Playing your best hand
How Amazon warps the business world
I work in tech and have seen companies refuse to buy software hosted in the cloud. I have seen large tech stacks uprooted and moved from AWS to new providers to score big clients that are afraid of competing with Amazon. I have thought a lot about playing the best hand available in relation to companies trying to move business away from Amazon. It is an interesting and often expensive choice.
I love strategy games.
Something I’ve learned while playing a lot of these games is to *almost* always make your best move. Not one that sets back another player. The one that makes your position the best, ignoring how it impacts other players.
In these games, from single a player’s point of view, there are only 2 players. One whose actions you can control (you), and the other, you can’t (everyone else). Second place doesn’t matter (at least when I play games). In the end you either win, or you lose. This parlays nicely into the business metaphor. Especially when the markets are “winner take all.”
Settlers of Catan is a great strategy game that can show what I mean by “playing your best hand.”
Players have the ability to block potential plays by others by building roads and or settlements. You might think that it is to your advantage to block other players, but this is rarely true. You see, in a 6 person game, you are expending X resources to make the play. Your opponent can make the play for the same cost, but your play weighted against your opponent is worth X/5.
You expended 5 times the resources to make the play as it would cost your opponent, if all players are on equal ground. Unless that move was your best play, it likely wasn’t worth it.
There are cases where this kind of move is more valuable.
Case 1: As the game plays out, your true opponent becomes more and more clear. It is the person at the table that is most likely to win the others become less important to worry about. The person that if left unhindered, will win the game. At this point, this player isn’t just one of the five opponents, they become THE opponent. Therefore any block here results in a 1-to-1 expense payoff ratio. Especially if another point wins them the game.
Case 2: Your best move is rather unthreatened, and you can probably make the move later in the game without having to race or compete. The move that will hurt another player isn’t quite as good, but the fact that if nothing is done soon, the play will be taken from you makes it a good move.
Amazon as THE opponent
Is amazon big enough that companies should avoid giving them money even second-hand? Is refusing partnerships of companies that use AWS really worth it? Is moving your tech stack out of AWS worth all those features you don’t develop, or all those issues you don’t fix (in fact, you probably introduce some) just to accommodate one new pushy client? This may be true, but I doubt it is your best play. Unless you are a retail business or a direct competitor AWS, Amazon likely is not your true opponent.
These companies trying not to give Amazon a dime is like making a worse-for-you play in Catan by blocking another player. While it does hurt the player being blocked, it hurts you as well because of the opportunity costs.
I admit that by the time you know who THE opponent is in a game of Catan or in business, it is almost too late for you to do anything to stop them. There are compounding effects that make it hard to slow them down. Had you known earlier, you could have stood in their way earlier. Maybe that is what these companies are doing. Maybe I don’t understand how much of a threat Amazon actually is. Maybe Amazon is too big and everyone is too late anyway.