seeing him,a bull was sad and told him “Peck some of my shit,and my strength will seep into you,so youll be able to jump higher”.The rooster was sceptical at first,but hey what did he have to lose?So he peckd a bit of the shit,and he indeed was able to jump higher.Day after day,he pecked some of the shit,and every day he was able to jump higher and higher.Until finally,one day he managed to climb the tree.Happy with his success,he let out a loud cock a doodle doo.Hearing that,a farmer ran out,saw the rooster at the tree,took a shotgun and shot him dead.

      The moral of this story is:Bullshit can get you to the top,but it wont be able to keep you there.

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