Tag Archives: Britannia

Redo from start?

I have been considering the games that are, that are soon to come and those we wish to see again. I feel that I am not unique, I am one of many who feels the same way many gamers feel. It all started with a simple pre-order notice I saw at JB-Hifi. The order was not for Mass Effect 4, but for Mass Effect, which seemed a little odd. Soon I found a few less reliable mentions of a possible upcoming re-release of Mass Effect 1, 2 and 3 for Nextgen (Xbox One and PS4). I got excited, because overall the Mass Effect series are nothing short of a marvellous achievement. Consider that Mass Effect is one of the earliest Xbox360 releases, it still hold a storyline that was amazing to play. Yes, we will replay and we will know certain key parts, but that is still not an issue for those who love Mass Effect.

The revamped version of the last of us seemed to have instilled a desire for games on Nextgen that should make developers happy. Is that because the lack of good games or is that because the new games are leaving us cold? I think it is a little bit of both. As studios tried to play the ‘marketing game’ they are now learning harshly that playing that game on gamers is a sure way to see your product get smashed. The outrage that Assassins Creed Unity brought is only one of the elements. I will go one step further, a relaunch with upgrades to the story of Assassins Creed 1, 2 and brotherhood would very likely be more successful than the next Assassins Creed. This for the simple reason that the makers seem to have lost their way (the fact that Unity is regarded by many as the worst Nextgen release does not help any).

Even a relaunch of System Shock (1+2) is likely to draw in a much larger crowd than the likely disappointments new PS4 RPG’s are going to bring. The added issues is not just the game, the problem is for the most the marketing division for these developers; a decent example is the Division by Ubisoft. My issue is that so far the game might look good and could even become great, but in their approach to feed the hungry hordes of journalists and to remain ‘visible’, the people at E3 2014 got to see something that is now not coming until 2016, even the Q1 part here is currently under debate, so as the gamer is promised a game that is now 19 months from its initial ‘presentation’ the people are wondering whether to trust the game because of the mental link we all make between presentation and delivery. It leaves many of us with the thought ‘how many bugs do they need to fix‘? Now, that thought might not be the correct one, but when 10,000+ people think it, some outspoken nitwit will scream it on YouTube, which results in many players moving away from what could be a good game. An example here is Elder Scrolls online, which is a marketing disaster, yet when we see the review from ChaosD1 (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=2082&v=csY7RYF4rKQ), which is excellent and might change the minds of those who walked away from Elder Scrolls Online.

We the players now want to move to games we know, we trust and believe in, which gives added weight to relaunched games. Let’s not forget that Borderlands, The Last of Us and God of War 3 were excellent games. There is however another form of relaunch, one that is not actually a relaunch, but a new evolution of the game. Elite, the legendary game from the BBC Micro B, might have made its fame on the CBM64, it is the upcoming console version which left some parts intact that is now the talk of many towns and even more gamer communities. It shows a new air and an approach to a ‘sandbox’ world many are eager to get onto. As Elite upped the game by mapping the galaxy, with the added wink to legendary science fiction moments, which they did by adding Vulcan and the Leonard Nimoy Space Station as well as Pratchett’s Disc Starport. It is still many years away (as he is in good health), but the moment will come when we will get a place like Badger’s station or the President Lampkin’s station of justice as Mark Sheppard joins the legendary ranks in Elite: Dangerous. You might wonder what does it matter, but it does! You see, as the gamer identifies with moments of his own ‘reality’, the things he/she is passionate about! The game becomes more fun and we will see that people connect more to a game. The danger is that when the threshold lowers and too many ‘legends’ are added, it could drive down the sentiment overall, but the sentiment remains! This will not hinder the upcoming No Man’s sky and both titles will very likely appeal to many players. In that same air we should see the upcoming Shadow of the Beast. What was a scrolling game with slashing on the Amiga/Atari ST, is showing itself to be a Nextgen blood dripping slice and dice extravaganza. This is a new group where the makers can relaunch their original idea and many gamers will love them. So, as the ‘new’ games don’t hack it, the gamers will get treated to a game that did and will do so again. The benefit here is that game makers will need to up their game by a lot to get out there. In the end the gamer wins no matter what! (Don’t you just love that?)

So they will pray at the ‘shrine of Pong‘ to replay System Shock, which does not hinder others either. When we consider Paradroid, or even some games for a chosen crowd like Sierra Entertainment’s games called Manhunter New York and Manhunter 2: San Francisco. They were well above average games then and could now get vamped into truly awesome games tomorrow. Perhaps we will actually live to see the conclusion of part 3 in London. It will be up to Activision to decide and as I see it, it just takes one visionary view within Activision to unlock that revenue! That same feeling is there for the Ultima series. Even though game 10 was an experience released too soon, the idea of an ‘Elder scrolls World’ that is Britannia could be massive. The fact that a developed ‘world’ is scanned and transferred to a first person environment complete with quests, side quests and upgraded storyline could give way to a new generation of gamers, let’s not forget that those who played the original are now regarded to be in the ‘old’ section (yes, that includes me), whilst the young section will experience something completely original in a new jacket. A world where you get Ultima 4, 5 and 6 in one game on the same world with the challenges to master is not only new and novel, pulling it off would raise the bar of gaming considerably. Something all gamers desire!

We became complacent in gaming as we played the Assassins Creed series, which for the most was just ‘more’ (specifically 2, Brotherhood and Revelations). Shadow of the Beast and Elite: Dangerous are now showing that ‘more’ can be an entire new range in evolution, a part many gamers (and developers) have not truly contemplated. As those behind the developers, learn to look behind them on what was and what can be great again, we learn, actually as I see it, it is the gamer taught the developer that games can be recycled.

Yet, we must also consider that it is not about the open world part, a trap I myself tend to fall into. The immersing part of being trapped in a house and surviving it, or as some will call it Alien: Isolation is basically redoing what was great and leaving the player with a replayable challenge. Which is the holy grail of gaming! I believe that more could be coming. I still regard Metroid Prime and Metroid Prime 2 (GameCube games) as one of the most amazing games Nintendo ever released, they did on 3” DVD what many developers could not achieve on a 4.7” Blu-ray, which is truly amazing.

On the other side we see the failures, the hype that was Watchdogs is regarded by some as a failure and a joke. I do not completely agree, but overall the game is not the titan it was heralded to be, but it could be the introduction to a second game that is really awesome (Assassins Creed 1 + 2 are evidence of that), I am just willing to see the glass half full in the case of Watchdogs and I am willing to give Ubisoft a little slack in this game, especially as they do not deserve any slack for butchering the Assassins Creed series (yes, I am slightly obsessed with that). On that same line I tend to set Thief! It was not great, but decent, I do not regret getting the game when I did.

What will come next? Well, that is the question, so as many stare at the horizon for Fallout 4 and Mass Effect 4, we should not hesitate to look behind us to see new (and hopefully improved versions) of Tenchu and Mega-lo-Mania. In my view as all the developers are focussing on multi-player and micro transactions, they forget that the bulk of ALL gamers need moments of escapism, where they need not weigh anything, but focus on just having fun. This is why Minecraft is so bloody addictive. Diablo again shows levels of fulfilment. It is basically why people on Facebook keep a game like Zombie Slayer around. It has no mental need (minimal) it has decent graphics (images) and it shows progress. I will take it one step further, especially as I am not that much of a zombie fan. It is in my view one of the reasons why some of these games will always survive, when we add Pokémon to the mix we see that part even further. It is only because of the technological flaw that Sapphire and Ruby could no longer be played, yet now, with the 3DS editions, we see the power of that formula. Those who played before still love what can be played again, so as some stare forward to the horizon of new games due to technology, do not forget about the treasures behind us. Now some do not feel that ‘vigour’ when they play Colonization, a Sid Meier masterpiece, because it is board like and turn based, but what happens when the mastery of Colonization gets blended with the freedom of play that Seven Cities of Gold on the CBM-64 brought? Evolution, re-playability and challenge all in one go! I would really be curious to see such a result. I believe that within 95% of all gamers is a casual gamer that just wants to have fun, which is why Diablo and Minecraft will survive forever, we will do the multi thing in Mass Effect 3 for periods of time (best multi player experience EVER!), yet we will always return to the games that mentally satisfy, the part that scripted games cannot deliver, a niche market with long term gaming fun many developers seem to ignore.

Let the games begin!

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Wanna buy some Junk (stocks)?

OK! I admit that I am slightly over the boil at present. Not only have we seen several banks with their ‘why would I care what happens to others’ attitude, now we see the message that Co-op bank has now ‘ascended’ to the status of Junk!

Several things are happening, yet, let us take a few steps back, so you can see why this upsets me so. The year was 2009; Britannia (building society) gets added to the Co-op bank group. This happens around the same time SNS Reaal had a property finance group dwindle its value by a quarter of a billion Euro’s, and that was not a bad day for them. 2010 would then become the massive body blow to the SNS as their property group would increase its 2009 damage by 300%. So, at this point, is there anyone out there not wondering why this continued for 3 years?

Whilst all these property issues were happening all over on the EU side, the Co-op bank thought it was a good idea to continue in their footsteps? Consider the issues, which are NOW stated as issues, must have been known then too.
That in itself means that more than just a small investigation needs to take place. There is every notion that the involved parties require investigation. If we see the waves continuing from 2009 onwards, we see a wave of mergers, left right and centre with a shifting of ownerships and a shifting of losses over and over again. At the middle is a small group of people who seem to ‘make’ their quota and getting a nice 7 figure commission in the process. Poor Prime Minister Cameron was admitting defeat in the papers at that time. Whilst well over seven billion pounds in bonuses were granted to less than 3000 people. So in this age the noble art of thief, burglar, prowler and cut-throat is gone. Instead, some become bankers, you get the idea.

So, we saw the Britannia merger in 2009. The consequence was that Co-op acquired a company (The Britannia) ‘worth’ 35 Billion, yet, when we look at the value of Co-op, those numbers seem to be completely off the wall. Can anyone explain to me how a bank, who in their financial results of 2008, stating an operating result of 85 Million, with 64 Million of profit before taxation sucks up a company with a stated worth of 35 BILLION? No one seems to be asking the questions many should be asking. Now, as stated before, I am no economist and my degrees do not include economy, yet the Co-op/Britannia combination makes as much sense as me walking into IBM HQ, walking up to Ginni Rometty’s office asking her ‘How much for just the company?’, paying her for IBM, take over her office and have it redecorated. And trust me when I say that her weekly allowance is a lot higher than my pre-tax annual income.

So, as this happened, no one seems to be asking the tough questions. In the meantime to the next time-slice, the following issues occur. Our trusty Dutch nationalised SNS, now values at minus 127 Million and its property market is now reported at minus 600 million Euro. At this time, alarms should have been singing, ringing and clinging on many levels, not just at Co-op banking group. For those thinking that they are just separate banks then I would state that this is not entirely accurate. Consider that RBS took part of ABN AMRO (former one of the big four banks of the Netherlands). In the time (pre purchase of Britannia), Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, Lloyds TSB and HBOS Plc needed a massive bailout by the UK government. Soon thereafter Co-op suddenly goes fishing for a great White, using nothing more than a Dinghy and a $9 bamboo fishing rod?

In that same period Co-op is involved with the purchase and annexation (to coin a phrase) of Somerfield stores. It was reported to have a net income of just more than 220 million pound a year, yet, it was purchased for a 1.5 billion pound. That part makes decent sense as the net profit is a little over 10% of the purchase value. Yet, in light of Britannia and other events taking place, I add some serious question marks with these methods of vulture growth through acquisitions. I have seen this happen over the decades, and overall it rarely turns out well. This story turns that way as we see the Co-op food group (name after the merge of Somerfield stores) had reported in 2011 (as stated by The Guardian on 25th August 2011) a 21% fall of profits. Suddenly, the 220 million pound profit shrinks and looks less appealing. The Guardian in the same article also reported: “The Company has committed to investing £2bn in the business over three years, with £280m spent in the period.

So the initial spending outstretches a full year of profits, with investments stretching beyond the 130% of the purchased value of the food stores. With refitted shops, additional refitting and new shops, the total number of shops seem to go beyond 550 stores. This is happening at times when caution is the only way to go forward.

The additional cost of getting these systems to run and align in an infrastructure would require massive amounts of resources. That part became clear if we look at the story from Computer World (http://www.computerworlduk.com/news/applications/17614/updated-co-operative-bank-losing-customers-through-system-problems/). This story is set to the Bank itself, yet the issues of so many sides and so many systems, and therefore the enlarged infrastructure required is not a relief of costs, but a pressure added to it.

Another side of pressure was displayed by Reuters (http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/02/27/uk-cooperativebank-lloyds-idUKBRE91Q00E20130227). On the 27th of February this year it was stated that Co-op was somewhat short on cash. They were 1 billion short. (oh, let me get my wallet! Duh!) This seems to be the major reason that the addition of 632 branches of the Lloyd’s Banking group could not be purchased.

These facts are more than worrying. The vulture acquisition game is worse than a game of Texas Hold’em Poker. First there is the fact that the board of directors is gambling with other people’s money, the second part is that the circle of damage increases with each acquisition. Consider that the UK only has a 0.3% economic gain at present and that the economy is extremely fragile for now. Allowing these mergers to continue until a solid block of stability is gained should be disallowed on several levels and not just with co-op. Until the economy bounces back and the costs are more stable, this bank should clearly be placed under scrutiny of the most conservative nature.

It is said that the Co-op banking group consists of almost 125.000 employees. Now consider that any hardship hits this group. A thought that is not too unrealistic, especially as they are on shaky grounds for now. I am not just talking about their Moody status, to which their response was on May 11th 2013 as ‘Disappointing’. I am talking about infrastructure issues, weather related issues and any issues that will drag the rest down if additional write downs will be required to the property group from the Britannia acquisition (consider what happened to SNS Reaal in the Netherlands), a mere 5% write down will come down to over 1 Billion, whilst their cash reserves is already 1 Billion too low. So if that result in shut-downs and lay-offs, then a 10% loss of staff is not unrealistic, which means another 12,000 will be out of a job. That must be prevented at all cost. Such damage could push the UK 0.3% increase down to a lower than 0.1% decrease soon thereafter. In addition, those cut downs will hurt their non-aligned infrastructure even more and that might even start a snowball effect on people and infrastructures. I admit that the previous paragraph is all speculations on my side. I have however seen these kinds of reorganisations and crushing results first hand. I had faced them when the economy was good, under current conditions; these events are a nightmare to consider.

Is there any good news here? Well, I feel that I am not that optimistic on the statements they made, yet, overall Co-op could be in a worse place. The only proper solution for them in my mind is to dig in and weather the storm for now. Getting by the next 2 years is more important than allowing one rash acquisition to endanger it all. You will wonder about my evidence?

That is a fair question!

Many businesses are in a bad shape, and there is every chance that some will fail. Now consider the Property acquisition (Britannia). No matter how high their assets are set. Part of their acquired branch was commercial lending and mortgages. Last December Reuters quoted this, a real issue taking in regards the high pressure on lacking stability funds “At this rate it will take another decade to return to normal – and I’m not sure there is much anyone can do about it.

So increasing more pressure could in the end result in the taxpayer getting a hefty addition to the outstanding national debt. A national debt, that is currently in excess of 1 Trillion Pounds.

So, from my point of view it is important to consider the story we saw recently in the Netherlands. The SNS Reaal board counted on Government bail-outs as they regarded themselves too big to fail. We need to make sure and make it clear that the Co-op banking group is not allowed to be this arrogant, or allowed such a way to a bail-out.

 

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