So, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last week, you’ll no doubt have heard about a few “brain-farts” over at the Do-No-Evil Google.
I don’t really want to talk about the politics of what’s going down, because frankly my view isn’t really mired in the politics underpinning these decisions. Google has every right to fire people it thinks are cultivating a ‘hostile workplace atmosphere’, and no, it doesn’t have to give you ad revenue either – even if you have thousands or hundreds of thousands of subscribers and have built up part of the backbone of YouTube, Google reserves the right to yank that rug from underneath you. Their platform. Their rules. Don’t like it when they move the goalposts? Tough shit.
… except, maybe not.
You see, to me, this is the net result of what happens when a company gets very big, very important and seems like an immovable object. The larger things grow, the more money pours in, the more ego and hubris takes over. What was a company that needed and craved edgy, perhaps even dangerous content or ideas suddenly becomes ultra-conservative in what they want their employees and suppliers to say, do and think. The more important they think they are, the more strange decisions they start making – partly because they can, and partly because no-one has slapped their wrists and told them to knock it off.
Google has hit “Peak Homogenisation” – it’s become uniform, standardised, the role brand even. And now that attitude is starting to slip into how they want their content creators and employees to behave.
This is why, sorry Social Justice types for saying this, there is this thing called the Free Market.
Sure, Google may not want you. But if you don’t want them – you have the option to go elsewhere too. Don’t like that Google is cracking down on channels talking about politics, or content that has swearing in it? Fine, that’s cool. There are options out there – Vimeo, Vid.me, DailyMotion and their ilk. They probably would be thrilled if people with a thousand subscribers went over to their platform full-time and brought their audience with them. Got a hundred thousand? They’ll practically splooge their pants. A million? You’ll be treated like a bloody god! If YouTube’s new rules aren’t for you… then that’s not an outlet you should want your product to be on. Find somewhere else to sell yourself. That’s the point of a free market – and the only way this doesn’t work is if you are too afraid, or too lazy, to go and find other places that may want what you’re making.
We’re seeing this in many places; Sony’s continued dominance in console gaming has led it to make some… ahem… strange decisions. From pushing content which is frankly embarrassing to look at, to price hikes and not addressing long-standing concerns and problems within its own infrastructure – not to mention letting some of its executives once again speak to the press without the benefit of a stern Librarian-like lady with a switch cane standing nearby to smack them when they say things that might offend or insult the consumer (I’m looking at you, Jim Ryan – the Sony one, that is!) – Sony was able to get away with almost all of this because, in effect, it was the only game in town. Want to release a game and have a larger audience to pitch to? You only had the one choice… or so it seemed. The Wii U seemed to do alright with software sales, despite all its inherent problems.
Now, of course, the Switch is out there and Sony’s hubris only serves to highlight how different and how interesting its new rival platform is. Is it perfect? No, of course not, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. But ease of use, ease of development – the list of developers saying how quick it is to port games over and how easy the whole thing is grows by the day – and a clever hardware concept is already starting to cut into Sony’s sales forecasts. A few months ago, Sony was anticipating more than 20 million PS4 sales. That’s already down to 18 million. And chances are, that target will be lowered again in a few months, all whilst Nintendo is raising its hardware forecasts from the original conservative estimate of 10 million, now 15 million – heck, a good Holiday season and supply issues willing, Nintendo could even push 20 million.
When a good competitor turns up, if the previous giant is being a bit of a dick – then people start to slowly, gradually, by degrees move over to the other platform. And particularly in the console space, we see this over and over and over again. Nintendo’s a giant douche. Now Sony. Look, now Microsoft. Now Sony. And so on. And so on. And yes, so on. The market simply transitions to the machine and hardware manufacturer that isn’t being a gigantic tin-plated phallic decoration.
We see it in software developers; UbiSoft got quite the spanking, and now it appears to be taking a few more risks and toning down the ego a touch. EA and ActiVision aren’t quite there yet, but they’ll get to that point in good time. Capcom – heck, it keeps asking out loud why people aren’t buying its games – why did more than ten million people go out and make Street Fighter 4 the biggest thing since Catholicism, but Street Fighter 5 has sold less than two million and can’t seem to ship from month to month more than maybe a couple thousand copies, even when heavily discounted? Hubris. Capcom got it into its head it was -the- go-to place for fighting games – rightly so, since Bandai-Namco was wrecking Tekken and SoulCalibur. But Smash Bros. now eclipses Capcom’s games in terms of interest, and rival games – King of Fighters, Mortal Kombat X, Injustice 2, Guilty Gear, hell even Pokkén Tournament has outsold Street Fighter 5 – are there and waiting to be played and mastered.
Why waste your time on an unfinished, dumbed-down and sluggish fighting game like Street Fighter 5 when there are so many better games out there? The net result? Well… we’ll wait and see, but if Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite doesn’t set the world on fire, Capcom is going to need to ask some very, very difficult questions of itself.
None of this needs to be about politics – that’s an extraneous argument, one that actually doesn’t even add anything to the discussion. To bring it back to Google, there are alternatives. You don’t need to use Chrome. Or Google. Or even YouTube. If the conditions are unbearable, if you’re not making money, shouting at Google isn’t really going to do anything. It’s big, and loud, and brash and it isn’t going to give a flying bats anus in the snowy regions of Atlantica when people like Katie Hopkins shouts at it. Why would they? They genuinely have convinced themselves that the people making content will stay, that its employees are ‘productive’, that they are unassailable.
The only way to break a boulder as big as Google is to move the earth from underneath it. Like consoles before it, and developers and game genres, when one gets too big and self-important and thinks it can do whatever the hell it wants because you’re too stupid to go anywhere else… go somewhere else. Move that earth from underneath it.
This is doubly dangerous for the likes of Google which depends on two things; ad revenue and your data. It sells ad space and sells your data. If you go elsewhere, use a different browser and a different search engine, then you rob it of data to sell. You also rob Google of your business, which means a smaller figure to sell advertising for. If this happens, slowly Google will find it doesn’t make as much on data, and it doesn’t seem to have enough people to make returns on ad space. You strangulate it where it matters – their bottom line, and when that happens… well, we’ve seen it in consoles. Companies can change. Sometimes radically so.
And if they don’t… they become the next MySpace, the next Daily Radar. They’ll effectively die convincing themselves they are still in the right.
And we shouldn’t be afraid of that – hell, the Internet is a place filled with failed websites, and failed businesses (I should know). What was big yesterday is tomorrow’s chinchilla bedding. We move on. Companies rise, companies fall, people are supposed to learn but we know they rarely do – hell, if they did, you think Sony would be making the same mistakes now that they did back at the PS3 launch?
So if you don’t like Google – if you think what its doing is so terrible that you want to hurt them… use other stuff. There are tons of browsers out there. Plenty of search engines – StartPage even hides your trail so, you know, you can even stick it to Google that way if you really must for some reason. There are other video platforms, and even other social media outlets – Gab.ai, Minds.com and more are starting to gain traction, Twitter is suffering as it is and it may not be far away from a disaster of its own.
The only way a big corporate monolith like Google wins is if people just shrug and accept it, when they become lazy and stop looking for new and better alternatives. When they consciously decide to homogenise themselves and their own tools. That’s why Google grew. No-one bothered to use anything else. There are other options – and they’ll all, in the end, grow and probably end up in the exact same position Google is in if they get to that kind of size.
It’s a thing that happens, and the free market depends on you – the consumer, the supplier, the product – expending just a little extra time and energy to go into the next field and see if anything is better there. When you can’t do that… well, then the likes of Google can do whatever the hell they want. They know you won’t go anywhere.
So instead of whining about it, and shouting and crying and making YouTube videos that still end up with ads that make Google money – prove them wrong. Go elsewhere. Do something. Use other tools, other services. If Google isn’t willing to change – change yourself, change your outlook and change your platform. Rob Google of that precious data, those precious few dollars they’d make on your stuff.
Or don’t and keep whining, hoping Google will hear you.
Eh, your choice.