The Black Box of Decision
In the days when all we had were newspapers and magazines, radio, and TV, we had to wait until the morning, evening, or late evening to find out about them. Because of the timing aspect we that we didn’t know stuff but we also knew that if there was anything to know, we’d get around to it eventually when publications arrived on our doorsteps or we tuned into the 6 AM, 6 PM or 10 PM news broadcasts. The Internet changed that and receives a fair amount of legit criticism for being too “on” because broadcasting something as it happens doesn’t give us the time to figure out what it means, why it’s happening, or reflect on the lasting impact.
This is why I find it really bizarre when companies are so obtuse. Even though I’ve spent most of my life without the Internet (although that will change in a mere few years), I have become so used to getting important information and reasons accompanying my news stories that when I don’t the stories seem stupid, pointless, and nonsensical.
Case in point: Nintendo, the great Cypher of Reason in the games industry, has opted to discontinue their short-lived NES Classic all-in-one retro console. This was a big hit with gamers when it was announced late last year and was impossible to find for the Holiday season. In fact, it’s still in short supply, unless you really want one and are willing to pay scalper prices on eBay. When news of this discontinuation came across the ‘tubes yesterday, people were pissed. The sentiment was pretty much the same: Nintendo doesn’t want a slam-dunk sale, and they must hate both money and customers. Of course, we don’t really know why they decided to look at the demand and step back; they claim that this product was never intended to be a long-running thing and that this announcement was always in the cards. But Nintendo is notorious for either misunderstanding demand, purposefully shorting their own supply chain, or just being monumentally incompetent and tone-deaf. While we get some kind of excuse, the reason and outcome are so idiotic that we can’t help but think we’re being shafted in some way.
In thinking about this I was also reminded about a product that I used to use called Forge. This is an app that silently records your gameplay and allows you to carve out clips of up to 30 seconds in length that you can share with friends. I say that I “used to” use it because while I really liked its initial incarnation, the decision-makers changed it once to compete with Twitch (didn’t work), and then again into some other kind of chimera that’s not fully realized. To me, the Forge team has no idea what the heck they want their product to do, and because of that can’t convince me why I should use their product. I’m not bitter about removing features I liked or their attempts to enter a saturated market with essentially no ammunition; I’m just confused about the indecisive direction changes and am not willing to put effort into supporting a product that’s all over the board. If the Forge team could tell us what they wanted to accomplish, and actually stuck with that plan, I’d be willing to give them another shot, but there’s been little to no communication in this vein as far as I’ve been able to see. They’re either playing it by ear or are purposefully keeping their plans close to the vest, which in my opinion is hurting them more than it is keeping them safe.
Commercialism in the 21st century has become a game of one-upmanship where the consumer is a spectator who doesn’t understand what he or she is witnessing, and no one involved in the game is willing to explain the rules. Companies are paranoid that someone is going to beat them to the punch before they can file a patent or trademark, so lips are sealed…yet we’re expected to get hyped over scraps of information that *surprise!* may or may not actually make it to the final product — if we get a final product at all (thanks, Kickstarter!). For the most part, we play along because we’re dazzled by the fancy footwork and the roar of the rest of the crowd, but how many of us have been left with a feeling of unease and even remorse once we’ve had time to digest what we’ve been a part of? That sucks. I think the relationship between the consumer and the producer is heavily weighted in favor of the producer, which is a problem we as consumers have gotten ourselves into with eyes wide open. Technically there’s nothing pushing companies to change; Apple doesn’t do focus groups, and yet people work themselves into a consumerist coma and are grateful for the privilege of buying whatever the company produces. So I call it wishful thinking that companies were more transparent and up front about their reasoning behind some of the decisions that they make. I know it would help me feel better about entering into a relationship with a company, and I think the company could feel better about customer loyalty that didn’t involve underhanded tricks like proprietary hardware, walled gardens, and patent trolling.