THE BACK PAGE: Technology, a love story
Well, sort of.
On the occasion of this month’s Gaming Technology Summit, which we will co-produce with our friends from WhiteSand Gaming May 23-25, it’s worth pondering the remarkable power of the Digital Age and all the hope (and fear) that it induces.
It’s a tribute to the inexorable growth of products and solutions such as the Internet, smart phones, the iPad, social media and wireless communications just to name a few that a big chunk of the technology sector rip-roared through The Great Recession as if it were a mere pebble on the Interstate. Nothing got in the way of people whose incomes were cut and whose jobs, if they had them, hung by a thread signing on for another $20 or $30 a month worth of connectivity charges designed to make their desks almost permanently irrelevant. Unemployed college graduates, they need their gear, too.
We love the freedom of technology, or, at least, the illusion of freedom it produces. For as we untether ourselves from old, hated routines, we become permanently accessible. No more disappearing in Europe for a week (or even two). Portugal, July, 1986, you couldn’t reach me, and I couldn’t reach you. And we were both happy.
But that’s the way life is set up. There is no “Winning!” without a little loss, just ask Charlie. And we’ve obviously concluded as a species that the balance sheet for personal digital devices skews in our favor when it’s all said and done. Mobility, access, personal megaphones, creative distraction. It’s all good.
Whether we’re right about that or not will be decided in the very distant future. We do know there are sacrifices involved, and the transformative change that comes with technology can be painful. But the loss has an odd integrity to it because a certain truth is often revealed and huge numbers of people get hurt at the same time. Not only are you expendable, your entire way of life has become overvalued; watch out, a better mouse trap has been built. So either get with the new program or fade away. But at least we have company, a lot of company, and we can commiserate together on the same technology platform that did us in, which also offers us the chance to start over on something resembling our own terms.
If you grew up in the print advertising business, you need no reminding of the vulnerabilities. There’s a wonderful anecdote in Ken Auletta’s book, Googled, of a 2003 visit by Viacom president Mel Karmazin to the offices of Google, where Sergey and Larry, wearing t-shirts and jeans to match Mel’s power tie, proceed to tear apart Old Media. Their ad system would be automated, no ad reps, no relationships, and, best of all, advertisers were charged only when the user clicked on an ad and they could measure the effectiveness of the ad through analytical tools. No more wondering how many people were really watching the Super Bowl ad. If that page of advertising was actually seen by all those people who supposedly opened the publication, if that jingle on the radio built brand recognition. Finally, advertisers would have answers.
To which Karmazin responded, “You’re effin’ with the magic.”
We’ve all had our magic messed with. Slot machines sales aren’t sluggish only because of the economy. It also has something to do with the power of business intelligence solutions, which present a much clearer view of game profitability, create new marketing opportunities for the installed base and play a role in making slot managers and their bosses think harder about replacing one paid-for game with another. Gaming revenue isn’t just stagnant because of the soft economy. Casino resorts are a source of entertainment and compete for mind share with everything under your roof (or on your person) that also provides entertainment. And so on.
Technology asks us to make peace with the present and embrace the future, however uncertain. In a regulated industry like gaming, this can be especially hard to do, but that doesn’t make it less necessary. There’s a legitimate concern that aging slot players will never be completely replaced, and that Internet and mobile gaming are essential to the land-based casino industry’s future. In America, we’ve had a lot of false starts on that front, and it looks like we just might have to start over yet again post-Grey Friday. But we will.
The Gaming Technology Summit will be a great place to catch up on all that’s going on in the brick-and-mortar and virtual gaming worlds. I look forward to seeing many of you there. If we miss each other, just ping me. It won’t bother me. Really, it won’t.