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Rebellion: Windows 8 suffered tall poppy syndrome

Rebellion: Windows 8 suffered tall poppy syndrome

Tue 11 Dec 2012 8:17am GMT / 3:17am EST / 12:17am PST
Development

CEO Jason Kingsley on embracing competing formats and what he looks for in a new development platform

Windows 8 hasn't exactly been the most popular release of the year, with many developers lining up to decry the new operating system. But Jason Kingsley, CEO and creative director of UK studio Rebellion, isn't one of those voices. In fact, he's going so far as to support the platform with an open mind where others have been happy to jump straight in and knock it.

In this exclusive interview with GamesIndustry International, Kingsley reveals why he welcomes competing formats, what makes an enticing platform from a development point of view, breaking into the industry and his company's shift to publishing.

Q: So the release of Windows 8 has been hailed as a disaster by some of the more outspoken members of the development community?

Jason Kingsley: I always start from the position that generally speaking, more competition is good in whatever sphere it is, obviously within certain limits. But it's always good to have another platform because it makes each of the hardware providers work a little bit harder, it means we have to modify the games we do to optimise them a little bit for each of the platforms and that's not necessarily a bad thing either.

So my first reaction was 'oh great, that sounds good, it's not just Apple, it's not just Android, it's Microsoft as well.' The negative knee jerk reaction is always intriguing to watch, but I do wonder whether that's only the industry and the general public doesn't really know about it yet and certainly hasn't made a choice and doesn't think anybody is bad or good, it's just another thing for them to potentially buy if they decide to.

Q: Microsoft has sold over 40 million licences already. What do you think it is that's made the industry have that knee jerk reaction?

Jason Kingsley: I think possibly it's Microsoft's reputation in that everyone thinks they're big and successful and they have to be taken down a notch or two every time they try something. You do kind of wonder whether it's part of human psychology for tall poppies to get their heads cut off, it's kind of a normalising influence of society.

"I think possibly it's Microsoft's reputation in that everyone thinks they're big and successful and they have to be taken down a notch or two every time they try something"

But I don't really know. I think there were some concerns over the business model, over it being a closed shop and over access to the market. People thinking that if it's not a free for all it's obviously going to be evil because we won't be allowed to publish our games on it, or we'll have to pay. I think there were some issues there, which is more to do with communication. There's always a tension between a fully curated system where the person in charge tells you what you can and can't consume, and a Wild West free for all where you download something but in fact it's malware and it's hideous and no one is looking at it at all.

Those are obviously two extremes of the spectrum and I think we kind of got used to a curated system with Microsoft with the Xbox and the PS3. There's a process you have to go through, and that process has it's good points and it has it's bad points. You can't just put out any old project, but that does also mean there are more hoops for people to jump through. It's more difficult for a true indie to get things up on those platforms.

I can understand the concern. I just think it was a bit premature to condemn anything before we know. I'm a great believer in not necessarily having an opinion until you know the details, and then by all means have an opinion.

Q: It's interesting that some of the complaints have been about it being a walled garden, because that's very much what consoles and iOS already are?

Jason Kingsley: It did seem to sort of polarise peoples' opinions and I was quite surprised by it. I mean Apple have their approvals process and they have their principles by which they want to work and I guess what they say is 'we're protecting the consumer,' and quite rightly. Even with them doing what they do there's some pretty awful stuff up on the App Store and I think they control the worst excesses of malware. If you go to some of the Android stores it's extraordinary, it's incredible, it's like the Wild West.

"If you go to some of the Android stores it's extraordinary, it's incredible, it's like the Wild West"

So I was kind of surprised when people said 'we should be allowed to publish whatever we like.' It's the same polarisation that people have about the internet being free or some people say 'all games should be free, piracy is a good thing'. The thing is, somebody has to get paid, somebody has to be able to make money out of making these games and therefore you chipping in a little bit of money doesn't hurt.

But I think as usual the reality is probably a balance, somewhere between the opposing views. Too much curation and too much control is probably a bad thing and probably stifles innovation. And not enough probably stifles innovation too because bad things happen as a result of that. So probably, as with most things in life, moderation is the right solution.

Q: Rebellion has a long history and you've worked on a lot of different platforms. What to you makes a good platform?

Jason Kingsley: It would be a good and educated market, in terms of a market that understands the value of games as an entertainment medium. A big market is a good thing to have, so that's always great, and a user interface for the consumer and a way of getting games which is as seamless as possible. So if someone decides 'hey, that looks cool' they can download it straight away and get it.

And a technology that is relatively straightforward to code for, so custom chips are always awkward because you have to do custom coding. But good hardware, good memory and making it easy to get the best out of it is a good thing. But I'm not a hardware specialist and I'm sure all of these things cost money and that's what it comes down to as well, so making it cost effective for the consumer so that somebody can buy the hardware and then has got some money leftover to buy some software.

1

Q: So back to Windows a bit, why did you decide to get involved with the Power Up competition?

Jason Kingsley: I was always think it's good for people to get a break, and breaking into the games industry is quite difficult. Games are made by a lot of highly skilled professionals and sometimes the game jams and outreach opportunities to get new talent into the industry is a good thing. And it helps people get noticed and it helps people to fulfill their dreams and become a games developer, and that's a good thing.

And it's an outreach to the community in a way, and I think some of the bigger hardware manufacturers should be congratulated for doing that sort of thing. That outreach even though they sometimes get jumped up and down on by commentators, I think generally speaking it's done with a good heart and good intent.

Q: So is it harder or easier for people to break into the industry now than when you started out, almost 20 years ago?

"You can trundle along, making modest profits, until as unfortunately has happened with Eurocom, the model shifts and changes"

Jason Kingsley: There's much more middleware, you don't have to learn to programme in the same way that we use to in the old days to actually get anything on screen. We use to say in the old days once you can get a triangle on the screen you're pretty much half way there, it was just getting the damn thing to work in the first place.

I think it's more daunting because in some ways there are more opportunities, but arguably you also need less specialist technical skills to get something on screen. It's just as hard to get a really great game made, or just as hard to get something people will like, because that's the secret sauce, the magic ingredient that is hard to write down. I actually think it's easier to get something up on screen now than it ever has been before.

And also, with digital distribution, nobody actually has to pay for cartridges to be manufactured or pay for cassettes to be duplicated, before selling them in jiffy bags from the small ads in computer magazines.

Q: Rebellion has recently moved more into publishing, so how did that happen? Does it reflect a change in the industry? Personal preference?

Jason Kingsley: Typically in our history we've done a lot of work for hire but we've always a done a bit of self publishing. We tried a long time ago with a game called Gunlok which we self-funded and published through various partners. It was a modest success and it was a good return on investment. But we just didn't have the cash available to put too many of those bets down, and then other people wanted us to make games for them, and the work for hire model, from a business perspective, works quite well.

You can trundle along, making modest profits on it, until such times, as unfortunately has happened with Eurocom, the model shifts and changes and then suddenly people don't want another game based on a licence. It'll probably be very workmanlike, it might not set your world on fire, but those opportunities fall away.

So what we've always wanted to do is look at our own IP, create games for ourselves as well, and basically have fewer people in the decision loop so that we can live and die by our own creative decisions. We've made games where we haven't had the kind of creative control we would have ideally liked and for a combination of reasons that has meant that game hasn't been as good as it could have been. Whereas other games, where we've had a lot more say in what goes in and what we do, have generally speaking performed a lot better.

"What we've always wanted to do is look at our own IP and have fewer people in the decision loop so that we can live and die by our own creative decisions"

So it's what they call in business circles a 'modest pivot.' We're one of the last big independent developers left in Europe really, and we've always tried to have a portfolio of approach to our business models, let alone the games that we do. And we're trying lots of different ones out. We've got the traditional console product chugging along very nicely there, with Sniper Elite V2, and we've also got the free-to-play and freemium models on the digital distribution sector.

Q: And what about the future? The next 20 years of Rebellion?

Jason Kingsley: What I'm really excited about is the coming of age of games, where we're seen as a completely valid an incredibly entertaining mature medium. Very very few people these days think of games as kids' stuff. Basically it's another form of art, another form of media. There are good games and bad games and games not suitable for kids, and I think we're finally leaving the argument that games are for kids behind us and we're challenging other forms of media and influencing them. There are many many movies and the shot structure and narrative structure in them apes that of games. And there are games that obviously want to be movies and vice versa and there almost hybrids now and that's incredibly exciting.

I almost feel like we've lived through the birth of Hollywood from a perspective of games, and now we're seeing it mature.

22 Comments

Peter Dwyer
Games Designer/Developer

481 290 0.6
Popular Comment
Pretty much mirrored what I said about the knee jerk reactions to windows 8. To me it was embarrassing to see so called industry veterans acting like frightened rabbits when something new appeared.

In Gabe's case it turns out he just wanted to big up his new Linux based Steam box and must have seem Microsoft as a threat but, I'm appalled that so many others didn't see his motives and simply jumped on his now transparent band wagon.

Posted:A year ago

#1

Adam Campbell
Associate Producer

1,154 941 0.8
I agree with Peter. I actually think a lot of the complaints and reactions so far have been weak. I don't think there's a problem with criticism and such but I think the arguments I've heard so far are pretty shallow. Still think Windows 8 is the best OS they've made so far from my experience of it.

Posted:A year ago

#2
What is a tall poppy "syndrome"

Posted:A year ago

#3

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
Some balanced sense at last.

On the subject of WinPhone 8 I found this independent appraisal very interesting indeed: http://www.pistonheads.com/gassing/topic.asp?h=0&f=95&t=1223374&mid=356666&nmt=Quick+thoughts+on+the+Lumia+920+

Posted:A year ago

#4

Robin Clarke
Producer

300 684 2.3
Popular Comment
Most of the criticism of Windows 8 from dev circles has been concern about having one approved distribution channel (which may mirror iOS but isn't the case at all on Android or Mac) and the erosion of an open platform. A lot of games that have gained success and acclaim when later ported to closed platforms could not have originated there. Minecraft being one obvious example. Or any game that has its roots in the burgeoning modding, indie and Flash scenes on PC.

It's not accurate to say that this criticism has only come from people like Gabe Newell with a vested interest in there being other distribution channels on PC - Windows becoming a closed shop has much more far reaching implications.

Resorting to the pure FUD argument of "open platforms are full of malware" is disappointing to see as well. Users generally have enough common sense to know what they're installing, as the last thirty years of PC games have demonstrated.

Posted:A year ago

#5
According to wikipedia its "a social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down, or criticised because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers."
I never knew that!

Posted:A year ago

#6
Thanks michael - we learn something new. Otherwise, one could easily allude Poppys to the more stoned syndrome :)

Posted:A year ago

#7

Tom Keresztes
Programmer

644 263 0.4
After using Window8 for a month as a development platform, i have to say i have mixed feelings about it, but not for the reasons i was concerned before using it (for RT development).

Sure, the Tiled UI is there, but it is nowhere near as radical change. If you leave a window on the desktop open, the system will boot back to the desktop anyway, and you can just press the windows key to switch between the tiled UI and the desktop. So far it works more like an advanced start menu for me, press windows key, start typing, click and i have my desktop app running. Did not took long to adapt, but i still see no benefits, as it introduces a break (take me out from the desktop, then back) into my workflow - but really, its a minor thing, albeit an annoying one.
What fundamentally wrong is the lack of integration between the Metro UI apps themselves - like you cannot send an email from the metro internet explorer using the metro mail application, or when you open the contacts in the mail app, you cannot search for a contact as although the app requests the contacts ui from the contacts app, when you search, you will search in the mail app, not the contacts one. The same is true for desktop/metro interaction, a metro app can only access a specified file, so you cannot use a metro app to browse between files if you only send a file, as it cannot browse the directory - have no permission to do so.
There are some optimizations done on the kernel, but the only performance advantage is that they changed how the drivers load (a driver is now 'hibernated', its process space saved when you shut down) ), but if you turn off hibernate, this advantage is lost. (at the moment, it causes problems for hardware based Creative sound cards). But this is just a teething issue of a new OS.
However, the metro ui makes a terrible use of screen estate - it looks all right on a 10.6" windows rt, but its a tremendous waste of screen space on a high res monitor, and it only uses the first monitor in a multi-monitor setup ...

In my opinion, Win8 is the worst windows since 95 as most of its focus is on an area that a PRO desktop user usually do not use. Try to use a metro mail client why you do some work (visual studio, a modeller, or something similar) and the first time you have to switch to metro ui just to check your mail... Its a jarring experience. So you end up using desktop applications.

But my real question is to devs : why there is no configuration option to turn off metro on the desktop ? If its only a registry flag that needs changing, then why not expose that flag to the users?

Posted:A year ago

#8

Adrian Herber

69 23 0.3
@Peter Dwyer I could be wrong here but I suspect things went the other way at Valve. They see that if Windows 8 on ARM takes off with general consumers over the next 5 or so years, then Steam is cut off from vast numbers of casual gaming consumers. Following this, they no doubt started thinking long and hard about how they can ensure a platform for Steam that they can't be cut out of later (Apple Macs are hardly safe either). Without that turn of events, surely Steam for Linux is just a cool side project for Linux users but not much more.

Posted:A year ago

#9

Scott Davis
Product Analyst

15 8 0.5
GamesIndustry.biz New Flash - Rebellion are forced to close their UK based studio, letting go of all staff - Analysts point the finger at the CEO pouring work efforts into embracing to the Windows8 platform, quoted to have said in a previous interview in December 2012 as "happy to jump straight in and knock it".

;P

Posted:A year ago

#10

Steve Nicholls
Programmer

66 29 0.4
This 100 times... It was embarrassing to see certain devs freak out without knowing the facts and blowing it out of proportion.

Posted:A year ago

#11

Charles Herold
Wii Games Guide

35 74 2.1
Yes, game consoles and iPhones are closed systems. That's exactly why people are so upset that Microsoft wants to do the same thing with Windows. If you live near a beach, and part of it is gated because it is privately owned, and part of it is open, when they suddenly lock down the open part people don't say, well, a lot of it was already closed off, so why are people complaining that they're closing off more.

Posted:A year ago

#12

Robert Kist
Technical Art Manager

7 2 0.3
After using Win 8 pro since release I really wonder where all the Metro hate is coming from, as I have absolutely nothing to with Metro except for the start button. All the pro apps I'm using aren't metro. And unlike OS X with its "Gate keeper" I can install 3rd party applications right away and don't have to dig into the preferences to turn if off. But secretly people really seem to care much more about Windows than OS X, given the outcry Win 8 is receiving for doing the same as OS X.

Win 8 is really 2 OSes in 1. You can stick to the traditional desktop or work in Metro or use both. Microsoft obviously wants to push Metro in everyone's face with their advertising and it seems it works. Most people firmly have Win8 = Metro engrained in their brains, when in fact it's totally possible to not touch Metro at all. And actually I wouldn't be surprised if MS at some point wakes up from their stupid dream and drops Metro from the desktop like the Windows 7 sidebar or good old "Clippy".

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Robert Kist on 12th December 2012 1:48am

Posted:A year ago

#13

Shawn Clapper
Programmer

32 57 1.8
@Robert Kist

So, ignoring Metro, what are the main features you enjoyed in Windows 8?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Shawn Clapper on 12th December 2012 9:53am

Posted:A year ago

#14

Paul Shirley
Programmers

175 147 0.8
@Robert Kist

If Metro was genuinely just an alternative on Win8 there wouldn't be a problem, users could stick to desktop mode and just laugh at Metro's failings. Unfortunately in their determination to nudge everyone over to it, Microsoft deliberately degraded the desktop environment and needlessly shuffled settings and window layouts.

3rd party tools have got back about 80% of what they stripped but can't fix idiocy like giving me Metro context menus on the desktop taskbar, context menus with NO window control options. I'm managing to crash Win8 desktop regularly, it feels like they halted maintenance on it - still seeing Explorer bugs from XP days.

I have no doubt MS are intent on fully marginalising the desktop in whichever market sectors tolerate it. That's the real danger and Gabe will simply be hit worse than the rest of us. Right now we have 1 genuinely open and viable mass market, the Windows PC. Speak now or face a future with sideloading on Android the only way to avoid vendor control (and achieve mediocre sales). That's not a healthy future but Microsoft, as a platform owner, don't care a rat's arse how corporate game dev becomes, how much new talent gets suppressed.

Posted:A year ago

#15

Kevin Strange
Developer Relations Account Manager

15 7 0.5
A nice calm, support and investigate every platform approach from Rebellion. I am very pleased to see Rebellion be early to the party as I am confident that the house party will spill outside and become a street party in 2013 (with the potential to grow into mass raves over the next 5 years)
I believe that Rebellion and other developers will see good return from their early investments as the platform grows. They are likely to be ahead of the curve with the features and technology that will ensure their games provide the best experience possible

Windows 8 current experience:
My 8 year old son has Windows 8 on his laptop and loves playing both Windows 8 App Store games as well as Flash games and client download games from his web browser and desktop.
The Windows 8 Store has provided him with an excellent portal to new content and he spends 50% of his time playing games from each, with 80%-90% of paid games being from the Windows 8 App store and the desktop games primarily being free to play

Open platform:

The more choice our industry has the more it will thrive

Secure store:
I for one welcome a single store from a trusted corporation that will enable micro transactions and low cost game purchases on the PC.
I hate sharing my payment details with multiple providers even though I am relatively educated on where my payment details are going, where the developers and publishers are located and if they can be trusted. I am sure there are many potential customers who will feel the same with even more anxiety than myself.
I am much more likely to spend on the Windows 8 App Store games (for my family) than with multiple publishers and developers (especially if the store becomes one with the Xbox store in the future)

Windows 8 Future experience
My son instinctively reaches out to touch the monitor, as he is used to his IPod touch

During CES in January we will see the many upcoming Windows 8 Touch devices that will be available in 2013 and the Window 8 touch interface will start to make a lot more sense to developers and consumers

Microsoft the Brave
Microsoft has made a much needed and brave 1st step with Windows 8 to help ensure their future success whatever format devices consumers are buying (touch being an essential feature for future purchases) With more workers using their own devices for work this is an essential move by MSFT for their platform to survive and thrive

I admit that the current confusion over Windows phone, Windows 8 RT tablet, Windows 8 Pro tablet, Windows 8 on notebook and Desktop and all the cross over with Xbox interface and branding is a bit confusing at the moment, however a similar look and feel across these platforms that will become more integrated and aligned over time excites me.
I am hoping that one day the potential for a single purchase to run on multiple devices with game saves in the cloud etc will make my gaming experience across the multiple devices I own a much better one

Ensuring that the Windows 8 App store is forced onto everyone who buys these new devices will massively grow the ecosystem for developers (and Microsoft of course)

Conclusion:



Plug:
DirectX 11 Tablet hardware with features like Tessellation and direct compute on Windows 8 Pro tablets will be readily available this month and will only get better, faster, cheaper in 2013
[link url=""]
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35qYpRxj4XU&list=PLx15eYqzJifdXivR7nSOSkP8VPNEEwaiC&playnext=2&feature=autoplay [/link]
watch video 4

Cheers
Kevin Strange
Senior Developer Relations Account Manager
AMD Graphics Products Group

Posted:A year ago

#16

Robin Clarke
Producer

300 684 2.3

The more choice our industry has the more it will thrive
Replace "distribution method" for "browser" and you see the problem.

Posted:A year ago

#17

Tom Keresztes
Programmer

644 263 0.4
Microsoft the Brave
Microsoft has made a much needed and brave 1st step with Windows 8 to help ensure their future success whatever format devices consumers are buying (touch being an essential feature for future purchases) With more workers using their own devices for work this is an essential move by MSFT for their platform to survive and thrive
Apparently its less and less workers are using their devices.
Barclays is buying iPads

Posted:A year ago

#18

Stephen Woollard
Online Infrastructure Specialist

146 71 0.5
I confess I only clicked on this article to see what tall poppy syndrome meant :-)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Stephen Woollard on 12th December 2012 5:33pm

Posted:A year ago

#19

Kevin Strange
Developer Relations Account Manager

15 7 0.5
Sorry Robin, I dont understand your point. Please can you elaborate?

I have installed Steam on my Son's Windows 8 laptop and am running it without issues, it even creates tiles when I select add to start menu. I am sure that if I had a DVD ROM drive in the laptop that I could also install from DVD
He is even playing Theme Hospital (a MS DOS game)
What current/previous PC distribution methods are missing? (or are you refering to a Windows RT device that is unable to run X86 code)

Posted:A year ago

#20

Robin Clarke
Producer

300 684 2.3
Sorry Robin, I dont understand your point. Please can you elaborate?
I'm saying the argument that "it's just another option" ignores the context that it's the bundled, default, most prominent option. As IE was before the courts intervened. Windows Store will have an in-built advantage over channels which have to be electively installed/used.

Microsoft will very likely use the fact that most purchases are made through their store to limit (or outright break) compatibility with other channels in future consumer versions of Windows.

Posted:A year ago

#21

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,521 1,317 0.9
I'm saying the argument that "it's just another option" ignores the context that it's the bundled, default, most prominent option. As IE was before the courts intervened. Windows Store will have an in-built advantage over channels which have to be electively installed/used.
Indeed. Would anyone care enough to complain about the Windows Store if it was an optional install, like Games for Windows Live was before it was put down/subsumed into X-Box Marketplace? Unlikely. It's MS using their position as an OS developer (whose OS's are pre-installed on a vast number of pre-built PCs) to leverage their own store-front. Now, whilst it's their right to do this (their software, after all), whether it's positive or negative for consumers is currently an unknown. After all, bundling-in IE was obviously beneficial to consumers in the sense that they could access the internet straight away, but was detrimental to them in terms of future competition.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 13th December 2012 1:51pm

Posted:A year ago

#22

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