#2. The New Game Consoles Arrived, Based on Features No One Could Want
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OK, maybe "no one could want" is too strong. It's possible someone out there wants these features. Someone awful, whom I don't want to know.
I was pretty hard on the Xbox One when it was unveiled earlier this year, and I'm not going to rehash my complaints -- namely that it almost certainly sells videos of you masturbating to the NSA. Microsoft simply made the type of move that has been their trademark -- if the customer doesn't like a product, simply force them to take it anyway. If you're a longtime Windows user and want a new laptop, you have to get Windows 8, unless you want to start over and re-buy every piece of software you own. And if you want the new Xbox, you have to take the Kinect with it -- you know, the thing nobody used last time?
But even if we put that aside, the Xbox and PS4 both boast, as their major selling points, features that I don't remember hearing anyone ask for. For example, in this comprehensive Ars Technica buyer's guide for the Xbox One vs. the PS4, it says the Xbox's "killer app" is the "snap" feature -- basically the ability to play a game in one window while watching TV or a movie in another tiny window too small to see unless you have an IMAX television. OK, who in the possible shit is this for?
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"Finally, I can consolidate my wall of TVs."
"Maybe it's for when I want to play a game and someone else wants to watch a movie?" Then they'll have to go into another room, because it would be a living hell for them to try to watch a movie in a tiny window while you are shooting zombies in a much larger one. "Well, maybe when I'm watching TV, I want to play a game during the commercial breaks." Sorry, if you're the type of person who'd do this, you're already watching TV either on DVR delay or by streaming it -- either way you're not seeing lengthy, unskippable commercial breaks. "What if I want to Skype with my friends while playing a video game?" That's the closest anyone has come to making sense of this madness, but you can already talk to friends when playing multiplayer via the headset, right? So this adds, what? The ability to see your friend sitting on their sofa, at the cost of valuable screen real estate?
Meanwhile, that same article says the PS4's killer new innovation is the ability to watch other people playing their game, instead of playing it yourself. Just a quick survey: Raise your hand if you enjoy doing that. I'm not talking about watching popular "Let's Play" YouTube personalities do it, either -- there are some out there who I consider to be national treasures (NSFW) ...
... but they're the ones who put actual work into their presentation. That's not what this is -- this is all about everyone becoming a Let's Play streamer, and everyone else gaining the ability to randomly drop in on strangers and watch them fart around on levels and skip cutscenes and do everything different from how you'd do it ("WHY IS HE JUMPING EVERYWHERE INSTEAD OF JUST WALKING ARRGHH"). Those of you who said you're into this, how many of you are also alien replicants only pretending to be humans in order to learn our ways? That's what I thought.
But the article I linked is right -- those ancillary and somewhat baffling features are in fact their "killer apps" -- i.e., the only thing that really sets these systems apart. Without the "do things other than play games that you already were able to do perfectly well with other devices" additions, these new consoles are only here to give us the diminishing returns graphics that won't really show true innovation for a couple of years. Nothing on shelves now, or on the upcoming release lists, is worth anything close to the $600-plus new gen entry fee.
Of course, sometimes you just have to spend some to get rid of all that extra money weight.
And again, my entire conscious life has been an unbroken string of game consoles -- I've owned 11 of them in my life, going back to Pong. So not buying one of these is unthinkable to me. But the only thing sadder to me than not owning one would be forking over the cash and realizing I have no use for it. Don't do this to me, guys. You don't want to know what I do with my spare time when I don't have a video game system to fill it. Let's put it this way: If you don't give me something soon, you'll be reading about it in the paper.
#1. 2013 Was the Year Google Finally Turned Evil
We thought Google was going to save the world.
This company, which started humbly enough as a search engine that worked slightly better than Lycos, soon expanded into improving email, operating systems, office software, phones -- everything up to and including freaking self-driving cars. Everything they touched, they improved. Gmail was light years better than Hotmail. Google Maps gave us a God's-eye view of our world.
And through all of that -- through the stunning rise of the stock, through the value of the company soaring into 12 digits -- they retained that feel of the scrappy underdog we all rooted for. On occasion, they even turned their company logo into whimsical doodads for no reason whatsoever, other than to remind us that they were regular folks like us. Folks who just happened to have the smarts, desire, and cash to be our monopoly slayers. Their phones gave us an alternative to an increasingly dickish Apple, their free Google Docs software gave us an alternative to Microsoft Office, their social network gave us an alternative to Facebook.
Yeah, about that last one ...
A famous Batman movie villain once said, "You either die a hero or live long enough to become the villain. Now say hello to my Freeze Gun, ice hole!" And sure enough, in 2013 Google finally put on that Arnold Schwarzenegger cooling suit. It started when the aforementioned social network, Google Plus (or Google+), fell on its face. It was actually a superior product to Facebook, but not so much so that anyone felt like uprooting their entire social media presence and starting back at zero with their friends and likes -- lists that we've spent years building on Facebook.
How far behind Facebook are they? Well, for instance, this article of mine has been shared 4,700 times on Google+, which sounds like a lot ... until you notice it's been shared 454,000 times on Facebook. That's not an isolated case -- overall, Facebook usage beats Google+ by an astonishing 60 to 1 ratio.
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Although idiocy levels are roughly equal.
Now, as we mentioned above in our Microsoft Kinect example, where a good company either cuts its losses or redoubles its efforts to improve and/or promote the product, an evil monopoly simply grabs its customers by the back of the head and crams the unwanted product down their throats. You might also recognize this as the business model used by hated cable companies ("If you want ESPN, you have to also pay for the Oprah Network, asshole!") and the equally hated music industry back in the day ("If you want to hear this awesome single, you'll have to pay $22 for 10 other tracks of covers, instrumentals, and other filler on this CD, because we are invincible and this business model will never, ever die!").
So, Google remembered that they owned YouTube, which holds a monopoly on video streaming (it is 20 times bigger than the next biggest competitor -- if you're trying to make a living creating video, it's YouTube or nothing). A few months ago, every YouTube viewer, creator, and commenter logged in to find a popup telling them that their YouTube account was going to go away. Only Google+ would be allowed. They either had to log in under a Google+ account (which would stick their real name and face on their videos and comments) or create a new one. Their YouTube message inbox? Gone -- all messages have to be checked in Google+. All comments would have to be posted through Google+. The product everyone loved had been absorbed into the product everyone hated. You take both, or you get neither. Google had become Microsoft.
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Every one of those bills smells like dick.
Likewise, Google had turned Gmail into the Internet's most popular email service, and I bet a whole bunch of you reading this have Gmail open in another tab right now. So try this: With that tab open, go over to YouTube. Shocked to see it has stuck your real face up on the screen? In your confusion, did you panic and tell it to log you out? OK, now look at your other tab -- it just logged you out of Gmail, too. Why? For the same reason Windows 8.1 brought back the start button but made it so it does absolutely nothing -- it's a pure, spiteful "Fuck you for not choking down our failed product." Nothing more. This is what it looks like when a corporation throws a tantrum.
So this is how a company that used to warn you to never give out your real name on the Internet started tricking you into putting your real name on everything. And the change was implemented so clumsily that it broke YouTube in several dozen hilarious ways, particularly on the creators' end. You know, the content creators, the people who make the stuff that keeps YouTube profitable? The ones who pay their own rent with the meager ad revenue? That's why one after another they spoke out with videos like this:
And my favorite (NSFW):
This is why users unleashed hell on the Google support forum, and Google responded by doing and saying absolutely nothing because screw you, we're a monopoly. Fortunately, the site's most popular content creators were soon distracted from these problems by a much larger one: Google implemented "Content ID" -- an automated copyright protection system that obliterated thousands of "fair use" videos in one fell swoop, shutting down one channel along with its 1.2 million subscribers and 7,000 videos without warning. And if you want your channel back, well, get ready for a shitload of paperwork and waiting:
My favorite moment of 2013 was probably when one of YouTube's original founders came out of the woodwork to ask, "Why the fuck do I need a Google+ account to comment on a video?"
Good question! If you're reading this, sir, the answer is that in 2013 we kind of found ourselves in a dead spot for innovation, and as such, companies instead tried to figure out how to force customers to retroactively accept the last, failed attempt at innovation.
Hopefully it won't last long. I'm sure the Next Big Thing is hiding out there, somewhere, on the drawing board or in a secret beta, and I'm sure it's wonderful and it will be the gadget that finally brings meaning to my life. But as 2013 winds to a close, all I can say is they're doing a bang-up job of keeping that shit under wraps.
David Wong is the Executive Editor of Cracked.com and just spent an hour explaining why your favorite Christmas movies make no fucking sense in this week's Cracked Podcast:
Related Reading: For a look at all the myriad reasons why the tech industry sucks so bad, click here. And did you known porn created the modern world? Let us explain. Oh, and by the way the video game game industry is headed for a crash. We figured you'd like a heads-up.