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Technology Squared

"It's very exciting time for the development teams in the industry," says Square Enix Worldwide technology director Julien Merceron

Worldwide technology director might sound like a daunting job title, but speaking exclusively to GamesIndustry.biz, Square Enix's Julien Merceron was still excited about the future of gaming. Even after 17 years in the industry he was enthusiastic as he explained the opportunities for connected gaming that cloud storage and computing can bring, and revealed his hopes for the next generation of consoles.

Merceron, who ha also worked with Ubisoft, was speaking in advance of Cloud Gaming Europe, which starts today in London, and which he'll be attending. GamesIndustry.biz will also be there to bring you all the latest news and interviews from the event.

GamesIndustry.biz What are the priorities at the moment for Square Enix in terms of technology? Both in terms of the cloud and in general?
Julien Merceron

There are two aspects to that. First of all we are developing a lot of technology internally within the group, and at the same time we take advantage of some middleware. We tend to support many platforms internally, almost all the platforms out there, so when we think about technology we think about what platforms we want to address, the type of products we want to do, how consumers are going to interact with it, and the different services that are out there.

So there's a strong interaction between the the creative side of the company and the technology side of the company, we learn a lot from what creative people want to do and technology on the same side tries to inspire creative people. So there's a strong dynamic there to make sure that obviously the technology planned is aligned with the intentions of the company, and also aligned with the platform and the business out there. And at the same time that we can inspire.

So we support the usual suspects, and when it comes down to cloud we look at it in many different ways. As you know with cloud storage and cloud computing there's a wide variety of services out there that do a little bit of both, whether it's Amazon or Azure that are more cloud storage, or whether it's Gaikai and OnLive that are more cloud computing, we tend to look at these services and try to see how we could take advantage of these to do something different. Especially this is the way creative people look at it.

And I think that we kind of experience this already, as you know Square Enix is doing MMOs, as you know we have some social and community SDK internally that we use in our games to support different types of asynchronous game play services for our traditional core games out there on hardware platforms. So basically we've done some cloud storage features already, sharing save games, allowing players to share items, pictures, videos exporting to YouTube, linking to Facebook. We've done a little a bit with what cloud storage was able to offer in the last few years, cloud computing is definitely something we've started working on with OnLive so far, but we have a partnership with Gaikai also, and definitely we want to dive more into this.

So going to back to your question about where this is going to lead, obviously cloud storage is really great for designing asynchronous gameplay so you're doing something in your game and someone is going to do something later, not at the same time in the game but because a lot of the data you are manipulating are shared online while you are connection or you are not connected, you can have some asynchronous interaction between players at different levels. And I think that's where the cloud storage services are just going to make that more and more present in the game.

One thing that that's going to change in the gameplay is that definitely game designers are going to find out the more online they are in the game, the more platforms they can connect together, allowing a player to be on the home console and then when he takes the train being able to continue doing something within the world of these games from his iPhone or his Android. And this kind of many platform activity is going to develop a lot thanks to cloud storage.

I think it's going to change also the way players interact together, and the way NPCs are designed. Because I think we'll be able to probably use a lot of player's data to actually influence how NPCs are going to play in the game. So you could potentially have NPCs in your game that play like your friends, or like some of your friends. So I think cloud storage will actually have a huge impact in terms of gameplay, game design, artificial intelligence, etcetera. It's also going to allow players to play an experience almost on any platform, if they want to, and that's a big changer both for the business and for the games.

Now cloud computing is very different, it's more the notion of playing from anywhere, whatever device you have in your hand, you can talk about UI issues after that, but almost any device you have in your hand could run your game. And its not just accessing your data from different interfaces, it could be just accessing your game. And the fact that Gaikai and OnLive are starting to sign up with Google TV, and TV integration, even OnLive is starting to run Windows 7 on iPad. And it's just now whatever device you have in your hand that has a screen and networking capabilities could run almost anything from a cloud computing perspective. The big issue will definitely be the UI aspect, and how you interact, but cloud computing is definitely offering something different and it's also something that we are looking at very carefully.

GamesIndustry.biz Is it something you would like to see taken up more then, because it would solve those issues of working on so many different platforms, as you currently do?
Julien Merceron

I think it cannot solve the multi-platform development, at least in the short term and the middle run. No company in the cloud computing business will be able to support all the relevant platforms the right way. You look at just the UI aspect, and the connectivity aspect, depending on what platform you're playing on and what bandwidth and latency you have, and what interface you have, the interaction with your game is better or worse. And from a game designer perspective it's terrible to imagine that the experience could be not great on one platform. I think it's going to mature and in the long term I think that actually platforms will take into account that a lot of services are cloud computing, maybe there will be more alignment in the interfaces in the long run. But in the short term you still see games that actually don't play well as a result of interface, screen size, resolution, interactivity, on certain platforms.

That's why I'm saying its not going to solve multi platform development, because we are still going to make native games for certain platforms where cloud computing is not going to be the right solution from a consumer perspective, from a player perspective, and also its important to note that some platforms are closed platforms, so there are definitely some hardware devices that won't allow, whether Gaikai or OnLive or anything other cloud computing service to actually be a game delivery service on their own device, because they want to be the only one to provide that service. So because of these aspects it could end up solving the development issues in the long term, but definitely it will take many, many years before hardware devices and the concept of open and closed platforms evolve.

GamesIndustry.biz So do you think cloud tech will be part of the next generation of machines?
Julien Merceron

I think it will have to be somehow. I think that cloud storage and cloud computing are... you can see how important it's going to become and how much of a game changer, how much of an experience changer, it's going to be. And I also think the development side of the companies are very excited about this. You look at digital revenues and some companies announced really great performance. So for a company like EA, digital was super-important, I think it was $1 billion? You look at the fact that we're saying that calender year 2011 business went down but actually it's just because we are capturing retail revenues. But the digital business is huge, so I think that both from a creative perspective, from a service perspective, from a many platform, and from just a gamer perspective as well, this is going to be welcome and embraced. So when it comes down to future hardware platforms, and official home consoles, I think its going to be instrumental.

So coming back to your question it has to be. It has to be part, somewhere, somehow, of something can be done on these devices. One additional thing is that if you imagine platform that would basically have cloud computing capabilities, for example, then why would you eventually need to change the hardware? Because actually what you then just do is basically change the back end to be more powerful. You can still a hybrid, local computing, remote computing if the platform is secure the client can actually run on a pretty heavy hardware configuration. And of course you can scale, potentially, the back end.

So it could extend the life cycles of the platforms. I think it has tremendous benefits. I don't see any good reason not to investigate for platform holders how they could actually think about cloud storage and cloud computing for their next platforms.

Rachel Weber avatar
Rachel Weber: Rachel Weber has been with GamesIndustry since 2011 and specialises in news-writing and investigative journalism. She has more than five years of consumer experience, having previously worked for Future Publishing in the UK.
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