February 29, 2024

Britain Suffers as a Bystander to Europe’s Crisis

There is looming recognition at 10 Downing Street that if the euro falls, Britain will sink along with everyone else. But if Europe manages to pull itself together by forging closer unity among the 17 countries that use the euro, then Britain faces being ever more marginalized in decisions on the Continent.

Many Europeans have been irritated by British Conservatives’ quiet satisfaction throughout the crisis with the decision not to join the euro (the United Kingdom ostentatiously kept its currency, the pound), particularly when juxtaposed with the panic over Britain’s inability to have any significant impact on Europe’s biggest crisis since the end of the cold war.

“Germany is the unquestioned leader of Europe,” said Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform. “France is definitely subordinate to Germany, and Britain has less influence than at any time I can recall.”

Of particular concern here is the health of Britain’s financial industry, a vital economic engine at a time of slowing growth and deep cuts in government spending, which is seen to be vulnerable to new European regulations that could hurt British competitiveness in global markets.

Despite all that is at stake, Prime Minister David Cameron’s coalition government looks doomed to be cast in the role of impotent bystander, torn between anti-Europe forces and European leaders’ moves toward greater fiscal integration on the Continent — with or without Britain.

On Wednesday, Mr. Cameron told a fractious Parliament that his main goal in Brussels was to “seek safeguards for Britain” and “protect our own national interest” by resisting measures like a proposed financial transaction tax. But such Britain-centric rhetoric has annoyed the brokers of Europe’s future, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, who are trying to find a way to save the euro while imposing legally binding fiscal discipline on the Continent’s floundering southern economies.

They have not been shy about expressing their frustration. Just six weeks ago, after Mr. Cameron tried to inject himself into talks about the euro, Mr. Sarkozy said bluntly, “You have lost a good opportunity to shut up.” He later added: “We are sick of you criticizing us and telling us what to do. You say you hate the euro and now you want to interfere in our meetings.”

Steven Fielding, director of the Center for British Politics at the University of Nottingham, said: “Cameron might sound off to look good to his backbenchers, but in Europe, he hasn’t got much to negotiate with. It’s been made clear that France and Germany can do whatever the hell they like and Britain can say yes or no, but it doesn’t matter, since they’ll do it anyway.”

The paradox of this is that plans for tighter integration among the 17 euro zone countries are at the same time destined to create greater divisions within Europe — divisions between countries that use the euro and those that do not, and divisions within the euro zone itself, depending on the health and importance of the various economies. A two-, three-, four- and even five-tier Europe could possibly emerge.

“The markets have defined who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, and their interest rates are in many ways the manifestation of this,” said Alexander Stubb, Finland’s minister for European affairs. “When we look at future E.U. rules, it is the triple-A countries that are running the show.”

The political price of Britain’s self-proclaimed exceptionalism was made clear with a vengeance to Mr. Cameron on Wednesday, when he was pounded from all sides in a raucous session in the House of Commons. Fractious Europe-hating Conservative backbenchers called for him to stand firm on Europe, to “show bulldog spirit,” in a “resolute and uncompromising defense of British national interests,” as one legislator, Andrew Rosindell, put it.

Trying to placate them, the prime minister pledged not to sign anything that did not contain “British safeguards.”

Sarah Lyall reported from London, and Stephen Castle from Brussels.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=d44afd029ea6c0e7d4790cc64b1bc24f

Bits Blog: Zynga Releases New Games and a New Platform

Mark Pincus, founder and chief executive of Zynga, announced new games Tuesday.Noah Berger for The New York TimesMark Pincus, founder and chief executive of Zynga, announced new games Tuesday.

9:01 p.m. | Updated
SAN FRANCISCO — “Oh, thank you for saving me!” squeals Giselle the Lovely Maiden in CastleVille, the latest effort from the game company Zynga.

Giselle the Lovely Maiden is not the only one who needs some help getting through the Gloom. Zynga itself must keep up the momentum as it prepares for an expected $20 billion public offering in a manic market. It is the unquestioned leader in casual gaming and one of the most successful Internet start-ups of any kind, but some of its most recent player statistics look rather static.

Zynga executives put on a show for the media on Tuesday at the company’s headquarters here. They introduced several games, including CastleVille, Bingo, Hidden Objects and a sequel to its early hit, Mafia Wars, as well as new ways of playing old games.

They also talked about something that might be even more significant to the company’s future stockholders: a new playground that would leave it less captive to the whims of Facebook, its crucial partner.

The larger game that is playing out is Zynga’s effort to redefine itself. Fifty-nine million people around the world played one of its games every day during the second quarter, a wildly impressive number for a company less than five years old. But the number of players is essentially unchanged from the fourth quarter of 2009.

And most of that playing is done via Facebook, which takes 30 percent of the revenue that Zynga makes on its site and wields the power in the relationship.

In opening the festivities, Mark Pincus, Zynga’s founder and chief executive, said the company was not just trying to make the next hit game. It has much bigger designs.

What Zynga is calling Project Z will be a new platform, an environment tailored just for games. Executives described it as a Web site done in partnership with Facebook, but were murky on any financial aspects since their company was in its quiet period preceding a public offering, as mandated by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Clearly, however, Project Z shifts the balance of power back toward Zynga.

The platform might eventually do a lot more than that.

“The world belongs to platforms. Everyone wants to be a platform,” said Lou Kerner, an analyst with Wedbush Securities. “Look at Facebook: Two hundred thousand people are writing code to make it better, and none of them are on Facebook’s payroll.”

Mr. Kerner sees Zynga making that same leap. “If they can build and control a vibrant gaming ecosystem and tax it appropriately, they can create significant shareholder value,” he said.

In this outcome, Zynga would be a little like a movie studio, distributing the work of others. For the moment, however, it is living and dying by its own hits.

Cityville, its biggest game, has picked up a little steam recently with 13.5 million daily users, according to AppData. FrontierVille, however, has been sliding faster than a pioneer bitten by a varmint. Introduced in June 2010, FrontierVille peaked with nine million daily players but now has about 5 percent of that.

Meanwhile, the popularity this summer of the Sims Social, a casual game from a big rival, Electronic Arts, proved that the Zynga formula could be successfully captured by others.

Mr. Pincus stressed that Zynga was focusing on expanding the notion of play, including getting gamers to do more during brief stints on mobile devices — “a five- or 15-minute experience that feels like a meal.”

Several of the new games are variants of current games designed for mobile devices. “There are about a billion PCs out there and four billion mobile devices,” said the chief mobile officer, David Ko. “The opportunity is enormous.”

Zynga needs a wide reach because its games are free. Nearly all its revenue comes from selling virtual goods to the “whales,” the 5 percent of its players who want to get ahead quickly, say, by buying tractors or weapons. The larger the pool of casual players, the more whales.

CastleVille, which will be introduced before the end of the year, aims for mass appeal. In addition to the hapless Giselle, characters include the Sexy Pirate Sonja, George the Friendly Miner and Antonio, who in a short clip shown to the reporters dazzled a couple of medieval babes when he took off his shirt. If this is too mushy for some players, they can spend their time defending their castle from “beasties,” creatures whose bark and bite was left for the moment to the imagination.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=c693effe097a3def396730d8c949797d