State Of Play: Crytek
Avni Yerli and Carl Jones on the next generation and why Crytek is embracing free-to-play
Hear the name Crytek and your first thought is probably absurdly polished graphics and the super shooters Crysis and Crysis 2, perhaps the CryEngine. But the German developer is looking beyond the hardcore market and taking aim at more a more casual audience with it's Kinect game Ryse and a free-to-play browser title, Warface.
To find out more about where the company sees itself in the current market and what it's planning for the future, GamesIndustry.biz sat down with founder Avni Yerli and Carl Jones, director of global business development, as the company announces a free CryEngine SDK for non commercial use.
Talking about the companies recent move towards free-to-play, Yerli was keen to point out that Crytek's decision to invest isn't just a case of bandwagon jumping. He revealed the company has been looking into the model for around four years.
"We've been working on it in parallel to other things we have done before, we have been very silent about it, obviously," he says with a smile.
"We realised its actually a good model going forward because it enables a lot of people to try the game, you don't need to make a demo, you don't need to worry about parity, it's maximum penetration and you can have people play the game and test it, and entrance is very easy, low, and in this case for free."
Warface has already been licensed in China with Tencent, and Crytek has also found partners in Russia, and Korea, and it's in talks in the US and Europe. Asked if the decision to move into free-to-play now has anything to do with Crytek's recent interest in mobile and tablet platforms, Yerli shakes his head.
"But the reason we're choosing to do it now is purely to do with the development. We're happy with the game how it is now."
We have a pretty good understanding of what we expect from next generation [consoles].
"But that's the future. The connected experience is basically what will ultimately kick in three or four years down the line. You want to have your content always with you. This for sure what will happen in the future."
Talk of the future inevitably turns to talk of next generation hardware. Crytek was rumoured to be working with the new Xbox console something that has since been strenuously denied. But at the mention of next generation Yerli shoots the PR manager a nervous look.
"If they come, and I think they will be more powerful, this will not necessarily be... I have to be careful..." he says.
"We have a pretty good understanding of what we expect from next generation," he finally admits.
"One thing that will be certainly supported, or that we will ask for, is when you look to the free-to-play models, the time it takes to get content out to the gamers, that must be much shorter. It's a small thing but it's an important thing to enable more business models"
He's adamant that no gamer wants to wait weeks for an update, especially not when free-to-player and browser based games allow for massive updates and new content to be added over night. He also wants that connectivity supported on multiple devices. "It's not rocket science."
Jones agrees, and argues that we're already in a transition period, but one that's about player habits and business models rather than hardware.
"We'll look back on the last 15 years in five years time and think "wow, did we really use to do it that way? The game was a static thing that you bought in a shop? And then it didn't change? How could we have had fun with that?"
He wants to see games that constantly evolve with new content and updates that people can play across multiple platforms.
"Whoever gets it right, whoever gets that game that you can play on your console and then pick up your phone and be playing on that, whoever comes up with the game that spans all those platforms and gives their player a compelling experience, they're going to win. They're going to be the next World Of Warcraft."
Whoever gets that game that you can play on your console and then pick up your phone and be playing on that, they're going to win. They're going to be the next World Of Warcraft.
Jones also has demands when it comes to hardware, but he's not asking for super powered processors or graphics that will make your eyes pop out, he just wants the consoles to be easier to develop for.
"We hope that everything starts getting a little bit architecturally more similar, he says.
"Obviously the whole industry had a great deal of difficulty in the current generation dealing with very different platforms and having to build very different technology for each one. That's a pain that we need to be doing without, because the next generation of gaming at the high end will allow to put so much content onto those machines."
If Sony and Microsoft can achieve that, he argues, then stand out moments of tech wizardry like LA Noire and Crysis 2 will become the industry standard.
"Hopefully they realise that as much a anyone else, I mean these guys make games as well."
As for the latest round of tech that we do know about, Yerli may not be particularly taken with the PlayStation Vita (Jones is more diplomatic, and says Crytek will work with the machine when the timing is right and the interest from licensees is significant) but he's excited about the Nintedo Wii U.
"The specs are very good," Yerli enthuses.
"It's a challenge for designers, but once thought through it can add value, and that's what ultimately important. Our guys in Nottingham they are very happy with their tests on the dev kits and they're excited about it."
There's no arguing that the Wii is a more casual machine, as is Kinect which Crytek is also working with. Yerli also believes that the industry must also be more accessible to the more casual players.
Our guys in Nottingham they are very happy with their tests on the Wii U dev kits and they're excited about it.
"If you're open minded and you see how gaming has emerged, and gaming has diversified also, not just from the media, but from all different target groups," he points out.
"If you look on social networks 50 per cent or more are females. If the next generation of consoles do support similar experiences, similar ways of engaging with these gamers then they will do a good job I think."
He believes there will also be core gamers with a hunger for fancy graphics and fast paced games, but that developers need to make "easy introductions to the games, fast introductions to the games, shorter experience levels," in the same way that Facebook or Sims Social does online.
Jones, meanwhile, isn't even really sure what casual means anymore.
"I think casual is a weird thing, people are putting too many definitions on what casual means," he sighs.
"What does AAA game mean? You could say it means hardcore, console games like shooters, but why should that be the definition of AAA? AAA should be the number of people paying and playing the game, that's what determines a AAA game. So Minecraft is a AAA game because there's so many people paying and playing."
He used the example of watching Dr Who with his children. It might be a casual experience, but he still wants to see good special effects. He argues that people want good visual in all forms of media, and the same is true for gamers who prefer so called casual games.
"And I think those names will all change soon enough, we won't be talking about indies or casual, we'll come up with new terminology that fits those markets. I think all games will be social, that's the way it's going, that's mainly what I think will change."
It's no secret that Crytek has a mobile development team in Budapest, but Jones was careful in what he revealed. He was keen to point out that the engine that can make such pretty shooters in also not too bad at smaller projects.
"Maybe we've spoilt things slightly by showing such high end graphics all the time," he laughs.
"CryEngine's rendering is part of it, but actually the tools are how we get things looking so good because they're so quick to work with. And that applies to little casual games as much as it does to high end games."
"People will see some interesting stuff coming out over the next year from us and from other people using the engine, which will show that you can have high end quality but also in smaller games and on different platforms, and we hope that that's going to have a big appeal for people."
He even revealed that there was a talk planned for GDCE, cancelled due to the impending birth of a Crytek baby, where CryEngine would be used, in a single one hour session, to build a complete Angry Birds style game from scratch.
One area that Jones is surprisingly wary about is cloud gaming. Despite the fact the technology is currently being used to allow Walmart customers to play a Crysis 2 demo, he's uncertain that the current set ups are going to really change the industry. His main concern? Server costs.
"You talk to anyone whose been in the online gaming business for the last five years and they'll tell you that server costs have not gone down," he argues.
"Because if you just take Crysis or Crysis 2, run it on the cloud, every extra gamer you add in needs a lot more processing power and that costs a lot of money. I think what's going to happen now is that we're going to start seeing people designing games for the cloud, designing technology for the cloud and making the best use of it."
He does acknowledge that OnLive and Gaikai are offering good services, but he thinks they need bespoke software to see any big changes.
"It's maybe that the concept has come before we were ready for it as an industry, so we're just trying to throw things at it right now and I'm not sure if that's going to make people money. And whether or not the consumer needs it."
It's maybe that the concept of cloud gaming has come before we were ready for it as an industry.
So cloud gaming, is one of the few places you probably won't see Crytek investing in the future. And let's face it, they really have enough to do right now anyway.
Mobile, free-to-play, hardcore shooters. Like many of the big publishers Crytek is keen to diversify as the gaming market grows, and with such a popular and powerful engine, the CryEngine 3, seems ahead of the game when it comes to managing the latest hardware. Yerli is happy that Crytek is getting the balance right.
"We don't rush things out, when times are right, when we're happy the with the quality... In the end we have to offer a great user experience regardless of what we do. The user must have fun, must enjoy our products and our games, our technology. So it's a combination of both, and if you realise something doesn't work you have to pull the plug."