Archive | April 2013

The Telegraphed Gazette. 13/14 April 2013.

Greetings everybody and welcome to another edition of the Telegraphed Gazette for the 13th of April 2013; my name is Vince, bringing you the bi-weekly round-up of news from around the games industry, Canada, and Montreal. Coming up in today’s edition: Disney shuts down LucasArts, The Royal Bank of Canada is receiving a lot of attention over their outsourcing to temporary foreign workers, an editor from the Globe and Mail responds to an article talking about French in Canada, premium games are still relevant in a free to play dominated market, and I wrap things off with an update on the blog’s status.

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After acquiring Lucasfilm last October, Disney has decided to close the doors on the game development section of the company titled LucasArts. Disney cited the reasons for closing down LucasArts was to reduce the company’s risk while; “achieving a broader portfolio of quality Star Wars games,” (The Verge, April 3 2013). Now according to the editor Dante D’Orazio; this closure does not come as a surprise to the industry as a whole due to the decline in production – with Battlefront 3 as an example being cancelled mid-development. Sadly this closure does mean that a number of employees from the company have – or will lose – their jobs as Disney shifts LucasArts around and changes it from a publisher into a licensing firm. The end result is the market will continue to see Star Wars games published, however the work will mostly – if not entirely – be done by third party developers rather than LucasArts.

What I find somewhat depressing when it comes to this story is not so much the company-side of it, as LucasArts has recently gone down the drain in regards to quality titles. My main concern however is for the employees at LucasArts who are the ones to be affected by these lay-offs which has either already happened, or will soon occur. The games industry is a highly competitive environment, and job stability is critical if one is to be able to focus on producing a quality title for consumption. Unfortunately, the previous owner decided to sell off the company, and the new bosses have opted to reduce their numbers until only a handful of employees remain: essentially a skeleton crew. When the job market – especially in the US – is not so great, it saddens me to see more people being laid off as a result of restructuring. Hopefully the talented individuals from LucasArts will be able to find work elsewhere soon: bills do not pay themselves. Anyways the link to this story is located in the URL below.

http://www.theverge.com/2013/4/3/4179386/disney-shuts-down-lucasarts-plans-to-license-star-wars-brand-to-others

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The Royal Bank of Canada has been receiving some heat in recent days over their controversial decision to replace Canadian workers – mainly in the IT department – with contracted temporary foreign workers. RBC plans on outsourcing their IT department to foreign workers, and that has many up in arms over the bank’s decision to take such actions; as many former employees felt the frustration with the loss of their jobs, and having to train their replacements for the company. According to the article on CBC, many of these workers come from a company called iGate – an Indian outsourcing firm – of which after the transition period is complete, iGate Corp will take these IT positions back to India where wages are considerably lower than in Canada. Now many former employees who are in their late 50s to early 60s say it is outright unfair as they have many years experience on the job, and suddenly they are asked to not only train their replacements for the company, but their replacements lack the knowledge of most RBC programs.

Now the CEO of the bank has come out publically several times to say that most of the employees will be shifted to other departments, but some former employees who were laid off recently claim that this statement is completely bogus and not reflective of current practices within RBC. The main concern with the former employees is how they will get by over the coming years; as many of them are near retirement and only have small RSPs to live off of, their concern now is who else would also fall into the same position as they have, and who else is going to see their jobs cut as a result of RBC’s decision to outsource. This is where I laugh at the CEO: outsourcing is not cheaper by any stretch of the imagination. When a company outsources, they are simply hiring an independent firm to manage their workforce for them, resulting in reduced wages for the workers as the company – the middle man – gets a cut of the pay as compensation for their efforts. The reality is the “cheaper” statement is grossly inaccurate as the money paid out is still the same: the difference being that when the worker’s union decides to rally in support of better conditions and wages, the company can tell the middle man to do the “police work” for them. What this results in is simply the CEOs get to tackle executive decisions – in other words focus on steering the ship – while the contract company takes care of the workers in areas related to conditions, wages, and complaints; to name a few. However it would not be unrealistic to say that the workers are paying for the contractor, as they get a slice of their pay as compensation for their efforts; as stated earlier. Now if the bank really wants to save money, they would simply hire more competent middle-range managers instead of outsourcing.

Yet when you outsource, you can potentially aim to reduce the worker’s wages further by seeking a market that does not have either unions, bargaining power, or higher wage laws in place, and use the outsourcing firm to deal with the workers. The example I will use is the Unsullied: an army of elite warrior-eunuchs from the city of Astapor in the series Game of Thrones: “A Song of Fire and Ice” for the book readers. Now these soldiers are well trained and disciplined, however they are slave-soldiers, and as such do not require pay, or any of the luxuries that an ordinary, free soldier might demand for their service. They come at a flat rate, and are totally obedient to the end. The Astapor merchant who sells them simply asks for a flat rate, in which he will keep as profit and use to train more Unsullied Regiments. Now coming back to reality, the workers for iGate are not slaves – and will never be slaves in an un-subjective standpoint – but the idea is that iGate comes with its’ own complement of workers and markets the team at a flat rate; of which if the buyer accepts, they will take the funds, take a cut, and distribute them to the employees. Now the rates are going to be good for the iGate employees according to their standards, but to our standards here in Canada, it is reduced wages and a loss of Canadian jobs. Plain and simple; this business practice – especially for a bank which bears the nation’s name and royal prefix – is an outright disgrace to those who are proud Canadians. HSBC or Hong Kong Shanghai Bank is an international firm, but they hire locals to get the job done when it comes to financial assets. RBC is increasingly an international bank, but their main support base is the Canadian client as they are primarily a consumer bank. Many citizens in their outrage have withdrawn their holdings from RBC in boycott of their practice, which is completely justified given their decision to reduce the number of Canadians working for their company. There is not – and will never be – a justifiable excuse for any bank bearing the name of a country, with headquarters in that nation, not to hire the locals to work for them. The Bank of America does not hire Russians, Japanese, or Namibians to work for their headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina; unless they need one or two nationals to do business with their investors overseas. No the workers who deal in the IT department in local branches and with international branches will be American. I am sorry but RBC, you are a Canadian bank, are you so disgusted by your own population that you would resort to outsourcing? Have you forgotten that the largest department of your bank – the consumer services – are all Canadian? What led you to believe that this was a better decision, and what led you to think that Canadians were not up to the task? Our economy is struggling, and you as a bank which bears our name, should put Canadians into consideration first before running out into the ocean and asking for outsourcing firms of any kind to bring in foreign workers. Unless your bank deals mainly with foreign nationals, unless your bank is only an investors relations bank that only gives out loans to international projects and deals little with consumers; then I will understand. What you have done RBC, is an absolute disgrace, and I am one of many customers of your bank who have withdrawn holdings from your institution. Before my days are over, I will see you hang for what you did (in a metaphoric manner). The link to this story is located in the address below.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2013/04/05/bc-rbc-foreign-workers.html

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Graham Fraser makes an interesting point in regards to the French language and Canadian culture; responding to an article by Mr. Bicker and Mr Ibbitson, Fraser discusses in his article about how French and English make Canada unique, and that it is not just a Laurentian elite’s culture. Fraser argues that rather than being a product and obsession of the elite, French helps new immigrants in Canada feel more Canadian, and that the emersion into Canadian society is helped by the knowledge of French and English: as one would state that it helps them to understand the whole country, not just part of it. What I find interesting about Mr. Fraser’s argument is that he refutes statements of French is an elite culture and has no relevance in today’s society as stated by Mr. Bicker and Mr. Ibbitson, rather French is – as it states in the title – a language of ambition; the need to know and understand the entire country; and is subsequently not in decline. The article is quite lengthy so I will not go about to summarize the entire thing, but long story short Mr. Fraser has a point. Canada is a bilingual country, and it is important to understand both parts of this great nation: speaking French and English enables one to look deeper into the nation’s heritage and appreciate what this country has to offer. Some people may see this as a burden, an obstacle waiting to be removed. Others might argue that Spanish or Russian may be the languages to speak as a chunk of the world speaks it; to which I will say: “You do not understand what it means to be Canadian; you only understand what it means to do business.” That is right folks, I said it. If you – a citizen – will not at least speak a couple phrases just for fun, then you – while patriotic and all – may not fully – “fully” – understand what it means to be Canadian. This country has two souls – as do most artists (comedy intended) – but it has one beating heart; if you get what I am saying.

The point to be made is this, Canada is made up of two very strong, and very unique pieces of which form to make a whole. The French language is not some elitist cultural norm, but rather it is another language that is – and always has been – a piece of our national heritage. If someone wants to go international, fine, learn another tongue. However if someone wants to go national and embody the Canadian spirit; French and English are the primary vernaculars of this nation. Think not of French as some small cultural language, for a sizeable portion of the world speaks it (Frances overseas territories and former colonies), but rather think of it as another soul in which we can study and learn from; another soul in which we can embrace and understand; another soul in which we – Canadians – will see in ourselves a unique identity. This identity will in the end, help us determine our place on this earth. French is very much Canadian, as is English, as is the Monarchy, as is our strong independent spirit, and our love of hockey. You can read the full article in the address below.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/in-canada-french-is-a-language-of-ambition-not-decline/article10809725/

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Premium games are relevant in a free to play market, so long as it occupies a niche according to Nathan Vella: Co-founder and President of Capy, the creator of premium games like Critter Crunch, and Sword and Sorcery. What Vella argues in the article on gamasutra.com is that premium games can still be relevant, and subsequently push out revenue, so long as it occupies a particular niche in which the consumers are willing to pay up front for the game. Now he goes on to say that the premium games – apps included – are not ‘dead,’ but rather need to find a demographic and audience interested in the title. Now Vella’s arguments are not baseless and irresponsible, as time and time again we see people willing to pay for premium services when they want the item in question. Xbox live gold is a prime example; paying for the privilege of using your internet connection, and yet millions of Xbox users sign up for the service and game titles like Halo 4 continue to be popular on those systems. Vella also has a point when it points out that the games which want to go premium need to find a niche market, as Halo 4 markets towards the well-built fan base, likewise Killzone, likewise Call of Duty. However, even premium games which cater to a particular demographic can in turn fall into the free to play market; examples include The Old Republic where originally it catered to Star Wars fans, but ultimately had to go free to play because of a decline in subscriptions. However I think Vella was really talking about premium launch titles such as Dead Space, Halo, Killzone, and Call of Duty, rather than MMOs which can be an entire market all unto itself. Though to add to Vella’s argument; World of Warcraft did well in the market, and continues to dominate the MMO market even as Guild Wars 2 came out; Blizzard is doing something right. You can read the article in the address below.

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/189357/The_relevancy_of_premium_games_in_a_F2Pdominated_economy.php

Right that is all finished: to be honest these articles took me a bit of time to get around to writing as I have been in paper and project hell these past few weeks. Final exams are coming up, and as such time is of the essence as I scramble to make sure I am absolutely prepared come exam day. However this summer I will have a bit more time to focus on writing for this blog you all enjoy reading; however I think I will stick to this publishing schedule until further notice. Right now news is very slow – aside from opinion pieces – and as such it is sometimes impossible for me to write on topics related to the games industry. Regarding the whole situation in Quebec, at the moment it is the same song and dance: PQ is trying to push through Bill 14, and there is heavy resistance to this bill. Montreal continues to see its infrastructure in disrepair, and arrests for the student protest last summer have been going on for quite some time as Montreal police round up suspected heads in the protest over tuition last summer. Aside from that, there really is nothing new to report on; thus I have migrated onto articles related to national affairs, as well as some international news topics as you saw a few editions ago related to the new North Korean leader and his little song and dance he is doing. What is comical about that situation is that even those living in Seoul do not take the threats seriously. The North Koreans always do this every year; it is like Christmas to them as they threaten to reduce the South Korean capital into a sea of fire year after year. Many South Koreans just go about their daily routine as if nothing ever happened, or will happen, to which I will say this (brace yourselves for some comedy):

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Good, good, no war will occur. The Starcraft 2 tournaments will continue on schedule: what would really piss the world off is if that little pain-in-the-rear of a leader goes to war, it isn’t so much of a concern that there will be fighting, it is that the Starcraft 2 tournaments scheduled this summer will be delayed! My god! What will we do if half of our tournament teams are unable to play due to other commitments! I mean yeah it will give us a chance here in North America, and for once we will not be steamrolled by the Korean juggernaut, but good heavens will it ever affect the match-ups! Who knows what sort of crazy things might happen! Maybe a team from Germany will take the mantle? You know them and their quest for global dominance! Maybe North America will take the trophy? I’ve always wanted to see the prize here in Canada! What if Argentina takes the prize! Oh man then the Falklands fiasco will go away and all will be dandy! Oh the horror!

Alright you have endured enough of my pathetically poor comedy skills; I will not melt your eyeballs anymore. Right, tune in again on the 27th of April 2013 for another edition to the gazette. My name has been Vince, and I will see you next time.