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Peter Moore on the future of sports and the history of games

Unity exec on engine-maker's new broadcast tech and whether gaming can lean on its past like sports teams do

As an executive at Sega, Microsoft, and then Electronic Arts, Peter Moore was unquestionably part of the games industry for the better part of two decades. Then he left for the world of sports and the chance to be CEO of his favorite childhood football team, Liverpool FC.

After three years in which Liverpool enjoyed considerable success and a Premier League championship, Moore stepped down and seemingly returned to games with an executive appointment at Unity and a board position for mobile publisher Nifty Games.

But speaking with GamesIndustry.biz, Moore doesn't see his position as Unity's senior vice president and general manager of sports and live entertainment as actually being in games.

"I'm no longer in the direct gaming industry," Moore says. "I'm taking gaming technology and I'm moving into sports."

Despite that, he still frequently refers to gaming as "our industry," which we take not as a contradictory slip-up but evidence of just how intertwined he sees the two fields' futures.

That's why he's appearing on the mainstage at Leaders Week London tomorrow, telling the sporting conference audience about how gaming technology will help shape "the future reality of sport."

He gives us an example of what he means with a demonstration of Metacast, an offering Unity is pitching as "the real-time 3D sports engine that powers the next evolution of sports participation, production, consumption, and monetization."

Moore shows that off with a bit of footage from a UFC fight straight out of the uncanny valley. The match between Georges St-Pierre and Kevin Lee features convincingly lifelike footage of the two fighters that's clearly a cut above the latest UFC video game. But the Octagon they are fighting in exists in a void, and their lifelike representations appear noticeably pasted into the world.

Metacast combines 3D game tech with the actual faces UFC fighters make during a match

Metacast combines 3D game tech with the actual faces UFC fighters make during a match

But then the camera swings around the fighters, pausing to show strikes and holds from a multitude of angles that would be impossible to get in a traditional TV broadcast, including a first-person perspective from one of the fighters.

Moore explains that the images of the fighters were created using volumetric capture, with a series of RGB and infrared cameras positioned around the fighters and Unity's tech doing the math to extrapolate all that data into a 3D environment. We've seen sports broadcasts incorporating conspicuous 3D kludges for a while, but the Metacast UFC fight does seem like a step up from what we're used to.

Next he takes us through a similar treatment from the Rugby World Cup, pausing the action to display Family Circus-like trajectory lines showing where players were and where they're headed. All the while, Moore is touting the opportunities Metacast offers, like letting viewers highlight their favorite athlete's shoes and purchase them instantly.

It reminds us of the push for dynamic in-game advertising from the mid-'00s, when firms like Massive, IGA Worldwide, and Double Fusion promised that serving big brands into games would revolutionize the industry. Microsoft spent hundreds of millions to acquire Massive in 2006, but shut the division down four years later. IGA Worldwide and Double Fusion likewise disappeared from view shortly after.

"There's still a lot of money spent on in-game advertising. But sports is a whole different story. It's somewhere between $40 billion and $60 billion a year spent on advertising in sports"

Moore was at Microsoft at the time of the Massive acquisition, so we ask why this kind of interactive advertising should work in sports when it never seemed to live up to its promises in games.

"I have two daughters that work at EA on in-game advertising, and there's still a lot of money spent on in-game advertising," Moore notes. "But sports is a whole different story. It's somewhere between $40 billion and $60 billion a year spent on advertising in sports. What we're doing is we're melding and blending the video game world and the real world of sports with this technology, if you will.

"As CEO of Liverpool, we were about a half billion dollars in sponsorships and advertising paid to us... It's huge because of the viewing audiences. UFC gets millions of people in real time. And the fact you could tap on [a player in the Metacast demo] is indicative of the fact you could interact with the advertiser and turn that advertising into a sale in real time. You couldn't do that in our video games. You couldn't do that in the old days."

Moore expects the tech to be used initially for performance analytics and during sports broadcasts.

"At first what you're going to see is half-time or post-game analysis using 3D, but it's just a question of time because the technology is there and the pipes are there with 5G and 6G in the future," Moore says.

petermoore

Peter Moore, Unity

It doesn't stop there, of course.

"I'm not a betting guy but I know the FanDuels and DraftKings of this world soak up that data and are able to utilize that for their business models," Moore says.

Moore even envisions more noble uses of Metacast, showing a clip of kids practicing basketball in a high school gym and saying coaches could use the tool to give young players more immediate feedback and help them understand the game better.

There are limits to the tech in its current form, and they become more apparent as Moore switches from sport to sport. The UFC demo comes off the most impressive, but it's also arguably the simplest, with just two athletes to track from a multitude of angles. As a contact sport with 30 players (and the resulting tangle of limbs) to keep track of at all times, a Rugby World Cup match presents the Metacast with a tougher challenge.

"Yeah, occlusion is an issue," Moore admits. "You can see with UFC we've managed with our rendering tools to eliminate occlusion. But like any technology I've been involved in for the last 30-plus years, it will just evolve. Moore's Law kicks in with this stuff very easily. Less cameras in the stadium, better quality 8K and 10K cameras. We're pushing five million voxels a second here."

Bringing gaming technology to bear on sports should be familiar to Moore, as he said his time with Liverpool taught him just how much the sporting world could learn from games, particularly about the merits of engaging with a global audience.

"Liverpool's a huge club: 400 million fans in every corner and every nook and cranny of this world," Moore says. "How do we engage them 24-7? You're only playing a football match once or twice a week for 90 minutes. But the thirst for content, the thirst for information, the thirst to see training and interviews... "

As for what games could learn from sports, we ask Moore about sports' ability to use its past to drive interest in the present and the future.

"When I was at Sega, man, we leveraged Sonic the Hedgehog every different way you possibly could. But gaming moves so fast"

"Liverpool formed in 1892, and most of our marketing we would do was about the history, the legacy, and the nostalgia," Moore says. "Now we're a very successful modern team, but we stand on the shoulders of giants and we embraced our history because our fans craved that legacy and that history.

"With games, because of the progression of technology, it's tough to go back. When I was at Sega, man, we leveraged Sonic the Hedgehog every different way you possibly could. But gaming moves so fast."

One of the big problems in Moore's eyes is that companies wind up having to use modern technology to constantly reinvent cherished intellectual properties, and the resulting efforts often look completely different from the ones people loved. And while some companies have done it well -- he notes Nintendo as the best -- not every publisher has quite as much history to lean on.

"With Xbox, maybe you could back to the original Halo," Moore suggests. "But it's really more about the IP. With Liverpool, I could go back into the archives and show footage from games in the 1930s and people would lap that stuff up. You tapped into that warm feeling. I first went to Anfield in 1959. My dad took me when I was four years of age to watch Liverpool play. And even though I moved to America 40 years ago, my life can be tracked against Liverpool's wins and losses and what have you."

Games can do that to some extent, he adds. Last month he posted on Twitter about the Dreamcast's 22nd anniversary and how that resonated with his followers.

"I'll go back to SoulCalibur, Sonic Adventures, Ready 2 Rumble, Hydro Thunder, TrickStyle and people would weigh in," Moore says. "My Twitter account would be full of these warm memories. But in relation to sports, it's a really tight timeline. Really it's 30 years, from when we got into the PlayStation era onwards that it became a big business."

That timeline will obviously expand on its own as the years roll by, but Moore has some reservations about whether or not gaming can ever truly capitalize on its past the way professional sports has.

"I worry a little bit that we get nostalgic for the old games and we go back and play them and go, 'Eh, it wasn't quite like I remembered.' I think we struggle a little bit with games. I've watched companies bundle old games together on mini devices and it seems to work, but I think our industry moves too quickly."

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