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What the death of newspapers can tell the games industry
Clay Shirky (as I’ve mentioned before, one of my favourite futurology thinkers) has written a thought-provoking piece on the inevitable death of newspapers.
Clay is completely unbothered by this. To those who argue that newspapers are critical to a functioning society, he says nonsense: “Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.” It just so happens that for the past couple of centuries, the two have been indistinguishable.
For games makers, Clay’s most interesting analysis focuses on the changes wrought shortly after Gutenberg invented the printing press. There is a lot of historical research on what society was like in the early fifteenth century before the press was invented; there is also lots of research when the press was embedded in society by the mid sixteenth century. But there is hardly any on the era when the press was radically changing society in around 1500.
Clay argues that is where we are now: in a society which is changing, which is experimenting, where no-one knows what will work even as they launch it. “That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place.”
The games industry spent decades copying the distribution models of music and VHS/DVDs. Now we are in a revolution in how consumers play, experience and pay for our games. The old model is rupturing and new models are being launched all the time.
None of us know which business models will eventually stick. It behooves us all to keep trying, experimenting and embracing the creative destruction that surrounds us.