July 2014

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25
Jul

In the news today, “Google has [allegedly -cm] signed a deal to buy game-livestreaming firm Twitch for $1 billion, confirmed sources familiar with the matter.”.

To state the bleeding obvious, Twitch's software and infrastructure isn't worth a billion dollars. The owner of YouTube could have made a strong expansion into game-centered live streaming for a tenth of that figure, most of the work focused around creating the right user experience for streamers and viewers, and making a few deals to broadcast key events and personalities.

And then we would have two strong players in the market competing with each other, forcing each other to improve. Twitch would have the established pool of streamers and viewers, the deals with console-makers, the first-mover advantage and the indie cred. YouTube would have the rock-solid infrastructure, deep pockets to expand their reach, and the billions of eyeballs that are already visiting their site to watch cats doing funny stuff.

Instead, with a billion dollars, Google buys itself a lock-hold on an exciting emerging market. Their presence will actively dissuade anyone new from making a serious bid to join in, because who has the resources to go against Google when they have bought themselves such a massive head-start?

It's a deal that makes perfect sense for both parties, but the consumers lose.

On set: director Duncan Jones, and actors Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Paula Patton and Travis Fimmel.

Director: OK, I’m pumped! Finally out on location shooting after all that time stuck in pre-production! OK, Scene 26. Ben? This is a crucial scene for you, as your character Medivh is succumbing to the influence of the evil Titan Sargeras, who wants to destroy all the livin…

Ben Foster: Is this necessary? Just start shooting already.

Director: But I feel it’s important we establish your motiv…

Dominic Cooper: This movie is going to take forever at this rate. Why are we only doing one scene at a time? We’re all experienced actors, we could handle four or five scenes at once easy.

Travis Fimmel: Go. Go. Go. Go. Go. Just roll the cameras and we’ll be fine.

Director: Er… Huh? OK… I guess we just go with this… Sound ready? Roll cameras. Dom? Walk to that mark and say your line.

Dominic Cooper: What’s my line?

Director: Er… Someone remind Dom what his line is?

Cast: Silence…

Director: Does anyone know what their lines are?

Cast: More silence…

Director: For the love of… You were sent the script a month ago! The least you could have done is read it before you showed up!

Travis Fimmel: I never read the script. I find I understand the film better if I just follow what the other actors are doing for a while.

Director: This is totally unprofessional, all of you.

Paula Patton: Don’t tell me I don’t know what I’m doing! I have an Academy award!

Director: No you don’t.

Paula Patton: …it’s on my other account.

Dominic Cooper: Wait a minute… Paula is a girl? For real? Where are you from?

Director: Oh God… I give up.

Any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental.

I spend a non-trivial amount of my time talking to students, junior developers and other newcomers to the industry, and one of the war stories I share goes something like this.

At its heart, commercial software development is soul-crushingly depressing.

As a developer, your working day revolves around everything that's wrong with all the hard work you've put in so far. When you come in to work, your primary interface with reality is the infinite list of shit that needs to be done. You have a list of bugs that need fixing. You have a list of feature requests, things your software is deficient for not doing, and every one of which somebody can't live without. Your job is to pick something off one of those lists and fix it, but when you come in tomorrow, the infinite list of shit will still be infinitely long.

One memory from the early days of my current job is a developer who got so mired in this mindset that the founders literally ordered him to fly from Sydney to San Francisco where he could talk to some real customers, the people who had bought his product and, while they might have the occasional gripe, mostly wanted to tell him how awesome it was, and how it was helping them.

One thing I've been trying to do in my daily life is to be less critical of other peoples software, especially in public places, and especially if I think someone who might have been responsible for that software might be listening. I sometimes let frustration get the better of me, but I'm trying.

There are plenty of official channels to report bugs and request features, but when you go outside them, there's a good chance all you're going to do is ruin someone's day for no real benefit.