Updated Wed, Sep 26, 2012 by Shayalyn
But does the public opinion make sense to you? I mean, can you see why people might be drawing these conclusions?
Gordon: I think there’s always a vocal minority. But a lot of the old games that are subscription-based are trying to have their cake and eat it too, right? They’re trying to do subscription and sell you stuff, which makes sense, because you’re thinking, “How can I raise my margins?” The down side of subscriptions is that you’re capping your revenue. The upside is that you get steady revenue and you can create a steady consumer base. So, it’s just a tradeoff.
I think when you ask, “Is there ever going to be another big subscription game?” I’d never say never, and I think it’s possible, but I think it’s a bigger row to hoe right now because the market trends are against it. It doesn’t mean it won’t come back five years from now.
Eugene: The hardest thing about big games right now is the development period, and the likelihood that the market will change during development. That’s the problem with these bigger products that can take three, four, five or even six years to develop. Look how dramatically the market has changed in just the last five years, I mean, the iPad didn’t even exist then, and most people didn’t have a Smart Phone then. The longer the development time, the more likely it is that the world will change around you, and that’s always the risk when delivering a big product.
The hardest thing about big games right now is the development period, and the likelihood that the market will change during development.
Do you think it’s getting easier or harder for games to find funding? Every day I’m seeing something new in my inbox for an indie game trying to build funds via Kickstarter. Val mentioned how publishers can have unrealistically high expectations for their games, and how that can make it difficult for future games to find funding. Are we going to see a transition now to more independently funded games and niche titles?
Valerie: I think Kickstarter is an amazing thing. I’m excited to see where that’s going to go. Because it gives people, any guy off the street, a sense of ownership in a product that he believes in, and I think that’s awesome.
Eugene: I’d like to slightly challenge your point of view. I’m actually worried at times about Kickstarter. I sort of view the transition like this: it seems to have gone from, “Hey, will you be my friend on Facebook?” to “Will you give me a recommendation on LinkedIn?” to “Will you give me money for my project on Kickstarter?” It’s an amazing model, and it’s an amazing thing that it’s done--there are some great projects that have come out of it that have received funding. I think, though, that many games work and survive because they have a passionate community around them. They feel a strong sense of entitlement and ownership already from the money that they spend either on a subscription or that they invest in the free-to-play model.
Valerie: [laughing] They feel entitled as soon as they pick up the box in the store.
Eugene: Well, that’s true. So, the idea that people actually truly have a stake in the product, like with Kickstarter, all I can say is good luck to all the developers. My concern is that the backlash...I don’t know that we’ve actually seen a game delivered yet that has been funded through Kickstarter. And I hope that those projects can deliver what the consumers want, what the people who are investing in those projects want, because that’s going to be a big challenge. The people who feel like they helped bring that game to market are going to feel a strong sense of entitlement about what that game should be.
You have to be careful what you promise or you’re going to have a rude awakening.
Valerie: You have to be careful what you promise or you’re going to have a rude awakening. Isn’t it you, Gordon, who’s always quoted as saying, “Making games is hard?” I mean, it is. I think Kickstarter is going to be a great thing, and it’s going to sort of re-educate people that you have to have more accountability.
Eugene: What’s interesting is that we’ve seen some great people, with great experience, who, for one reason or another, have had challenges getting funding to produce their products and are now finding [a way]. I hope it works out really well for all of them, but I would approach it with great caution.
Gordon: Let’s say we’re in the midst of a Chinese curse: we live in extremely “interesting times.” And you’ll find the best of times and the worst of times simultaneously. We’re in the middle of a down-shift--we are down-shifting to smaller, more niche oriented games. The upside of this is that games are everywhere, on every damn platform you can think of, and you’re going to see a lot more innovation as to what kind of games get made.
As for Kickstarter, I think it’s just an outgrowth of social media that allows people to define customers as people who will pre-pay for games. I think it’ll get a lot more sophisticated over time.
So, what things--what trends or specific ideas--have you most pumped about the future of the industry?
Eugene: For me, it’s the diversity of platforms on which we can play games today and on which we can deliver them. I think that, as more and more people become passionate about games ...there are more people playing games today than ever before, and they’re doing so because we’re able to deliver games that can let them play any way, any style, and on any platform that they’re interested in. And that represents a tremendous opportunity.
Let’s say we’re in the midst of a Chinese curse: we live in extremely “interesting times.” And you’ll find the best of times and the worst of times simultaneously.
Valerie: That’s kind of my answer, too. I mean, it’s the great equalizer. When I started playing video games my mother would never touch one--when I said “games” to her she’d think Bridge or Scrabble--but now everyone in my family plays some kind of computer game. We talk about it at Christmas while we’re opening Christmas gifts, and it’s awesome, it’s a shared interest even if we don’t play the same kinds of games. Everyone in the family plays something, and we can talk about it, and it brings us closer together. I imagine this as the modern-day equivalent of how in the 40s families used to gather around and listen to the radio. And to me that’s an awesome thing--anything that can keep us having these great relationships with people. Through gaming, it’s opened up a whole world for me. I mean, I’ve got friends in India. There was no way I ever would have met anyone in India if I didn’t play games and I wasn’t involved in these communities. So, to me, it just makes this big world a little bit smaller.
Gordon: I think it’s a wonderful time right now because the major players in the market over the last 20 years--you know, the surviving two, those guys--are able to redefine themselves. And that’s an interesting challenge culturally and business-wise for all of them. I think the role of the publisher has been diminished, and it’s going to be interesting to watch this epic change going on at hyper-speed.
For me, when we started doing games online, it was the beginning of the disruption. You know, we began having direct conversations with consumers as opposed to just putting stuff on store shelves, or reaching them just through advertising or PR. [Being online] changed the level to a much more intimate conversation with consumers. And now, all these platforms, all these different ways to distribute games, all these different ways to target much smaller audiences that are addressable...to me it’s a fabulous time. And it’s because of all the disruption. It’s because it’s going to be something new that we haven’t seen quite yet when it’s all said and done. It’s just like watching the meteors fall and the dinosaurs disappear all over again...
Eugene: We’re all desperately trying to evolve into mammals; that’s the key.
Gordon: Right, right! We want to go eat the dinosaur eggs, pretty much.
We'd like to thank Eugene Evans, Valerie Massey, and Gordon Walton for taking the time to share their insight into the gaming industry.