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The Wall Street Journal pulled off a near-perfect coup over the weekend with its profile of the low-key founder of Fortnite maker Epic Games, Tim Sweeney.
The piece is chock-full of interesting and important nuggets about Sweeney and his company. Running Epic is the only job Sweeney has ever had. He’s single and childless and unpretentious, focused on nature conservation rather than trophies. He’s also humble, insisting that while he absolutely created Epic he did not make Fortnite, the “battle royale” sensation. He is proud his company is in North Carolina, not Silicon Valley. He’s also pleased that his game focuses on shoot-em-up techniques that don’t emphasize blood and guts.
There is good business stuff in this story too. It describes Sweeney’s personal ambassadorial role convincing executives of various game console makers to allow their systems to work with each other so Fortnite gamers would have more potential partners. It also documents that Fortnite usage has peaked, a worrisome sign for Epic.
If the profile is merely near-perfect, it’s because of what isn’t here. There’s nothing on Epic’s financials, because Epic doesn’t disclose them. The article doesn’t offer color on Sweeney’s management team, which must be able. It doesn’t get into Fortnite’s wildly anticipated debut in China, where gaming giant Tencent owns a big piece of Epic. (This Vice article suggests the market entry has been unique, due to Chinese government requirements.) And the article doesn’t discuss what impact taking on investors like KKR, Kleiner Perkins, and Lightspeed Venture Partners will have on the fiercely independent Epic.
These topics can be in someone else’s feature story on Epic Games and Tim Sweeney.
Some post-weekend reading suggestions:
* Peter Hartlaub’s lovely tribute in the San Francisco Chronicle to an ugly but immensely democratic pedestrian walkway from the BART mass-transit station to Oakland’s now-quieted Oracle Arena left me feeling nostalgic. In the 70s and 80s my parents and I crossed the Illinois Central railroad tracks on an equally democratic old wooden bridge that led to the southern edge of Soldier Field. A satellite image of where I remember the bridge crossing the tracks along E. 18th Street on Chicago’s South Side suggests it has been torn down and replaced by a covered structure. (Bears fans: I’d love to hear from you if you remember that bridge and know of its plight.)
* I wrote last week about economist Raghuram Rajan’s focus on the role of community alongside government and markets. Heather Knight, also writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, has a wonderful piece on how a community—not a business—succeeded where local government failed.
* If you are a writer, editor, or international adventurer (in body or spirit), you’ll love this unusual and wonderful obituary of Saul Bellow “sidekick” Keith Botsford.
Huawei whammy: The Trump Administration’s decision to cut Huawei off from Western suppliers is hitting the Chinese phone maker hard: the company will sell 40 to 60 million fewer phones abroad, while France’s leading carriers have dropped plans to even sell Huawei’s flagship Honor phone. The company is hoping to make up the shortfall with increased domestic sales.
Amazon video games a bust: It turns out there are some markets Amazon can’t crack: the tech giant has reportedly laid off dozens from its unit that develops video games, following a failure to deliver a breakout hit after years of trying. The stumble has also seen Amazon fail to persuade other developers to take up its game engine software known as Lumberyard.
Self-driving dilemma: The future is supposed to be fleets of cars driving themselves but the reality is that humans will be at the switch for a long time to come. This is not simply because self-driving tech is “really, really hard” but because the ideal situation for safety appears to lie in autonomous tools like automatic braking overseen by a person at the wheel. In other words, many of self-driving cars’ best features are already in our existing automobiles.
Sleazy porn troll lawyer sent to prison: A federal judge sentenced disgraced attorney Paul Hansmeier to 14 years for fraud, and blasted his gross abuse of the justice system. In a scheme that made the fictional lawyer Saul Goodman look like a creampuff by comparison, Hansmeier and his partner extorted thousands of people by uploading porn videos, and then threatening to sue and expose those who downloaded them.
Apple Sign In gets mixed reviews from developers: App makers are relieved that Apple’s soon-to-be-released third party log-in tool will use the same open protocol as Facebook and Google. But while many praised its security features, others see Apple’s approach—which requires them to build the log-in if another company’s tool is offered—as heavy-handed and “petty.”
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
WeChat’s all-seeing eye: Many of us fret about tech giants spying on us but the likes of Google and Amazon have nothing on WeChat, which got a zero out of 100 from Amnesty International on civil liberties (much-reviled Facebook scored a 73). A Nautilus feature explains how WeChat’s ubiquity in Chinese daily life makes it a surveillance tool extraordinaire.
Advocates here warn that an individual’s rights to privacy, free speech, and a free press—the principles of democracy—are undermined by government surveillance. In China, privacy rules are designed to curtail private companies from collecting and profiting from data. The Chinese government retains the right to use it for political purposes, such as quelling public protests before they happen. Still, to the extent that the Chinese government is increasing privacy protections on my data on WeChat, the user experience is little changed. Nothing has changed with how I use the app or how much data I willingly hand over to it..
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
BEFORE YOU GO
Reviewing the reviewers. An ocean of online shopping options led reputable recommendation sites like The Wirecutter to flourish. Unfortunately, that has in turn led to an ocean of similar sites—many of them posing as authorities but driven by slapdash, drive-by reviews: “The rush to cash in on the editorial affiliate business has often pushed coverage to be aggressively bland, painstakingly indecisive, and extremely random.” My review of this review of review sites: stick with Wirecutter, Consumer Reports, Tom’s Guide or The Strategist.