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June 2019
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The End Of The Open Internet: Cory Doctorow's Op-Ed From The Future

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The NY Times is running an "Op-Eds From the Future" series, which is a creative idea. In a recent one, Cory Doctorow matched the theme perfectly by highlighting what world looks like without an open internet, when companies are forced to monitor and filter everything. The point he's making is that, especially with changing laws in the EU and some of the proposals in the US, the liability for hosting content will become too great, and we'll shift from an internet that is open for communmications to one that is a "broacast" world of carefully vetted and fully "licensed" content. His title makes the premise clear: I Shouldn't Have to Publish This in The New York Times.

Ten years ago, I could have published this on my personal website, or shared it on one of the big social media platforms. But that was before the United States government decided to regulate both the social media platforms and blogging sites as if they were newspapers, making them legally responsible for the content they published.The move was spurred on by an unholy and unlikely coalition of media companies crying copyright; national security experts wringing their hands about terrorism; and people who were dismayed that our digital public squares had become infested by fascists, harassers and cybercriminals. Bit by bit, the legal immunity of the platforms was eroded from the judges who put Facebook on the line for the platform's inaction during the Provo Uprising to the lawmakers who amended section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in a bid to get Twitter to clean up its Nazi problem.
He goes through the inevitable progression of events in a world without Section 230, in which various countries enact stricter and stricter laws, and the liability burdens become increasingly too great on companies, leading them to ramp up automated filters that don't work very well, and then nothing works right, especially if you're discussing a serious topic:
The platforms and personal websites are fine if you want to talk about sports, relate your kids' latest escapades or shop. But if you want to write something about how the platforms and government legislation can't tell the difference between sex trafficking and sex, nudity and pornography, terrorism investigations and terrorism itself or copyright infringement and parody, you're out of luck. Any one of those keywords will give the filters an incurable case of machine anxiety but all of them together? Forget it.
And the real kicker, none of that automation solved any of the "issues" that lawmakers insisted they were solving in the first place. And the key point in all of this: in deciding that bad stuff on the internet was the fault of big internet companies, you inevitably lock in those giants:
But instead, we decided to vest the platforms with statelike duties to punish them for their domination. In doing so, we cemented that domination. Only the largest companies can afford the kinds of filters we've demanded of them, and that means that any would-be trustbuster who wants to break up the companies and bring them to heel first must unwind the mesh of obligations we've ensnared the platforms in and build new, state-based mechanisms to perform those duties.
It's a good, fun, readable vision of the world we're currently heading for based on EU regulations and some of the nonsense being suggested regarding Section 230 today.The really annoying part is how little those who are pushing these regulations seem to realize what they're doing. Everyone is so focused on Section 230 these days as if it's the only "lever" they have to pull in regards to their complaints (some of which are totally reasonable) about the big internet companies. Very few of them bother to consider how all of this plays out -- which is why it's great that Cory is doing so. Of course, those who don't want to recognize what will happen don't seem to care. I've seen a few people dismissing the story as "fiction," which kind of misses the point. Hilariously, they're doing so on social media platforms enabled by the laws that these people are now trying to kill.

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posted at: 12:00am on 28-Jun-2019
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Maybe Epic's Claims For Exclusivity Strategy To Benefit The Gaming Industry Isn't Entirely Crazy

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For some time now, we've been discussing gaming company Epic's entry into the gaming platform wars. Epic made waves shortly after the launch of the Epic Store when it began gobbling up exclusivity deals for games, whereas the PC gaming industry has mostly been free from the kind of exclusivity wars that have plagued the console gaming industry. Steam, the enormous competitor in the market, responded to Epic getting some AAA game exclusive deals for the first 6 months after launch by complaining that its new rival's strategy was hurting gamers more than anything else. In response, Epic's Tim Sweeney jumped on Twitter and promised to end the exclusive game strategy if Valve's Steam platform would offer gamemakers the same more generous split on revenue that Epic is offering. See, Steam offers game publishers roughly 70% of game revenue back to the publisher to be on its platform, whereas Epic offers a flat 88%.This initial stance from Sweeney was laid out as altruism, with claims that what Epic was really after was a better gaming marketplace to allow more reinvestment in games, more games for the public, and thereby a happier gaming public. Much of the gaming community met this argument with narrow eyes. Epic, after all, is a business and businesses are designed to make money. Sweeney has since followed up on Epic's stance in a recent tweetstorm responding to public complaints about exclusive games. There's a lot in the 9 tweets from Sweeney, but let's start with the rationale for exclusive games on the Epic Store.

This question gets to the core of Epic’s strategy for competing with dominant storefronts. We believe exclusives are the only strategy that will change the 70/30 status quo at a large enough scale to permanently affect the whole game industry.  In judging whether a disruptive move like this is reasonable in gaming, I suggest considering two questions: Is the solution proportionate to the problem it addresses, and are gamers likely benefit from the end goal if it’s ultimately achieved?
So what's the problem Sweeney is trying to solve? It's the Steam 70/30 split, yes, but ultimately he claims that such a split prevents more games from being produced due to the financial strain that split puts on game developers and publishers. He claims that a more generous storefront split will allow game publishers and developers to use that money to bank profit, reinvest in making games, or lower the prices of their games. Assuming a healthy competitive marketplace with more games being produced, the money is most likely to go to reinvestment and lower prices. Both are good for gamers. His argument is that, yes, exclusives are annoying to gamers, but if exclusives ultimately produce a better gaming marketplace, that outweighs the annoyance.In a subsequent tweet, Sweeney claims this is win/win for Epic and gamers alike.
If the Epic strategy either succeeds in building a second major storefront for PC games with an 88/12 revenue split, or even just leads other stores to significantly improve their terms, the result will be a major wave of reinvestment in game development and a lowering of costs.  So I believe this approach passes the test of ultimately benefitting gamers after game storefronts have rebalanced and developers have reinvested more of their fruits of their labor into creation rather than taxation.
For the math to work on this, Epic will both have to succeed in getting gamers to adopt the platform and get Valve to budge on Steam's current revenue splits. Neither are sure things. Still, the biggest barrier to people accepting this argument is it's still all being framed as an altruistic attempt to do good for the gaming public and that same gaming public is far too cynical to believe that's the only reason Epic is taking these actions.But, as the Kotaku points out, perhaps this isn't so much win/win for Epic, but win/win/win.
In short, he’s basically saying yeah, this is causing problems for some gamers, but the issue Epic is trying to solve is worth the hardship. Most interesting is what he says that issue is: it’s not necessarily for their own store to make money and become more powerful, but for Epic’s pricing model—which gives far more money to developers and publishers than Valve’s current split—to be implemented across the market, whether it’s driven by their own success or by rivals adopting a similar model.That might seem potentially counter-productive; why would it not really matter if your own store survived or not? Then you remember that Epic sells engines as well, and that if Sweeney’s stated goal of seeing a rise in games development investment is achieved, then there’s going to be an increase in the licensing of the Unreal Engine along with it.
I'm irritated with myself for not thinking of this on my own. Epic's Store can make it money in two ways. First, its exclusive deals and revenue splits can propel it into a major gaming platform successful in its own right. Second, its strategy could force other platforms, especially Steam, to take actions that it believes will result in tons more games being made, many of which will license Epic's Unreal Engine to make them.Either way, Epic could win out here. And that's pretty brilliant, whatever you think of PC game exclusives or how believable you think Sweeney's claims of altruism are.

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