SAI contributor and veteran entrepreneur Jason Chervokas writes The Astounding Trickster. Here, on the day of Microsoft’s earnings, he points out that, in the video-game industry anyway, content is still pretty much king.
In Silicon Alley’s formative years, “content is king” was the most commonly heard slogan, an article of faith repeated like a mantra from the scruffy tables of Eureka Joe’s to the board rooms of media companies uptown.
In truth, like the name “Silicon Alley” itself, “content is king,” was a phrase we used defensively. Back then we had coder envy. Sure, we clung to the notion of the Internet as a media platform first and a technology platform second, but more than believing it we desperately hoped that it would be so. Media was something we knew how to make here, software not so much.
Times have changed of course, blurring all the lines. That great Silicon Valley technology company, Google, makes billions churning low-end, direct response ads; and New York is awash with start-up companies brimming with the elegant work of real coders. Still, try dropping a phrase like “content is king” at the next NY Tech Meet-Up and wait for the reaction. At best you’ll be ignored as an out of touch old timer, at worst you’ll be excoriated as a hopelessly backwards naif.
But if anyone wants an example of the still-dramatic power of great content in the world of technology, one need look no farther than the report from NPD last week showing that Microsoft’s X Box had finally overtaken Nintendo’s Wii in monthly sales in September. The difference maker? Not better graphics or bulletproof network connectivity, but Halo 3. It was a great piece of content that made the platform attractive to consumers, not the other way around.
For New Yorkers who came to the Internet business from the media side, that’s not so hard to accept. In the media biz we have platforms too–cable television for example, which in the end was adopted by consumers because of great content from providers like HBO. But for many technologists the story of content driving platform adoption borders on an unfathomable case of the the tail wagging the dog.
You can’t blame Silicon Valley for it’s obsession with platforms. With the market control they afford their makers and their natural monopoly characteristics, platforms plays have made a lot of money for folks from Seattle to San Jose. At this point, the desire to turn everything into a platform is instinctual in Silicon Valley. Apple tried to turn digital music into a platform with iTunes, for example, a move that required built-in, consumer unfriendly non-interoperability to protect the iTunes’ platform-like nature. And, if as reported Microsoft is considering investing in Facebook, it has everything to do with Facebook’s ambition to become a “social media platform.”
But the era of the platform is over. The Web, or at least the Internet’s TCP/IP protocol is the platform now, an open, collaborative, standard’s based platform that has few if any of the economic characteristics that made platform-building the business it was.
Even for something like console games, where platform exclusivity remains the norm, the platforms themselves have become commoditized, with gamers casually abandoning one in favour of another if a new piece of exclusive content comes along.
I won’t go so far as to say “content is king,” again, because with more than 10 years of Internet industry experience under our belts we can see now that the relationship between content, technology, and community engagement–the relationship that remains at the core of media technology–is a dynamic and multifaceted one in which no one component takes precedence. (Was it content, or ease of use that made YouTube a category killer?)
Although Thursday’s earnings report from Microsoft will only include a week or so of Halo 3 sales, it will be interesting nonetheless to see what the company has to say about the franchise. In a year when Microsoft was hoping to replenish its core business with the release of a new operating system, it was Halo 3, not Vista, that led the way for the company, and there’s a lesson in that for sure, a lesson that should seem warmly familiar to Silicon Alley—it ain’t the platform, it’s what people do with the platform that drives the business opportunity.
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