Sunday Reads #104: What Netflix, Marvel, and Video Games have in common

Hope you and yours are keeping safe (and sane).

I'm back again with the most thought-provoking articles I've read in the week.

If you’re new here, don’t forget to check out the compilation of my best articles: The best of I’m sure you’ll find something you like.

This week, we first take off from last week’s newsletter regarding the tussle between Apple and Fortnite, and dive into the world of games. Why is this the next big sector to watch?

Next, a few lessons from the origin story of this generation’s best storytellers.

And last, a couple of fascinating Twitter threads.

Here's the deal - Dive as deep as you want. Read my thoughts first. If you find them intriguing, read the main article. If you want to learn more, check out the related articles and books.

[PS. If you like what you see, do forward to your friends. They can sign up with the button below.]

1. The World of Games (and game theory).

Last week, I had written about how Epic Games was taking on Apple. And why Epic's strategy makes sense from a game theory perspective.

Quick Update: Apple has stayed firm on Epic Games thus far (including threatening to ban all games developed on Epic's Unreal Engine). But it has been feeling the situational pressure.

As this article explains, Apple has backed down from an unrelated tussle with Wordpress, and has allowed its app back on the App Store.

Now, the Wordpress situation is different. Apple was actually being a bully. Not like the Fortnite case, where Epic forced Apple to act like one.

Even so, it's fascinating that Apple is beginning to bend (which NEVER happens).

Let's see how things unfold in the coming months, in the Apple-Epic saga. It's no fun if predictions come true too soon 😉.

Taking a step back...

As I was reading up on Apple and Epic Games, I also came across a couple of good articles on the gaming industry in general. Fascinating reads, about a burgeoning space I knew next to nothing about.

Matthew Ball's 7 Reasons Why Video Gaming Will Take Over is a great primer, explaining why Video Games are well on their way to surpass streaming giants like Netflix.

Gaming is Replicating the TV Package.

Gaming now has everything that made TV (and streaming) the dominant attention medium over the past decades.

  • An abundance of content (in both volume and variety)

  • Available anywhere and everywhere

  • Frictionless content discovery and sampling

  • And... games have achieved a cultural tipping point. Like people speak about their favorite Netflix shows at the office watercooler (or Monday morning Zoom calls), there are huge video game communities online.

It's not for nothing that Netflix's Q4 2018 Earnings report had this odd, incongruous line:

"We compete with (and lose to) Fortnite more than HBO."

Gaming Has Unprecedented Content Leverage

Most media categories are constrained by three challenges.

  1. Finite length. At a certain point, you reach the last page of a book, last episode of a TV show, or end of a podcast.

  2. Elongating requires more investment. You need to create another book or episode or podcast.

  3. While traditional content can seed consumers' imaginations, it can’t participate in it.

None of these constraints apply to gaming. You can play the same game for 10 hours or 90 hours. And it will be different each time.

IP Kiln

Quoting from the above article:

It’s not a coincidence that comic books have proven to be the most fertile sources of IP today. For decades, the category produced enormous volumes of content and characters. … Only the most resonant characters and characterizations survived, and even then, they were constantly remixed, iterated upon, or imitated.

[Producers] have the ability to look across scores of audience-tested stories, some of which are simply retellings of the same plotlines, and then “cherry pick” only the best ideas.

Marvel Comics’ Civil War comic book run, for example, was popular, but not well received. And so, when Marvel Studios adapted it for film, the central premise was retained, but it was plotted quite differently.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is essentially “the best of” eight decades of Marvel comics.

Well, guess what - the next Marvel universe will be born from games.

State of Play: Six Trends Revolutionizing Games from a16z is a good companion read. It shows how one of Silicon Valley's top-tier VCs is looking at the space.

Speaking of Marvel, though...

2. The World of Books.

I picked up Marvel Comics: The Untold Story from the library last week.

It's an obsessive, blow-by-blow look at the history of the Marvel Comics juggernaut. How it has steamrolled every other franchise in media and entertainment.

It's the origin story of origin stories.

I'm still only 25% through the book, but a few points stood out to me.

It all started during an especially fertile few months.

Of all the main stars of the Marvel Universe, only Captain America was introduced before 1961.

All the other main superheroes - Spiderman, Iron Man, Fantastic Four, the Hulk, and even the X-Men - were introduced over a few months in 1961-62!

The dice was loaded from the start.

Even more mind-boggling: the intent, from the start, was to have crossovers and build a superhero group.

From the outset, Stan Lee made characters appear in each other's comics. Universe-building, almost from page 1.

Now, as most readers of this newsletter know, I'm a fan of Lean Startup-type tinkering and trial-and-error innovation.

But it's also interesting how deep complexity can be planned from the start.

No such thing as instant success.

In 1961, when Stan Lee first conceptualized his timeless heroes, he was already 39. He'd already been working in comics for TWENTY PLUS years!

And it was another few decades before Marvel’s fortunes soared skywards.

Immense content leverage.

So many stories, so many plots.

Who knew how useful they would be 50 years later! The movie-makers could now pick and choose the most tantalizing story arcs. And captivate a brand new generation of audiences.

I'll share a review of the book when I'm done. But if you're a comics fan, whether Marvel or DC, definitely worth a check-out.

3. Dispatches from the Twitterverse.

Two great threads that I found this week:

10 Structures of Problems

This is a great thread by Spencer Greenberg, using analogies to distinguish different kinds of problems.

It's a useful reckoner next time you encounter a devilish problem.

My favorite ones:

I'm partial to this last one, if only because I worked on sanitation with the Gates Foundation many years ago. If you'd like to know more about the project and what I learnt from selling toilets in rural India, I've written about it here.

Amazing Science-y Trivia

And here's a thread with some amazing science trivia (thanks to Krutika Mody for forwarding this to me).

Again, my favorite picks:

[Note: This thread is crowd-sourced, so I'm sure you’ll find a few trolls in there too 😝.]

4. And to end, some food for thought.

A friend of mine posted this clip on Twitter, charting how our life satisfaction changes with age.

The deep and wide trough from age 25-55 shocked me!

Something I'm mulling over: as we journey through this valley of unyielding distress, how can we be happier?

This tweet also reminded me of some research I'd seen before, from Our World in Data:

The effect of life events on life satisfaction


Plenty to ponder, on a rainy Sunday evening (at least here in Singapore).

That's it for this week! Hope you liked the articles. Drop me a line (just hit reply or leave a comment through the button below) and let me know what you think.

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See you next week!