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Digging into Apple’s media transformation – TechCrunch

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Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch Editor-in-Chief, Matthew Panzarino, offered his analysis on the major announcements that came out of Apple’s keynote event this past Monday.

Behind a series of new subscription and media products, Apple has set the stage for one of the largest transformations in the company’s history. Matthew touches on all of Apple’s major product initiatives including Apple’s new credit card, its push into original content, its subscription gaming platform, and its subscription news service, which features Extra Crunch as one of the debut publications.

“I don’t think many of the things that Apple announced here, on an individual basis, are earth-shattering. I think it shapes up to be a really solid, nice offering for people with some distinct advantages but at the same time it’s not breaking huge molds here. I think the same thing applies across all of the offerings that they put out there.

I just felt that together, it’s solid but not scintillating and we need to see how they develop, how they launch, and then what they do with these platforms…

…Seems relatively straightforward. However, some of the stuff people have glossed over is very intriguing.”

Matthew goes into more detail on why he didn’t view the announcements as individually earth-shattering, and why he sees compelling opportunities for Apple to position its offerings as a symbiotic ecosystem. He also goes under the hood to discuss some of Apple’s overlooked competitive advantages in media and to paint a picture of how Apple’s new product lines might evolve in the long-term.

For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

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Review: We Are OFK is stylish, subversive TV disguised as an indie game

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Enlarge / The stylish leads of We Are OFK—and yes, that includes the cartoony cat, though I’ll leave its involvement in the series vague for now.

Team OFK

Imagine versions of The Monkees TV series or Beatles films like Hard Day’s Night for the modern era. What might those look like? I don’t just mean aesthetically—even though any “songs within the show” would certainly differ from the jangly ’60s likes of “Daydream Believer.” What kind of story would it tell? Where would the series air? How would it be presented?

I returned to this thought often while enjoying this week’s We Are OFK, which is as close to an answer to my question as I’ve seen in a modern, hyper-connected era. This format-blurring experience may be marketed as a video game, out Thursday on PlayStation consoles, Switch, and PC, but it’s somewhere between an interactive experience, a passive TV series, and a visual novel. And its production values and brave storytelling choices benefit wildly from this platform-agnostic approach.

A “video game” that leaves exes on read

<em>We Are OFK</em> includes an ample variety of lushly detailed locales for its characters to hash out their personal and artistic lives.
Enlarge / We Are OFK includes an ample variety of lushly detailed locales for its characters to hash out their personal and artistic lives.

Team OFK

The six-hour experience, broken up into five “episodes,” follows four restless and disaffected Los Angelenos in a slightly modified version of our own world. Certain brand names are changed (Twitter is now “Twibber,” Tinder is “Phoenix,” etc.), but its characters otherwise order ride-share cars, leave messages on read, and doomscroll like modern-day twenty-somethings. Each of the four lead characters came to LA to escape their old lives—an issue each reckons with in different ways—and, at the outset of this series’ episodes, find themselves drawn to each other as a “band” while chasing their own respective artistic and romantic dreams.

This largely resembles an anime or CW TV series that focuses on the lives of young people, as opposed to a thriller or action-filled drama. Yet, despite not regularly tuning-in to that kind of fare, I found myself engrossed by We Are OFK‘s combination of high production values, fantastic voice acting, and tasteful dollops of interactivity. Mechanically, the episodes can either work as a visual novel or a wholly passive TV-watching experience. Choices do not create diversions in the plot; instead, players occasionally choose one of three dialogue options for a main character. These appear as thought bubbles with differing opinions that logically coexist as a response to what has just happened. You can pick your favorite to guide a character’s dialogue in a given scene or let the game auto-select one after a 10-second pause.

When prompted, pick from one of three responses. This plays out in both spoken dialogue and text messages.
Enlarge / When prompted, pick from one of three responses. This plays out in both spoken dialogue and text messages.

Team OFK

The game’s other clever “interactive” content comes when the perspective zooms to a character’s smartphone, where players watch text message conversations play out in real time. These alternate between rapid-fire message bursts and an ellipses icon (…) indicating that the character on the other end is either typing, pausing, or deleting. We Are OFK is careful not to overdo this with excruciatingly long pauses. Instead, sometimes the game lets you press a button to skip ahead with a prompt saying something like, “stare at the phone for five minutes while waiting for a response.” In these interfaces, the game lets you use a joystick or a mouse to optionally scroll up on the virtual smartphone screen and see prior messages and emoji exchanged between characters. This cute Easter egg of character development reminds me of hidden, clickable bits in Flash animations of yore.

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First official teaser for Wednesday is deliciously “Burtonesque”

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Tim Burton directed Netflix’s new eight-episode original series, Wednesday.

Netflix has dropped the first official teaser for Wednesday on the heels of yesterday’s exclusive first-look images for the Tim Burton-directed series in Vanity Fair. All in all, it looks deliciously Burtonesque, and we’re keen to give it a chance.

As I’ve written previously, American cartoonist Charles Addams created the characters in 1938, originally as a series of single-panel cartoons published in The New Yorker. They were his satirical sendup of American “family values,” turning the entire social framework upside-down. The characters proved so popular that ABC created a 1964 live-action sitcom, The Addams Family, based on them. (Not everyone was pleased by the development. William Shawn was editor of The New Yorker at the time, and his refined sensibilities were allegedly so offended by the TV series that he actually banned Addams Family cartoons from the magazine; the characters didn’t return to its pages until he retired in 1987.)

Animated versions of the family have appeared regularly in film and TV since the 1970s, and Fox unsuccessfully attempted to revive the original TV series in 1998 with The New Addams Family. But it was two live-action feature films in 1991 and 1993, respectively, that defined their canonical representation in popular culture: The Addams Family and Addams Family Values.

Burton famously turned down the opportunity to direct the 1991 feature film. He was also originally supposed to direct a stop-motion animated film reboot. It’s unclear what happened there, but it seems MGM acquired the rights to the original series from Universal Pictures and opted to go in a different direction with 3D computer animation. The result was The Addams Family (2019) and The Addams Family 2, released last year. The first made a reasonable box office showing despite mixed reviews; the second did less well and was largely panned by critics and audiences alike.

But now Burton and the Addams Family franchise have come together at last with Wednesday. Showrunners Alfred Gough and Miles Millar—best known for Smallville—expected Burton to turn them down as well when they made their pitch. He signed onto the project instead, professing interest in the opportunity to really explore the character of Wednesday without the time limitations of a feature film. That said, “The ambition of the show was to make it an eight-hour Tim Burton movie,” Millar told Vanity Fair.

Netflix first teased the series during the streaming giant’s Geeked Week in June. Christina Ricci’s scene-stealing seminal portrayal of Wednesday was easily one of the highlights of the 1990s films. We watched her approach puberty and get a sort-of boyfriend in Addams Family Values, but in the series, Wednesday is a teenager in high school. Per the official premise:

The series is a sleuthing, supernaturally infused mystery charting Wednesday Addams’ years as a student at Nevermore Academy, where she attempts to master her emerging psychic ability, thwart a monstrous killing spree that has terrorized the local town, and solve the murder mystery that embroiled her parents 25 years ago—all while navigating her new and very tangled relationships at Nevermore.

Jenna Ortega stars as Wednesday, and she certainly looks the part. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Luis Guzmán will portray Morticia and Gomez Addams; Isaac Ordonez plays Pugsley; George Burcea plays Lurch; and Victor Dorobantu (or at least his hand) plays Thing. Ricci will appear in an as-yet-undisclosed role, while Gwendoline Christie plays Larissa Weems. As for who will be playing Uncle Fester, the showrunners refused to comment, with Gough telling Vanity Fair, “Watch the show.”

The casting choices here seem solid, although Guzman’s Gomez Addams deliberately harkens back to the original cartoon character and, thus, is shorter and stouter than the late Raul Julia’s iconically suave and debonair portrayal. That was a deliberate choice, per Millar, to ensure the series didn’t feel like another remake or reboot. “It’s something that lives within the Venn Diagram of what happened before, but it’s its own thing,” he told Vanity Fair. “It’s not trying to be the movies of the ’60s TV show.”

Enlarge / Why yes, that’s Gwendoline Christie as Larissa Weems.

YouTube/Netflix

Wednesday’s relationship with her mother will also be a prominent theme, because “How do you step out of the shadow of a mother as glamorous as Morticia?” Gough said.

The teaser wastes no time establishing that this is an older, edgier, and even darker Wednesday who—we learn via voiceover—has been expelled from eight schools in five years. In the very first scene she takes revenge on the jocks who have been tormenting Pugsley by releasing piranhas into the pool during what looks like water polo practice. This results in the altogether ooky castration of one of the boys. But Wednesday has no regrets. (“I did the world a favor. People like Dalton shouldn’t be allowed to procreate. Getting expelled was just a bonus.”)

Hence her enrollment at Nevermore Academy. Gomez assures her she will love it there: “It’s a magical place where I met your mother.” Morticia thinks she’ll find peers who actually understand her: “Maybe you’ll even make some friends.” Instead, she finds herself in a “nightmare, full of mystery, mayhem, and murder.” There will also be fencing (Wednesday does like stabbing) and a nod to the bloody prom queen prank-gone-horribly-wrong from Carrie.

There’s still no official release date, but expect Wednesday to premiere on Netflix sometime this fall.

Listing image by YouTube/Netflix

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Sweeping report alleges inequity, sexual harassment at Nintendo’s American HQ

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Nintendo

Through the first half of 2022, Nintendo of America has been in the crosshairs of critics and the US National Labor Relations Board thanks to reports and formal complaints about working conditions for its contracted employees, all brought into the spotlight after a reported layoff allegedly involved pro-union sentiment. In the months since that story broke out publicly, Kotaku reporter Sisi Jiang has tracked down even more allegations about the famed game publisher’s American headquarters—and the allegations land squarely in the domain of sexual harassment and gender inequity.

A sweeping report published at Kotaku on Tuesday recounts roughly one decade of internal incidents among NoA’s pool of temporary employees, dating back to “the early Wii U era,” backed by a number of on-the-record allegations from former Nintendo staffers along with anonymous reports. The report includes attempts to reach out to Nintendo of America’s leadership, an associated temp agency, and individual staffers who were named as workplace sexual harassers, but Kotaku says it never received answers to its questions.

Many of the reported issues revolve around a divide between full-time employees, colloquially known as “red badges,” and the rest of the company’s American workforce, which was managed by temp hiring agency Aerotek before that company was absorbed into another company during a recent reorganization. The women who spoke to Kotaku both on and off the record collectively suggest that their hopes for turning part-time status into a full-time Nintendo career were strained by being women. One anonymous source said, “your chance was probably worse as a girl,” while another who spoke on the record suggested women weren’t given work-related goals or metrics to grow their careers, instead being told to essentially increase “face time” with male colleagues.

According to the sources, this unclear path to advancement led to issues where women faced workplace sexual harassment, then had to brush it off in order to not be perceived as “overly sensitive” and have a clearer path to becoming a red badge, complete with more stable pay and benefits.

She left the company after being “warned to be less outspoken.”

One former QA tester suggests she found this out the hard way after reporting a male translator’s uncouth behavior in a workplace Microsoft Teams chat room in 2020, which included comments about his favorite Pokemon character to have sex with and his attraction to a clearly underage female character in the free-to-play video game Genshin Impact. The staffer in question, who spoke anonymously, says she left the company after Aerotek not only failed to act on the report but also “warned her to be less outspoken,” all while colleagues figured out that she had filed the complaint and “blamed her” for doing so.

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