Megacorporations are a difficult topic. They are so common in cyberpunk and near-future fiction that I don’t think we really think about what they actually represent, and what they require to be a reality.
Lately I got into the card game Android: Netrunner. The game simulates a fight between a ‘runner’, a hacker/lowlife, and a megacorp, a faceless entity creating evil schemes to take over the world. In that game the corporations perform actions that don’t so much represent one person, but an unimaginably large bureaucracy that doesn’t stop to consider what it is doing to the individuals in the world, unless those individuals put a spanner in the works that bring the corp grinding to a halt. I think it is a wonderful representation, and the game really helped me understand why megacorporations work so well in fiction.
For a megacorp many of us might be familiar with, think of Weyland-Yutani, famous for their depiction as ‘THE COMPANY’ in the Aliens franchise. Weyland-Yutani is willing to send living people, cutting edge technology, and brave soldiers, to their deaths for the sake of a little more information and a possible profit. Weyland-Yutani doesn’t care that 5 people die terrible deaths, or that they have passed on information to an alien race that might one day destroy all of mankind. That will be someone else’s problem. The important thing is that they might make that much more money. As long as no one can connect the horrible crimes to the Weyland-Yutani brand, they won. Even if someone can connect it back to their brand, they could pay to make that go away. That is a megacorporation.
When a company gets that large, control has to become weak. There are different minds at different levels of authority, all trying to perform actions that they consider the most profitable to themselves, and to the company they work for. So these massive companies can seem a little scatter-brained, and really, the vast majority of those working in the company would have no awareness of ‘evil’ actions taken by their employer. Others within the company might think the actions are just, like a security director that thinks killing a gang of 20 men would save the thousands of employees who were being financially threatened by the gang raiding one of their outposts. Or a medical researcher who believes that letting a virus loose in a dorm with a hundred tenants is okay if it means saving millions when they have the cure. Megacorporations create distorted senses of morality within them.
In my Nano novel, Corpfall, Megacorporations got out of control. JIL, one of my named megacorporations in my timeline, is considered the perpetrator of one of the worst crimes against humanity. They destroyed a space station with a city on it. So many people died, that the backlash would be felt across the world. JIL was a ruthless corporation, and I imagine that many of the other megacorps that competed with it had to be equally brutal. They were part of the Corpwar, which means they hired and maintained attacks against other megacorps, actual physical violence that took to the streets of cities that the corps had constructed when the world relinquished governance to them.
JIL is dead now. It is less important what sort of corporation they used to be, and more important what happened to them. They were dismantled, their CEOs tried for crimes against humanity, and they were the head on a spike to warn the world that the ‘New Nations’ of the world meant business. Likely, JIL is an acronym, maybe an acronym that stopped functioning as one as the corporation grew in size and took on more subsidiaries and departments. JIL would have been a name so well known, but so powerful, that no one could imagine life without it. We don’t have a lot of those in reality. We have competitors to Microsoft, Time Warner, PepsiCo, and even if we love or hate their products, we could imagine a world without them. JIL would be bigger than that, maybe they were in the center of technologies that changed the world, like cybernetics, food, or transportation. Transportation would be an interesting one, since it would mean they could have built a space elevator, efficient space planes, or reached our neighbor worlds. Destroying a company with that much power in transportation would have a radical effect on normal people, especially if the company was then split into competing powers after years of being an advanced near-monopoly. Sort of like the baby bells (sorry for non-North Americans who may not understand that reference), these smaller JIL companies would take what they were handed, and then mostly sit on it for vast profit, only advancing when absolutely required by the market.
the other Megacorp I already have partially defined is Mailer-Bronson. At the end of the novel, Ashleigh and Fuller break into Mailer-Bronson, searching for a crucial piece of hardware that has been hidden in a sub-basement in their building. MB for short, Mailer-Bronson has the sort of hyphenated name that is supposed to imply a long history of other companies merging together. MB is old, a corp that survived the corpwars by being complacent. When the other corps fought against the government, Mailer-Bronson bowed, and was spared. Now they are one of the strongest remaining Megacorps. The only interactions with Mailer-Bronson are in an office building, so they could be any kind of company. Maybe, based on the first half of their name, they could be related to communications technology. Similar to Cisco as we know them now, a corporation like this would be wired into absolutely everything, and in a cyberpunk future, they would be absolutely essential for the future to continue functioning. Of course, that means they would want to cut out any business that might threaten their future, and aggressively research any future technology that might slow them down, then repress it until they are ready. That means technology like advanced high speed communication (like some sort of faster-than-light communication tech that could work for space stations).
Mailer-Bronson has a major stake in NAB, and maybe other world governments. For MB to continue functioning, they use NAB for protection, and invest in the government to keep that protection active and strong. Mailer-Bronson would be famous for their low number of violations of the NAB charter, a company that plays by the rules, but mostly because they always have a hand in writing the rules.
Of course, I should consider why I want interactions with Megacorps at all. I think that a common theme in modern society is the idea of the faceless corporation trying to crush down any and all opposition. They use underhanded tactics to get what they want, even buying politicians, or social support. In the future, this wouldn’t stop completely. The idea of a cyberpunk future is that corps eventually win, and the future becomes dark when your politician can actually wear the logo of the company that bought him, instead of that just being a clever joke in liberal memes. In my Corpfall novel, the timeline is supposed to be so far forward that this period of time has ended, and now the government tries to bring these companies back in line. The new nations would try to stop corruption, violations against human rights, civil rights, and the environment (what is left of it at that point anyway). So megacorps would be forced to have faces again. These faces would, in most cases, be constructed and false. Buy social media connections, buy spam to drill your ideas into consumer heads, buy fallguys to make sure that nothing is ever really your companies fault. Buy the prettiest people to accidentally use your product while their picture is being taken. Some of these actions wouldn’t be illegal at all, it would just be the future of advertising and media. Except, all of that megacorp money has an influence on normal people. They would think like the corps want them to think, to a degree. They would be a hodgepodge of all the campaigns they were hit with, a walking jumbled commercial. It is an interesting concept.
Another idea is that in Corpfall, the biggest megacorp of all IS the New Nations, and our main characters work for it. They are likely evil, no one within seems to realize what they are doing, and they sacrifice people to get the tasks they need done. The most shifty group in Corpfall is definitely the NAB, and they do have a large number of investors from corporations and old money. They stopped the hackers, but made them ‘Intelligence Agents’ they could shove into office buildings. They stopped the gangs of street samurai working runs for megacorps, and then turned around and created the Billion Dollar Babies to do the same for them. Maybe that is why I’m having so much trouble thinking about Megacorps, my largest and most well thought out Megacorp… isn’t.
I think I need to think about the new nations, and the old. NAB, SAB, WEB, UAT (the United African Treaty), and whatever happened to Asia. I can do that next, which might give me some time to think about what technology I should expect across the globe.