Morgan Stanley’s fixed-income business has great potential: CEO

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Morgan Stanley Chief Executive Officer James Gorman said on Tuesday that in recent years the bank’s fixed-income group has had the greatest opportunity for delivering growth.

Gaming leans into diversity at E3, but not hard

To say the gaming community is not known for its friendliness to women and minority groups is something of an understatement. But we’re starting to see developers abandon the usual excuses of tradition, demographics, and the most absurd of all, “realism,” in favor of making gaming more inclusive. Kind of.

This has been an ongoing theme for years, of course. But it feels like this year it was a little less self-congratulatory and a little more self-motivated.

The fun started early, well ahead of E3, with the apparently devastatingly diverse front lines in Battlefield V, which takes place during World War II. The predictable objections as to “historical accuracy” appeared — unironic, despite the utter lack of historical accuracy in pretty much any of these games. The way the war was fought, the locations and situations, the weapons and vehicles have all been liberally massaged to turn the worst thing in history into a fun multiplayer game.

But it was EA’s chief creative officer, Patrick Soderlund, who made the headlines with a searing riposte in an interview with Gamasutra. Citing the historical record of women and people of color in the war, he called out the peanut gallery as both incorrect and irrelevant.

What’s the most unrealistic part about Battlefield V? It ain’t her.

“These are people who are uneducated,” he said. “They don’t understand that this is a plausible scenario, and listen: this is a game.”

A game, he added, intended to surface stories that have been hitherto relatively seldom told, including the roles of those groups.

“This is something that the development team pushed. And we don’t take any flak. We stand up for the cause, because I think those people who don’t understand it, well, you have two choices: either accept it or don’t buy the game. I’m fine with either or. It’s just not OK.”

Then E3 got started. As a pleasant early surprise, Gears of War 5 has you playing a female protagonist in what has long been a mainstay of grizzled space-marine mandom, and your companion is a black guy. Of course you have the new Tomb Raider, a solid franchise with an increasingly strong, well-written female lead.

In Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Ubisoft went so far as to twist the lore of the series to accommodate the player’s choice of character: Alexios or Kassandra, between whom there are no real differences — including romance options, a quietly provocative decision.

The Last of Us Part Two has a badass young woman as its protagonist, defending herself with shocking brutality in a post-apocalyptic hellscape. (Yet you can be sure it’s the kiss shared with a girl on the dance floor that will generate more controversy.)

Nintendo offered a variety of customization in the new Smash Bros for Switch, with male and female options for all kinds of characters, including Pikachu. Even Cuphead has a playable lady in it now.

Elsewhere we saw diversity on display in something as simple as having men and women of all races represented as pirate captains, commanders of futuristic forces, medieval knights (a nice Joan of Arc feel from For Honor’s trailer), and futuristic jet pilots. (My favorite outfit was in Control, by the way.)

What it felt like to me, though, was not that these companies were fulfilling some kind of diversity quota — that bogeyman so often invoked by critics — but rather the simple acknowledgement that the world of games should resemble the world of gamers.

Of course, when you pull back a little bit, it becomes extremely clear that the majority of games are still very much dominated by the garden variety grizzled white male protagonist. But that’s fine. We have a similar problem in film, TV, and other fiction as well, right? Moving on from outdated ideas of race and gender in the world of media is an going concern and it won’t happen all at once.

But at least at this E3 we’re seeing indications that developers and publishers are moving in the right direction.

As for the people playing — well, that’s a different story. Whatever the flexibility of your choices in the latest crop of AAA games, female gamers and people of color will still be ruthlessly harassed, abused, and otherwise targeted. Developers can’t change the bigoted minds of toxic players — but they can ban them. Here’s hoping that side of things is getting equal attention.

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Netflix and Alphabet will need to become ISPs, fast

This week completely scrambled the video landscape, and its implications are going to take months to fully understand.

First is the district court’s decision to approve the merger of AT&T and Time Warner announced just moments ago. That will create one of the largest content creation and distribution companies in the world when it closes. It is also expected to encourage Comcast to make a similar bid for 21st Century Fox, further consolidating the market. As Chip Pickering, CEO of pro-competition advocacy org INCOMPAS put it, “AT&T is getting the merger no one wants, but everyone will pay for.”

But the second major story was the final (final final) repeal of the FCC’s net neutrality rules yesterday that will allow telecom companies like AT&T to prioritize their own content over that of competitors. In the past, AT&T didn’t have all that much content, but the addition of Time Warner now gives them a library encompassing Warner Bros. to TBS, TNT, HBO and CNN. Suddenly, that control over prioritization just got a lot more powerful and profitable.

The combination of these two stories is spooking every video on demand service, from YouTube to Netflix . If Comcast bids and is successful in buying 21st Century Fox, then connectivity in the United States will be made up of a handful of gigantic content library ISPs, and a few software players that will have to pay a premium to deliver their content to their own subscribers. While companies like Netflix and Alphabet have negotiated with the ISPs for years, the combination of these two news stories puts them in a significantly weaker negotiating position going forward.

While consumers still have some level of power — ultimately, ISPs want to deliver the content that their consumers want — a slow degrading of the experience for YouTube or Netflix could be enough to move consumers to “preferred” content. Some have even called this the start of the “cable-ification” of the internet. AT&T, for instance, has wasted no time in creating prioritized fast lanes.

That world is not automatic though, because Alphabet, Netflix and other video streaming services have options on how to respond.

For Alphabet, that will likely mean a redoubling of its commitment to Google Fiber. That service has been trumpeted since its debut, but has faced cutbacks in recent years in order to scale back its original ambitions. That has meant that cities like Atlanta, which have held out for the promise of cheap and reliable gigabit bandwidth, have been left in something of a lurch.

Ultimately, Alphabet’s strategic advantage against Comcast, AT&T and other massive ISPs is going to rest on a sort of mutually assured destruction. If Comcast throttles YouTube, then Alphabet can propose launching in a critical (read: lucrative) Comcast market. Further investment in Fiber, Project Fi or perhaps a 5G-centered wireless strategy will be required to give it to the leverage to bring those negotiations to a better outcome.

For Netflix, it is going to have to get into the connectivity game one way or the other. Contracts with carriers like Comcast and AT&T are going to be more challenging to negotiate in light of today’s ruling and the additional power they have over throttling. Netflix does have some must-see shows, which gives it a bit of leverage, but so do the ISPs. They are going to have to do an end-run around the distributors to give them similar leverage to what Alphabet has up its sleeve.

One interesting dynamic I could see forthcoming would be Alphabet creating strategic partnerships with companies like Netflix, Twitch and others to negotiate as a collective against ISPs. While all these services are at some level competitors, they also face an existential threat from these new, vertically merged ISPs. That might be the best of all worlds given the shit sandwich we have all been handed this week.

One sad note though is how much the world of video is increasingly closed to startups. When companies like Netflix, which today closed with a market cap of almost $158 billion, can’t necessarily get enough negotiating power to ensure that consumers have direct access to them, no startup can ever hope to compete. America may believe in its entrepreneurs, but its competition laws have done nothing to keep the terrain open for them. Those implications are just beginning.

Judge Approves AT&T and Time Warner Merger

A planned merger between AT&T and Time Warner can move forward, a U.S. District Court Judge ruled this afternoon, reports CNBC.

AT&T’s $85.4 billion purchase of Time Warner has been on hold since November, when the United States Justice Department filed a lawsuit to stop the merger, based on the argument that it would result in higher bills and fewer options for consumers.

According to the court’s ruling, the merger between the two companies is legal, and no conditions were imposed on its approval.

In a statement, AT&T said that it is pleased with the merger and plans to move forward with closing the deal on or before June 20.

“We are pleased that, after conducting a full and fair trial on the merits, the Court has categorically rejected the government’s lawsuit to block our merger with Time Warner. We thank the Court for its thorough and timely examination of the evidence, and we compliment our colleagues at the Department of Justice on their dedicated representation of the government. We look forward to closing the merger on or before June 20 so we can begin to give consumers video entertainment that is more affordable, mobile, and innovative.”

The Justice Department, meanwhile, said that it was disappointed with the court’s ruling.

“We continue to believe that the pay-TV market will be less competitive and less innovative as a result of the proposed merger between AT&T and Time Warner. We will closely review the Court’s opinion and consider next steps in light of our commitment to preserving competition for the benefit of American consumers.”

Today’s decision could have an impact on other significant “vertical” mergers where distribution companies like AT&T purchase companies that make content, like Time Warner. Comcast, for example, has already announced plans to bid on Fox’s assets in an attempt to beat out Disney.
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