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Frontier's David Braben

The chairman of the LostWinds developer talks about the ever-changing industry landscape, and the danger of betting on just one sector

During this year's Develop Conference, GamesIndustry.biz was able to sit down with Frontier Developments' chairman, David Braben to get his views on the current UK development scene.

Here he gives his take on what 'self-publishing' really means, why developers doing more of the work that traditionally would be done by publishers is a good thing, and issues a note of caution for anybody too tempted to get carried away with the apparent riches on offer in iPhone development.

GamesIndustry.biz You recently joined ELSPA, and there's a lot talk about self-publishing recently - it seems as though a number of things have suddenly come together. What's been the cause of that, do you think?
David Braben

It's quite funny - if you look at the industry at any moment in time it feels like the stars are aligning for different things. So I think you're right, but as an industry I think we need to work together more.

I think that is starting to happen - whether it's working together with publishers, delivery channels... there have been a lot of changes, this year especially. If you look back last year there were a lot of changes, and the year before we saw the launch of XBLA. We've seen the launch of PSN, and WiiWare - there have been a lot of new innovations that have enabled new ways of bringing games to players.

GamesIndustry.biz So is it happening specifically for the UK? The big traditional publishers is a closed-off area, and from a self-publishing point of view, doing retail is really hard work, isn't it?
David Braben

By saying "self-publishing" you're implying quite a strong differentiation between whatever that means, and publishing yourself.

The challenges are how you distribute the game. That may be electronically, it may not. And then, how do you go on supporting that game? I think this is where developers are working a lot more with publishers, to do a lot more of the publishing role.

They're may be doing that in the auspices of essentially the publisher taking more of a distribution role, or another publisher might view it more as creating something together. Certainly it's changing, but it's been changing relatively continuously.

The only reason I'm picking up on this is because self-publishing has implications of somehow casting the publisher out of it. What you're really doing is, more of the publishing functions are being taken by the developer, and that's a healthy thing.

With a lot of the games we've already published where the roles have changed it makes sense for the people who are creating the look of the game to also be creating the look of, say, TV ads or whatever. I think that's a positive thing, talking directly to the ad agencies which ten years ago we wouldn't have done - but now you're absolutely expected to be a part of. That is really a positive move.

Now, whether it's the sort of games we've done already, like LostWinds on WiiWare, where we are self-publishing... but the point is, Nintendo is still doing a lot of the work. They are still running the channel, it's still they're channel in the same way that PSN and XBLA are Sony's and Microsoft's.

So the point is, the relationships are changing, and arguably developers are taking a lot more responsibility, but that's a good thing. Developers are also taking risk, which is often not talked about, but it's this balance of risk and reward that may be changing subtly - possibly because some publishers are becoming slightly more risk averse, for sensible reasons, especially in today's climate where there's less money around.

But also, the market has grown by more than 25 per cent for every one of the, whatever it is, five years - probably more. That's amazing - how many industries have done that for such a long period of time?

Something that Nintendo has done is very much broaden the market, and I'm very excited as to what the other technologies announced at the last E3 will do to broaden the market still further, to those people not into games at the moment.

It's really healthy, there's a whole influx of new people, and therefore there are new games to appeal to those people... so there are new opportunities. Whether it's short, shallow experiences, what you might call the daytime TV of gaming - they're great opportunities that didn't exist yesterday, and that's not meaning to belittle it. People belittle kids' games, which are a real challenge to deliver. The point about these much shorter experiences is that you've got to grab people really quickly, so it's a different skillset.

All of those things are coming on-stream, and coming on-stream quickly. So if anything I think the industry is changing more rapidly, but we're still a very lithe and young industry, so we can respond to these changes. That makes it ever-more exciting.

In a sense maybe it's belittling it to say there's a move to self-publishing, because I don't think that's really the move we're seeing. We're seeing a move to capitalise of different opportunities - the roles are changing.