Thursday 18 August 2022

Please turn on your magic beam

I’ve been poking away slowly at the Legendary version of Mass Effect 3, with one more chunk of DLC to wrap up before heading off to the final confrontation, but heatwaves bringing record temperatures to the UK haven’t been terribly conducive to finding the energy for such herculean efforts as moving a mouse around. Watching television has just about been possible, with a good half hour or more to recover from the exertion of pressing buttons on a remote control before having to do it again (and most streaming services don’t even need that, conveniently playing next episodes automatically).

I’m a bit late to Stranger Things, not being subscribed to Netflix when it first came out, but thought I should give it a go as the world went crazy over series 4, and I can see what the fuss was about now. Over on Amazon The Boys continues to deliver, smoothing off a few rougher edges of the comics but with no shortage of “I can’t believe they still went there” moments, skewering both current politics and blockbuster superhero franchises. Most recently I’ve whipped through The Sandman; it had been quite a significant omission in my comic reading so I came to the series fresh, and have since gone back to the source. It’s beautifully done and feels like a very “comic-y” adaptation, with self-contained episodes and arcs corresponding to issues and volumes of the comics.

One reason ther hefty bingeing, particularly on Netflix, is that the proliferation of streaming services is getting a bit much. I had Disney+ for a year, then let that lapse to switch to Netflix; after finishing The Sandman I’ll cancel Netflix, probably go for Disney+ again in the future for a few series there, maybe another service or let things lapse for a bit, then Netflix again for the final season of Stranger Things and anything else that turned up in the meantime. You slightly miss out on ‘event viewing’ if catching up on series later, but with the market so fragmented it’s not like television is such a common currency of conversation anyway, it’s a bit like waiting for games to come up on sale.

There are some parallels back to the earlier days of MMOGs, when most had a monthly subscription; Netflix has to be World of Warcraft in this scenario, the runaway success prompting everyone to want a slice of the pie, and now we have Disney+, Apple TV, Prime Video and all manner of other offerings, something like the late 2000s when subscription MMOs were everywhere. Actually we may have hit the early 2010s, with the potential subscriber base fairly well saturated and alternative pricing models coming to the fore, though the parallels aren’t exact – no other game managed to really dent the numbers of World of Warcraft but Disney+ has (by some metrics) overtaken Netflix. It’s going to be interesting to see how streaming services adapt, as the prospect of households maintaining large numbers of streaming subscriptions doesn’t seem more likely than players maintaining many game subscriptions. Lower priced subscriptions with added advertising are on their way, could you get to a fully “free to watch” model akin to “free to play”? Five minutes of adverts every five minutes of a programme? Loot crates containing a random drop (0.5% chance of a highly rated film, 75% chance of a random episode from series 27 of some scripted reality nonsense)? Premium content like extra episodes for subscribers?

Podcasts are in that sort of space, tending to be free to listen, often with advertising, and sometimes paid-for options such as bonus content. Generic third party adverts I tend to skip rapidly but I have a strange fondness for the ones voiced by the host(s). It’s particularly fun when the same product is advertised on a number of shows and you can compare and contrast the approaches, seeing how they weave key phrases they’ve obviously been instructed to include verbatim into skits, or playing things pretty straight. The king of the genre has to be Adam Buxton, turning them into mini-dramas, sketches or infuriatingly catchy songs; I’m not sure the approach would quite carry over to a drama series, though…

“I move from dreamer to dreamer, from dream to dream, hunting for what I need. Slipping and sliding and flickering through the dreams; and the dreamer will wake, and wonder why this dream seemed different, and the answer will be… because they slept so well on their new Leesa Mattress! Use the code SANDMAN50 for a discount when ordering yours!”