Tuesday, 22 June 2010

A bad Budget for creativity

The biggest business loser in today's Budget is undoubtedly the video games industry, which lost the tax relief earmarked by Labour’s pre-election budget. It's a massive blow for a sector that annually contributes £1bn to UK GDP. Despite a vague promise of support from Ed Vaizey, the Chancellor this afternoon announced the removal of a tax break he regards as "poorly targeted".

Big mistake. The industry has been lobbying hard for tax relief in the face of tough competition from countries such as France and Canada, which enjoy government subsidies that allow developers to pay more for the best talent.

In the past, the UK has more than punched above its weight in the sector, rivaling games giants Japan and the US. But with more attractive packages available in English-speaking Canada and Australia, or closer to home in France, developers fear a "brain drain" of talented programmers. In a Budget purporting to inject life back into the private sector, Osborne has greatly underestimated the value of one of Britain's most valuable creative industries.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

The Jabulani: predictably unpredictable

More on the Adidas Jabulani ball from Jon Naylor over at Half Volley. Adidas has produced the official World Cup ball ever since FIFA first sold the rights back in 1970. But as Naylor reminds us, this is not the first time the German sports company's technology has been criticised. In 2006, the "Teamgeist" was described by England goalkeeper Paul Robinson as "a water-polo ball", while 2002's "Fevernova" was compared by Italy's keeper Gianluigi Buffon to a "ridiculous kiddy's bouncing ball".

But if you study the statistics, says Naylor, it begins to look as if Adidas's perennial critics are merely getting their excuses in early. Since the Tricolore ball, which featured in the 1998 World Cup, "there have been progressively fewer goals scored in World Cup finals tournaments", not more.

2006 (Teamgeist): 147 goals, 2.30 per game

2002 (Fevernova): 161 goals, 2.56 per game

1998 (Tricolore): 171 goals, 2.7 per game

If the balls were "as difficult to handle as has been suggested, then surely goal avalanches would have been more regular in later tournaments," suggests Naylor, as opposed to increasingly rare?

Not necessarily. There are other factors at play, not least the attitude and skill level of the average World Cup striker. With an unpredictable ball at his feet, and the whole world watching his every move, many attacking players are opting to pass rather than shoot, or as we witnessed during England's opening match against the US, concentrating more on hitting the target than on scoring. True enough, we've seen the odd goalkeeping howler, but many more shots have ballooned over the crossbar.

So far, this World Cup has yielded the lowest number of goals in history. But there's another angle to consider. An unpredictable ball produces fewer goals, but what it also creates is more competitive matches. It may not be traditionally designed, but the Jabulani is at the very least a useful leveller, bringing parity even where attacking resources are unevenly distributed. Which is one of the reasons why games such as Brazil-North Korea are ending 2-1 rather than 5-0, and why Switzerland were at least in with a chance of toppling favourites Spain.

We might not get as many goals, but an unpredictable ball means a less predictable tournament. It's a reasonable trade-off.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

BP and the crowdsource defence

With some suggesting BP could ultimately collapse under the weight of the multiple lawsuits headed its way, survival will depend a great deal on how the oil company is seen to handle the crisis. While the accident exposed flaws in the company's risk management, BP's response will test its PR team to the full.

The case for the prosecution is clear enough. Any future litigation will likely focus on the oil company's appalling safety record. But how much BP will owe in damages is unwritten. If the company can show contrition through the seriousness of its response, the courts will at least be inclined to focus more on facts than on the level of public hysteria.

BP chief executive Tony Haywood has already made the best PR decision available to him. Crowdsourcing a potential solution to the problem, a strategy that has already elicited over 30,000 ideas, is a public relations masterstroke on multiple levels. First, it shows that the oil company is ready to explore almost any route in its attempt to clean up the mess. It projects a willing, can-do attitude: an image the stricken company will need to hang on to.

Second, it demonstrates a degree of openness. At best, an inclination to collaborate can be used to combat the perception of secrecy—the potentially damaging impression that the public isn't being told the full story. Finally, it suggests, albeit subtly, that the company is in some way disconnected from the root cause of the problem. While BP can still score image points in outwardly claiming full responsibility, the fact that it has sought assistance from outside the company is a strategy of disassociation: it suggests that the leak was an occurrence so freakish that the only solution is as yet unknown.

The risk to BP's—and Haywood's—reputation is that ignorance is always a shaky foundation on which to mount a defence. If BP didn't fully assess the risks, it should never have commenced drilling in the first place. That said, the best outcome Haywood can hope for is leniency. Public perception remains crucial.