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Foxconn pulls back on its $10 billion factory commitment – TechCrunch

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Well that didn’t last long.

In 2017, Foxconn announced the largest investment of a foreign company in the United States when it selected Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin for a new manufacturing facility. Buttressed by huge economic development grants from Wisconsin, an endorsement from President Trump, and Foxconn CEO Terry Gou’s vision of a maker America, the plant was designed to turn a small town and its environs into the futuristic “Wisconn Valley.”

Now, those dreams are coming apart faster than you can say “Made in America.”

In an interview with Reuters, a special assistant to Gou says that those plans are being remarkably scaled back. Originally designed to be an advanced LCD factory, the new Foxconn facility will instead be a much more modest (but still needed!) research center for engineers.

It’s a huge loss for Wisconsin, but the greater shock may be just how obvious all of this was. I wrote about the boondoggle just a few weeks ago, as had Bruce Murphy at The Verge a few weeks before that. Sruthi Pinnamaneni produced an excellent podcast on Reply All about how much the economic development of Mount Pleasant tore the small town asunder.

The story in short: the economics of the factory never made sense, and economics was always going to win over the hopes and dreams of politicians like Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who championed the deal. Despite bells and whistles, televisions are a commodity product (unlike, say, airfoils), and thus the cost structure is much more compatible with efficient Asian supply chains than with American expensive labor.

Yet, that wasn’t the only part of the project that never made any sense. Foxconn was building in what was essentially the middle of nowhere, without the sort of dense ecosystem of suppliers and sub-suppliers required for making a major factory hum. (Plus, as a native of Minnesota, I can also attest that Wisconsin is a pile of garbage).

Those suppliers are everything for manufacturers. Just this past weekend, Jack Nicas at the New York Times observed that Apple’s advanced manufacturing facility in Austin, Texas struggled to find the right parts it needed to assemble its top-of-the-line computer, the Mac Pro:

But when Apple began making the $3,000 computer in Austin, Tex., it struggled to find enough screws, according to three people who worked on the project and spoke on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality agreements.

In China, Apple relied on factories that can produce vast quantities of custom screws on short notice. In Texas, where they say everything is bigger, it turned out the screw suppliers were not.

There are of course huge manufacturing ecosystems in the United States — everything from cars in Detroit, to planes in Washington, to advanced medical devices in several major bio-hubs. But consumer electronics is one that has for the most part been lost to Singapore, Taiwan, Korea, and of course, China.

Geopolitically, Foxconn’s factory made a modicum of sense. With the increasing protectionism emanating from Western capitals, Foxconn could have used some geographical diversity in the event of a tariff fight. The company is Taiwanese, but manufacturers many of its products on the mainland.

And of course, a research center is still an enormous gain for a region of Wisconsin that could absolutely use high-income, professional jobs. Maybe the process of rolling out a next-generation manufacturing ecosystem will take more time than originally anticipated, but nothing is stopping further expansion in the future.

Yet, one can’t help but gaze at the remarkable naïveté of Wisconsin politicians who offered billions only to find that even massive subsidies aren’t enough. It’s a competitive world out there, and the United States has little experience in these fights.

India may put friction on foreign firms to protect domestic startups

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images)

One of the major battles for tech supremacy is over the future of the Indian IT market, which is rapidly bringing more than a billion people onto the internet and giving them robust software services. I’ve talked a bit about data sovereignty, which mandates that Indian data be stored in Indian data centers by Indian companies, pushing out foreign companies like Amazon, Google, and Alibaba.

Now, it looks like India is taking a page from the Asian tiger-school of development, and is going to increasingly favor domestic firms over foreign ones in key industries. Newley Purnell and Rajesh Roy report in the WSJ:

The secretary of India’s Telecommunications Department, Aruna Sundararajan, last week told a gathering of Indian startups in a closed-door meeting in the tech hub of Bangalore that the government will introduce a “national champion” policy “very soon” to encourage the rise of Indian companies, according to a person familiar with the matter. She said Indian policy makers had noted the success of China’s internet giants, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. , the person said. She didn’t immediately respond to a request for more details on the program or its timing.

The idea of national champions is simple. Unlike the innovation world of Silicon Valley, there are obvious sectors in an economy that need to be fulfilled. Food and clothes have to be sold, deliveries made, all kinds of industrial goods need to be built. Rather than creating a competitive market that requires high levels of duplicate capital investment, the government can designate a few companies to take the lead in each market to ensure that they can invest for growth rather than in, say, marketing costs.

If done well, such policies can rapidly industrialize a country’s economic base. When done poorly, the lack of competition can create lethargy among entrepreneurs, who have already won their markets without even trying.

The linchpin is whether the government pushes companies to excel and sets aggressive growth targets. In Korea and China, the central governments actively monitored corporate growth during their catch-up years, and transferred businesses to new entrepreneurs if business leaders failed to perform. Can India push its companies as hard without market forces?

As the technology industry matures in the West, entrepreneurs will look for overseas as their future growth hubs. The challenge is whether they will be let in at all.

Video game geopolitics

Nexon’s MapleStory2 game is one of its most profitable (Screenshot from Nexon) .

Korea and Japan are two of the epicenters of the video game industry, and now one of its top companies is on the auction block, raising tough questions about media ownership.

Nexon founder Kim Jung Ju announced a few weeks ago that he was intending to sell all of his controlling $9 billion stake in the leading video game company. The company has since executed something of a multi-stage auction process to determine who should buy those shares. One leading candidate we’ve learned is Kakao, the leading internet portal and chatting app in Korea.

The other leading candidate is China-based Tencent, which owns exclusive distribution rights in China of some of Nexon’s most important titles.

Tencent has been increasingly under the sway of China’s government, which froze video game licensing last year as it worked to increase content regulation over the industry. Now the question is whether it will be politically palatable to sell a leading star of Korea’s video game industry to its economic rival.

From the Financial Times:

Mr Wi added that Nexon would be an attractive target for Tencent, which pays about Won1tn in annual royalties to the South Korean game developer. But selling the company to Tencent would be “politically burdensome” for Mr Kim, given unfavourable public opinion in South Korea towards such a sale, he cautioned.

“Political risks are high for the deal. Being criticised for selling the company to a foreign rival, especially a Chinese one, would be the last thing that Mr Kim wants,” said Mr Wi.

Such concerns around Chinese media ownership have become acute throughout the world, but we haven’t seen these concerns as much in the video game industry. Clearly, times have changed.

TechCrunch is experimenting with new content forms. This is a rough draft of something new – provide your feedback directly to the author (Danny at danny@techcrunch.com) if you like or hate something here.

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This newsletter is written with the assistance of Arman Tabatabai from New York

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Raised by Wolves S2 teaser reminds us why we loved the series—until the S1 finale

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The second season of HBO’s new original sci-fi series, Raised by Wolves is coming in February.

The first teaser for S2 of Raised by Wolves is here, and our feelings are mixed. On the one hand, once again, the visuals are amazing and we’re thrilled that the strikingly androgynous Danish actress Amanda Collin is returning to star as Mother. Her extraordinary performance anchored the first season’s narrative arc and spooky, other-worldly vibe, and that same moody, disquieting viibe is present in the teaser.  On the other hand, we were seriously disappointed in the S1 finale, which has shaken our confidence that S2 will rebound from that fiasco to become the genuinely original and visionary series it initially had promised to be.

(Major spoilers for the S1 finale below.)

The series was created by Aaron Guzikowski, with Ridley Scott serving as executive producer and directing the first two episodes. As I’ve written previously, the story involves two androids serving as Mother (Amanda Collin) and Father (Abubakar Salim) figures on a strange virgin planet, Kepler 22b (an actual observed extrasolar planet), after Earth has been destroyed by the outbreak of a religious war. They are programmed to incubate, birth, and raise human children to rebuild the population and set up an atheist civilization to keep the human race from going extinct. It’s a harsh, dangerous environment, even for androids, and only one of their original six children survived: Campion (Winta McGrath).

Then the remnants of an extreme religious sect from Earth, the Mithraic, who worship Sol, found their way to the same planet aboard a spaceship, or ark, called Heaven. The reconnaissance team tried to abduct Campion and kill Mother.

That’s when we discovered that Mother has special abilities: she’s actually a reprogrammed weaponized android called The Necromancer, who once slaughtered atheists back on Earth. Her deadly sonic screams—which can disintegrate humans in seconds—were turned on the Mithraic, and she crashed their ark onto the planet. Her new maternal instincts led her to bring the surviving Mithraic children into her fold.

That did not go over well with the few surviving Mithraic, especially Marcus (Travis Fimmel) and his partner, Sue (Niamh Algar). They were determined to rescue their (technically adopted) son Paul (Felix Jamieson) from Mother and Father, against the orders of the Mithraic leader, Ambrose (Awissi Lakou). The various conflicts inevitably escalated, and the planet itself has its own mysterious secrets and hidden dangers, with the fate of the human race ultimately lying in the balance.

Enlarge / Amanda Collins once again stars as Mother, an android programmed to incubate, birth, and raise human children on an alien planet.

YouTube/HBO Max

Some viewers found the pacing of Raised by Wolves S1 to be too slow, but I genuinely found it atmospheric and weird in interesting ways—until the finale. Mother became pregnant after having virtual sex with her VR creator, “downloading” the required information. Except instead of giving birth to a baby as she’d hoped, Mother literally vomited up a creepy snake with suckers that—I kid you not—can fly with no obvious means of generating lift. In my review, I called it “a jarring, over-the-top ploy that simply wasn’t sufficient payoff for the viewer, and clashed mightily with the original set-up.”

Apparently the flying alien sucker snake (FASS)—which had rapidly grown to an alarming size in the final scene— is going to be a major part of the overall narrative arc for S2. This was not welcome news, especially since the ultimate fates of Mother and Father remained ambiguous. Fortunately, this teaser confirms that the pair will be back in full force for the second season, and there’s barely a hint of the FASS to be seen, apart from a brief glimpse of a snake figure painted on a rock.

Mithraic survivor Marcus (Travis Fimmel) seems to be devolving into one of the strange creatures Mother and Father first encountered in S1.
Enlarge / Mithraic survivor Marcus (Travis Fimmel) seems to be devolving into one of the strange creatures Mother and Father first encountered in S1.

YouTube/HBO Max

It’s not clear what’s happening in terms of plot, but the teaser opens with a shot of a badly injured Mother. “Androids can change, just like human beings,” her voice tells us. Father also has survived, along with the children and Sue. Marcus appears to be devolving into the strange creatures Mother and Father first encountered on the alien planet, and he hasn’t become any less zealous and violent. He’s still got some minion survivors to boss around, and he’s still intent on “bringing purity to this planet.”

Something violent seems to be reawakening in Mother as well, although her primary purpose is still to keep her children safe and find them a new home. The teaser ends ominously. “Perhaps we are becoming too human,” Mother muses, covered in what might just be blood. Will she re-appear in her full Necromancer glory? That would be a sight to see.

The second season of Raised by Wolves will premiere on February 3, 2022, on HBO Max.

The appearance of a flying alien sucker snake ruined the S1 finale for us. Alas, it's rumored to play a major role in S2.
Enlarge / The appearance of a flying alien sucker snake ruined the S1 finale for us. Alas, it’s rumored to play a major role in S2.

Listing image by YouTube/HBO Max

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Activision Blizzard “will not be a part” of this year’s Game Awards show

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Enlarge / A statuette from The Game Awards.

Activision Blizzard will “not be part” of next week’s annual Game Awards broadcast beyond its nominations, award host and creator Geoff Keighley said in a Twitter thread Friday night.

Keighley’s post comes after a more non-committal statement on Activision’s participation published in The Washington Post Friday morning. “We want to support employees and developers” Keighley told the Post before adding “we have to think very carefully about how to proceed here.”

That statement drew widespread condemnation among industry members and watchers on social media in light of ongoing lawsuits and investigations surrounding widespread reports of employee harassment and gender inequity issues.

Activision’s Call of Duty: Warzone will still have a place in the awards, owing to its nomination for “Best Ongoing Game” and “Best Esports Game.” But more than the presentation of actual awards, The Game Awards has risen to prominence in recent years as an annual holiday-season opportunity for publishers to promote trailers and footage of new and upcoming games to an audience of millions.

Activision won’t take place in that kind of paid promotion this year, Keighley said on Twitter. “The Game Awards is a time of celebration for this industry, the biggest form of entertainment in the world,” Keighley wrote. “I also realize we have a big platform which can accelerate and inspire change. We are committed to that, but we all need to work together to build a better and a more inclusive environment so everyone feels safe to build the world’s best games. All of us are accountable to this standard.”

It’s currently unclear whether Activision’s reduced presence at the show represents a significant change from previous plans. Keighley previously told the Post that the recently delayed Diablo 4 and Overwatch 2 would not be shown at this year’s show. But the Post also characterized Keighley’s earlier position on Activision’s potential participation by saying he “supported people coming forward with their stories but also didn’t want to diminish developers’ opportunities to spotlight their games.” Keighley was not immediately available to respond to a request for comment.

Rob Kostich, the president of Activision Blizzard, serves on the Advisory Board for The Game Awards alongside many other major game publishers and executives. There’s been no public indication of any change in that relationship.

Back in 2015, amid an employment dispute between Konami and Metal Gear Solid auteur Hideo Kojima, Keighley used his Game Awards stage to publicly criticize Konami for not allowing Kojima to come to the show to accept his awards. “[Kojima] is still under an employment contract, and it’s disappointing,” Keighley said. “It’s inconceivable to me that an artist like Hideo would not be allowed to come here and celebrate with his peers, his fellow teammates, for such an incredible game as MGS V. That’s the situation we’re in.”

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John Cena’s patriotic killer grows a conscience in Peacemaker trailer

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John Cena reprises his role in The Suicide Squad in new HBO Max spinoff series Peacemaker.

HBO Max has dropped the official full trailer for Peacemaker, the spinoff series based on John Cena’s murderously entertaining character from The Suicide Squad.

As we’ve reported previously, director James Gunn wrote the series last summer during the COVID-19 lockdown, just for fun, but then DC Films approached him about a possible spinoff series for one of the characters in The Suicide Squad. He picked Cena’s Peacemaker, since he felt audiences never got the chance to get to know the character in the film—where, it must be said, he does some Very Bad Things, even for a member of the Suicide Squad. Gunn wanted to make Peacemaker less irredeemable. HBO Max was sufficiently impressed with Gunn’s take that it ordered Peacemaker straight to series.

The eight-episode series is set after the events of The Suicide Squad, specifically after the post-credits scene, in which we learned that Peacemaker had survived what had appeared to be a fatal shooting. The first teaser dropped in October, showing Peacemaker (aka Christopher Smith) being recruited by Clemson Murn (Chukwudi Iwuji) for another mission in order to avoid going back to prison.

Once again, he’s basically an assassin, but at least he’s only killing bad people (maybe). He gets assistance from warden John Economos (Steve Agee) of the Belle Reve penitentiary, NSA agent and former Waller aide Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland), and new team member Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks). The cast also includes Robert Patrick (Terminator 2) as Peacemaker’s crusty father, Auggie Smith, who thinks his son is a “nancy-boy”; Freddie Stroma as Adrian Chase (aka Vigilante), a district attorney who fights crime and has rapid-healing abilities; and Nhut Le as Judomaster.

The teaser was heavy on the cheesy, off-color bro-humor, but it showcased Cena’s gift for physical comedy, and the irreverent, over-the-top tone was note-perfect—very much in line with the character. The full trailer opens with Detective Sophie Song (Annie Chang) telling her partner about Peacemaker. “He is a trained killer,” she says, and correctly predicts there will be trouble with “that maniac.” The very next scene is Peacemaker dodging gunfire to get to Harcourt’s getaway car, along with his trusty bald eagle sidekick, Eagley. (“That thing better not crap back there.”)

There’s certainly plenty of violence and explosions—this is Peacemaker, after all—but until now, the Peacemaker we’ve seen would kill pretty much anyone for his country. And he’d still find the time to do some vain macho posturing while he was at it. But the Very Bad events of The Suicide Squad have clearly affected him. (“I’m having… feelings about things.”) Suddenly he has qualms when ordered to kill women and children. And his Daddy Issues start kicking in when he goes to visit Auggie.

Harcourt dismisses Peacemaker as a clown, but Leota thinks “there’s something about him that’s kinda sad.” Even Vigilante warns him about the dangers of too much introspection: “The mind is a den of scorpions better left running from, not toward.” Will his sudden lapse of confidence threaten a vital mission? “Right now the world needs a son of a bitch,” Murn tells him. “And you’re the only one I got.”

The first three episodes of Peacemaker premiere on HBO Max on January 17, 2022. New episodes will air weekly every Thursday after that through February 17, 2022.

Listing image by YouTube/HBO Max

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