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Talking 2K

Founder and president Christoph Hartmann on marketing, cloud games and community-based games

The fast-talking 2K founder Christoph Hartmann, who still spends time in the production trenches, thinks server-based gaming is the future of the games industry.

2K is taking a bet on its potential with its early commitment to the OnLive platform, and here Hartmann discusses why 2K is betting on the cloud and the fate of Venom Games.

GamesIndustry.biz What are folks saying at MI6 this year?
Christoph Hartmann

Everyone is talking about how to build communities, how marketing to Game Informer doesn't work anymore, and how everybody thinks we have to be on YouTube and Facebook. There is not one perfect answer. For every great example where it worked, there are another 2,000 companies where it didn't work. There is no magic bullet to solve the issue. It's a very segmented market from Wii to Flash-based games to hardcore gamers.

GamesIndustry.biz Taking the shifting demographics into account, what do you predict will be the big bet for the future of gaming?
Christoph Hartmann

What we think the future will be is the market will shift to more server-based games - similar to the movie business where most people just rent instead of view films in the cinema. We're looking into that. But given that we're a boutique powerhouse and really only focus on one thing at a time, we're not going to do it like other big people and place five bets. We're going to pick the right opportunity and go after it. The whole market is shifting online and it's the direction that we want to take.

GamesIndustry.biz What's 2K's involvement with the streaming game platform OnLive?
Christoph Hartmann

We have two games, MLB and Bioshock, that are going on OnLive, and I think it's a great idea. It will not be the only solution of that type that we will see. I'm sure there will be other players coming into that market and it's a great opportunity.

GamesIndustry.biz What was it about OnLive's pitch that sold 2K on the platform?
Christoph Hartmann

First of all, there are a lot of people behind OnLive that have incredible track records - you're always betting on people to some degree, especially in the software world - and we felt also as the market is changing you have to give new people a chance. While we have to help in some form on the product development side, it's not like we have to put USD 20 million behind [the platform] and then design a completely new game. It's kind of a calculated bet we could take. We want to support people with new ideas that could take the industry in a different direction.

GamesIndustry.biz Have you seen a live demo of the technology?
Christoph Hartmann

I have. It was two years ago in New York that I saw it running, and it was already impressive then. I'm not an engineer, so I can not run you through the technical hurdles. I'm sure they're going to overcome them. Many of the things people predicted weren't going to work, [OnLive] has overcome.

At the moment, it is the [service] that has the clearest concept of all of them when it comes to server-based gaming and really supporting mature content and any traditional big huge game. Technically, I can't judge it, but once they figure it out I'm sure other players will come into the market and it's unpredictable how many there will ultimately be. Overall it's the right step for our industry because it's what people want.

GamesIndustry.biz Why were Bioshock and MLB picked for 2K's debut on OnLive?
Christoph Hartmann

It really had to do with picking strategic titles. Bioshock for us, on the Games division, is a premium title. We really wanted to test the bandwidth for a premium title and test what the maximum is you can reach from a product that we know really well. And MLB is the one where we have the biggest commitment because we have to spread it worldwide.

GamesIndustry.biz Ken Levine has voiced his desire to more actively support the PC platform. Is 2K's commitment to OnLive a part of that? And what is 2K doing to promote PC gaming?
Christoph Hartmann

We always will be committed to the PC market. I can tell you simply why, the PC market, for me, is where you have a set of consumers who are digging deep into their titles and are very well informed. They definitely lean towards the core of the business. It's a good thing for a label like ours that tries to push the boundaries. We definitely want to be supportive.

GamesIndustry.biz Is 2K investing in server-based gaming?
Christoph Hartmann

I wouldn't say investing because the next thing you'll ask me is what the dollar amount is and where it is, but we are looking into it. And as always, we are looking at if from a creative and technical side. We are a small label, but we want to put out big things.

GamesIndustry.biz What about server-based gaming do you find compelling?
Christoph Hartmann

The advantage is it reaches a different generation - driven by people on Twitter, Facebook, short messages - that when it comes down to it seek instant reward and don't pay attention to anything longer than 5 nanoseconds, basically like my nine-month-old baby. They want to be pleased all over and whatever they have in their hand they throw away and don't remember.

Server-based gaming allows them to try out many more offerings in a short period of time and decide if they want to stick to something, and it also opens it up to turn it into a platform and get another layer of communication and build a kind of network.

Besides, the whole advantage is you don't have to go to the store to try it out. Maybe you can be per minute or pay per hour. Many opportunities.

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