You are currently viewing an archival version of GF!

Click here to return to the current GamesFirst! website.

Monopolies, Megacorporations and Myopia

November 18, 2001


I get a lot of email. Most of it is pretty nice, a lot of it asks questions, and some of it tells me I have my head in my ass and wouldn’t know a videogame from a hole in the ground, which I might also mistake for my ass. It’s okay – I welcome all of it because I’m not really about making people like me, per se, but informing people about videogames. I try to do a reasonably objective and thorough job of it, but reviewing is all about the opinion, and not everyone is going to agree. That’s fine. One thing that people, a lot of people ranging from readers to fellow game critics, often tell me is how evil Microsoft and the Xbox are. In fact, it’s become a bit ridiculous how vogue it is to criticize the infamous Bill Gates and company.

I remember back in the bad old days, before the anti-trust suit, when Gates was reviled mainly by disgruntled IT employees and more avid computer users. It’s easy to see where this comes from – if most of the people have one piece of software to use, then they will inevitably blame and resent the manufacturers when said software operates poorly. Since Microsoft is such an all-encompassing force in our world, it also provides a cultural touchstone, sort of like how "everybody" hates their boss or doing homework.

Things didn’t get any better for Gates when the government started all this anti-trust legislation. In fact, people are extremely conflicted about this issue, and most just haven’t really paid attention. On the one hand, some of Microsoft’s business policies were at the least unethical and at the most illegal, but the company was nevertheless accused of much greater harm. Interest in the case was undoubtedly fueled by the undercurrent of MS-hating, and that undercurrent has become the hip thing. It’s rebellious and connective at the same time. Macintosh users "Think Different" by purchasing hardware from a company owned in large part by Gates, and moreover they commit to purchasing an even smaller variety of often more expensive software and hardware, much of which is supplied by the same company they bought their computer from, often in a partnership with Microsoft. Did everybody forget about the cover of Time that showed Steve Jobs and featured a quote from him thanking Gates for bailing out the company? And how rebellious is it to complain about Microsoft or Windows? Most folks still run the dominant operating system, and most folks complain about it. It is not unique to bash Gates and his empire.

What is sad is that this thinking has permeated the gaming world, and many gamers are against the Xbox simply because they dislike Microsoft and Bill Gates. Certainly it is your right to support or not support any company or person you’d like, and I’m not arguing against that right. But the myopic criticisms of the system and games based on ad hominem arguments about Bill Gates are frustrating, especially when much of this reasoning is put into the service of another megacorporation that could be equally criticized – Sony.

Who made your CD player? What about your VCR, television, Walkman™, mini disc player, DVD player, receiver, tuner, car stereo, computer, monitor, or speakers? Who puts out music by artists like Kid Rock, Macy Gray, Korn, NKOTB, Rage Against the Machine, Rehab, Bruce Springsteen, Tenacious D, Wu Tang Clan, and Tammy Wynette? Who puts out movies like Dr. Strangelove, Gattaca, Monty Python’s Holy Grail, Matilda, City of Lost Children, and a whole lot more? Now, who makes your PlayStation as well as many games to play on it? Sony. The company has arms that extend into almost every aspect of our lives, and in many more areas than Microsoft. I didn’t even mention their theater and cable interests or their online ventures.

Furthermore, who has Sony partnered with to bring the PlayStation online? AOL Time-Warner, the absolutely huge multinational media conglomerate which brings television stations like HBO, TNN, TNT, CNN, and Cartoon Network together with magazines like Time, People, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, Entertainment Weekly, TransWorld Skateboarding, Sunset, Field & Stream, Popular Science and a whole armload of others. Add to all of that stuff the online ventures of AOL and Netscape, coupled with some of the largest cable providers and some local television stations for good measure, and you’re talking about a corporation that we all interact with on a daily basis. In fact, we probably interact with a product of Sony, AOL Time-Warner, or their many subsidiary companies more times than your Windows desktop crashes in a day.

And if you want rumors of ruthless business, those are out there, too. Microsoft mandated a whole lot of Windows installs, engaging in some shady dealings while doing it. Sony mandated how many PlayStation 2 games publishers had to ship to retail. They also mandated how much shelf space stores like K-Mart had to allocate to PlayStation 2 units. In the end, shipments of the PS2 were much smaller than planned, but the space and games were there to support it. Sony’s fight against emulator developer, bleem!, is also well-documented, for those who want to add some muscle-flexing lawsuits against much smaller companies into the mix. While rumors of Xbox crashes may or may not be true (some screens captured from crashed development kits are floating around the Web), the reality of PS2s not loading games for absolutely no reason is evident at the local videogame store where they have heard from numerous irate customers. Inevitably, all companies are going to ship some defective product.

The point to all of this is not to kick dirt on Sony, and it’s not to prop up Microsoft or Bill Gates. I only ask that you be reasonable. Don’t like Bill Gates? Fine, but that doesn’t make you cool. Don’t like the Xbox? Fine, too, but don’t hate it because of the company that made it. Microsoft is not, contrary to popular belief, a hive of Bill Gates clones. It is a company made up of many, many individuals, most of whom take pride in and get great satisfaction from doing their job well. The Xbox is a product conceived of and developed by employees of Microsoft like J. Allard and Seamus Blackley, not big, bad Bill. Give the Xbox a fair shake. Any gaming system you buy is manufactured by a huge corporation, and that huge corporation carries the same kind of baggage regardless of who it is.

If you like the PS2 better, like it because you can play all your old games on it or because it has more titles that YOU like coming out. Like it because it has that verve, or that je ne sais quoi that just appeals to you. Like it because you really dig faux heatsinks. Like it because you hate acid green. Enjoy games, regardless of what platform they come on, and we’re all guaranteed to have more games. But for the sake of reason and sanity, don’t bash the Xbox because you don’t like Bill Gates. The guy doesn’t come with it. You don’t have to shake his hand or sign a contract to get a system, and thank goodness. That would bring up a whole other issue.

Shawn Rider


Questions? Suggestions? Comments?
Contact us at: