The nefarious plan of William von Meister

In a scant few we will see the culmination of a decades old plan, crafted by a mad genius, to drain every iota of your attention and every dollar from your bank account. And you’re going to stand in line for the chance to do it.

This nefarious plan is the creation of one William von Meister, deceased. And while he may no longer walk this earth the grand finale of his master plan has begun, carefully hidden within an otherwise innocuous holiday: Christmas.

As we all know preparations for Christmas began some time shortly after Halloween. Frankly, I’m surprised that stores were able to restrain themselves until after the Great Pumpkin disappeared; next year I fully expect to find a child trick-or-treating as Santa.

So with the great end of the year spend-a-thon barreling down at us, your average consumer looks for two things: the cheapest deal on an already existing product, and that ephemeral “new product” causing long lines and disgruntled customers at stores nationwide.

Von Meister’s plan requires the latter.

You see, every year there is a new, must-have product. Most years they are for children (Tickle Me Elmo, Beanie Babies, Furby) sometimes they are for adults (home brewing kits, George Foreman grill) but there is always an item that drives the consumers wild.

This year two juggernauts are slugging it out for the top spot under the Christmas tree: Sony’s Playstation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One.

The two titans of the video game industry (sorry Nintendo … and I’m not even going to get into those people that only play video games on their PCs) are both clamoring for your holiday money. Who has the better titles? Who has the better graphics? Who is going to be the winner of Christmas, Sony or Microsoft?

Neither. Von Meister already won 30 years ago.

I’m 32 years old which, according to the Entertainment Software Association, is two years older than the average American gamer. People around my age remember video game systems as machines that played video games, and nothing else.

Turn on a modern video game system and what’s the first thing that happens? Are you playing a game? No, you’re downloading a 500 MB update, right off the bat. Then comes setting up your online profile, then verifying said profile, then, hopefully within an hour of turning the machine on, you can play some games.

And what is the point of this online nonsense? Ostensibly it’s to facilitate online gaming and allow you to use online “apps” like the ever popular Netflix and the never popular Hulu Plus.

But any gamer will tell you the real reason is so you have to keep buying the game you already own.

The industry term is “downloadable content.” This translates into you buying new map levels for a game, extra chapters to the story or different/better in-game equipment. This is how both Microsoft and Sony both make quite a bit of money and how I ended up spending a total of $240 on Mass Effect 3, a $60 game.

Both the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One have downloadable content in spades, as well as TV shows, movies, music, different colored “themes,” avatar items and any imaginable entertainment item that you’re willing to pay for.

Well, what can you expect from corporations like Sony and Microsoft? These guys are out to make a buck, no matter what the consumer wants. Not like in the good old days, right?

Wrong.

For starters, the “good old days” were never good, no matter what “days” you’re talking about.

Secondly, getting you to keep paying for a game you already bought wasn’t Sony or Microsoft’s idea, it was William von Meisters’.

In 1981, if you wanted to play video games at home, you were playing an Atari. And where most people only saw a wood panelled video game system with shaky controls von Meister saw the future.

At the time William von Meister was working at a company he helped create called Control Video Corporation (CVC). Von Meister had designed a modem that could send music to people’s homes via their cable line. Legal issues scared the cable companies away and von Meister went looking for somewhere else to sell this technology. Then he found the Atari.

Von Meister and CVC released the GameLine in 1981. It was a gigantic silver cartridge for the Atari that came equipped with a phone line. You plugged in the cartridge, dialed up the CVC computers and were able to download Atari games … for a fee.

And if you think Microsoft and Sony know how to squeeze every dime, von Meister’s GameLine only let you play the game 5-10 times, then you had to buy it again.

People liked the Game Line but, as you can imagine, expensive equipment and little technical support lead to it’s demise in 1983. But right before it’s curtain call, the Game Line announced that it was going to start offering other online services through the Atari: NewsLine, StockLine, SportsLine, MailLine (for email), and BankLine (for online banking, because I would totally trust an Atari 2600 with my bank account).

Every single one of these kind of apps are available on Xbox Live or the Playstation Network.

With GameLine gone and Atari in ruins other companies tried, time and again, to get von Meister’s online dream to work. Intellivision had the PlayCable, Nintendo had the Satellaview AND the XBAND, and the Sega Genesis had the Sega Channel; all designed to get you to spend as much money as possible, all failures.

But now, with high speed internet in 70 percent of U.S. homes and two shiny new video game systems ready to hit the market it appears that von Meister’s plan of fulfilling all of your at-home entertainment needs with one video game machine have finally come to fruition.

So, for my lost sleep, my bounced checks and my glazed-over eyes I would just like to say: Well played, von Meister, you marvelous, attention-stealing crook. Well played.