According to Chris Kohler with Wired Magazine:
Xbox Live general manager Marc Whitten told Next Generation this week that Microsoft will soon begin to delete some Xbox Live Arcade games from the service. The rationale is, to put it nicely, paper-thin: To “focus on quality over quantity” and “make it easier to find the games you are looking for.”
I am surprised by this in light of what I have studied about the long tail. It seems to make sense in the context of that theory, that once an item makes it into inventory, it just stays there. Why would they pull a title?
Kohler seems to be overly defensive of the long tail but I suppose this is understandable if your editor in cheif is Chris Anderson. In the interest of full disclosure, I work for Microsoft but not in the Xbox division. I work for Microsoft Learning. But back to the question, why pull a title? Kohler is a bit vague on this point and perhaps that is because his source was not giving him a lot of information. He mentions that there is some concern about the user interface being confusing. I don’t believe that. Microsoft has plenty of developers to fix a problem like that. Kohler goes on to defend the long tail by saying:
Now, you guys know me. I’m a free-market, laissez-faire kind of guy. I think it’s important that Microsoft is free to do whatever it damn well pleases with Xbox Live. That’s because I believe that, ultimately, Microsoft will learn that it’s doing the wrong thing because companies that get it right will succeed in the marketplace.
Only I’m not entirely confident about Microsoft’s competitors, either.
Finally, Kohler gets to the root of his anxiety in the final two paragraphs.
Perhaps these three companies really do believe that digital delivery will usher in a brand new democratic, infinite-arcade era of gaming. But let’s not kid ourselves. The reason that Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft are so excited about digital delivery is that it represents a future in which one company — them — has absolute control over the sole content distribution channel.
And that’s a future we should be very worried about.
I understand the concern he expresses, that the gatekeepers will stifle the democracy of innovation. Unfortunately, Kohler does not offer an alternative. He lays fear, uncertainty, and doubt at the feet of his readers and leaves us there.
Here are questions I have. Do Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft have a new model that optimizes the long tail? Is there a point at which the long tail does not make sense and it pays to chop it off? Pay is the operative word here. We are dealing with corporations after all and they are by law beholden to their shareholders to make money. Have they found a way to further monetize what they found in their study of Chris Anderson’s theory?
I had a chance to sit in on a lecture of Jonathan Zittrain at the Berkman Center about ten days ago. He did his stump speech for the speaker circuit that supports his new book The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It. By the way, Jonathan Zittrain is hugely entertaining. He makes the mundane sparkle. If you do get a chance to catch him on the speaker circuit, go. But I digress. Zittrain speaks of the “dark matter” of the internet, a generative force that impels creation. It is who we are as humans. We long to congregate, communicate, create, and share. It was in this spirit that the internet was created. Amazingly it, the internet, has managed to survive despite some huge vulnerabilities. Among those vulnerabilities is the desire of corporations to control this mighty social engine. But that, as Mr. Kohler might leave us to believe, is not the only vulnerability that threatens the democracy of innovation.
The days of idyllic cooperation appear to be coming to an end. Spam is rampant and pervasive. Gatekeepers like Comcast and Sprint vie for dominace over the wire. By some accounts, the music industry is dead and in response, other content providers like Viacom, Disney, and Microsoft seek to clamp down on piracy and place ever more stringent restrictions on re-use of content. The number of security incidents on the internet are rising significantly. So, the question is, can the Internet survive the urge to regulate? Will this desire for control and regulation squelch or kill the generative nature of the internet?
Zittrain offers suggestions for how we can ensure the continued resilience of this wonderful invention. But the time to act is now. The future is in our hands and is for us to decide. How and what it will become is up to us.
I am beginning my first read of the book this weekend. Based on the lecture that I heard, I have confidence that time spent with this book will be well invested. I believe that what I will find is a reasoned response to the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that Kohler expresses.
– Mark Shea