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Quantic Dream

Mon 12 Sep 2011 8:00am GMT / 4:00am EDT / 1:00am PDT
PoliticsBusiness

On the health of the industry, the developer/publisher relationship and why games are rated like porn movies

As the chairman of the EGDF (European Games Developer Federation) and a founder of Quantic Dream, Guillaume de Fondaumiere has a great perspective on both sides of our industry, both business and creative.

Catching up with him at Gamescom, GamesIndustry.biz took the opportunity to ask about his perspective on the current economic climate, the issue of UK tax breaks and the influence of technology on his work, as well as his continuing work on getting ratings parity with film and television.

Q: The work you do with the EGDF must have given you a good perspective on the health of the European industry - what sort of state is it in?

Guillaume de Fondaumiere: What I've seen since two, three years is a real shift in the industry from a development standpoint. In most countries, you know the EGDF is the federation of the national organisations representing developers, and we see in all the territories, in the UK, in France, in Germany, the Nordic countries, the arrival of a new generation of game developers who are more in the online space, more in the mobile space who are de facto at the same time who are partly developer and partly publisher and partly distributor, and that is very interesting. And I think that when I look at the industry today I really see this shift happening, and I would say the industry is very healthy in a sense.

Those traditional developers who have survived, I wouldn't say all of them are fit, but are experienced, and I'm putting Quantic Dream in that pack, we're certainly more experienced, more mature, we went through several cycles, we start to understand what we're doing to a certain degree, and so we've reached this stage of maturity that I think can be a great foundation for the years to come, for the industry as a whole.

The industry is evolving and in five or ten years time there will probably be two or three times as many people working in this industry as is the case today.

And I see this new breed of developer, guys who are 20 years old, and I see myself 20 years ago when I started and I think that's a very good sign. It shows also that some doomsayers, always predicting the end of this industry, no! I think the industry is evolving, and it's very good, and I think that in five or ten years time there will probably be two or three times as many people working in this industry as is the case today. So I'm relatively optimistic.

Q: Martin Seo of NHN was telling me that in Korea the recession has lead to consolidation and acquisition rather than fragmentation. Is that a healthier result?

Guillaume de Fondaumiere: You know it's... fusions and acquisitions, I think the statistics of how that works is not very positive usually. There is a lot of value that is being destroyed through mergers, and I think it's always the danger when you put smaller studios together to form big studios to lose a lot of value, a lot of creativity.

On the other hand of course, having larger corporations that leverage risk and can scale operations has also it's positive points, so I think it's difficult to answer this question with yes or no. To a certain degree what happened in the nineties, in the year 2000, 2010, in Europe, is I think quite healthy. A number of studios have grown to a certain size, and reached critical mass I think, and I think that's the first stage. Maybe we're at the verge of the next stage, where companies that have reached this size, have gained experience, can come together to form bigger corporations.

I think that might be necessary simply from a financial stand point, because game development necessitates a lot of funds. Especially today when you see more and more developers start to develop, self-fund development and publish games, and they will need a lot of money to do that. There will probably be the necessity for some of them to come together, to form larger corporations, do IPOs and to be able to scale up financially to reach the critical mass they'll need to have to be able to run their operations independently.

Q: I've had a number of EA interviews this week, and one of the most interesting points raised has been the evolution of their business, they seem to have adopted a model almost like a republic. Does that seem like a good idea to you?

Guillaume de Fondaumiere: Certainly. I think the model that you are talking about, which seems to be, in effect, the new EA model, is something that I think is becoming more and more the norm. Most big publishers understood that you simply cannot put two thousand people into a giant hall and squeeze them to produce games, working 9-10 in the evening, and crunching for two years. And also I think most of the publishers now understand it makes more sense to work with independent entities, whether these are truly independent developers, not owned by the publisher or even internal studios that they've acquired or that they've structured. It makes sense, we're a creative industry, and so you need to... creativity obviously can't express itself if there are too many people involved.

You need independence, you need the liberty and freedom to be able to express yourself in the way that you want. So that's in essence the model and I think this is the future now - can independent developers get together in that same manner? Possibly, we'll have to see how they can share resources maybe at certain points, or maybe funding, so that's all possible. We have to see.

To a certain extent I very much still believe in the publisher/developer model. And this is one of the reason that we at Quantic stay also with this model, simply because development is a business on its own. Publishing is a business on its own. You need large funds to be able to publish a game globally, and I think it's still a little bit idealistic to think you can simply... you found the money to create your game, and you create the game and somehow through PR and showing it at shows you're going to sell the game. I think unfortunately it doesn't work like this. You need a lot of funds. What EA is doing, what to a certain extent Sony are doing, what Microsoft are doing, being a shelter for creative entities, and providing funds but also support, and the service of publishing, can certainly have a great future.

Q: The tax breaks issue has divided UK industry. Is lobbying for economic incentive the best use of the industry's time?

Montreal is probably still today the number one production region in the world. If there wouldn't have been these tax breaks the wouldn't have an industry today.

On tax breaks

Guillaume de Fondaumiere: I think my position is well known. I was a strong advocate of obtaining tax breaks, of getting first the European Commission to accept videogames, to recognise videogames as a from of cultural expression, and through this recognition obtaining at least the possibility from Brussels to obtain tax breaks. And then I was able to work with the French government to obtain a tax break for videogame production in France, and that works very well.

The first country or the first region which implemented tax breaks was Montreal, Quebec, and we've seen how extraordinarily positive this has been for the industry out there. Montreal is probably still today the number one production region in the world. And if there wouldn't have been these tax breaks the wouldn't have an industry today. It's a very effective way to boost the development efforts in a county or a region. This has been demonstrated.

The question is how long does it take the industry to obtain this? I understand that frustration grows when you ask for something and it doesn't come, and it doesn't come and it doesn't come, on the other hand it took me three years, from the day when we finally got everyone, all the developers on board and everyone said "OK, this is the right thing to do, and now we all work in the same direction." We also worked with the publishers and together, as an industry went to the government and obtained this tax break. So I understand some people in the UK are starting to question the fact that this is the best use of the time, of TIGA in particular, but if at the end you obtain the tax break it's going to be extremely beneficial to the industry. And I think there's no better use of time than trying to get this tax break.

Q: The prospect of a double-dip recession seems increasingly likely. The last one changed the face of the industry with the rise of casual, social and microtransactions. Is there a way for the AAA industry to prepare?

Guillaume de Fondaumiere: I would say that the impact that the recession had, that the most important impact especially on AAA games on console, was the rise of second hand gaming. And I think this is one of the number one problems right now in the industry. I can take just one example of Heavy Rain. We basically sold to date approximately two million units, we know from the trophy system that probably more than three million people bought this game and played it. On my small level it's a million people playing my game without giving me one cent. And my calculation is, as Quantic Dream, I lost between €5 and €10 million worth of royalties because of second hand gaming.

Now I know the arguments, you know, without second hand gaming people will buy probably less games because they buy certain games full price, and then they trade them in etc etc. Well I'm not so sure this is the right approach and I think that developers and certainly publishers and distributors should sit together and try to find a way to address this. Because we're basically all shooting ourselves in the foot here. Because when developers and publishers alike are going to to see that they can't make a living out of producing games that are sold through retail channels, because of second hand gaming, they will simply stop making these games. And we'll all, one say to the other, simply go online and to direct distribution. So I don't think that in the long run this is a good thing for retail distribution either.

Now are games too expensive? I've always said that games are probably too expensive so there's probably a right level here to find, and we need to discuss this altogether and try to find a way to I would say reconcile consumer expectations, retail expectations but also the expectations of the publisher and the developers to make this business a worthwhile business.

Q: There have been some ideas to tackle that - one was a purely second hand game business which funnels some of the price to the publisher. Is that a possible solution?

Guillaume de Fondaumiere: At Quantic Dream, we lost between €5 and €10 million worth of royalties because of second hand gaming

Pretty much everyone I meet tells me exactly what you just told me, "I started playing with my girlfriend, and she at one point grabbed the controller."

Q: Heavy Rain struck a real chord with a lot of audiences which would not normally buy games - you hear plenty of stories of girlfriends kidnapping controllers. What were the purchase demographics like?

Guillaume de Fondaumiere: I don't have the exact figures here with me, there's been quite some studios done on the demographics on Heavy Rain, but in essence what I can tell you is that we have not been surprised in a way, because right from the beginning we knew that we wanted a game that would both appeal to gamers, because we knew it was important to have this audience on board, but also potentially could appeal to those who were either casual gamers or partners of, people sitting next to core gamers.

Pretty much everyone I meet tells me exactly what you just told me, "I started playing with my girlfriend, and she at one point grabbed the controller." I don't think we are at the point, and it has little to do with Heavy Rain, but more with the industry as a whole, we're still not at a point where, especially women, go to the shop and buy this kind of experiences.

They do buy games, you know the female audience is growing, but they don't buy these kind of games. But with Heavy Rain I think we showed that once it's in the household, and once women see what the experience is and they're drawn into it and they take the controller, I think that it's a positive thing that could potentially broaden our audience in the future.

Now there must be more games like this, because a lot of people tell me that the next thing their girlfriend or wife told them is "OK, what do we play next?" And then they turned around and said "in the same genre?" "Yes." And that's it. And so I really hope, because to really make it a market and to really make a segment on its own we need more games like this.

Uncharted is a good example. There's Heavy Rain, there's Uncharted, but there are not so many games in that vein. Tomb Raider next year is probably really looking great and it's probably also going to be one of these games that could potentially appeal both to gamers and to a larger audience and in particular women.

Q: The emotional impact of games seems closely tied to realism in characters, something perfectly illustrated in Heavy Rain. How reliant on technology is the creative process?

Guillaume de Fondaumiere: That's a good question. Of course when you try to portray realism, when you try to show emotions, the graphics become extremely important. You don't necessarily need this high graphical fidelity, we've seen it in past games, but when you have it, it helps. Especially when you want to portray, show, and thereby hopefully have people feel the same emotions, subtle emotions, then you need subtlety in the animation, subtlety in the graphics, and so I think in the future we'll be able to really mimic reality in such a way that you won't be able to tell the difference between a CG character and a real character.

The movie Avatar is a very good example where, when I look at Avatar, I'm seeing what the industry is going to be in four or five year's time. It's going very fast. So as technology progresses it also broadens the horizon of creativity and I think that's a great thing.

Most developers I'm talking to right now are really looking at technology in that direction more and more. Before it was trying to do the best possible explosions, environmental effects, and these are important, but more and more studios are now also looking at characterisation.

I was very impressed by Tomb Raider, I saw at E3, it's also interesting to see what the guys are doing at DICE, or Activision on Modern Warfare and Battlefield because although story and characterisation are not necessarily the unique selling points of these games, there's more and more of it. And I think more and more developers understand that the public is longing for meaning and for story and emotion, and that's a good thing.

I think we've seen in the past ten years how TV has upped its game, very much so. Usually, ten or 15 years ago, you're looking at a TV series, crap story, characterisation was weak, actors were bad and they ramped up, and now we have TV series that's production values are fantastic, great stories, great characterisation.

Everyone is going in the same direction and I think it's a real risk for the games industry not to level up, not to get to a similar level as movies or television series because consumers have only so much hours they can spend on their leisure and if there's great entertainment on one side and a bit weaker entertainment on the other, they'll go to the great entertainment.

Q: You feel very strongly about game ratings, where do you think we stand at the moment?

I think it is high time now for us, after 15 years of defensiveness, to get a little bit proactive on ratings.

Guillaume de Fondaumiere: A few things, if you allow me to. This is something that I think is very important and as the chairman of the EGDF I'm starting to try to educate developers first but also start discussions with publishers about the need, I think, an absolute need for us to change game rating systems.

I think that we've been extremely defensive over the past 15 years. We've created age rating systems that are today far stricter than other media, especially when you compare it with film or TV and I think it has a great number of negative consequences on this industry. Most games that are sold, not necessarily produced, but that are sold, are 18+ products. And when you compare it from a company standpoint to movies, for example, there's a least a two year age difference in ratings, if not more. And I think this is a very important subject.

Q: The UK keeps pushing back changes to the classification system...

Guillaume de Fondaumiere: I think it is high time now for us, after 15 years of defensiveness, to get a little bit proactive on this issue. And especially to have also developers voice out what they think about this and game creators to say what they have to say on game ratings.

Q: Do you think there should be a uniform European, even worldwide system

Guillaume de Fondaumiere: Well we do already have to a certain degree with PEGI a unified system. My problem is not with how unified the system should be, my problem is that we're not on par with cinema and TV. Most people play 18+ games. Have you ever watched an NC17 movie? You don't even know what an NC17 movie is! But you know what an R rated movie is?

Alright, so that's 17 and under must be accompanied by their parents to watch a movie. An NC17 movie is basically a porn movie, and that's basically our 18 rating. And so all our games are porn movies to a certain degree. And consumers, one of the reason why people say games equal violence is because its written all over, all games are rated 18, well not all games, but a lot of games are rated 18 and most of the games that people play are rated 18. That's one of the reasons that we need to change this, and we need to change this fast.

7 Comments

Dominic Jakube
Student

92 13 0.1
1 mill lost sales?
Cry me a river, most dev's would love 2 million sales for a new I.P. by an unproven developer on that platform which is also an platform exclusive in a niche genre.Also a short single player only game that by being a murder mystery can only really be played once.And you got to double dip with the move edition and got loads of free PR by sony when they included the trailer on a lot of their movie dvd's.
Lost sales?How many people read the albeit glowing reviews but by the nature of the game, more or less an interactive movie and went to local video shop and hired it?How many borrowed of their mates?How many households have more than one psn account user?I work part time in a games shop and heavy rain sold really well in the first 2 or 3 weeks to an older,wealthier core demographic and didn't get traded much or bought 2nd hand much.
For the record I bought it new in the first week at near full price and still have it.Great game, but seriously stop whinging.

Posted:2 years ago

#1

Feri Zsolnai
3D All-rounder and Designer

8 0 0.0
Totally agreed with Dominic Jakube! If second hand gaming is to be demonized now, then what, let's close every second-hand bookstore from now on, because the book publishers don't get any share from the second-hand sales?
This is seriously nonsense!

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Feri Zsolnai on 13th September 2011 3:18pm

Posted:2 years ago

#2

de fondaumiere
Co-CEO, executive Producer

5 0 0.0
A/ I'm not whining, just opening a discussion here on a subject matter that is being discussed quietly by a lot of people in the industry right now :-).
B/ I never said we should ban second hand gaming. NEVER. I'm simply pointing to the fact that developers and publishers are not gaining a cent on second hand gaming and that in my humble opinion, this isn't the right model.
Some people ridicule my statement on Heavy Rain (which I only used as one example, and please read the interview, the figure in the headline is not exactly what I said), saying in particular I wouldn't know for sure how many games were sold through second hand. Well, you only need to look at the annual reports of certain retail giants to find out that between 30 and 40 % of total games software turnover comes from second hand sales today (incomparable to books for instance). Not to mention the fact that these contribute between 50 and 65% to their gross margin. So, I may be wrong on Heavy Rain, but the figures overall are in that range in the traditional retail console game market.
Now it is very easy to verify if these traded games have generated more full priced sales, the main argument of those who advocate second hand gaming: How have the sales trends new vs traded evolved in the past few years since traded games were introduced? Are we selling more new games today?

Posted:2 years ago

#3

Feri Zsolnai
3D All-rounder and Designer

8 0 0.0
People sell their games for two reasons.
1) they can't afford to buy every game at retail price, so they need to sell in order to be able to buy the next game.
2) they don't like the game.

Now it seems pretty easy to me: we must make better games that people don't want to sell and /or abandon the ridiculously high Ł40 price tag (for 80% of content, the rest is available as DLC's for extra money) and lower it to Ł25-30, what's the reasonable price people buy and sell games on ebay for.

On the other hand, I still don't quite grasp why publishers should get a share from second hand sales. We can say that games aren't comparable to books, but then I could say cars, houses, clothes or whatever. It isn't the second hand market model what needs to be changed, it's the industry's overindustrialized moneyfactory attitude.

Posted:2 years ago

#4

Murray Lorden
Game Designer & Developer

199 72 0.4
I'm not completely sure what the discussion about RATINGS was about there. I'm interested, especially on the European perspective.

Guillaume de Fondaumiere, your comments seem to assume a certain familiarity with the current state of censor ratings in Europe, and also a familiarity with your own opinions on the matter, neither of which I am familiar with! :)

I am from Australia, and we have no R18 rating, so effectively, everything gets rated as M15 (mature 15 years old) or something like that. If it doesn't fit, it gets banned.

Are you basically desiring a system with more different ratings, more resolution? So that games can be rated appropriately, thus allowing for games to delve into whatever subject matter they want to cover, and be rated accordingly?

So that there can be games that are more or less adult themed, for example?

Personally, I'd like to see Arthouse games becoming an actual phenomenon, where we have auteurs creating games with a more personal / artistic touch applied to the whole game.

Quantic Dream has been a developer that I would consider to be on the auteur side of creation. Also studios such as Looking Glass Technologies. Companies where there is not necessarily a single vision-carrier empowered with freedom of expression (as it would have been defined for cinema auteur theory), but at least a focussed and personal project-vision for making a game with a unique voice.

To me, the idea of censorship and ratings should in part be discussed with an eye towards auteur theory, and how it could be applied to computer games, because I'd like to think that there could be genres of computer games such as "Arthouse games", "Grindhouse games", "Erotic games", and "Porn games", all of which are understood a bit differently, and rated with an understanding that these sorts of games may have overlapping sorts of content, but depending on the context, could be rated differently.

For example, all four genres could contain the same "amount of nudity" (say, you see a nude man and woman in the game), yes they could be rated differently and clearly, based on the context.

For example, while "Porn games" and "Erotic games" could be rated in one way (XXX: 18+ Erotica), "Grindhouse" might be given an R18 rating (nudity and violence), and an "Arthouse game" may be rated (M: Mature 15+).

Basically, that's how movies would be rated, as far as I can tell. There's enough resolution and separation in the ratings system to clearly rate and categorise, in an overarching way, the sort of content in the movie.

But in games, it seems to be quite vague?

Not sure if I've said anything useful here... :)



Posted:2 years ago

#5

de fondaumiere
Co-CEO, executive Producer

5 0 0.0
@Murray: First of all, thanks for pointing to another subject of the interview :-).
I am of the opinion that 1/ Context isn't sufficiently taken into account when games are rated and 2/ Games are rated far stricter than movies or TV series, without any valid reason.
I made a talk at GDC Europe on the subject and, with the permission of Gamesindustry.biz, would like to point to an article presenting it (http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/36630...

I do not think that we should segregate games; but taking context into account could certainly help achieve a more thoughful appreciation of a game's content.

Posted:2 years ago

#6

Murray Lorden
Game Designer & Developer

199 72 0.4
Thanks for the reply Guillaume.

A good read! Interesting...

I wonder whether the concept of "arthouse games" might start to take off more with indie's becoming a more pronounced feature in the gaming landscape.

Games like "Swords and Sworcery EP" have a cool quirky indie-arthouse feel to them.

It doesn't really relate to censorship as such, but I think these games exhibit a freshness and uniqueness of voice that reminds me of arthouse films, versus the feel of "blackbuster" films, for example.

Posted:2 years ago

#7

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