June 14, 2008

Chase Howard

Chase Howard looks good on a resume. No other firm of market analysts has Chase Howard's predictive accuracy, their research capacity, or their client list. If you're a financial analyst in the consumer electronics industry, you've either worked for them or been fired from another firm because you were wrong and Chase Howard was so, so right. No one argues with Chase Howard these days. People resent them. People mock them. But they don't do it out loud. Chase Howard's the best, and everyone knows it.

That was why Adrian got up at four a.m. every day and drove for two hours in his father's 1985 Hyundai to his unpaid internship at Chase Howard. He didn't have a desk or a phone, he had an office chair in a corner and he would sit there every morning, balancing in his lap a red pen, a bagel, a Styrofoam cup of coffee and 85 pages of internal memos and press releases. Before he took lunch orders, he spent an hour with his cheap ballpoint pressed to the paper and spell-checked every word. It was tedious, but, as Adrian had discovered, completely necessary. Adrian had all the respect in the world for the men at Chase Howard, but even his three-year-old sister, who wrote on the walls in crayon, knew that the word 'lose' did not have two 'o's.

"I think this is a typo."
   Dean looked up from his monitor. He was dressed –- and it wasn’t even Friday –- in a sweatshirt and khakis. In two weeks, Adrian had only seen one person in the building wearing a tie, and it was Adrian.
   "What is it?"
   Adrian held up Dean’s memo to eye level and pointed to the offending word.
   "It's this right here, you spelled 'Microsoft' with a dollar sign."
   Dean chuckled and leaned back in his chair.
   "No," he explained, "that's a joke, a subtle joke. Do you know what a moneyhat is? It's sort of a reference to that."
   "I see," said Adrian, although he didn’t. "So I could write 'Sony' with the dollar sign too, right?"
   Dean's face instantly darkened. "Well, that wouldn’t be funny, because there's no basis for that. You're just making that up. Aren't you?"
   Adrian was looking a bit flustered so Dean relaxed. The kid didn’t mean any harm by it, he reasoned.
   "No, I'm sorry for snapping. You're a bright guy, and you'll go far here, but you have a lot to learn about comedy."
   Someone walked by Dean’s desk. "Conference in five."
   Dean nodded, then smiled at Adrian. "You haven’t been here for the numbers yet, have you?"
   "Enjoy it, kid, it's gonna be a show."
   Two guys ran past Adrian, stopping briefly to bump chests.
   "You ready?" asked one of them.
   "It's D-Day, bitch!"
   The louder of the two men turned and yelled at someone five desks away.
   "Max! I have it on paper, you douche! You said it! If GTA doesn't crack 500k on the PS3, you've gotta resign!"
   Max looked unhappy. "Mr. Howard said we weren't allowed to make that bet."
   "You shook my fucking hand!"
   Max hurried into the conference room, followed by a procession of men in their mid-20s, most of whom Adrian had never seen before and all of whom looked like they were out for blood.

Tim was the first to speak.
   "HD gaming am epic fail, huh?"
   The room murmured their agreement with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
   "Confirmed," someone echoed.
   At that moment, an unfamiliar observer wouldn’t have been able to make out anything in the room except for the twenty men seated at the table and another twenty hovering over them –- and, of course, the bound reports they all held in their hands. In fact, there was little to see. The conference room was sparsely decorated by design. A widescreen plasma television was the only thing hanging from the walls, but if one looked closely they might notice the clusters of pin pricks marring the plaster. Someone had put up a giant Wind Waker poster once, at which several people in the building had taken exception. They argued it projected a bias that was not reflective of Chase Howard as a whole and this perception would damage the company’s reputation. In the interests of equality and compromise, a new policy limited conference room posters to one per platform. This spurred a heated discussion over whether you could honestly call Resistance "equal" to Halo. To hang them side by side was an insult to Halo, they thought. They eventually decided that they would be okay with it if they were allowed to hang the Halo poster a few inches higher, and that suggestion went over very badly. One day a grateful client had presented the firm with a life-size Master Chief statue, and it was placed in the lobby. On that day the building actually caught fire.
   "It's the exclusivity factor," said Jason. "Gamers know Metal Gear Solid, they like Metal Gear Solid. It sells systems. And we'd predicted last month that the PS3 would get a bigger bump from GTA4 than the 360 would."
   "Amazing numbers!" someone shouted.
   "First to ten million wins!" A third of the room were all sporting Cheshire Cat grins.
   Ryan leaned forward. "You’re forgetting that the 360 user base still largely exceeds the PS3 user base."
   "Fuck the both of you! You didn't know what you were talking about last month and you still don't know shit! This is like when you assholes still wouldn't give up on HD-DVD. It was fucking over then and it's over now. We won." Mike stood up and threw his fists in the air. "We won!"
   Half the room applauded violently.
   "Hey! Hey!" Ryan tried to make himself heard above the rabble. "Where the hell were you in December? You guys were ready to kill yourselves." Ryan dug into his jacket pocket for his Palm Pilot. "I have this funny picture of a cat that I think will better make my point."
   Adrian was standing next to Dean by the door, flicking through his copy of the numbers.
   "Hey," he whispered to Dean, "I think I have a page missing, I can't find the PC figures."
   Dean rolled his eyes.
   As Ryan and Mike competed for volume, Adrian's attention drifted to Tim, who was sitting at the opposite end of the room. He hadn't said a word since the meeting started, which Adrian found strange. In Adrian's experience, Tim was one of the most energetic people in the building, and here, amidst the biggest display of enthusiasm Adrian had ever seen, he was sitting completely still, with his head held straight down.
   Before Adrian could give this any more thought, Jamie jumped to his feet, breaking off Adrian's line of sight to Tim.
   "Hey! Are you guys forgetting something? HD gaming? Laugh-out-fucking-loud! These Wii figures are incredible! They’re incredible for the second month going! You guys wonder about what gamers want and you don't have a fucking clue. Gamers don't want install times, they don't want RROD, they don't want an HDTV. The only HD game in the top ten is GTA and let’s see... how many of those top ten games are on a Nintendo system? Oh! Seven of them! Wii is number one. DS is number two. Oh, my pants are tightening. Yeah, I'm definitely aroused. Give up. Face it. Next-gen starts when I say so. Nintendo domination!"
   The room erupted again. Mike and Ryan looked sour.
   "I'd like to know," Jamie continued, "in the face of these figures, what possible explanation Ubisoft can give for not supporting the Wii. Why they'll release for every other platform except ours. Why they'll serve us the worst shit and expect us to eat it up? I want to see Prince of Persia on the Wii. I want to see Beyond Good & Evil on the Wii. I want to see Far Cry 2 on the Wii. I don't want to see that bullshit game about the dogs. No reason they can't do it. How do they think they can get away with this? This is racism. This is console racism. I want someone to ask them that. I want someone to call Ubisoft and ask them why they’re not supporting the Wii. I'm going to call them! I'm gonna call them right now!”
   Jamie made a grab for the phone on the desk.
   "I'm calling Ubisoft right now! What's the number?"
   "You have to dial 1 for an outside line," Ryan offered.
   "I know that! You don’t think I fucking know that? You think because I'm a Nintendo fan I'm a retard?"
   "I think you wouldn’t be able to find your dick without a Wii game to toilet train you."
   "Yeah? Look at these numbers, they could make that game and it would sell more than any dumb shooter on your failed fucking platform."
   "Okay," Jason said, raising his voice a little. "Everyone settle down.    Jamie raises an interesting point: videogames are trending away from a hardcore player base."
   Ryan interrupted: "I don't think the PS3 will keep climbing like certain people in this room seem to think it will."
   "Why not?"
   Ryan looked at Mike. "Think about the value proposition. You really think Metal Gear is going to do the numbers you think? With ninety-minute cutscenes?"
   "Hey," said Bruce, waving his hands, "hey. Seriously: you don’t joke about Metal Gear. It hurts me when people say that."
   "Yeah, you asshole," said Mike, "this is game of the fucking forever. I'm going to put a poster up."
   "No you’re fucking not!"
   "Okay!" yelled Jason. Sometimes Jason wished he had a gavel. "Everyone. Where are we going? Casual games. The wave of the future?"
   "No!" shrieked an unfamiliar voice. Adrian looked up. It was Tim. "No no no no no. Why are you happy about this? Why are you going to take this?" Tim stood up. "Why are you all so ready to accept that this, this, thisthisthis console sold over 650k this month and 700 last month when there is nothing, nothing, nothing worth buying on it? I hate this! God damn it! God damn you all!"
   Tim started pacing.
   "You all disgust me. I am a traditional hardcore gamer and I have been one all my life. I am a hardcore gamer, I do not play casual games. The Wii is taking developers and money and players away from real games and real consoles. The Wii is not a console. It's a child's toy. Is that the future? Are you telling me this is the future? Is it? Then this is the end of video games!"
   With a guttural howl, Tim span around and shoved the TV off the wall. It landed with a lame thud. Tim stared down at it in a rage, his whole body shaking.
   "Oh, God," he whispered. He backed up against the wall and slid down to the floor.
   "The Wii is ruining gaming," he said in a cracking voice, covering his face with his hands. "The Wii is ruining gaming."
   The room turned. Sir Simon Howard stood in the doorway with his arms folded. Everyone was deathly quiet as Tim helped himself to his feet and shuffled past his forty co-workers to follow Howard outside. No one made eye contact. Dean closed the door behind him. For a minute, no one said anything.
   "Okay," said Jason. "Let’s talk about price cuts."

Tim sat sniffling in Howard’s office. Howard lightly pushed a box of Kleenex towards him. He took one and dabbed his eyes.
   "It hurts me to see you like this," Howard said. "You've been with us as long as anyone and we all respect you. You're a first-class analytical mind. You know I only want what’s best for you."
   Tim snorted loudly into the tissue.
   "Are there problems at home? Take a vacation, Tim. Take some time off.”
   Tim screwed up the tissue and dumped it on the floor. "What," he said, "are you high? I love this."

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