Day two of E3 2013 is coming to a close, but the entire industry is still buzzing about the showdown between Microsoft and Sony that took place during those companies' respective press conferences earlier in the week. Whether or not it'll matter in the long run, in the short term everyone agrees that Sony had a clear PR victory. GamesIndustry International has been chatting up top members of the industry at the show, and today we had a conversation with 22Cans founder Peter Molyneux. The former Lionhead boss and Microsoft Europe exec held back no punches when it came to assessing his previous employer's Xbox One unveiling and E3 performance.
"This is me, purely as a consumer - it seemed to me like two frat houses," he remarked about Sony and Microsoft. "It's like 'oh you've done that, so we'll do this.' They are kind of defining each other's strategy. I think Sony changed its strategy because of what Microsoft did and Microsoft changed its strategy due to what Sony did. Me, as a consumer, I don't give a shit. What I give a shit about really is the games, whether the launch titles are something I'm going to invest 500 bucks in, or 400 bucks for Sony."
One of the larger PR issues for Microsoft is that Xbox One games either require you to be online or at least to "check in" to be sure your disc is authenticated. The idea itself of being always online isn't necessarily bad, Molyneux argued, so long as there's a very clear benefit.
"Always online is simple for me. As a consumer, just show me why I should be always online and I'll be happy with it. At the moment, it just means game sale authentication. I don't want that"
"I just think it was very unprofessionally done. There was one message from one Phil and then another message from another Phil," Molyneux continued, referring to Phil Spencer and Phil Harrison, "and they seemed to be kind of shooting from the hip. Always online is simple for me. As a consumer, just show me why I should be always online and I'll be happy with it. At the moment, it just means game sale authentication. I don't want that. But if there's some way you can give a huge benefit for the consumer, and make the message super clear, [it would be accepted]."
"Right now it's not very clear; it went from once every 24 hours to not at all to all the time, and I got very confused by it. They just need to be very clear, focus on the benefits, and after a while, we'll be in the same place as this," he said, pointing to a smartphone. "This has to be always online and we didn't have to think about it. Things like Clash of Clans is always online, and I don't mind, I don't care, I just enjoy playing Clash of Clans. So I think it's a little hiccup in the industry. I think consumers are being spun up by things like Twitter and Facebook."
"We need, as an industry, to be super clear to our consumers, and when you're at E3 you kind of forget about consumers for a while. It just seems to be all about the show."
Part of the problem with E3 and the industry, Molyneux believes, is that developers and publishers are repeatedly targeting the same audience. The business will never grow with that approach.
"I do worry sometimes when I come to E3, especially this E3, I worry just how much we're pushing the industry forward. It's not about the indies and - I'm probably going to get into trouble for saying this - it's not about bringing new people and consumers into the game industry. It's about pleasing existing gamers," Molyneux commented. "The whole design of the consoles is about pleasing existing gamers, and actually what Microsoft did was they went from the first press conference and they kind of lost their nerve a bit, and they said, 'Oh crikey, we better just nail the core consumers.' I don't know whether that vision of how to interact with our audience is the right vision, to say we're all about core, that's who our audience is, we know how many Call of Dutys we're going to sell."
"If we look at [the industry's] 10-year future or 20-year future, if we still continue to be inward looking rather than outward looking, I worry about it. That's why I think the indies, myself included, [have to push games forward]. We should be appealing to new audiences, we should be using this insane, crazy tech in a completely different, game-changing way, so these huge corporations turn around and say, 'you know what, maybe we should look at that software'."
The vast majority of games on display on E3's show floor or the ones that were showcased during the Sony and Microsoft press conferences are filled to the brim with shooting and explosions and violence. There's nothing wrong with those games, but there's just too much of it.
""We're not truly exciting our audience. We're not realizing that there are many more gamers out there that love relaxation based gaming," Molyneux said. "This show is all about adrenaline based gaming, but there are tens of millions of people that love gaming because they can relax. There's nothing... there's not a single title in that show about relaxation based gaming."
"We have been in an amazingly easy world for a long time where we've got fans and core gamers that we've been unbelievably abusive to and if we're not careful we're going to lose the belief of those people"
"I was on this IGN panel, looking at the Microsoft show and what I found incredible about that, being a designer sitting with the press, is that I start to understand how the press think, what they get excited about and what they don't, and everybody just went for a toilet break when the Battlefield demo came on. I said 'Where are you going? This is Battlefield for Christ's sake.' And they said, 'There's nowhere for this to go.' You know, you've already destroyed skyscrapers, destroyed New York, destroyed ships and everything, so what can they do?"
"Hollywood has this problem as well. The most memorable films aren't the special effects driven films - we're kind of bored with it - the most memorable films are when they take a character like Batman and make him vulnerable and real and it's all about his character and why he's like that. It's going to be interesting to see what they do with Man of Steel, because it has to be more than special effects. We [the games industry] have to make that leap. I think Hollywood has started to make that leap, especially with television. If Breaking Bad was done 20 years ago it would probably be all about shooting people, but it's all about the characters and their exploration. We've got to make that leap in this industry now," he continued.
"I deeply care about this industry and I do worry about it. I'm not saying I have any of the answers but I just feel we have been in an amazingly easy world for a long time where we've got fans and core gamers that we've been unbelievably abusive to and if we're not careful we're going to lose the belief of those people."
That's why Molyneux is now such a huge proponent of indies. Independent developers tend to think outside the box and are often more willing to try outlandish ideas. That's the sort of innovation that could propel the games business to the next level and elevate the medium.
"That should define us, and if the hardware manufacturers embrace that, and encourage that, which they can do, then great things can happen," Molyneux said, adding, "I think it's a shocking realization that the valuation of companies like GungHo and Supercell and even Mojang far exceed the valuations of any of the smaller teams or in-house teams in this [console] industry. You're talking about GungHo, based on two principal games, being worth more than the market valuations of EA and Zynga put together. And they've only released Puzzle & Dragons in one territory. That's where an incredible amount of excitement is happening. And we're totally oblivious to that [as an industry]."
We'll have more from our interview with Molyneux next week.