Close
Are you sure? Are you sure you want to report this comment? I understand, report it. Cancel

2012: We Only Do Everything

Thu 05 Jan 2012 8:50am GMT / 3:50am EST / 12:50am PST
Business

Devs discuss bust to boom, free Vs $1000, hardware for rent and a solution to the death of retail

Codemasters

Taken from MobyGames.com:

Codemasters develops and publishes video games for Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft...

codemasters.com

In hindsight our own brief was a little too ambitious: gather four respected and intelligent games developers in one room and quiz them on their thoughts on where the industry was headed in 2012. That's a big subject - too wide-reaching when you consider just how the games business has fractured, splintered, evolved and frankly, gone a bit mad, over the past 24 months.

But after 60 minutes around a table what we've come out with is as much a summary of how the industry has changed as it is predictions and hopes for the future. We've touched on many of these subjects before on GamesIndustry.biz, particularly over the past two years. There's no doubt still more to discuss, but there's plenty of meat over the next four pages: from bust to boom in the independent development scene, the evolution of the console business, the question of whether graduates are sufficiently educated for the reality of employment, the future of TV and the consumption of living room entertainment, the democratisation of distribution, developers as rock stars, how to justify triple-A development budgets, embracing free-to-play and $1000 business models, the hire-purchase of gaming hardware and a solution to the death of High Street games retailing.

All of this insight comes from our interviewees who gave up their time during December: Frontier Developments boss and Elite creator David Braben; Jamie MacDonald, a SCEE stalwart who saw projects like SingStar, EyeToy and LittleBigPlanet from start to finish and now oversees production and engineering at Codemasters; Simon Oliver, owner of Hand Circus, one of the first developers to see the potential of iOS with the creation of Rolando for iPhone; and Jason Avent, who before founding Boss Alien was game director for racing studios Black Rock and Climax.

Q: Let's begin by trying to sum up 2011, which is a big ask. What will 2011 be remembered for?

Jason Avent: That the UK games industry has gone over to Canada. The big studios have gone down by half. It's been a nasty year. But there's been lots of opportunity as well.

Q: The UK industry seems to have fragmented into a more and more agile market with smaller pockets of developers - is that a good thing in the long term do you think?

Jamie MacDonald: It's too early to tell, really. There are an awful lot of micro-studios that have shot up as a result of the larger studios closing down. And to be blunt about it, when their redundancy money runs out I just hope they are still viable businesses, most of them. Otherwise they'll be off to Canada.

There are an awful lot of micro-studios that have shot up as a result of the larger studios closing down. When their redundancy money runs out I hope they are still viable businesses

Jamie MacDonald, Codemasters

David Braben: Not necessarily, there are quite a few companies in the UK that are recruiting. There's an ironic parallel which is that very few students are coming through at the moment because of the way education is. So there are roles for those people in the bigger studios still, including us, and I know Codemasters is recruiting as well. The point there is, and I absolutely completely agree, it is too early to tell whether it's good or bad. It's a mixed thing and that's never not been the case. It's always been good and bad if you look back at 2010, 2009... There have been different causes. But we've been in a state of flux ever since this whole industry started. New things have happened, changed, platforms have shaken up the snow globe terribly. What's happening now is just that again. Every computer I've heard of has been called 'next-generation' at some point.

What we're seeing now is opportunities galore, where next-generation doesn't just mean performance, it means so many things, it means new business opportunities with things like the App Store which is turning things upside down. Things like in-game purchasing, that sort of thing is only two or three years old if that. The real point is the whole free-to-play thing is revolutionary. Making 40 games looks slightly anachronistic but having said that look how many sales Modern Warfare 3 had on day one. The world's biggest entertainment launch.

Jamie MacDonald: It sucked the oxygen out of the market for a lot of other products. It's been happening over the past few years but has been really apparent this year. If you're not one of those top five releases you're really going to struggle. This is a truism that a lot of the industry is reliant on those big slugs of revenue. Certainly for the console developers and publishers, they have to re-factor how they see their business and how the revenue stream is going to work because it's not going to come from those big slugs anymore.

Q: The games industry has always been unique in that it has an almost artificial boom period of one quarter a year. Is that indicative of an anachronistic approach of the business or is that dictated by consumers? Will there be a move to a more fluid model, a more continuous model - is that an evolution?

Jamie MacDonald: I think so. The death of the retail sales model has been over-exaggerated in terms of timing. Most of us here accept it's going to happen but it's not going to happen tomorrow. The console industry just has to change in the same way the music industry has, and hopefully more successfully. We've got to manage that transformation and the way we employ people and the structure of how we develop and publish games. We've got to take into account the economic realities. It's not going to go away; it's going to accelerate.

1

From left to right: David Braben (Frontier), Simon Oliver (Hand Circus), Jamie MacDonald (Codemasters) and Jason Avent (Boss Alien).

Q: There seems to be two real issues that affect the UK - the drain of talent to other, more attractive regions, and the lack of properly qualified students coming through education. How long can the UK sustain that shedding?

Simon Oliver: I've worked with an art director based in Finland and we've met in person maybe three times now and we have good chemistry, we work well together. I guess it depends on the type of game you're making on how you work together, but certainly as a small studio it hasn't been too much of a problem having some roles located abroad. Our PR agency was based in the US, our test agency was in Scotland.

Jason Avent: I've not had a problem with graduates because at the moment there aren't many jobs anywhere. A lot of the blue chip employers who would normally enrol hundreds of people into their graduate training schemes are just taking tens so there are a lot of first class honours guys out there with maths degrees and physics degrees and engineering degrees, so actually it's pretty good for hiring graduates. But there are a lot of experienced guys out there that they've got to compete with. As David said, there are companies like MindCandy and Jagex who are taking loads of people on.

Because it never let go of PC, Germany has really gotten ahead on social games and PC games as they've merged

Jason Avent, Boss Alien

David Braben: We have an interview test because these days it's very difficult to know, because people come in with first class honours degrees from a place we don't necessarily know. And it turns out their skills aren't very useful, that's the really depressing thing.

Jamie MacDonald: From a coding point of view?

David Braben: From a coding and maths point of view. We'd much rather take on a maths graduate with no coding experience whatsoever and teach them to code, than the other way around.

Jason Avent: It doesn't take very long to learn how to programme if you've got very simple programming tools and you know how maths works. That's always the hardest thing to learn. But as for things moving countries, we fell in love with games consoles and as a country we've been very successful at that because America, the UK and Japan were the biggest markets for them, and we're really good at making games for consoles. Meanwhile, Germany and the Nordics had a reluctance to adopt games consoles and PC was huge there. Gamescom has an entire room for PC hardware and an entire room for PC games. Because they never let go of PC, and because of the types of games they play, they really got ahead on social games and PC games as they've merged.

I used to play console games exclusively but then I played Starcraft for six months when it came out and League of Legends for nine months and I didn't turn my games consoles on. Battlefield 3 and Skyrim are better on PCs. We're at a point now where if you love games and visuals are really important to you, and the whole experience is important to you, then the best place to go is the PC.

David Braben: That's only if you go for visuals. With a console experience I know it's going to work on a console, with my laptop it's 50/50. I sit with my feet up using a console.

Jason Avent: I agree, with your surround sound system and your big TV...

David Braben: But PC is about sitting forward and it's a completely different experience, so I disagree. Visuals on PC are much better - at the moment.

Jason Avent: But with things like OnLive you'll have that same experience as a console but on PC.

David Braben: That's the point: when does that blur, when is a console not a console? Raspberry Pi, for example, could run OnLive, I'm sure. So you could play Battlefield on that. Is that a dedicated console? The fact that at the other end it's being hosted on a high-end PC, that's the thing to forget.

Jason Avent: And so the next Sony or Microsoft console could be a window to a really powerful PC and the only thing they bring is a really nice controller or a really nice peripheral set and very well branded community.

Jamie MacDonald: I remember when the original PlayStation came out the thing that was so great about it was you didn't have to fiddle about, you put the CD in and off you went.

Jason Avent: Back then that was really important compared to the PC experience.

When is a console not a console? Raspberry Pi could run OnLive, I'm sure. So you could play Battlefield on that. Is that a dedicated console?

David Braben, Frontier Developments

Jamie MacDonald: That console mentality, it has to be totally consumer friendly. It's an appliance. If my mum can't use it it's not a console.

Jason Avent: That's the same with tablets and phones as well. It has to work.

David Braben: As a developer we can test the same set-up that a user is going to have with an iPad, with a 360, with a PlayStation 3 or whatever. We can't do that with a PC. Even in our office, with the PC standing next to it, it's got a different graphics card.

Jason Avent: But for the same price as an iPad you can get a pretty nice PC that should play anything. The experience on a games console is not as good as it used to be on an N64 with a cartridge or on the PlayStation. Now you get a game that's maybe a week or two old and you put it in for the first time you have to wait for a system update.

David Braben: You're right, that's bad, and that's essentially moving towards the PC world. The other thing that we're skipping over is that almost by the backdoor Sony and Microsoft have taken over the living room - just look at how easy it is to watch a move on your console.

Q: I don't know anybody who owns a console and a separate DVD player or Blu-ray player. USB stick is the media of choice. And with LoveFilm, iPlayer, the updates to the recent 360 dashboard...

Jamie MacDonald: In some ways I'm surprised it's taken this long. It's been their expressed strategy for years. When the Xbox 360 and PS3 first came out it was all about the battle for the living room, and it's five years later and we're just getting there.

David Braben: In terms of how people consume content, look at the US with the ESPN deal and Netflix...

Jamie MacDonald: The thing is, I've just recently moved into the country and it's a bloody nightmare. It's like going back in time. I can't use iPlayer any more on my PS3.

2

Multiple screens in the home can be used for gaming, taking the focus off the traditional TV set and giving a more personal multiplayer experience, suggests Simon Oliver.

David Braben: Frontier is based just outside of Cambridge and BT were about as rubbish as it's possible to get. They couldn't get anything to us that was more than a 64k ISDN line so we went to a local start-up and we had a wireless link to the centre of Cambridge that was 64MB and it cost less than BT. It was an invisible service but the government made that really awkward for them because BT had a studio monopoly.

Q: And of course you have to make sure that this access is in place on a global scale if you want real ease of use.

David Braben: They have big problems in the US because it's such a physically big country that it will take a long time to reach middle America.

Simon Oliver: Are you talking specifically about streaming services or digital distribution as well?

David Braben: Well the two are very closely related.

Simon Oliver: Do you think the growth of the App Store in certain countries has been because they have such good connections?

David Braben: You can go to some countries that we would think of as more third-world and the connections are really good. Partly because they haven't bothered putting in a wired network. So they leapfrog from a fixed line network straight to a wireless network.

Jason Avent: Do you think someone else can't come into that living room space now that Sony and Microsoft are already there?

David Braben: It becomes harder by the day, but Apple has a chance there.

Maybe TV will stay the central focus for shared experiences, but I feel like if there's nobody else I'm sharing it with, streaming TV or playing games on the iPad, it feels like this is my entertainment.

Simon Oliver, Hand Circus

Simon Oliver: I find using apps on the TV really weird. That's one thing about the new [Xbox] dashboard, anything other than video on demand feels a little bit "we should have it, so we're going to put it onto the service". On a personal device like an iPad or iPhone you're using it exclusively and it makes sense. The interface is something that Apple could potentially revolutionise. Look at streaming from Apple TV to the iPad, it still doesn't feel right. I feel that maybe TV is going to go away as the main place that people will take their entertainment. Maybe it will stay the central focus for shared experiences but I feel like if there's nobody else I'm sharing it with, streaming TV or playing games on the iPad, it feels like this is my entertainment.

Jamie MacDonald: But I have a choice at home of the room with the small TV or the room with the big TV. I'm not going to watch the football on the small TV.

Simon Oliver: Oh sure, for something that's much more of an event, but for normal TV I'm happy watching it on an iPad.

David Braben: Most people who watch TV have a remote control by their side and a big TV where they consume the content. An iPhone 4 does this. It's a little version of your remote, with a screen, where you're selecting programmes, pausing, rewinding, and then you watch it again on a great big screen, 1080p, surround sound speakers.

Jason Avent: It makes sense that you have something that's multiple purpose and you hold it in your hands and you take it with you. And if you want to do anything that's more powerful you can do that via the cloud, and if you want to view it on a big screen you can. And when it comes to multiplayer everybody in the household can have their own screen, especially when the prices come down to something like the Kindle Fire level. And then you can make multiplayer games for multiple screens and the TV is just used to keep the score.

Simon Oliver: I really liked those Wii demos at E3, showing the two players, one on the Wii U and one using the Wii controls on a TV.

David Braben: I've seen a game demoed on 12 iPads at the same time, one for each player.

Jason Avent: There's no reason why not. If everybody's got a personal entertainment device it makes sense.

David Braben: You can show secret stuff to a single screen and common content to the TV screen for everyone.

Q: The problem with something like this is that there are closed systems. If all devices are made by Apple that's fine, but you have to the TV, the tablet, the phone...

David Braben: But Bluetooth is a completely separate standard and cars have that built into their stereos and your phone will connect to it, which is great. I think the real point is, yes it's a bit too much of a walled garden, but it's in Apple's interest to be more open-minded. We can put anything up on the App Store, even things that aren't up to the highest standards, and they are allowed to fail, which I absolutely applaud. Because that means some gems will get through that might not have otherwise made it through approval. Yes, there's an approval process but it's not as strict as some of the console players.

Simon Oliver: I think that's one of the thing that appealed so much when the walls came down initially that there was no risk associated with developing for it. Apple openly said if you make a game that only you like just to get your content out there, people will play it. There is that outlet, but if you're developing a controller-based game there might not be that distribution that's guaranteed with the iPhone. That democratisation of distribution is great.

We can put anything up on the App Store, even things that aren't up to the highest standards, and they are allowed to fail, which I absolutely applaud.

David Braben, Frontier Developments

David Braben: And that anarchic quality to it is very attractive. Thinking back to when I was a kid trying to get into the industry - and it was very easy to get into compared to now. Nowadays its impossible on so many fronts like the programming barriers, even a lot of the new talent coming into iOS are not necessarily the bright young things, and I mean that in the best possible way. We're not talking 17 and 18 year olds, we're talking about people who are at least ten years older. That's an important distinction. If there were a few more 18 year old rock stars coming into the industry the terms 'geek' and 'nerd' would evaporate quite quickly.

Simon Oliver: Look at the Johnny Two Shoes guys that did Plunderland on iOS - a massive success, self-published, and the games they are working on now are phenomenal.

Q: Do you think the games industry is guilty of keeping its stars behind the screen a little too much? There's no other entertainment industry that's like that, where the creative stars are hidden away.

David Braben: That's something BAFTA is doing very strongly, trying to promote the individuals.

Jamie MacDonald: But most of the time it's a team effort.

David Braben: I feel guilty as it's often my name on the awards but I'm there as a representative of the team. Clearly Johnny Depp is doing the role that he's doing in Pirates of the Caribbean but a CG equivalent might not be just one person.

Jamie MacDonald: It's a good point. The gaming heroes that everybody quotes have come from an era when an individual or a small team could create a mould-breaking game. Over the past ten years with the PS2 and PS3 generations we started with 25 to 30 people making a game and now we're on 100-plus with this generation. It would be hard and unfair to focus on any one person. There are a few people that stand out.

Jason Avent: I don't think anyone outside of the games industry knows Cliffy B. The thing is, although it's an entertainment industry it's not based around single people. The characters in your video game will get more recognition than the people who made it, but that's just like any other product or engineering feat. You know a few people in construction like Norman Foster but there are plenty of buildings out there that really enrich an environment but you won't know the creators. And who made the Ford Escort? There's Chris Bangle who worked for BMW who people loved and hated but because he divided opinion he was quite well known.

3

Only the franchises that sell millions of units can justify triple-A budgets, but others, like the Dirt series, can be market-leaders in a smaller genre, argues MacDonald.

Jamie MacDonald: There's a rock star approach to Japanese game designers but that's much more to do with Japanese culture. I find it weird to see Japanese games heroes at events with an entourage, all dressed in black.

Jason Avent: You see individuals standing out, especially in the indie games sector. At IGF you'll recognise Jonathan Blow, Chris Hecker, Notch. So I think there it's very much happening because the team size is so small you'll only have one guy in charge of design, one in charge of visuals, so the recognition is there.

Q: The way the industry has changed has coincided with the global recession, the contraction of the economy, but it's also coincided with the rise of social and mobile gaming. Do you think those two things have acted together to change the UK industry, has it been a victim of the economic crisis?

Jason Avent: I don't think social gaming has stolen any consumers from consoles. But I think those kind of mechanics and business models probably will, therefore the console business and console manufacturers should embrace that.

Q: But social gaming has stolen console talent.

Jason Avent: I don't think it would have stolen staff if we hadn't had high quality games work in the UK. I can only think of one really big triple-A game that's been developed in the UK in the last year.

Jamie MacDonald: And that would be Dirt 3or F1 or Disneyland Adventures...

Jason Avent: Okay, Disneyland is going to be big but Dirt 3 - how many units did it sell? Is it up there with Uncharted? Is it up there with Need for Speed?

Jamie MacDonald: No, but Dirt 3 is much more of a hardcore game than both of those, and within its genre it's absolutely triple-A.

If you're developing a controller-based game there might not be that distribution that's guaranteed with the iPhone. That democratisation of distribution is great.

Simon Oliver, Hand Circus

Jason Avent: But you're not talking 3 to 4 million units, and that's what it takes to get the visuals and the quality of experience up to the same kind of level in terms of justifying development budgets. The development budgets wouldn't be anywhere as big as Call of Duty or anything from EA, and it's those kinds of experiences that people will buy two or three of a year on games consoles - and that's it. You were saying there is no middle ground anymore.

Jamie MacDonald: But it's about genre, and the racing genre in terms of the percentage of the market hasn't really changed over the years. It fluctuates depending on whether there's a Gran Turismo out that year but it's quite a stable market. Clearly it grows as the installed base increases, and it's not as big as the first-person shooter market or the action market so they can sustain larger budgets. Within the racing genre that we're in we can turn around a good profit on those number of units we sell. Part of our strategy is to move away from doing purely hardcore racing games and going into a space with broader appeal. The death of the console market has been exaggerated. Although there are these huge blockbusters, I firmly believe if you can create really high quality experiences in an area that is appealing you can still make money there.

David Braben: The console market is still continuing to grow, especially if you consider pre-owned figures in that even though it doesn't come to us developers. EA said that half its revenue was coming from digital for console games because some of their games have a digital component.

Q: Just look at the map packs for example for Call of Duty, they are enormous.

David Braben: What's important there is that income, a very big percentage of that goes to the publisher and, more importantly, if the game was pre-owned that money goes to the publisher from the new consumer again. You can create in theory 100 per cent revenues when that game goes around half a dozen to a dozen times. One of the things that was pretty unforgivable that this industry did to platforms like the Dreamcast, they were killed off by the press saying it had been killed off. Actually it was a good platform. The real problem which wasn't really said was the track record at Sega where a number of machines weren't really released into the market properly, like the Saturn. And other machines, including Sega's greatest that was never released, the Neptune. Which was frustrating.

Jason Avent: I wonder if it's a different story now in the dedicated handheld market. With the 3DS seeing the impact of lowering prices and the increase in quality in mobile gaming, I don't know if that's contracted in terms of revenue in the overall handheld market.

David Braben: If we include iOS in the overall handheld market, which we absolutely have to, it's continued to grow. iOS has chomped into Nintendo's space in a very big way. Would I rather spend 1.99 for a game rather than 30?

Unless we get the ability to be able to have free and $1000 purchases in one game on consoles we won't be able to satisfy the consumer

Jason Avent, Boss Alien

Jamie MacDonald: Whichever way you look at it the games market is still growing - it's just fragmented. To go back to the original question of how affected are we by the wider economic crisis, yes, retail sales of games are down. Is that because of the economic crisis? Yes, part of it is. But it's also partly to do with other forms of content delivery being available.

David Braben: It is slowing adoption of new kit, that would be my guess. In terms of how many people will buy new iPhones and iPads and how many are buying add-ons like Move and Kinect at Christmas. It's a big purchase. It affects sales of something like Disneyland Adventures because we're appealing to those that have an Xbox and Kinect and want the game. But of all the industries we're probably the least affected. One of the things we don't see is the TV industry is really badly affected. The eyeball time that the games business is taking is going up and up and up. It's taking people's entertainment time and the TV time is used with things like iPlayer.

Jason Avent: It's really difficult to quantify the decline or increase in interactive use because most of the new consumables are privately owned or they're not charted. You can't find out how many people downloaded things or how many virtual goods were sold on Facebook or how many subscriptions Moshi Monsters has. The audience for Moshi and Club Penguin would have been playing PSone Crash Bandicoot years ago. It's very difficult to quantify what's happened but it has grown. We've always said this industry is recession proof because in comparison to going to the movies or the pub it's actually pretty good value.

Q: It's the same position Hollywood was in years ago when people thought "I could spend a night out for a couple of dollars or spend much more going for a drink or a meal..."

4

The Dreamcast was killed by the press and the Neptune was the greatest Sega console never released, according to David Braben.

David Braben: Hollywood grew incredibly during the '30s because of the recession. That was when it went from being relatively small to being a major industry.

Jamie MacDonald: That's interesting. If you look at how Hollywood competed with TV in the '50s by bringing out these huge biblical epics with casts of 1000s, and 3D, and then it responded with the growth of indie films in the late '60s and early '70s with the Scorsese and Coppolla movies. I wonder if there's a parallel there with the games industry.

Q: You mentioned moving away from well-performing but niche titles to games with a wider appeal. There's been some debate on that with something like the Vita and whether it's over-specified, or whether it's actually ideal because it's purely aimed at a gaming niche.

David Braben: The issue is you can choose to make a Ford or you can choose to make a Lamborghini.

Jason Avent: World of Tanks is a good example. It all depends on platform. It's difficult to do those things now on PS3 and Xbox 360 because the way the monetisation strategy works is you've got to be able to get people who either will spend a small fee or those that will spend a massive amount. With one price point you miss out on a huge spread at the lower and higher scale. Unless we get the ability to be able to have free and $1000 purchases in one game on consoles we won't be able to satisfy the consumer.

David Braben: If you look at Modern Warfare 3, the $100 edition, that is essentially doing that. The thing that seems to matter is you get a different badge on your online identity, which literally cost the developers nothing.

Jason Avent: But these are only baby steps in relation to other things that are being done in different parts of the games market. That $100 is paid once. Some people will pay higher prices and that will fund the development of a game for a niche audience. I feel bad about how much time I've spent in Modern Warfare 1 online. I probably played that game for a year and I spent $40 for it.

The only reason people will buy Vita over another device is if it can demonstrate you can get a gaming experience there that you can't get on any other gaming platform.

Simon Oliver, Hand Circus

Simon Oliver: The Sword and Sworcery developers made a game they knew was only going to appeal to 20 per cent of players but they made the best possible game, tailored from the art style to the music style and it was a massive game because so many of that niche audience bought it.

Q: I've been amazed at the success and reach of Skyrim. Only two games ago with Morrowind it was a very niche RPG with tons of stats, and now it's been slimmed down in those terms but it's a bigger game with more to do.

David Braben: Oblivion was the first mass market men-in-tights game in my opinion. Before it was off-putting to a lot of people but Oblivion has so much in it. It had a pretty atrocious treatment of first-person gaming, as did Fallout, but you forgive it because it's such a broad and rich game.

Simon Oliver: What I found more stunning was Dark Souls and the fact it sold 1.5 million units. I played Demon Souls all the way through twice and I cracked my PlayStation controller. But because it's such a tremendous sense of peril and dread you go back.

Q: Do we think the PS Vita might be the last pure gaming handheld device?

David Braben: What do you mean by pure?

Q: As in it's used primarily for video game playing.

David Braben: Isn't that the iPad?

Jamie MacDonald: My wife uses her iPhone mainly for making calls, imagine that.

David Braben: All smartphones are computers that do phone calls and we forget that because the phone component is never that good.

Jamie MacDonald: I'm really interested to see how the Vita goes. As an ex-Sony guy I still have a lot of loyalty to Sony and it's a lovely piece of kit with a brilliant display. The people I know at Sony are very bullish about it. We have times when we all called it wrong. I thought the Wii wouldn't succeed.

David Braben: The price is going to be a big factor but also the way the younger generation use mobile devices is also very different to how we're used to. The fact it isn't a phone may not be such a bad thing - you can still message on it. And it's got Skype. So presumably you can make calls with a headset. The price is the big obstacle but the real question is whether it will come life when it's got rich software on it and whether it becomes seen as the device to have. The danger is, with the PSP it was a pig to carry around because it was too big, especially when you're carrying a phone around as well.

Simon Oliver: The only reason people will buy it over another device is if the games are better and it can demonstrate you can get a gaming experience there that you can't get on any other gaming platform, especially at the rate that other platforms are increasing in terms of quality and power. That's going to be the hard point, as Vita launches will it be seen as cutting edge?

Console manufacturers can't afford to piss off the retailers otherwise they won't have anywhere to sell the hardware. That is the issue.

Jamie MacDonald, Codemasters

David Braben: The price of the games means there will only be a few bought. Is it a kids' device, a 20-something's device? If it's for the over 20s that market has quite a lot of disposable income and with the recession as it is people are less-inclined to take risks.

Q: Smartphones are essentially bought on hire purchase where you pay for them over two years, that's different to asking a big fee up front before a device has even been used.

Jason Avent: You could package the Vita up with that sort of deal, bundle it with a phone, that happens with the Xbox 360.

David Braben: Another interesting point is we haven't seen rental come to our market other than for games. Rental of devices in other fields where you get the device. It used to be standard for BT phones and for TVs, but not for games consoles - why is that?

Jamie MacDonald: Is it because there's an expectation that over time the cost of purchase will come down, so that makes a rental contract less appealing? Presumably you'd be locked into a rental for 18-24 months and by then the cost of the device is significantly less.

Jason Avent: Maybe that's an idea. You get your PS Vita and pay a subscription for it and you get usage of one or two games that you can swap in and swap out. You join a club for 15 a month and you get really top games for that. And you get hire of the hardware. And then it's much more like an app store where you have to get your games through Sony. Because there are going to be fewer retailers so platform holders won't worry so much about pleasing retailers.

David Braben: I think that's a workable business model.

Jamie MacDonald: That is the issue. Console manufacturers can't afford to piss off the retailers otherwise they won't have anywhere to sell the hardware.

David Braben: There's also High Street space because mobile phone shops would lap that up. If you look in a phone shop window it's just display cases and nothing else.

Jason Avent: It would be a bit like a Sky subscription with telephone, internet and TV in one, but you could have a small mobile phone with a contract, and then it's packaged up with the Vita and a subscription to games.

David Braben: And you could have tick boxes to add to the contract. Add the PS3, add the PlayStation 4, which again is the way Sky does it...

32 Comments

Dave Mitchell
Founder

24 7 0.3
Interesting read!

Posted:2 years ago

#1

Sam Brown
Programmer

235 164 0.7
"From a coding and maths point of view. We'd much rather take on a maths graduate with no coding experience whatsoever and teach them to code, than the other way around."

Rather surprised to hear that from David Braben, considering his reasons for supporting the Raspberry Pi project. :)

Posted:2 years ago

#2

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
Big underestimation of smartphone gaming going on there, the world has changed. iPhone 4s will soon be sold in 60 markets. 6.5 million Angry Birds games were downloaded in one day, part of a total of 242 million apps downloaded that day. 550,000 new Android devices are added to the network every day. Soon 2 or 3 billion smartphones will be made each year. And amazingly many people will spend over $100 or more on a smartphone game. If the publisher knows what they are doing.

Of course this is cannibalising console gaming. People can only spend their time once. Console is being forced into a niche of global blockbusters. And console publishers who don't own one, at least, of these titles are dead.

There are lots and lots of new gaming studios starting up in the UK by all sorts of people, from schoolkids to pensioners. And many of them have no previous game industry experience. Mostly they are making smartphone games. Some will succeed and some will fail. That is business. But already there are far more British publishers on smartphone than on all other platforms combined. Some of these will grow to be bigger than the current establishment console studios.

There are now 14 game studios in Leamington Spa town (so not including Codemasters) and most of them are developing for smartphone. And mainly they are self publishing. By the end of the year it could very easily be 20 studios or more. This is the new reality of the video game industry in Britain.

Posted:2 years ago

#3

Dave Herod
Senior Programmer

525 768 1.5
@ Bruce Everiss - "People can only spend their time once". Time spent on a train or on your lunch break at work when you wouldn't have been playing a console game anyway? How many people sit at home with their big screen turned off playing games on their phone? I wouldn't even consider it, as it's a vastly inferior experience. Maybe it's just me, but I still find smartphone games good for "when I've got nothing better to do" periods. I don't understand why smartphone game devs seem so eager to see the death of console gaming, when both can live quite happily side by side.

Posted:2 years ago

#4

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
@Dave Herod
But how much gaming does the average person need or want in a day?
If they have their fill of gaming during their commute then they can spend their quality time at home doing other things.

Posted:2 years ago

#5

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

559 607 1.1
@Bruce as Dave points out any gaming time done on smart phones will not necessarily be cannibalising console and PC gaming. Sure there might be some people who switch completely but the majority of mobile users will not make an either/or choice.

The advantage of mobile gaming is that it can be additional to consoles. People have their smart phones but might not own a console or don't game on their PC.

A common thread with your comments seems to be this doom and gloom prediction of consoles - what makes you think that? I think globally the 2 can co-exist quite nicely and, in a lot of cases compliment each other.

There are a lot of small mobile studios in the UK now. It's easy to set one up. Not everyone can produce an angry bird tho.

One of the reasons why there are so many new small studios now is because a lot of industry veterans are just disgruntled with how the big studios operate. It's actually quite funny to see comments from the people behind Frontier, Codemasters and Climax/Blackrock - all of which have been laying off staff and none of which have been producing a real big hitter in years.

The traditional UK games studios in the UK are in decline because they cling on to ancient ideas and think that because they created some successful titles in the 90s they can still do so today. While at the same time exploiting staff and paying crap wages.

It's no wonder people want to try their own thing with a small studio or leave for canada and other countries.

(Note: not ALL studios in the UK are like this of course, but generally staff turnaround in the good ones is low.)

Posted:2 years ago

#6

Martyn Brown
Managing Director

138 33 0.2
I think Bruce has it spot-on, to be honest. Console hits have polarised to such a massive extent it renders a huge proportion of the titles released as loss-making long before they hit the market, only to be slashed in price within weeks if not days. Then the likes of the 2nd tier releases still have to try and compete with the likes of Skyrim, slashed in price in the run up to the Xmas period.

Time is time. On the bus, during TV ads, on the loo, wherever. Consoles certainly aren't dead yet, but we're gripped by an ever accelerating transition of gaming habits and mediums thats being taken up by the masses, not principally hard-core connoisseurs.

Posted:2 years ago

#7
I suspect the future gaming ecology will be more analagous to a jungle canopy, featuring layers and layers of different platforms, with growth and decline relative to its different niche markets or general appeal.

No particular field will be top dog, just a mixture of fast growth and slower growth. New platforms may appear to be on the surge but that is merely becuase they are not as established and thus perceived to be doing better. Whereas when things are more established, a true mixture of various overlapping canopies will arise.

The only thing that will be in decline would be a agin dev or publisher which has not restrategise the potential for various alternative and main platforms

Posted:2 years ago

#8

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

559 607 1.1
@ Martyn: the field is definitely tougher and more competitive, there is no doubt about that. But as long as there are games like Skyrim (or Batman, Uncharted, Hitman, CoD, BF etc.) there will be console and PC gaming. There simply is no way that a mobile platform will ever deliver the same sense of immersion and depth.

Yes products like angry birds will download a lot and do well, and of course make a lot of money for those few people who were involved making it, but in terms of longevity and entertainment experience it will never come close to even the worst product on a console.

As long as that is the case, there will be plenty of people out there buying consoles and console games.

It's a different story when it comes to making the actual games. While there is a massive rise in small development teams creating content for mobile platforms, we might well see further shrinking of larger scale production teams attempting to make AAA console titles. Too many of these studios try and fail, and with production costs as they are, you can generally only do that once.

Posted:2 years ago

#9

Klaus Preisinger
Freelance Writing

1,098 1,061 1.0
The iPhone has changed the structure of mobile time wasting. You no longer have that one Gameboy game you play for an hour on the train. You instead have a barrage of micro-timewasters.

Check Email, write short message, two levels of angry birds, what's the weather, check favorite website, news, two levels of Cat Physics, sports, new podcast, etc, etc.

The mobile gaming experience is not under assault from better mobile games, it is under assault from better things to do. Or at least things which are more appealing in the moment where the decision between unpacking your Nintendo, or tapping on some app-icon is made. The success of Android and iOS is the ability to have an app satisfying even the weirdest, most random notions of its users. I know a guy who bought an iPhone only because he can point it at the sky and find out which plane he sees up there. That is all he does with it.

This power of swooping up even the tiniest micro-fragments of markets is utterly lost to Nintendo's and Sony's mobile gaming devices and Apple did a brilliant job of smashing the market into these tiny pieces. People no longer see the one big thing to do with a device, they want the device which can do every single one of their small neurotic wishes.

Posted:2 years ago

#10

Martyn Brown
Managing Director

138 33 0.2
@Andreas, I agree (currently) - I finished and totally enjoyed Uncharted3 last night. But so seldom do I get chance to commit that much time to one title, let alone the 20-30-40+ for Skyrim and others. Games with that depth and complexity are certainly to be applauded, but increasingly the business models are becoming severely pressured in terms of the costs to entry for that small slice of the industry.


Posted:2 years ago

#11

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

559 607 1.1
@Martin: Obviously time is always an issue. Games like Uncharted and Skyrim, taking massive amounts of time to finish, are not for everyone (still sell millions of copies and make a hefty profit though). But i am also talking about things like Peggle or Braid and the like - on consoles and PC you can also just spend a short amount of time playing them, and i still think they are more immersive than their mobile counterparts. Simply because i don't have to look at a tiny screen, or i can play with friends, sitting next to me looking at the same big screen TV.

As i said, i see the mobile market as a seperate entity. It reaches people that would not normaly pick up a console or PC game. But at the same time i don't think that anyone who wants to play console/PC games will ever fully switch to mobile gaming - they might do it additionally, but not exclusively.

I have worked for both sides of the fence and as a gamer and as a designer i simply don't see the appeal of mobile - console and PC gaming offer so much more than just a quick fix of throwing cartoon birds against some cartoon pigs :)

Price wise i agree with you. 40 to 50 GBP for a game is a lot. pricing them lower migth entice people to buy more.

Posted:2 years ago

#12
What is missing is some fiendishly good strategy games or construction gems like roller coaster tycoon.

Posted:2 years ago

#13

Martyn Brown
Managing Director

138 33 0.2
I think you're being a little narrow-minded to think mobile is purely about cartoon birds and pigs :-) Despite the obvious success of the title :-) It's a bit like saying Console gaming is all Call of Duty.

Posted:2 years ago

#14

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

559 607 1.1
I know there is more out there than that - just put it as an example :) But i have yet to see/play a mobile title that is as deep and meaningful as anything on console and PC. not saying that mobile titles do not deliver a good measure of entertainment though!

Posted:2 years ago

#15

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
Another way of looking at this is the success of the Wii. The hardcore gamers didn't like it, yet it sold getting on for twice as many units as either the Xbox 360 or the Playstation 3. This is because hardcore gamers are a minority in society. Most gamers just want a bit of fun. And the Wiii was the better tool for this job, just as smartphones are the better tool now.

So I am absolutely sure that smartphones are taking play time off consoles in a big way. I am also sure that smartphones are taking console game sales and even plenty of sales of the consoles themselves away.

Not only that, Facebook games have done exactly the same thing.

Of course there will be people who are willing to invest lots of time in complex games who need a console. But this is not who the biggest number of console users have traditionally been. Mostly it is just people wanting a bit of fun. A gang of students coming back from the pub and putting Micro Machines on, for instance. Now they have alternative and better platforms.

Too often in this industry we see things from the Western gamer perspective. This does us commercial damage because the real market is far bigger and far more complex. In marketing meetings this week at Kwalee we have been discussing Indonesia, South Korea and China. How many console publishers have the same global perspective?

Posted:2 years ago

#16

Klaus Preisinger
Freelance Writing

1,098 1,061 1.0
@Andreas
don't look at mobile games as something meaningful. Look at it as a pointless redirection activities, such as smoking or chewing your nails. Smoking and Farmville can have eerie similarities when it comes to why, how and when people are doing it.

I wouldn't mind playing Sins of a Solar Empire, or any other complex strategy game, on a tablet. There is no inherent technological barrier preventing complex game. The availability of such titles would still not change the how, where and when people play. That is what kills them faster than their actual feasibility. Customers tend to buy what suits their desires, not what makes efficient use of a platform.

Posted:2 years ago

#17

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

559 607 1.1
@Klaus very true. Though imagine Sins of a Solar Empire for the i-phone :) Tablet i can see and there is definitely more you can do with it.

As for your assesment when it comes to mobile games and smoking/chewing gums - spot on i think.

@Bruce no offense but i think your hyper enthusiasm about your own company and the platforms you develop for seriously make you look through rose tinted glasses. Obviously you are going to talk up a storm about just how awesome your potential market is, but all we can do is wait and see. I just don't get your aggressive nature when it comes to console and PC. it sounds almost as if you want it to fail.

I also think you are comparing apples to oranges. I don't think you can compare the potential market of the 2.

As Klaus pointed out there are plenty of people out there who are willing to just download any odd thing to satisfy their short term entertainment needs.
Considering Indonisia, South Korea and China (what about India) makes total sense for a company that develops on a platform that is readily available in those markets.
I would guess that console publishers don't lack global perspective, but they rather look at saturation levels of their target platforms as well as the game they are trying to publish.

It's one thing to make any odd mobile app and release it in China, where you have millions of installed devices. Even 10.000 downloads will be better than none and the costs ascociated with a release in the region are manageable.

It's another thing to create a console game that mainly appeals to western gamers and try to market it in a region where the installed platform base is low. cost/reward just does not add up.

PC is a different matter and i think Activision/Blizzard has shown that nicely.

Posted:2 years ago

#18

Terence Gage
Freelance writer

1,288 120 0.1
I enjoy occasional gaming on my phone - the likes of Cut The Rope, Robo Defence, Cyberlords: Archology (really good game, by the way) - but there's no way I would consider not switching on my PS3 of an evening and opting for my HTC instead. Mobile games in their current form just cannot compete with the depth, complexity and immersion of even PSN or XBLA games, and are hindered from trying by inadequate controls - heck, as much as I like the Zenonia series, the menu screen is far too complex and user-unfriendly for its mobile platform.

By and large, I don't think mobile games will cannibalise the home console market in the near future, until they can deliver games which genuinely rival the depth and longevity of a typical console game. Hopefully it'll have the opposite effect and introduce more people to the home console market; folk interested in or curious about checking out 'proper' games (and that's horrid terminology but you know what I mean).

Posted:2 years ago

#19

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
@Terence.
You are a hard core gamer. This puts you in a small minority. You are not representative of the total games market.
Angry birds has had well over 500 million downloads and has 30 million online daily players. That is the real market and it is doubling in size in less than every 12 months.
There are less than 60 million PS3s or Xbox 360s in the whole world. (And remember that the PS2 got to 150 million in far less time.)

Posted:2 years ago

#20
I think time is precious and its idiotic to waste it on games , much less games of lesser ilk.

The holiday period was a good example of being cooped up with relatives and having every disposable device, from smartphone to ipad to console to PC available.

The limiting factor boiled down to bandwidth. No bandwidth, no social, casual, facebook games.
What was great was the access to consoles or PCs or old titles that could work on its own in isolation.

So, the thing is, not everyone who is into games wants to play games all the time. And if there is spare time, does one want to play on devices needing persistent bandwidth or wi fi ( and be frustrated trying to get over lag - in UK)

In the end, the real life outdoors was much more fun and entertaining

Posted:2 years ago

#21

Anthony Gowland
Lead Designer

186 606 3.3
the depth and longevity of a typical console game
Is what, about 15 hours of linear single player gameplay?

I've played plenty of handheld and mobile phone games for longer than that. Is Football Manager iOS more or less "deep" than Gears of War, would you say?

For some reason the "you'll never prise my console and PC from my grasp" gang seem fixed on the idea of portable gaming being nothing but cartoon birds.

Posted:2 years ago

#22

Terence Gage
Freelance writer

1,288 120 0.1
"Is Football Manager iOS more or less "deep" than Gears of War, would you say?"

You're comparing totally different genres and I would say that strategy games like football management sims lend themselves better to the smartphone template than third person shooters like Gears do, so I'm not sure it's fair to directly compare the two.

Posted:2 years ago

#23

Anthony Gowland
Lead Designer

186 606 3.3
You're right, of course. Comparing different genres is as fundamentally ridiculous as comparing the entire software libraries of different game playing devices.

That doesn't seem to stop people from doing it, though.

Posted:2 years ago

#24
Great thread guys, v. nice to keep it grown up too :P My two cents:

(a) There seems to be confusion between 'immersion' and 'time spent'. Time spent is what matters. Personally I'm addicted to Immersion in my gaming but it's just another ingredient in the cake, so to speak, and my love of sultanas is your marzipan is his shortbread etc. Arguing that games are defined by immersion is as true as saying people love cake due to marzipan. The world of Game Dev Story is not 'immersive' like Skyrim but I burned away days with it, heartlessly ignoring both consoles and PC games as I did. I did not feel a lack of marzipan for doing so, I was too busy sucking down sultanas and shortbread to notice. AM I dragging out the analogy enough yet? :P

(b) The smartphone is just a brilliant extension of the real killer of this generation of consoles - the Internet. These days the battle is more about getting screen time with entertainment and less about handheld vs. console. What does J. Bloggs choose to do when they finally sit their bored ass down of an evening? That's the real question. It's extremely difficult for a game to compete with Youtube on user interest, due to it's extraordinary breadth of content. For me smartphones are important because they finally give gaming the spread of niche content and options that the internet does. The big consoles are suffering because they've gone the opposite way: driving up cost of entry for us creative types, reducing options for wannabe buyers. Publishers don't help: they practically think people only buy consoles these days to play COD - focusing on the marzipan again.

Okay enough with the cake.

Posted:2 years ago

#25

Dave Herod
Senior Programmer

525 768 1.5
@Bruce - I guess, as a developer, it depends on what angle you look at this from. Some are obsessed with market share, profits, and sales figures. Others, like myself, are happy just to make a living working on things they've always loved. I agree with Andreas, that no one is denying that smartphones are a booming business right now, and congratulations if you're a part in that, but many phone developers like yourself are coming across as not just commentating on a decline of traditional games, but actively willing it to happen, which is incredibly negative.

Posted:2 years ago

#26

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
@Dave Herod
We want to innovate like crazy and push the technology. Things that are very difficult to do on console and very easy to do with apps. Also we want to get a lot closer to our customers, something much easier to do with apps.
Also whilst smartphones are booming right now they really are only still at their very beginning. The $100 Android phone is probably with us now, in a year that will be $50. On a three year contract that is about $1.50 a month. Huge numbers of people all over the earth, many billions, will become connected to the internet with a device that will run our apps. With the right business model it is possible to make money from anyone who is connected, even if it is just by delivering advertising content.

@Andreas Gschwari
I don't want console and PC to fail, one day I will probably come back to them. But do a graph of console sales by year and you will see that they are nowhere near as successful as they once were. It is a simple fact that people are finding other things to do with their time.

@Klaus Preisinger
If smartphone games are like smoking then console games are like crack cocaine. Used by far less people and far more expensive to support the habit.

@Barry Meade
You have it spot on with several issues. Yes we are competing for time (it used to be money). Yes the smartphone is a far more powerful extension of the internet than a console is. Yes they allow more diversity of content. Yes there is a very low barrier to entry. Yes the consoles have driven themselves into a corner.

It would be very interesting if the 4 people involved in this discussion revealed the publishing profit or loss on their titles over the last couple of years. That would show us exactly how well console is doing.

Posted:2 years ago

#27

Klaus Preisinger
Freelance Writing

1,098 1,061 1.0
@Bruce
You are right, those computer addiction allegation don't come from nowhere. An MMO attempts to hook the player on an activities which take longer to complete than the developer requires to produce new content. An MMO will never show the "you win" screen to give a sense of completion. An MMO requires a constant flow of money from customer to producer. An MMO relies on peer pressure for recruitment of new customers and the continued retaining of existing groups. Many MMO dealers will give you a free sample anytime. While actively consuming MMOs, not all people claim to have fun.

That's crack cocaine every step of the way. But what is there to do? Pass a law targeting electronic entertainment emulating the effects of addictive drugs on the brain?

Posted:2 years ago

#28

Shane Bundy

3 0 0.0
This article couldn't have focused on the issues any better.

It's obvious that the UK is now struggling in the games industry because of the curriculum and the current economical climate. And it shows; less AAA studios exist now than last year and have been replaced by independent, small startups that are showing signs of growth.

Is the 99p app craze to blame for the bigger studios' collapse?

Posted:2 years ago

#29

Oliver Birch
Director of Marketing

16 0 0.0
Excellent thread of comments representing a discussion that I am sure is happening in boardrooms and bedrooms around the world.

Infinity Blade is an exceptional mobile product (not my cup of tea tbh)

"Infinity Blade, has earned $23 million in lifetime and its sequel, Infinity Blade II has earned more than $5 million since its release on December 1, 2011" Quoted from [link url=http://www.insidemobileapps.com/2012/01/06/a-top-grossing-ios-game-like-epic%E2%80%99s-infinity-blade-ii-can-earn-more-than-5-million-a-month/
]http://www.insidemobileapps.com/2012/01/...[/link]

Ok so it doesn't compare to Modern Warfare/Uncharted in terms of revenue (or dev cost) but I was impressed by the numbers and from an audience perspective, it seems to be taking both users' time and money...without the use of pigs or birds!

Posted:2 years ago

#30

Rick Cody
PBnGames-Board Member

144 14 0.1
I don't have that same sense of excitement I once did when going into Best Buy or Gamestop. Why? Because I play games through OnLive or my new iPhone 4S pretty much exclusively.
The 4S is powerful enough for a vast number of consumers. Find a better, more convenient, way to get that hardware to produce streaming video through a TV or projector and you're golden.

Just an extra thought:
What I don't like is that going out to shop is going to become an increasingly boring experience. Clothing stores, grocery stores/restaurants, super centers (like Wal Mart and Target, in the US) and movie theaters are all I can really see continuing to exist. Technology stores can pretty much condense themselves into those vending machines Best Buy has put up in airports and malls

Posted:2 years ago

#31
This could be attributable to our increasing adoption of alternative media and opportunities to browse for goods. The use of online which affords fast, private and yet diverse browsing opportunities compare to physically browsing for the same good on foot (without the opportunity for shopping for better deals/discounts) could be why there is less "wow factor" and buzz when visiting a retail store - i.e short of visiting a specialist boutique shop, retail branches can be very bland overall

Posted:2 years ago

#32

Login or register to post

Take part in the GamesIndustry community

Register now