How Sega and the Dreamcast offer a valuable lesson for streaming platforms

In 2001 I was bitterly disappointed by the failure of the Dreamcast – a console I’d only owned for about a year and had hoped would carry me through to the next generation of home consoles. For a variety of reasons that essentially boil down to mismanagement, worse-than-expected sales, and some pretty tough competition, Sega found itself on the verge of bankruptcy. The company responded not only by ending development on the Dreamcast, but by closing its hardware division altogether.

At the time, Sega seemed to be at the pinnacle of the games industry. For much of the 1990s, the company had been a dominant force in home video game consoles alongside Nintendo, and as the new millennium approached there were few outward signs of that changing. It was a massive shock to see Sega collapse in such spectacular fashion in 2001, not only to me but to millions of players and games industry watchers around the world.

The Sega Dreamcast failed in 2001.

Thinking about what happened from a business perspective, a demise like this was inevitable in the early 2000s. Both Sony and Microsoft were arriving in the home console market with powerful machines offering features like the ability to play DVDs – something that the Dreamcast couldn’t do – but at a fundamental level the market was simply overcrowded. There just wasn’t room for four competing home consoles. At least one was destined for the chopping block – and unfortunately for Sega, it was their machine that wouldn’t survive.

But the rapid demise of the Dreamcast wasn’t the end of Sega – not by a long shot. The company switched its focus from making hardware to simply making games, and over the next few years re-established itself with a new identity as a developer and publisher. In the twenty years since the Dreamcast failed, Sega has published a number of successful titles, snapped up several successful development studios – such as Creative Assembly, Relic Entertainment, and Amplitude Studios – and has even teamed up with old rival Nintendo on a number of occasions!

The end of the Dreamcast was not the end of Sega.

I can’t properly express how profoundly odd it was to first see Super Mario and Sega’s mascot Sonic the Hedgehog together in the same game! The old rivalry from the ’90s would’ve made something like that impossible – yet it became possible because Sega recognised its limitations and changed its way of doing business. The board abandoned a longstanding business model because it was leading the company to ruin, and even though it does feel strange to see fan-favourite Sega characters crop up on the Nintendo Switch or even in PlayStation games, Sega’s willingness to change quite literally saved the company.

From a creative point of view, Sega’s move away from hardware opened up the company to many new possibilities. The company has been able to broaden its horizons, publishing different games on different systems, no longer bound to a single piece of hardware. Strategy games have been published for PC, party games on the Nintendo Wii and Switch, and a whole range of other titles on Xbox, PlayStation, handheld consoles, and even mobile. The company has been involved in the creation of a far broader range of titles than it ever had been before.

Sega’s mascot Sonic now regularly appears alongside old foe Super Mario.

So how does all of this relate to streaming?

We’re very much in the grip of the “streaming wars” right now. Big platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+ are battling for subscribers’ cash, but there’s a whole second tier of streaming platforms fighting amongst themselves for a chance to break into the upper echelons of the market. The likes of HBO Max, Paramount+, Apple TV+, Peacock, BritBox, and even YouTube Premium are all engaged in this scrap.

But the streaming market in 2021 is very much like the video game console market was in 2001: overcrowded. Not all of these second-tier platforms will survive – indeed, it’s possible that none of them will. Many of the companies who own and manage these lower-level streaming platforms are unwilling to share too many details about them, but we can make some reasonable estimates based on what data is available, and it isn’t good news. Some of these streaming platforms have simply never been profitable, and their owners are being propped up by other sources of income, pumping money into a loss-making streaming platform in the hopes that it’ll become profitable at some nebulous future date.

There are a lot of streaming platforms in 2021.

To continue the analogy, the likes of Paramount+ are modern-day Dreamcasts in a market where Netflix, Amazon, and Disney+ are already the Nintendo, Xbox, and PlayStation. Breaking into the top tier of the streaming market realistically means one of the big three needs to be dethroned, and while that isn’t impossible, it doesn’t seem likely in the short-to-medium term at least.

Why did streaming appeal to viewers in the first place? That question is fundamental to understanding why launching a new platform is so incredibly difficult, and it’s one that too many corporate executives seem not to have considered. They make the incredibly basic mistake of assuming that streaming is a question of convenience; that folks wanted to watch shows on their own schedule rather than at a set time on a set channel. That isn’t what attracted most people to streaming.

Too many corporate leaders fundamentally misunderstand streaming.

Convenience has been available to viewers since the late 1970s. Betamax and VHS allowed folks to record television programmes and watch them later more than forty years ago, as well as to purchase films and even whole seasons of television shows to watch “on demand.” DVD box sets kicked this into a higher gear in the early-mid 2000s. Speaking for myself, I owned a number of episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation on VHS in the 1990s, and later bought the entire series on DVD. I had more than enough DVDs by the mid-2000s that I’d never need to sign up for any streaming platform ever – I could watch a DVD every day of the year and never run out of different things to watch!

To get back on topic, what attracted people to streaming was the low cost. A cable or satellite subscription is easily four or five times the price of Netflix, so cutting the cord and going digital was a new way for many people to save money in the early 2010s. As more broadcasters and film studios began licensing their content to Netflix, the value of the deal got better and better, and the value of cable or satellite seemed ever worse in comparison.

Streaming isn’t about convenience – that’s been available for decades.
(Pictured: a 1975 Sony Betamax cabinet)

But in 2021, in order to watch even just a handful of the most popular television shows, people are once again being forced to spend cable or satellite-scale money. Just sticking to sci-fi and fantasy, three of the biggest shows in recent years have been The Mandalorian, The Expanse, and The Witcher. To watch all three shows, folks would need to sign up for three different streaming platforms – which would cost a total of £25.97 per month in the UK; approximately $36 in the United States.

The overabundance of streaming platforms is actually eroding the streaming platform model, making it unaffordable for far too many people. We have a great recent example of this: the mess last week which embroiled Star Trek: Discovery. When ViacomCBS cancelled their contract with Netflix, Discovery’s fourth season was to be unavailable outside of North America. Star Trek fans revolted, promising to boycott Paramount+ if and when the streaming platform arrived in their region. The damage done by the Discovery Season 4 debacle pushed many viewers back into the waiting arms of the only real competitor and the biggest danger to all streaming platforms: piracy.

Calls to boycott Paramount+ abounded in the wake of the Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 mess.

The streaming market does not exist in a vacuum, with platforms jostling for position solely against one another. It exists in a much bigger digital environment, one which includes piracy. It’s incredibly easy to either stream or download any television episode or any film, even with incredibly limited technological know-how, and that has always represented a major threat to the viability of streaming platforms. Though there are ethical concerns, such as the need for artists and creators to get paid for their creations, that isn’t the issue. You can shout at me until you’re blue in the face that people shouldn’t pirate a film or television show – and in the vast majority of cases I’ll agree wholeheartedly. The issue isn’t that people should or shouldn’t engage in piracy – the issue is that people are engaged in piracy, and there really isn’t a practical or viable method of stopping them – at least, no such method has been invented thus far.

As more and more streaming platforms try to make a go of it in an already-overcrowded market, more and more viewers are drifting back to piracy. 2020 was a bit of an outlier in some respects due to lockdowns, but it was also the biggest year on record for film and television piracy. 2021 may well eclipse 2020’s stats and prove to have been bigger still.

The overcrowded streaming market makes piracy look ever more appealing to many viewers.

Part of the driving force is that people are simply unwilling to sign up to a streaming platform to watch one or two shows. One of the original appeals of a service like Netflix was that there was a huge range of content all in one place – whether you wanted a documentary, an Oscar-winning film, or an obscure television show from the 1980s, Netflix had you covered. Now, more and more companies are pulling their content and trying to build their own platforms around that content – and many viewers either can’t or won’t pay for it.

Some companies are trying to push streaming platforms that aren’t commercially viable and will never be commercially viable. Those companies need to take a look at Sega and the Dreamcast, and instead of trying to chase the Netflix model ten years too late and with far too little original content, follow the Sega model instead. Drop the hardware and focus on the software – or in this case, drop the platform and focus on making shows.

Some streaming platforms will not survive – and their corporate owners would be well-advised to realise that sooner rather than later.

The Star Trek franchise offers an interesting example of how this can work. Star Trek: Discovery was originally available on Netflix outside of the United States. But Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Lower Decks went to Amazon Prime Video instead – showing how this model of creating a television show and selling it either to the highest bidder or to whichever platform seems like the best fit for the genre can and does work.

Moves like this feel inevitable for several of these second-tier streaming platforms. There’s a hard ceiling on the amount of money folks are willing to spend, so unless streaming platforms can find a way to cut costs and become more competitively priced, the only possible outcome by the end of the “streaming wars” will be the permanent closure of several of these platforms. Companies running these platforms should consider other options, because blindly chasing the streaming model will lead to financial ruin. Sega had the foresight in 2001 to jump out of an overcrowded market and abandon a failing business model. In the two decades since the company has refocused its efforts and found renewed success. This represents a great model for streaming platforms to follow.

All films, television series, and video games mentioned above are the copyright of their respective owner, studio, developer, broadcaster, publisher, distributor, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Should we #BoycottParamountPlus?

The Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 catastrophe isn’t going away anytime soon for ViacomCBS. In the days since they dropped a clumsily-worded statement that simultaneously broke the bad news to Trekkies around the world and tried to push sign-ups to Paramount+, the anger in the fandom has not abated. At time of writing, ViacomCBS shares are worth more than $2 less than they were before the announcement – a drop of more than 6%.

That brings us to the #BoycottParamountPlus discussion that has been doing the rounds in some quarters of the Star Trek fan community. In light of the decision by ViacomCBS to pull the show from Netflix internationally, some Trekkies have responded by saying they’re either boycotting Paramount+, cancelling their subscription to the service, or that they will refuse to sign up for it whenever ViacomCBS can be bothered to make it available in their part of the world. Today I wanted to consider the discussion around boycotting Paramount+, boycotts in general, and how fans can and should register their anger, upset, and frustration with a corporation like ViacomCBS.

Some fans are advocating a boycott of Paramount+ in response to the Discovery fiasco.

There are many reasons why folks – even big Trekkies like yours truly – might be wary of signing up for a service like Paramount+. The platform has not been particularly well-received in markets where it has been available, with complaints ranging from technical issues and video quality to a lack of content. At one point, all of the Star Trek films disappeared from Paramount+ with only a few days’ notice due to licensing conflicts with a different streaming platform – despite the fact that ViacomCBS owns the rights to the Star Trek films.

There’s also the cost involved. The “basic” plan, which currently costs $4.99 per month in the USA, comes with advertising. The “premium” plan ditches the commercials, but clocks in at double the price – $9.99 per month in the USA. That makes Paramount+ actually more expensive than Netflix for a comparable service, as Netflix’s cheapest plan in the USA doesn’t run any adverts and costs $8.99 per month.

Paramount+ ain’t cheap.

Paramount+ is not competitively priced, then. It’s more expensive than the big three streaming services (Netflix, Amazon, and Disney+) and though it does offer some content that the others don’t – such as live sports – its content as a whole is lagging behind. So even being as generous as we can, Paramount+ feels like poor value for what is clearly a second-tier platform.

But all of this talk of costs is rather beside the point. People who can’t afford Paramount+ won’t pick it up, and folks who can perhaps afford one or two streaming subscriptions may have to choose whether to pick up Paramount+ or an alternative. It’s all moot right now here in the UK anyway, because Paramount+ is unavailable, but I wanted to at least acknowledge that the streaming service isn’t particularly competitive with its pricing.

Paramount+ is more expensive than Netflix… and worse.

On an individual level, I can fully understand the response fans have had to ViacomCBS and to Paramount+. The anger and frustration I’ve seen expressed on social media resonates because it’s exactly how I feel, too. The decision the corporation made was horrible, and to cap it off it was announced in the most offensive and callous way possible. No apology has been forthcoming, and ViacomCBS’ marketing and social media teams are apparently burying their heads in the sand, trying to ignore the pushback.

The lack of communication from the corporation is something that I find deeply offensive. Their original message was not contrite or apologetic, and seemed designed to present what they knew would be an upsetting, anger-inducing move as some kind of net positive for international Trekkies. Combined with the marketing doublespeak and the pushing of Captain Burnham’s “Let’s Fly” catchphrase to sign off, the way they chose to communicate this decision was awful.

And as we covered the other day, the timing of this move almost seems to have been designed to inflict maximum hurt on Trekkies, coming 48 hours before Discovery Season 4 was due to premiere. They did this, it seems, for two reasons: so that a major Star Trek convention in London earlier in November wouldn’t be overshadowed by this news (particularly with several Discovery cast members in attendance), and also, if I put on my cynical hat for a moment, ViacomCBS knew that dropping this news with mere hours to go before the season premiered would prevent fans from having time to organise any kind of pushback.

The #BoycottParamountPlus hashtag and movement emerged from the Discovery debacle, but it’s in no way an organised thing right now. And with Season 4 already underway in the United States, practically all of the big Star Trek fansites and social media channels have begun their coverage of the show. Even if fans were able to organise a protest of some kind in the next few days, from the corporation’s perspective things have gone about as well as possible. They succeeded at pulling the show from Netflix, they’re forcing people to pay for Paramount+ with no alternative options, and the fan reaction has been significant, but disorganised.

Star Trek fans are disorganised right now.

I used to work in marketing, and unfortunately, the way corporations see these kinds of social media campaigns is very dismissive and negative. ViacomCBS will have expected a degree of pushback, but they also knew that by making the announcement at the last possible moment, any pushback would be disorganised during the crucial first few days after the season debuted. They’re also counting on fans having short memories, so that by the time Paramount+ rolls out in 2022 (or later, because let’s be honest they aren’t exactly competent so we can’t rely on their planned schedule) the controversy will have died down and even the most ardent critics will still sign up.

And if history is much of a guide, they’re probably right about the latter point. Look at past examples of fans pushing back against corporate decisions. Over in the Star Wars franchise, for example, The Last Jedi was so utterly detested by some fans that they swore they’d never watch anything from the franchise ever again. A heck of a lot of those folks are currently loving The Mandalorian and are excited for other upcoming projects. Even when dealing with topics more important than entertainment, like political issues, it’s increasingly true that all someone has to do is survive and keep their head down for a few days and wait for the source of controversy and its resultant outrage to blow over. Here in the UK we can point to politicians who were caught breaking coronavirus lockdowns who are still gainfully employed, and that’s just one example.

The response to The Last Jedi was negative for Disney at first, but many fans have since returned to the franchise.

One of the main counter-arguments people have been putting forward in response to suggestions of an organised boycott of Paramount+ is that they want to support the series and the hard work the creative team put into making it. I can understand that point of view too, especially coming from those fans who have a creative background themselves. Many of these folks are also ardently opposed to any form of piracy.

But I do want to ask a question: how else are fans supposed to express themselves? If a corporation misbehaves, as ViacomCBS has to put it mildly, how are fans supposed to respond to show their disgust? We can write all the tweets and articles we like, of course, but that has a very minor impact on the corporation overall. Hitting them in their finances is where we can actually hurt them, and if fans make it clear that the reason Paramount+ is losing subscribers or not signing up new ones is because of the Discovery fiasco, then perhaps they’ll sit up and take notice.

A visual metaphor.

However, there is, as the saying goes, more than one way to skin a cat. I mentioned ViacomCBS’ share price at the beginning of the piece because it’s relevant to this conversation. The short-term impact of the Discovery controversy has knocked the value of shares down by a significant amount, and that could continue in the days and weeks ahead. Whether we boycott Paramount+ or not, the corporation is already being kicked in the wallet for this decision. I hope that brings a smile to your face – it certainly did for me.

What I would have liked to see, had there been more time in the wake of the announcement to organise such a thing, would have been a blackout from all of the big fansites and social media channels: a promise not to cover Discovery Season 4 at all until it became available worldwide. Even shutting down discussion of the show for a single week would have a huge impact and would be symbolic of the fandom coming together.

A total communications blackout would send a powerful message.

In my own small way here on my minor slice of the internet, that’s exactly what I’m doing. I could write reviews of the Season 4 episodes – I’ve already seen the premiere. And I could continue to write up my theories because I’ve got dozens swimming around in my head. If I threaten to boycott Paramount+, ViacomCBS knows I’m just one person and they’ve only lost one potential customer. But by refusing to talk about the show at all, the hype bubble around Discovery is ever so slightly deflated. Fewer people talking about the show has an impact – and if we could expand that and get a proper blackout going, then I think ViacomCBS would realise how badly they’ve screwed this up.

It will never happen though, unfortunately. Many of the big Trekkie websites and social media channels work hand-in-glove with ViacomCBS, getting advance screenings, press kits, and even freebies from the corporation. Very few outlets would be willing to lose their access and their privileges, which is why we’ve seen some messages from these folks sound rather tokenistic, I’m sorry to say. I don’t want to cast doubt on anyone’s sincerity, but it kind of smarts when they’ll express their upset in one tweet and then promote their latest review or show off their exclusive pass to the virtual premiere in the next.

I can’t see a big shutdown like this ever happening.

To get back on topic, I can’t tell you what to do. If you want to boycott Paramount+, cancel your subscription, or tell ViacomCBS you’re never paying for Star Trek again, go for it my friend. It’s as good a way as any of getting “revenge” for the offensive way we as international Trekkies have been treated. But if the thought of boycotting upsets you or you want to support the cast and crew, know that the outrage that has been expressed over the past few days has already had a noticeable financial impact on ViacomCBS.

Speaking for myself, if Paramount+ were available to pre-order here in the UK, I wouldn’t. Not right now. And in my own way I’m registering my protest. Refusing to discuss the series, even if only on my own small slice of the internet, is my way of telling ViacomCBS how I feel about the decision they made and the callous way they went about announcing it. But I don’t think we need to get at each other’s throats about this boycott idea. Some fans are up for boycotting, others aren’t. Both points of view have merits and demerits, but the one thing we need to try to do as a fandom right now is come together. Fighting amongst ourselves over what to do about the situation won’t resolve anything – it’s already happened and it won’t be undone. We have to try to move forward together.

For my part, I won’t be posting any spoilers about Discovery Season 4 here on the website – beyond what I’ve already discussed prior to the season premiere, which was only based on teasers and trailers. So you can consider this website a safe space between now and February. I wish I had better news or a better idea of how to fix things, but the reality is that Discovery is ViacomCBS’ product and as consumers, we’re stuck. All we can do is register our protests in whatever way we can. It’s up to you how you protest this decision.

This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten shows to watch instead of Star Trek: Discovery Season 4

Spoiler Warning: There may be minor spoilers for some of the shows on this list.

The person who coined the phrase “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” evidently never met the marketing team at ViacomCBS. The Star Trek: Discovery clusterfuck continues to damage the company, the Star Trek brand, Paramount+, and everything else it touches, with Discovery’s fourth season now being soiled, stinking of shit even for those fans in North America who’ve been able to sit down and watch it.

Whether you’re pirating Discovery Season 4 or not – and honestly, you’re 100% morally justified in doing so if you choose to – I thought that today we should consider some alternatives. Maybe you’ve decided not to pirate the series, or to wait and see how things go. Or maybe you’re still so darn mad at Discovery that watching it wouldn’t feel appropriate right now. So let’s take a brief look at ten television shows that you could watch instead. I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum!

Oh, and if you’ve tuned in looking for my weekly Discovery Season 4 reviews or theories, I’ve made the reluctant decision to put those on hold for the time being due to what’s happened.

Number 1: The Wheel of Time

Promotional image for The Wheel of Time.

The Wheel of Time premieres today, so I can’t claim to have watched it for myself at time of writing! But Amazon has invested heavily in this fantasy epic, one which is based on a long-running series of novels by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. It’s been a long time since I read any of the books (and I didn’t come close to finishing the set) but from what I remember, The Wheel of Time has a complex story full of magic, wonder, and nuanced characters.

Several big-budget fantasy shows were commissioned in the aftermath of the success of Game of Thrones, and initial reviews of The Wheel of Time sound promising. I’ve been looking forward to watching the show all year, and it’s finally here! The first three episodes are being made available at the same time as a kind of extended premiere, with the remainder of Season 1 following on a weekly basis. This could be a great replacement for Discovery between now and Christmas.

Number 2: Foundation

Jared Harris and Lou Llobel star in Foundation.

One of Apple TV+’s first big-budget shows, Foundation has been interesting to follow across its first season. Is it perfect? No, but for an adaptation of a very dense series of books that I would’ve considered borderline unfilmable, I think the series makes a creditable effort to bring the story to screen.

Foundation stars Jared Harris in a key role, and he’s an absolutely fantastic actor who brings a lot to the series. At time of writing there’s one episode left in Season 1, and a second season has already been confirmed for next year.

Number 3: The Expanse

Several of The Expanse’s main cast aboard the Rocinante.

The Expanse is one of the finest science fiction TV shows I’ve ever seen outside of the Star Trek franchise. Its world-building is absolutely fantastic, showing us a look at a near-future where Mars and parts of the asteroid belt have been colonised, but where faster-than-light travel and many other common sci-fi technologies don’t yet exist.

Originally debuting on the SyFy network, The Expanse was later picked up by Amazon following a fan campaign. There are five seasons already, with a sixth and final season scheduled to premiere next month – so you’ve got time to binge the show and get caught up!

Number 4: Firefly (and Serenity)

The main cast of Firefly.

The big caveat with Firefly has to be that the show was never given a chance to live up to its full potential, being cancelled after just one season. But the feature film Serenity brought the cast back and provided the story with closure (of a sort) so it’s absolutely worth watching if you haven’t seen it already.

Firefly brought to screen a uniquely western-themed sci-fi universe that felt truly real and lived-in in a way few franchises manage to do. It’s positively criminal that one season and one film are all we ever got – but what a fantastic season it was!

Number 5: Fortitude

Several members of the Fortitude Season 1 cast.

We’re returning to Earth for this entry on the list! I thought I knew what to expect from Fortitude when I sat down to watch the show. It’s set in a small town in the Norwegian arctic, and I was expecting it to be a fairly standard crime drama. But the show took a series of turns, going from crime to mystery to thriller and even touching on horror and science fiction.

It’s hard to explain Fortitude without spoiling it – and I would say that some of its storylines go a bit wild toward the end. But if you get stuck into it, as I did, you’ll have an amazing time.

Number 6: Star Trek: Picard

Sir Patrick Stewart reprised his famous role last year.

Chances are if you’re reading this you’re a Trekkie and you’ve already seen Picard Season 1. And I would absolutely understand if the Discovery debacle has soured you on Star Trek at the moment. But whether you missed Season 1 or just haven’t seen it since it was broadcast in early 2020, it’s a fine drama series worth going back to.

Remembrance, the season premiere, is one of the finest episodes of Star Trek – and one of the finest episodes of television in general – that I’ve ever seen. The season’s story builds slowly to a conclusion that was, unfortunately, more than a little rushed, but if you can look past the imperfections present at the story’s end, Picard Season 1 is a fun Star Trek adventure.

Number 7: The Mandalorian

Mandy the Mandalorian.

I have to confess that I’m not wild about The Mandalorian. It’s okay – and it contains some great action set-pieces and moments of drama. But my disappointment stems from the fact that the show’s promised “different look” at the Star Wars galaxy kind of fell by the wayside due to the inclusion of too many elements from the films.

Despite that, The Mandalorian has some great moments, and is well worth watching for any Star Wars fan. Two seasons have been put to screen thus far, though I’d argue that their short runtime and serialised story means you only really get one full season’s worth of content. Two spin-offs and a third season are coming next year, so if you’re not caught up on Star Wars yet, now could be a good moment!

Number 8: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

The titular duo.

I’m not the world’s biggest Marvel fan, but this miniseries on Disney+ was less about superheroes and was more of an action-adventure romp with the titular characters. There were callbacks to a lot of previous entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but even as someone who doesn’t follow the MCU religiously I found the series approachable.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier tells a largely self-contained story, and it was one that aimed to be uplifting as well as entertaining. I published a review of the miniseries a few months ago, and you can find it by clicking or tapping here – but beware of spoilers!

Number 9: Chernobyl

“Not great, not terrible” would be a bad way to describe 2019’s Chernobyl.

Chernobyl was a sensation when it was first broadcast in 2019, and for good reason. The miniseries, which documents the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, is one of the finest ever put to screen. This is a story you’re probably at least vaguely familiar with, but Chernobyl goes into detail, looking at the disaster from all angles.

I find it hard to say anything negative about Chernobyl at all; as both a work of drama and a serious historical piece it’s perfect. It even contains a great scene explaining the basics of how a nuclear reactor works!

Number 10: The Center Seat

Logo for The Center Seat.

The History Channel is currently a couple of episodes into its documentary all about the Star Trek franchise. There will be eight more episodes over the coming weeks, documenting the history of Star Trek from the production side going all the way back to Gene Roddenberry’s initial pitch for the series in the early 1960s.

I love a good documentary, and as the Star Trek franchise celebrates its fifty-fifth year, why not take a look back? As Trekkies we should aim to be knowledgeable about the production of the franchise we love, and The Center Seat aims to present its history in an easily understood form.

So that’s it. Ten shows to watch instead of Star Trek: Discovery Season 4.

I think a lot of Trekkies feel the way Book’s feeling right now.

Those are words that I never thought I’d have to write. Discovery’s fourth season had been my most-anticipated television show of 2021, and even now that we’re a couple of days out from the news that we wouldn’t be getting the series, the sense of disappointment and anger with the corporate morons in charge of ViacomCBS remains. But I hope, after a couple of days of outright negativity, this list has been a bit of a break.

Each of the shows above are absolutely fantastic in their own ways, and while it’s true that nothing can fully replace Star Trek: Discovery for a big fan of the series, hopefully you’ve found a few ideas to at least take your mind off things. Social media has been reflecting the outrage directed at ViacomCBS over the past couple of days, and while there’s nothing wrong at all with registering your disgust with the way that the corporation has behaved, please keep in mind that the actors, directors, and other behind-the-camera crew had nothing to do with this decision. In many ways, it harms them too because it’s tainted their hard work and left even North American Trekkies feeling upset and angry. Negativity and division within the Star Trek fandom is never a good thing. It’s such a shame ViacomCBS chose to inflict it upon us on this occasion.

All television series mentioned above are the copyright of their respective owner, network, broadcaster, streaming platform, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

A Trekkie’s dilemma

It’s been 24 hours since ViacomCBS clumsily dropped the news that Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will be kept away from international audiences. The resultant PR disaster has caused significant harm to the corporation’s reputation, as well as that of its streaming service, Paramount+. Once my anger at the situation had simmered down, I became mired in thought. I had a whole series of articles planned here on the website about Discovery: episode reviews and theory posts twice a week, as well as keeping space open for other occasional discussion pieces about the series over the next three months. Should I put all of that on hold for now, even though Star Trek and writing are two of my biggest loves? Or should I power through despite knowing that, even in my small way on my minor slice of the internet, I’m promoting and drawing attention to a series and a company that I just don’t want to support right now?

I’m not one of the big Star Trek fan sites… obviously. I don’t have a huge audience who’d feel let down if my reviews weren’t around, or conversely who would feel the need to mute me or unsubscribe if I carried on posting about a series they aren’t able to watch. So the decision is mine alone, and I confess I’m struggling with it.

What to do?

I feel absolutely morally justified in pirating Discovery. ViacomCBS has willingly chosen to remove the series from distribution here in the UK and around the world. They actively spent money to buy out Netflix’s share in the series so that Netflix wouldn’t be able to broadcast Discovery internationally. Just to reiterate that last point, because I think it’s an important one that’s gotten lost in the heated discussion: if ViacomCBS had done nothing, Discovery would have been broadcast internationally. This isn’t a case of failing to agree licenses in time or broadcast rights expiring, they actively and willingly chose to remove the series from broadcast, and they paid money out of their own pocket in order to ensure it wouldn’t be available to international fans.

Not only that, but in some countries where Paramount+ is available – such as Australia, for example – Discovery Season 4 is still not going to be available to stream. You read that right: Australian Trekkies who’ve already subscribed to Paramount+ and paid for it still won’t be able to watch Discovery Season 4, as will any other Trekkies outside of North America whether they have Paramount+ in their country or not. Why? Because ViacomCBS loves arbitrary bullshit, it seems.

“That is one big pile of shit.”

So I feel all of us outside of North America have the moral high ground and the absolute right to pirate Discovery – and the rest of Star Trek too. When a corporation voluntarily chooses not to share their creation, piracy becomes the only way to access that content. When a film, game, or television series is available to purchase, stream, or rent, I think the vast majority of folks would agree that the moral thing to do is pay to enjoy it. But when that option is taken away, there is only one remaining option – and from a moral, ethical, and philosophical point of view I see no reason at all why international Trekkies shouldn’t pirate Discovery Season 4.

This is not the choice that I would have made. I’m a Netflix subscriber and an Amazon Prime subscriber. I first signed up for Netflix in 2017 specifically because Discovery was about to be available there; Netflix earned my subscription because of Star Trek. Over the past four-plus years I’ve paid my dues on both platforms where Star Trek is available, and if CBS All Access and/or Paramount+ had been made available here in the UK I’d have signed up for them in a heartbeat.

Trekkies were offering ViacomCBS our money… but they didn’t want it.

I’m a Star Trek fan. I want Paramount+ to succeed because I want Star Trek to succeed. I want as many people as possible, from casual viewers and total newbies to hardcore fans like myself to be able to watch Star Trek – and to pay to watch it. That’s the only way Star Trek will succeed in the medium-to-long term, and that’s the only way that the franchise’s future will be secure.

But this transactional approach is not a one-way street. It isn’t good enough for ViacomCBS to insist that fans pay to sign up to their mediocre second-tier streaming platform – and then make sure the vast majority of fans can’t because it isn’t available. It isn’t good enough to roll out Paramount+ to countries like Australia and then tell fans they still can’t watch a show that others can.

ViacomCBS has created a paywall that no one can pay for because the corporation is run by incompetent morons.

In 2021, this kind of gatekeeping is simply not acceptable. Segregating the Star Trek fanbase by geography, deeming some “worthy” of being able to watch the latest shows and others not, is not only unacceptable, it’s the complete antithesis of everything Star Trek as a franchise has always stood for. What happened to infinite diversity in infinite combinations? What happened to the dream of a better, more egalitarian world? What happened to United Earth – a place where national borders have no meaning? The answer is that it was all nonsense in the eyes of Star Trek’s corporate overlords, mere words that they don’t believe in yet were happy to sell to anyone stupid enough to pay. Star Trek is a corporate product – that’s the only way ViacomCBS sees it, bankrupt of any real-world meaning or creativity.

All that the corporation cares about is profit – yet they’re so blind, thinking purely about the short-term, that they can’t see how this pathetic, awful approach is going to cost them a hell of a lot more money than it will ever bring in.

Let’s be blunt. Paramount+ will never be Netflix. It will never be Disney+ or Amazon Prime Video either. The platform arrived on the scene ten years too late, plagued by technical issues, running some of its biggest shows in DVD quality, lacking new original content, seriously mismanaged, and with an international rollout that would make a snail riding a sloth look like Usain Bolt. Paramount+ might survive the streaming wars, but even if it does it will forever be a second-tier platform, the kind that people subscribe to for a few months out of the year to watch a show or two and then cancel.

Paramount+ will only ever be a mediocre second-tier streaming service.

From the moment CBS All Access was conceived in the mind of some ageing corporate moron it was fighting an uphill battle. Netflix was already dominant in the streaming realm, and it seems to me that some halfwit with little to no understanding of streaming or the internet looked at the money that Netflix was making, then looked at CBS’ modest library of television shows and said “make me my own Netflix.” The fact that CBS All Access had to be rebranded less than three years after it launched was already a bad sign.

Now called Paramount+ and supposedly bolstered a little by the re-merging of Viacom and CBS, the service continues to flop around like a dying fish. Paramount+ must be run by the most incompetent team of morons any corporation has ever assembled when you consider its track record. Lower Decks Season 1 didn’t get an international broadcast. Prodigy Season 1 didn’t either. All of the Star Trek films disappeared for several months because of licensing conflicts with another streaming platform. Prodigy’s broadcast schedule makes no sense. And now Discovery Season 4 is being pulled from Netflix – and ViacomCBS is willingly spending money in order to pull it from Netflix – months or perhaps even years before Paramount+ will be available internationally.

I guess it’s some kind of visual metaphor…

It’s so disappointing to see ViacomCBS mishandle and mangle their biggest franchise. How can Star Trek have a shot at success with this team of corporate fuckwits running it into the ground at every opportunity? If Paramount+ fails in the years ahead, and drags Star Trek down with it, it won’t be the fault of the writers, producers, and actors across the various shows. It’ll be entirely the fault of a corporate board who haven’t got a clue what they’re doing and who don’t understand the most basic realities of running an entertainment company in 2021.

We live in a connected, globalised world. ViacomCBS (and their corporate predecessors) pushed hard to create this world because it means more profit. More Star Trek fans equals more revenue equals more profit. But the global, interconnected fandom that ViacomCBS has created means that the internet – our primary communication tool – is going to be awash with spoilers. Even the most ardent Trek-avoider would be hard-pushed to steer clear of everything Star Trek-related online, especially if they have friends within the fandom.

We live in a connected world.

YouTube channels, websites, and social media will be drowning in spoilers, making the dilemma that much more tricky for the Trekkie with a moral compass. If they decide to be patient and wait it out, despite ViacomCBS not actually providing anything close to a specific timeframe – “2022” could mean January or it could mean December, and I don’t believe for a moment that the hapless fuckwits will be able to deliver the rollout on time anyway – chances are sooner or later they’ll stumble upon a spoiler, or be served up spoilers on a plate by an algorithm. Some websites and social media outlets have pledged to tag any spoiler material, but even then it’s still highly likely that things will slip through the cracks.

Over the past 24 hours I’ve been continuously trying to think of ways to try to mitigate the situation, given that the Netflix decision is clearly final. One compromise could have been to simply delay Discovery Season 4 for everyone – including North American viewers. Waiting until next year would mean we could all watch the series together. But that won’t work.

The decision to pull Discovery from Netflix appears to be final.

The painfully slow rollout of Paramount+ is going country by country and region by region, with many parts of the world having received no information about if or when the platform will be available. In the UK at least we know that there’s a target: 2022. Many countries, such as Japan, don’t even have that. So this idea – while well-intentioned – would either delay the series indefinitely, and certainly well beyond the end of next year, or still end up shutting out a huge number of fans and viewers.

So that brings us to the Trekkie’s dilemma. The way I see it, if you’re outside of North America (which 95% of the planet’s population are, lest we forget), you have three options: wait patiently for ViacomCBS to decide that you’re allowed to watch Discovery, use a VPN to trick Paramount+ into thinking you’re in North America, or pirate the series.

A map of the world according to ViacomCBS.

The first option is what the corporate morons assume everyone will do. That isn’t true, of course, and the PR clusterfuck of the last 24 hours will seem like nothing when Discovery rockets to the top of the most-pirated shows list next week. I think we can expect to see some significant share price falls for ViacomCBS over the coming days and weeks – I certainly wouldn’t be investing in ViacomCBS stock if I were you.

The second option is the worst of the bunch. Not only are you having to jump through hoops to watch Discovery, but you’re paying ViacomCBS for the privilege. They’ve slapped you in the face, and in response you’ve pulled your wallet out and slipped them some cash while saying “do it harder next time, daddy.”

The third option is the one I daresay many Trekkies will avail themselves of. With a tiny amount of effort it’s possible to find any film or television show online, either to stream or to download, and in 2021 if ViacomCBS doesn’t know that then they’re even more out of their depth than I thought.

ViacomCBS is pushing people to take the third option: piracy.

ViacomCBS has encouraged all of us to sail the high seas.

I’m going to watch Discovery Season 4. Interpret that however you’d like. But I’m not going to cover the series extensively here on the website. Rather than individual episode reviews, what I’ll probably do is write up a full season review at the end as a single article. And Fridays, when my Discovery Season 4 reviews would’ve been published, can instead be dedicated to write-ups of older episodes of Star Trek – something I’ve been meaning to do more of here on the website for a while. I’ll pick thirteen Star Trek episodes from the franchise’s extensive back catalogue and write about those instead.

I don’t want to give ViacomCBS or Star Trek: Discovery any more attention at the moment. The corporation has chosen, for utterly inexplicable reasons, not to share the series with its most ardent supporters, so I refuse to do anything to support the show right now. I feel sorry for the actors, directors, and the rest of the creative team, because their incredible hard work under difficult circumstances during the pandemic is now soiled by this truly disgusting corporate mess. But I can’t in good conscience publish weekly reviews, theories, and other discussion pieces drawing attention to the series when I so fundamentally disagree with the way ViacomCBS has conducted itself.

I’m going to go back and re-watch some earlier Star Trek episodes and write about those instead.

I opened my wallet and offered ViacomCBS my hard-earned cash. I’ve paid for two streaming platforms in order to watch Star Trek. I’ve bought the merchandise. I provide the Star Trek franchise and Paramount+ free publicity here on the website simply by discussing the various shows. My website has an American audience, so I know for a fact many of the folks who read my reviews and theories are engaged with Paramount+. But this relationship has turned toxic, and even though I was offering ViacomCBS my cash, my time, my effort, my passion, and my attention, they chose to throw it back in my face. They told me to go fuck myself, so I’m returning the favour.

What should you do? I can’t answer that. Your conscience has to be your guide. Are you confident in your ability to avoid spoilers for the next few months? If you live in a region without a Paramount+ release window, are you okay with the idea of waiting perhaps two years or more to watch the show? I can’t officially condone or encourage piracy – it’s almost certainly breaking the rules wherever in the world you happen to be. But from a philosophical point of view, if you’re a Trekkie outside of North America I think you’re absolutely morally justified in pirating the heck out of Discovery – as well as every other Star Trek show and ViacomCBS production.

I would usually put a disclaimer here saying that the Star Trek franchise is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Have we seen an unstoppable shift away from the cinema?

One of the consequences of the pandemic has been the long-term closure of many cinemas (movie theaters for my American readers). Aside from a short respite last July and August, most cinemas here in the UK have been shut since March 2020 – for well over a year now. Some, like a local independent cinema near me, have had no choice but to close permanently, even with the end of lockdown seemingly in sight. Even when cinemas are able to reopen, limits on capacity due to social distancing, the general unease among many people about sitting in a room with dozens of strangers with the pandemic still ongoing, and most significantly, the lack of major film releases in the near term will – in my opinion, at least – most likely mean it will be a long time before things are able to get back to normal.

But will things ever get back to normal? That’s the question I want to ask today.

Will empty cinemas be full again one day?

In the early days of the pandemic, most films scheduled for release in spring or summer 2020 were simply postponed; their release dates pushed back by a few months so that they could be released to full crowds when lockdowns were lifted in their key markets. But as the pandemic has dragged on and on, film studios have begun to switch the way they release many big titles – opting to send them to streaming platforms rather than wait.

Without Remorse was originally supposed to get a theatrical release, but premiered on Amazon Prime Video instead. Raya and the Last Dragon went directly to Disney+. Then there are titles like Zack Snyder’s Justice League, Mulan, The Little Things, Godzilla vs. Kong, Bill & Ted Face The Music, News of the World, and Tom & Jerry. Upcoming titles such as Jungle Cruise, Space Jam: A New Legacy, Black Widow, Malignant, and A Quiet Place II are all going to either be released directly on streaming or with a limited theatrical run at the same time as going straight to streaming.

Animated film Raya and the Last Dragon went straight to Disney+ earlier in the year.

Is this a one-time thing, purely caused by the pandemic? And if it is, will audiences be happy to return to cinemas once the pandemic has cleared and they can fully reopen? If you’d asked me in March or April last year, I’d have said yes to both questions without hesitation. But now I’m not so sure.

There are a lot of advantages to streaming compared to going to the cinema, and as more and more people come to see those advantages, the cinema becomes a less-attractive option in contrast. This trend is not new – cinema attendance has declined a lot from where it was a few decades ago, and with the rise of high-quality television series which can rival and even surpass films in many cases, this is a reckoning that cinemas have had coming for a while. The pandemic has accelerated that to light-speed, but the trend has been going in this direction for a while.

Paramount+ is one of many competing streaming platforms that have arguably benefited from the forced closure of cinemas during the pandemic.

So what are the supposed advantages of at-home streaming? The first has to be convenience. Viewers can watch what they want on their own schedule, with the ability to pause a film to take a phone call or go to the bathroom, watching before or after work, or even late at night. It’s possible to watch with subtitles, audio description, director commentaries, and even watch in other languages. Most folks are more comfortable in their own homes than they are in a cinema chair – even the nicest cinema seats aren’t as pleasant as a comfy armchair or couch. There are no distractions from (other people’s) noisy kids, people munching popcorn, or idiots on their phones. You don’t have to sit through half an hour of adverts and trailers to get to the film. If you’re using a phone or tablet it’s possible to watch on the go, or literally anywhere. And some of the things we might’ve considered to be disadvantages a few years ago – such as screen size, resolution, and audio quality – are all easily surmountable even for folks on a limited budget.

Obviously not all of these points apply in every single case, but as a general rule, as screens get bigger and better, the need to watch something in the cinema is dropping. The old adage that a particular film was “better in the cinema” or “made for cinemas” no longer applies in many cases.

Amazon Prime Video have snapped up a number of films that couldn’t get a theatrical release this year – including Without Remorse.

I have a relatively inexpensive 4K television that doesn’t have OLED or HDR or any of those higher-end features, just a bog-standard LED set. But this model, even when I was buying it a few years ago, only started at a 40-inch screen size, with sizes going all the way up to 60″ or 65″. Nowadays, 85″ and 90″ sets are on the market and within reach of many consumers. Sound bars and speakers that put out fantastic quality audio are equally affordable, with prices dropping massively from where they had been when 4K and large screens were new. Even on my cheap and cheerful set, films look great. And if you sit reasonably close, it really does feel akin to being in the cinema – in the comfort of my own home.

It’s difficult, in my opinion, for cinemas to compete on price or quality. Even the more expensive streaming platforms, like Netflix, cost around £10-12 per month. It’s been a while since I was able to go to the cinema – health issues prevent me from doing so – but the last time I was able to go, £10 wouldn’t even stretch to two tickets. For that money you get one month’s worth of access to a massive library of titles – including many brand-new ones and Netflix originals made specially for the platform.

Large, good-quality television screens are increasingly affordable and offer a cinema-like experience at home.

In the late ’40s and ’50s, when my parents were young, going to the cinema was a frequent outing. You’d see an A- and B-movie, as well as perhaps a newsreel or something else, and it would feel like good value. Since the early 20th Century, going to the cinema on at least a weekly basis was a big part of many peoples’ lives – but things have been changing, slowly, for quite a while.

For at least the last couple of decades, going to the cinema is something most folks have viewed as an occasional treat rather than a regular outing. The price and value of a cinema ticket – and the additional extras like drinks and snacks – have shot up in relation to earnings, while at the same time the number of advertisements and trailers have also increased. Though the cinema still has a place in many folks’ lives, that place had been slipping long before the pandemic arrived. In the ’90s and 2000s, the blame for that lay with cable and satellite television channels, including many dedicated film channels. Nowadays, the blame has shifted to streaming.

Netflix has picked up a lot of subscribers in the past year.

Many film studios are keen to play their part in this trend, too. Sharing a big chunk of their profits with cinema chains and operators was never something they were wild about, which is why we’re seeing more and more studios and production companies either partnering with big streaming platforms or else trying to launch their own. Paramount+ exists for this reason, as do Disney+, HBO Max, and many others. These companies don’t care in the slightest about the fate of cinemas – except insofar as they can use them to turn a profit. When the pandemic meant that wasn’t possible, many companies happily jumped ship and released their films digitally instead.

Though I know a lot of people who have told me they’re keen to get back to the cinema as soon as possible, when I probed most of them further and asked how often they would go to the cinema pre-pandemic, or what films they were most excited to see at the cinema next, all of the answers I got back up everything I’ve been saying. Most folks go to the cinema infrequently at best, and while they’ve missed some of the social aspects of the “cinema experience,” they certainly haven’t missed the adverts, loud seat neighbours, and hassle. Streaming, while not as glamorous or exciting in some ways, is a more enjoyable experience in others.

Some people have missed every aspect of being at the cinema… but many haven’t!

I know I have to acknowledge my own bias here. As someone whose disability prevents them going to the cinema, I’d be quite happy if every film I want to watch from now on comes directly to streaming! On a purely selfish level, that’s something I’m fine with. And while I stand by the fact that the trend away from the cinema in a general sense is real and demonstrable, the pandemic probably hasn’t killed the entire concept of the cinema stone-dead. Nor would that be a good thing. Many cinemas offer more than just the latest blockbusters, with classic films, recorded theatre plays and ballet performances, and other such events. In the rural area where I live, the idea of being able to see something like the Royal Ballet is beyond a lot of people due to the distances involved. But local cinemas occasionally show things like ballets, operas, and Shakespeare plays, bringing a different kind of culture and entertainment to the region. Cinemas are also big local employers, and it’s nothing to celebrate when a local business is forced to close.

So most cinemas will eventually re-open. But the question I asked is still pertinent, because I don’t know whether they’ll see pre-pandemic numbers of visitors for a very long time – if at all. The pandemic has forced the hand of film studios and distributors, and the result has been an uptick in the number of subscribers to streaming platforms. Many folks have tried streaming for the first time, and while there will always be holdouts, people who proclaim that it really is “better in the cinema,” I think a lot of people have been surprised at how enjoyable streaming a film at home can be, and how favourably it can compare to the cinema experience.

Many people haven’t missed the “cinema experience” as much as they expected.

A big home theatre setup is no longer necessary. With a relatively inexpensive – but still large – television set and maybe a sound bar or pair of satellite speakers, many people can have a truly cinema-like experience in their own living rooms. And a lot of people who’ve tried it for the first time, prompted by lockdown, may have no plans to return to the cinema any time soon – or if they do, they’ll be making fewer trips.

In my opinion, this is something that has the potential to continue to build over time. As screens continue to improve, and as more people eschew the cinema in favour of staying in, more films will go direct to streaming because companies will see more success and more money in it. Fewer films will end up in cinemas exclusively, so fewer people will go. And the cycle will continue!

Even if I’m wrong on that final point, I do believe that we’ve already seen a slow move away from cinemas in the pre-pandemic years. The pandemic came along and blew the lid off that, and while there will be a return once things settle down, at-home streaming is here to stay. It benefits viewers and companies – the only folks who are going to lose out are the cinema chains themselves. I’m not saying it’s a positive thing necessarily, although it does stand to benefit me in some respects, nor am I advocating for it. But when I look at the way things have been going over the past few years, and add the pandemic’s disruption into the mix, I really do feel that we’re seeing a big move away from the cinema in favour of at-home streaming.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, distributor, production company, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Game Pass for PC – first impressions

Xbox Game Pass for PC has been out for a little while now, and after weighing up the options I decided to finally take the plunge and sign up. In this article I’ll cover my reasoning behind becoming a subscriber as well as my initial impressions of the service and its Windows 10 app. This won’t be a fully in-depth review, it’s really just my first impressions of the service.

First up, I’ll explain why I became a subscriber – and why you might want to as well. In short: I wanted to play Forza Horizon 4 and Game Pass was the cheapest option. I no longer own an Xbox One – I gave mine away years ago – so the only way to get that game is on PC, which is my primary gaming platform these days. But the “standard” edition is £50, and with the game not available on Steam (where sales happen more often) I hadn’t felt committed enough to trying it out to spend that much money. It’s rare that I’ll pay full-price for a game these days, and as someone on a limited budget £50 is just too much.

I subscribed to Game Pass as an inexpensive way to play Forza Horizon 4.

Enter Game Pass. At time of writing, the PC version of Game Pass is still in its “beta” phase, and costs £4 per month with the first month for just £1. That seems like a pretty good deal – even if the price is set to double when the service fully launches at some point in the future. At £4 per month I could play Forza Horizon 4 for a full year, cancel the service, and still have a few pounds left over compared to buying the game outright – and also have access to dozens of other titles to play in that time. It seems like a solid deal, and that’s why I signed up.

In recent months I’ve been critical of Xbox, mostly because of some of their odd decisions in the run-up to the launch of the Xbox Series X. But I have to admit that for Xbox gamers, Game Pass is a great deal. It’s by far the cheapest way to jump head-first into current-gen gaming, and when the Xbox Series X releases in a couple of months, it’ll be the most economical way to get into next-gen gaming too. Even if the Xbox Series X is priced similarly to the PlayStation 5, Game Pass provides an incentive for players to at least consider Microsoft’s platform simply because of the number of titles on offer. We’re primarily looking at Game Pass for PC today, but the console version currently offers more titles than the PC version and is thus an even better deal.

Microsoft currently plans to launch all of their major first-party games onto the service, and besides Forza Horizon 4 you’ll find such titles as Ori and the Will of the Wisps, The Outer Worlds, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, and even the brand-new Microsoft Flight Simulator. Upcoming titles I’m looking forward to include Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition, and I’m sure that there will be others. Although Xbox’s lineup of exclusives hasn’t been stellar this generation, Microsoft have made moves in that direction in recent years, snapping up studios like Obsidian and Ninja Theory who will now create titles exclusively for their platforms. Obsidian announced a new title a few months ago called Avowed, which looks to be their take on the fantasy/roleplaying genre and seems to have great potential. Avowed is just one title I’m following with interest from Microsoft, and guess what? When it’s released it’ll come to Game Pass.

Avowed, the upcoming title from Microsoft-owned Obsidian, is one game I’m anticipating.

So those are the key points in favour of Game Pass as I see it. It feels like a cost-effective way to play some of the newest titles, and even if there’s only one or two games on the list that you’re interested in, Game Pass can still be the cheaper option compared to buying them outright.

Now let’s look at the Windows 10 app.

This has been the least enjoyable part of the Game Pass experience so far. The app is very much a “beta” app, with a weird glitch that signs me out often and a small window that seems to constantly try to pop up only to immediately vanish. This happens every few minutes, and if I have the Xbox app minimised it flashes orange on the taskbar. It’s a minor annoyance, and one I’m sure will be fixed in future, but if you like perfect, seamlessly smooth experiences, the Xbox app for Windows 10 isn’t quite there yet!

However, signing in is a simple procedure – which is good considering how often it signs me out – and most importantly, downloads are at least as fast as those offered by other PC game launchers. The area where I live doesn’t have great internet; I don’t have fibre broadband or 5G or anything like that, so my downloads are never especially fast. But those from Game Pass are as fast as I get elsewhere, so from my perspective that’s about as much as I could have expected!

Game Pass for PC titles download at least as fast as those on Steam and other platforms.

One other issue that I have is that the same notification keeps popping up every time I sign in. It tells me something like: “your Xbox Live Account is not the same as your Microsoft account!” even though they are both the same account, linked together. Not sure if this is an issue which just affects me or if it’s something everyone has to put up with at the moment!

This is an incredibly minor point, but in the past Xbox allowed players to upload custom pictures to represent themselves and their gamertag – as other platforms like Steam do. But the current version of the Xbox app for PC only allows you to choose from a set list of pictures. As someone who has no friends (on Xbox Live, not in real life!) it doesn’t matter all that much to me, but it’s worth pointing it out.

One thing I did like about the app is that is has a “Surprise Me” button – when clicked this recommends a random game from the Game Pass collection. It’s a bit of fun, and for someone unsure what to play next could even be useful! I don’t see myself using it all that often, but it’s a neat little inclusion.

This is a neat feature – albeit one I doubt I’ll use often!

I’m sure that Microsoft is working on the app behind the scenes to fix its issues and get it ready for prime-time. In a way, it makes sense for them to focus on the console market at the moment, with the launch of the Xbox Series X being imminent. Minor gripes with the PC version can wait while they focus on having as good a console launch as possible under the circumstances.

With enough time and attention, though, Game Pass for PC has the potential to go from strength to strength. At this stage I don’t see it as a Steam competitor – there simply isn’t a big enough library to say that. But it is something that PC gamers could use to augment their Steam libraries, as well as a way to save money on some impressive new titles.

The caveat with any service like this is that you don’t own any of the games, and they can in theory be removed from Game Pass at any time. Game Pass itself could also cease to exist at some point in the future, making replaying games more difficult. In that sense it’s less permanent even than a Steam library, which while wholly digital does at least have a degree of permanence in that you “own” the games you bought. As someone who grew up when renting games – and even consoles – was a big deal, however, that doesn’t bother me all that much.

Game Pass aims to position itself as “the Netflix of games”, and just like Netflix adds and removes content, so too will Game Pass. Most Netflix subscribers are happy with the deal – the subscription provides a huge amount of things to watch, and not owning them doesn’t feel like a particularly big drawback. The same applies to Game Pass – it’s a different, but not altogether unfamiliar – way of gaming.

If you’re someone with an unlimited budget for gaming and a full Steam library, perhaps you don’t need Game Pass. But for budget-conscious gamers looking to get value for money, it really feels like a decent offering. At its supposed full price of £8/$10 a month you’ll be paying £96/$120 per year, which is the cost of around two full-price games. But when you consider you get far more than two games included in Game Pass, from my perspective as someone on a low income that definitely seems like a good deal – provided there are two or more games currently included with the service that you actually want to play! For me it was Forza Horizon 4, but I’ll also surely check out The Outer Worlds and several others, and when my first month only cost £1 and I can now play Forza Horizon 4 immediately, it feels like I saved a packet compared to buying the game outright.

Game Pass isn’t going to totally revolutionise the way we play games – at least, not on current form. But for gamers on a budget it offers an inexpensive way into the hobby, as well as a way to complement an existing library of games for everyone else. Despite the issues with the Windows 10 app, I recommend taking a look.

This post was not sponsored; I purchased a Game Pass for PC subscription for myself and these are my genuine opinions based on my experience. The Xbox and Game Pass brands, as well as others mentioned above, are the copyright of Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Netflix series review – Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak

If you’ve been a reader for a while, you’ll know that I love documentaries. There have been some really interesting documentary films and series made over the years that I’ve been lucky enough to see, including many whose subject matter I would never have thought to explore otherwise. Netflix is actually a great platform for documentary content. I don’t know how many films and series they have available in the genre – and unfortunately it will vary somewhat depending on where you are in the world – but there are a lot of interesting ones to check out, including some that have been nominated for major awards.

It was with all of the above in mind that I decided to try Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak, which was released in January 2020. I’ve always had an interest in things like disaster preparedness and emergency planning, so it definitely piqued my curiosity when it appeared on my list of things to watch that Netflix recommended. I’d been meaning to check it out ever since, but as always, there were other things to see and do!

Title card for Pandemic.

Pandemic follows a few different individuals, mostly medical professionals, in a number of places around the world as they work on various aspects of disease prevention and treatment. It’s actually incredibly ambitious in that regard, telling the narrative from different places and different perspectives. The filmmakers visited such diverse places as the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Egypt, Guatemala, and various locations in the United States – a truly huge amount of travelling that must have massively inflated the budget of the series. And the end result is definitely the better for gaining different perspectives.

Some of the locations visited – like Rajasthan in India and Cairo in Egypt – are incredibly densely populated, and as Pandemic goes to great lengths to show, are much more vulnerable to influenza – the disease which is the focus of the documentary – as a result. Seeing those places, and the overcrowded buildings and streets, instead of merely reading about them or having them explained in a voiceover, was definitely an interesting aspect, one that the filmmakers have clearly wanted to convey.

Given that a pandemic of a disease like influenza is a global problem, I think it’s important that any attempt to cover the subject matter should be global in scope. Only seeing a European, American, or western perspective would be more relevant to Netflix’s core audience, perhaps, but would be limited in its messaging and understanding of the topic. The truth is that, in a lot of cases, it’s places in the third world that are worst-hit when a disease outbreak occurs because the infrastructure and medical facilities aren’t present in the same way, and the level of preventative care – like inoculations – and post-infection treatment is of lower quality. That’s not meant to be a criticism – there are clearly people in those regions working incredibly hard. But it is the reality that millions of people in some countries aren’t vaccinated against, for example, tuberculosis – despite the vaccine having existed for decades.

Healthcare workers in India.

As well as looking at some of the history behind disease prevention, and the scientific research that is ongoing, Pandemic is also a series of personal stories. We spend time with many of the documentary’s subjects as they go about their lives, interact with their families, and discuss the impact that their work can have on their life and those around them. In that sense, it was a much more personal look at the subject than a documentary that focused on facts, figures, and interviews staying on-topic would have been. While I enjoyed that aspect of Pandemic most of the time, there were some moments that were awkward and clearly scripted, or at the very least set up to get the exact shot and line that the filmmakers wanted. There’s a line that a documentary filmmaker has to walk when doing something like that, and at times Pandemic was on the wrong side, as some of these scripted moments ended up feeling like the film was being dishonest. By presenting a scene through the camerawork and editing as if it were a genuine, spur-of-the-moment conversation when it clearly was not, some of these sequences ended up feeling forced and fabricated. While there weren’t too many of these moments such that the series was overwhelmed by them, it did suffer as a result.

When considering Pandemic, we do have to talk briefly about the current coronavirus outbreak. Pandemic was made last year, before this current outbreak had begun, but how we approach it – and indeed the fact that more people have been interested in it – can’t be completely detached from the current situation. Coronavirus is not influenza; the two viruses are very different and thus will have to be approached differently by governments and medical staff. But much of Pandemic’s subject matter is applicable to the current outbreak – most notably how easily it can spread and how it can take root in some of these densely-populated areas in the third world where healthcare and hygiene are worse than here in the west. In that sense, Pandemic is a timely release – with all the fuss in the news at the moment about the spread of coronavirus and the various quarantines and other steps being taken to stop and prevent its spread, there are lessons to be learned from this series.

Politics is at play in Pandemic; it is a deeply political series at times. For some people that will be offputting, especially because the way some political issues – like migration – are handled are very one-sided. There are numerous swipes and digs at Donald Trump and his administration in particular, as well as interviews with Democratic Party politicians, legislators, and supporters. It would have been worth the filmmakers including some kind of statement at the end of the episodes where these people appeared to say that they did ask Republicans to join in with the series – if indeed they did ask. That would have shifted the blame for the lack of political inclusion to those who refused to participate.

Oregon State Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward was interviewed in Pandemic.

Healthcare is a political issue. The inclusion of politics is thus unsurprising, and Pandemic does not claim to be a balanced, all-around look at the subject matter. Many documentaries are incredibly subjective in the way they handle their subject matter – look at Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine or Fahrenheit 9/11 as examples of that. This doesn’t make Pandemic worse, but it does mean that as the audience we have to be aware of the filmmakers’ leanings and biases and remember to treat it as a subjective piece. In 2020, there really isn’t such a thing as a truly objective piece of reporting or filmmaking, but even so, there will be numerous points where I’m sure that people who don’t fully subscribe to the filmmakers’ politics will be at least a little uncomfortable in the way some of the material is presented – I can tell you that I certainly was.

Staying with contentious political issues, one of the most interesting aspects of Pandemic for me is that the filmmakers went out of their way to track down and speak with anti-vaccination families and campaigners. The anti-vaccine movement has been growing for some time, and is widely blamed for a resurgence in diseases like measles which had once been essentially eradicated in the western world. It’s likely that, as we go forward into the new decade, decisions will have to be made about what rights people do and don’t have when it comes to issues like vaccination, and by letting the anti-vaccine campaigners speak for themselves, Pandemic did a good job of presenting both sides of the argument – even though it was clear from the way some of those sequences were edited which side the filmmakers were on.

Overall, I’d say that Pandemic approaches an incredibly broad topic in a personal way. The decision to present it through a series of separate, individual stories rather than as a more general overview of the topic definitely shows off different angles of how organisations around the world approach disease prevention, but at the cost of having a narrower focus than some documentary series covering the same subject might. I enjoyed it, it was interesting and informative, but certainly not comprehensive. However, given the position we’re in when it comes to the current coronavirus outbreak, I would recommend it – just so long as people remember to keep their fears in check. Some of the interviewees can stray into “doom-and-gloom” territory at times, and again considering our current situation in regards to coronavirus, this might be offputting for some. Regardless, I had a good time with the series. Netflix has both created and hosted a number of good documentaries, and Pandemic is a solid addition to its lineup.

Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak is available to stream now on Netflix around the world. The series is the copyright of Netflix. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.