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Chris Kingsley: Part Two

Rebellion's CTO discusses the state of home consoles, portables and politics.

Following the first part of the last week, Rebellion CTO Chris Kingsley here addresses the situation for the next-gen consoles, offers his thoughts on the PlayStation Portable's plight, and talks about the political situation in the UK. The Xbox 360 has been said to be "struggling" in some quarters at the moment - is that something you'd disagree with?
Chris Kingsley

If you look at Microsoft historically as normally taking three goes at getting something just right to be really successful - it was really Windows 3.1 that really took off - so who knows what will happen in the next round of consoles? Maybe it will be their time next time around?

But what Microsoft has done is put out a fantastic machine - okay there have been some hardware problems - but it's a fantastic machine and everybody who makes games loves to work on the best, fastest, coolest machine - and certainly the Xbox 360 was that. On the flipside the PlayStation 3 seems to be gaining momentum, and as a multiplatform developer that must be great news?
Chris Kingsley

Yes, we're very happy that the consoles are getting better. There have obviously been some issues with Blu-ray, and things like that, for PS3 in terms of people wondering if it would beat HD DVD. But now that's been settled, I think it's helping a lot of people to make their decision.

All credit to Sony for thinking ahead - I'm just glad I don't have to make choices as to what hardware to put into a machine, because it takes several years to get these things to market. If you think about how much they have to spend to tool up, get all the factories ready, and how much money they must have sitting in boxes waiting for launch…think about those costs, and not many companies can do that, so we're grateful that there are companies that can. What about the direction of the PlayStation Portable in Europe - as a developer of PSP games in the past, what's your view?
Chris Kingsley

Yeah, we've done loads of games on the PSP, probably more games than most publishers, bizarrely enough. It wasn't a deliberate choice, it just happened. We were very keen on it as a platform and it took off for us.

I think the PSP is a great little platform, it'll be interesting to see what will come out next. I think it's got a good few years left in it still, because it's very versatile - it's not just about playing games, you can watch your movies on it, and do all these other things as well. Not many publishers seem to be supporting it to the extent that they did do - surely that's a problem when, as a consumer, you want to look at the release schedule and see key titles to look forward to?
Chris Kingsley

Well, you know what people are like - they all like to work on the flashy, high-end stuff. But there's still very good business to be done on the less glamorous platforms - look at PlayStation 2, it's still selling bucket-loads of consoles and bucket-loads of games, though they've got to be the right games for the right platform. So does that mean there aren't the right games for the PSP right now?
Chris Kingsley

Well, look what's happened in Japan - the PSP is kicking the arse of pretty much every other system out there, because the right games have come out. And with a bit of luck some of those games will come out in Europe and be just as successful. Do you think Sony needs to set some kind of example, or is it just a waiting game?
Chris Kingsley

I don't know - it's difficult to come up with an answer to that one. We're a developer, and we tend to focus on one, two, or a few products at one time. Sony has to take this broad approach, with multiple projects - and a lot of projects aren't necessarily theirs, so they can't really anticipate what's going to come out.

But they've done a great job, there are tens of millions of PSPs out there worldwide. It's funny, I guess the PSP has also been a bit in the shadow of the DS, but the PSP is incredibly successful...but I guess that the DS has been a super-amazing platform. You've been around as a developer for a long time, you must have seen the UK development environment change a lot?
Chris Kingsley

Yes, it's changed a lot. When we first started it was just Jason and myself in our basement at home, and now we're running a 280-strong, multi-studio developer - the number one independent in Europe, and number three in the we've seen it from the very first days, and it's interesting to see that the number of people and the amount of effort going into games has just grown, and grown, and grown.

It's always been a challenge, and one of the things I love is that there's always something new about it, a new technology to learn, new things to try - I love it when I see a group of our guys huddled around a screen looking at something someone's done, and I want to get them out of the way and go and look myself. I still love that.

But in some ways the industry is going full circle in many ways - there are some big, big games being made, but now there are also a lot of smaller games being made by one or two people. Some of these casual games can be made by small teams.

It's very important for our industry that these small shops do get the support, and can grow into something bigger and more stable. It's tough setting up a company - it's tough when you're small and maybe only have one project, and you're only relying on one income source.

But nowadays there are more potential sources for income for developers, and that can help to spread risk in different ways. In some other countries there are more ways for developers to reduce the cost to market of games than in the UK...?
Chris Kingsley

Well, first of all, I'd love to see a level playing field. That, to me, is the best situation. On a level playing field the UK has been number three in the world for many years, but unfortunately the playing field has been shifting recently, and you can understand why other countries are eyeing jealously the games industry - it's very skilled, it combines technical ability with artistic and creative ability.

I really think of games as perhaps the highest art form there is, but that's a whole other argument. But what we'd love is a level playing field, and if we can't get that, then the government has to at least be aware of the problems.

Now, the government might not be in a position to act, and we understand that. Probably what's helped us the most in recent years is Tiga has come in a really helped to shake up the industry. And I think ELSPA has responded to Tiga and the way that it's done things, and has really raised its game.

I think Tiga and ELSPA between them have really helped the industry a lot in the last few years, where I think previously nobody understood the games industry or really cared. But there's a lot to be positive about at the moment.

For a lot of people there are a lot of challenges out there. One of the great things about the UK is that it's probably the only media sector out there that isn't completely and utterly dominated by London. Relatively few developers and publishers are in London, and it's much better distributed in clusters.

There are quite a lot of developers in the south-east, but also the Midlands, Derby, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Scotland - it's much more representative of the UK as a whole than pretty much any other sector. The Byron Review was generally well accepted to begin with, although there's been more concern about the ratings issue, and the notion of the BBFC's expanded role - what's your view on that?
Chris Kingsley

The Byron Review overall I think was good for the games industry. It helped to raise the profile in a way, and helped to answer a lot of questions. But games is just one section of it, and I think a lot of the challenges are faced by the other sectors are potentially things that we'll be facing in the future. So that will be interesting to watch.

My view is that I don't really mind who is doing the classification, as long as it's not expensive and onerous to do. At the moment we have PEGI doing most of the classification and the BBFC doing a relatively small amount for us, and really the Review is recommending a shift.

As long as the BBFC can cope, and I can see some issues with how they rate games - because rating games is a more difficult prospect than movies, which you can just sit down for a couple of hours and you're going to know what's in there. With games there's a lot more content and a lot more potential for missing things, or if you don't quite play the game in the right way, you're not going to see the right things happen.

So I would expect that the BBFC will have to rely to quite a large extent on reports by the developers and publishers as to what the content is in the game, so there probably has to be quite a large amount of self-certification involved just as there is with PEGI. So I don't really see that changing very much.

There are also issues of releasing a game, and then a patch - does that have to be rated by the BBFC as well? Or will it just be a case of somebody writing that there's no significant change?

But I think with more and more digital downloads, maybe new characters, new weapons, new levels, there's a range of procedural issues that could potentially cause problems.

What we don't want to see is regulation getting in the way of the games industry too much, but we'll have to see how that works out in the next few weeks and months, as to what actually happens. I think there are various discussions going on behind closed doors at the moment - but the great thing is that we have people that can represent our views with ELSPA and Tiga.

Chris Kingsley is the CTO of Rebellion. Interview by Phil Elliott.

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