Tidbits in the News: Amazon Shortlist, Cardboard Nintendo, Snap Snafu

This week was a rather hectic news cycle, with a record close for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, a crippling of Bitcoin prices, and Trump’s crude remarks of foreign nations. Which is a shame, as there were some interesting developments that flew largely under the radar.

So let’s get started.

Amazon HQ2 Shortlist: What Was the Point?

Amazon’s HQ2 was possibly the biggest business development last year, save for maybe the surge in Bitcoin valuations. It drew applications from over 200 municipalities across the US and Canada, and, just this week, the company released a shortlist of 20 cities for final consideration.

But what was the point?

Upon closer inspection of the shortlist, announced by Amazon, there really aren’t many surprise picks. Most, if not all, are home to reputable colleges and universities, and can claim access to the infrastructure a company like Amazon requires for its day to day. Which begs the question, what was the point?

The location of HQ2 could have just as easily been decided in an internal meeting at Amazon, especially considering the shortlist now. Moreover, when you factor in the lengths to which certain cities were willing to go for an Amazon office in their jurisdiction.

To be honest, it feels more like a power play on the part of Amazon as a company. It feels like an extension of the Silicon Valley power struggle. It’s as if Amazon is playing traditional powers off of each other to show the world the amount of influence it has managed to muster, while simultaneously proving to itself that it’s more than that startup from Seattle.

Is all this necessary? Definitely not. In fact, it would have been a lot cheaper, overall, to just make the decision in house, and negotiate with a handful of cities from the get go. But, boy, is it a hell of a drama to watch unfold.

Nintendo: Crazy or Brilliant?

So, let’s be honest. When the Switch was first announced, there was a lot of concern over its overall lack of power. But, with the Switch breaking sales records like athletes eat breakfast, public perception has swung back in Nintendo’s favor. It’s just as things were back when the Wii first launched. The company seems like it can do no wrong.

And then, they go and make this.

Nintendo Labo. It’s essentially a game with cardboard accessories that’s supposed to enhance your gaming experience, taking elements from AR and VR, and simplifying the whole experience so that even a toddler can set it up and play. And, it’s the most divisive thing Nintendo has ever done. While general consensus agrees it’s a refreshing idea, there are dissenting opinions claiming that this is a cheap attempt to capitalize on the peripherals market.

There’s a legitimate claim to both sides of the story here. On the one hand, as evidenced by the death of Toys ‘R’ Us, the traditional toys market in the US is dying. And, at this point, it wouldn’t be a stretch to claim this is a trend worldwide. During my time in Korea, I was fortunate enough to meet up with my extended family quite a bit. Many of my cousins were now married, and had school aged children. The things they liked to do for fun looked nothing like what I did for fun when I was their age. With Nintendo putting analog and digital play together in this new product, it would seem the industry, as a whole, would stand to benefit.

But, simultaneously, Nintendo has long been accused of neglecting the hard core gamer market, since its Game Cube days. This just goes to reinforce that claim.

What I do find interesting is the technology. A lot of the gameplay footage shown in the promo involved active, moving parts, such as arm mounts, and piano keys. The Labo is, ostensibly, able to read motion from these cardboard parts and translate them into gameplay inputs. This is done via the IR camera on the right Joy-Con, which served no practical purpose, save for the 1-2-Switch game (which should have been bundled with the Switch, if anything).

If you watch this video from the Game Theorists, it actually outlines, rather clearly, what seems to be Nintendo’s general strategy for the Switch console. The Labo is an extension of this strategy, it would seem, especially considering just how extensive the likeness to VR experiences is. If this is a sign of things to come, it’ll be interesting to see just how they translate this strategy for the core gamer market in the future.

OH SNAP: Snap Layoffs

So this is nothing new, but Snap Inc laid off two dozen employees in its London and New York offices, to cut costs, and to further restructuring efforts in the struggling company. This is nothing new, especially considering the failures Snap has had since it went public, but there’s something different this time around. The latest round of layoffs come from the company’s content division, essentially the bread and butter of the company’s bottom line.

The content division is responsible for partnership contents, or, simply put, ads, which helps the company monetize its service. The latest cut backs doesn’t seem to be raising too many alarms with investors, but it really should. Snap doesn’t have any other significant sources of revenues to rely on. This may be signs of things to come, perhaps of partners moving away from the service, in favor of greener pastures with Snap’s competitors. Facebook has long tried to “kill” Snap by way of Instagram, reportedly since its bid to buyout the Venice Beach company fell through.

It’s not all bad news for Snap, however. It still holds the rather ambiguous title of the most popular social media platform for teenagers. Unfortunately, Zuckerberg seems hell bent on taking Snap down, which, considering Facebook’s immense resources, doesn’t bode well for Snap.

A disclaimer is warranted, however. I’ve always been one to doubt Snapchat’s value proposition. Its recent spell of trouble only goes to reinforce my stance on the company.

There still may be a way out for Snap, but it’ll mean a fundamental change to its identity. Currently, the only way for Snap to grow its revenue stream is to grow its user base, which is beginning to feel more difficult than making Twitter relevant again. If it can find a way to create more revenue streams that’s less reliant on the growth of its user base, and more so on the conversion rate of those users, then it may stand a fighting chance.

Whether the company can find this new method is another question altogether.

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