Molyneux: “The industry has been lazy”: BAFTA Games Question Time
From gambling techniques used for Free-To-Play, to the power of metacritic, to using tablets and TV screens being “stupid”, an open discussion on the future of video games
by Chris Fox
© 2012 Chris Fox
On an overcast afternoon in June a gaming industry panel of professionals, past and present, took to the stage of the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) building in the heart of London.
The panel consisted of Peter Molyneux OBE, founder of Lionhead Studios and Bullfrog Productions, former Creative Director of Microsoft Game Studios Europe and current Creative Director of 22Cans, his new startup.
With him, a one Mr. Ian Livingstone OBE, who co-founded Games Workshop and Fighting Fantasy, is the Life President of Eidos, Vice Chairman of UKIE and co-chair of the Next Gen Skills Campaign.
Also present was Alice Taylor, former VP Digital for BBC Worldwide (LA) and commissioner of Channel 4 Education games, apps and web TV shows. She is also the founder of MakieLab who produce customisable, 3D-printed, game-enabled toys.
Rounding off the speakers was Dave Bailey, co-founder of Mediatonic. Mediatonic design high quality social and mobile games with the likes of EA, SEGA, Disney, Time Warner and Sony.
Together, they would tackle the queries from the floor about the current state of the industry as well as pondering it’s future.
Questions and Answers:
Is there a moral divide between in-game payment options?
Peter Molyneux was the first to speak by stating that he finds many free-to-play games to be too much like demos with in-game transactions. This lead nicely into what Peter is currently working on with 22Cans, a self proclaimed experiment entitled Curiosity, which Molyneux claimed will “test the morales of monetization”.
Curiosity involves online players working against each other to chip away at a mysterious black cube with chisels. Only the player who destroys the cube will learn what lies within the holy hexahedron.
As the game plays out, players will incrementally be given the chance to buy chisel upgrades with real money. The most powerful chisel is a one of a kind diamond number and will one-hit KO the cube. The only draw back to this solution is that it costs £50,000.
This news was hard to digest at first but fear not, as, “I know what’s inside the cube,” grinned Molyneux.
“There is a very real moral issue in getting people addicted and taking their money”
He then went on to explain how there is a very real moral issue in getting people addicted to a game and then taking money from them.
Also, he impressed upon us that in-game transactions which essentially allow players to cheat breaks games, which I would agree is inarguable.
“It’s early days for monetization within games, some elements developer’s are getting right and some others the’re not,” he said.
Mr. Molyneux then added that he wanted players to feel as if they were investing in the game, rather than breaking down a wall of real world currency.
Dave Bailey said that he believed, “some businesses have taken advantage of people who are addicted to games,” and that, “it is a shame there’s a stigma attached to the freemium model thanks to some companies”.
“Freemium gaming model uses a lot of gambling techniques”
Alice Taylor added, “the freemium gaming model use a lot of traditional gambling techniques”. You have been warned.
Peter Molyneux went on to say that he would be shocked if somebody actually bought the chisel and that, if somehow it did happen, he would invest the money back into the experience.
He stated that 22Cans didn’t want people to feel they were cheating anyone, that it was an experiment and that they, “wanted to see whether people would do it”.
Apparently a group of users are already clubbing together to buy the diamond chisel. Whether or not they could hear him, Molyneux insisted that, “it’ll be worth it” and that inside the cube is, “the most amazing thing”. We’ve heard that before…
This question was rounded up with Mr. Molyneux saying that, “if proper monetization is incorporated in the design from the ground up then amazing things can happen. We love spending money on our hobbies. Why can’t we have that thought about a game?” You’ve got me, Peter.
Is there anyway you would like to sell games that isn’t currently possible?
Immediately Molyneux was back doing what he does best as he shared his thoughts on advertising.
He explained how there is so much information gathered on people these days that it could be used to sell the right games to the right audience at the right time. “I’m sick of this blanket approach to advertising. It’s the same adverts over and over again and it needs to change. Advertising should be a more personal experience and right now it just get’s in the way of my entertainment.”
I don’t think you’d find many people who would disagree with that, Peter.
Is Smart Glass a threat to Wii U and is Apple TV a threat to all consoles?
Ian Livingstone began this time, stating clearly that triple A games will never go away.
He then prophesied that there would be no hardware after the next generation and that everything would be integrated with consumers’ televisions.
“Technology is an opportunity, not a threat”
“Technology is an opportunity, not a threat,” he said.
Dave Bailey joined in by stating that Smart Glass was, “pivotal,” and that it was, “Microsoft admitting there’s a bigger picture”.
As great as Mr. Bailey admitted having XBLA games on other platforms would be, he failed to see what advantages a second screen (like a tablet) would give and that people weren’t exactly crying out for it.
Molyneux had similar thoughts, stating that he didn’t want to look at a second screen and that it was, “just stupid”. Don’t be shy now, Peter, tell us what you really think.
Like Kinect or any other motion peripheral, Smart Glass “needs the software to make it sing,” he added.
Are we lacking creativity when it comes to pure content?
Dave Bailey was the first to tackle this question by coming right out and stating that there was, “not enough new IP at this year’s E3″. No arguments there, Mr. Bailey.
“Out of Top 20 games sold last year, only one was a new IP”
He went on to say that out of the top twenty games sold last year only one of them was a new IP.
He did, however, recognise how risky it is to be making new games at the moment, especially those in a completely new franchise.
Ian Livingstone then stated that plenty of new and exciting things are happening in the digital space but discovery was the new problem.
“Developers need to learn a lot from publishers when it comes to being discovered”, he concluded.
What can be done to encourage more females to join our industry?
A universal thought from the entire panel regarding this issue was that game design is not introduced early or frequently enough in the education system.
“There are plenty of women in marketing and HR, but we need more in production,” said Ian Livingstone before adding, “creative software needs to be introduced early in schools”.
Dave Bailey admitted that only five out of his forty two employees were female. “It’s a legacy problem,” he said and agreed that, “the educational system needs to be opened up”.
Alice Taylor was thinking along the same lines by saying that, “more girls should be recruited out of college”.
“Girls like code”
Alice then told the audience that feedback from the recent Raspberry Pi launch was that girls like code. Livingstone said that a Raspberry Pi should be given to every child in the country. Here, here Ian.
We rarely know the talent in this industry. Wouldn’t it make games more human?
Ian agreed that the one thing the industry lacks is the same celebrity culture that surrounds television, film and music.
“People in our industry do deserve more recognition,” he said.
“Publishers suppressed people early on in the industry”
Peter Molyneux then explained to us that, “publishers suppressed people who were celebrated early on in the industry,” and that a lot of developers are scared of the press.
He then added, possibly from his own experience, that people often get, “flamed for speaking their minds”.
Dave Bailey summarised that many developers find it tough to get discovered because they are too busy actually making the games.
Is the risk too high in the Triple A market? Is it in trouble?
“Triple A games are changing, there are new platforms and new users,” Dave Bailey began.
“The costs are astronomical for a mid tier company,” he also said, referring to the struggle that companies who don’t make Call of Duty games face.
“The rich are getting richer”
“It’s definitely a case of the rich getting richer,” added Ian Livingstone. “The bar is raised with every sequel and there’s a huge amount of money being spent.
Everyone is playing the same games, whether it be COD or FIFA. Mid tier console games have a huge challenge ahead”. It’s a diverse future we have to look forward to, then.
“Metacritic shows people what to invest in”
Peter Molyneux joined in by stating the fact that, “seventy per cent of earnings are made through triple A holiday sales. Metacritic shows people what to invest in”.
He added, much to the audience’s dismay, that the number of new names at E3 will get smaller each year.
“It takes eighty million dollars to make some triple A games. The industry has been lazy and a lot of marketing departments don’t get viral advertising”.
He finished with saying that triple A games are actually aimed at a small slew of people. He expressed a desire for pricing models to be played around with.
He also said the same about match making in games like Call of Duty, as it’s very off putting for people to get slaughtered by pros as soon as they log in to a game. I cannot personally attest to that ever happening to me. Ahem.
If you woke up tomorrow in a post apocalyptic future and all of the games companies had wiped each other out, how would you rebuild?
Alice, Dave and Ian all agreed that they wanted one, open, unified platform.
Dave added that he would also like a new publishing model allowing the best games to become recognised as number one simply because they’re great.
Mr. Molyneux took this one step further by stating that he wanted a “singular gaming experience”. This caused quite a stir in the auditorium.
“We need one game the whole world can get involved in”
He clarified that he wanted, “one game that the whole world could get involved in,” and that, “that’s what we’re trying to do with 22Cans.” You certainly do know how to self publicise, Peter.
And with that, it was the end of a fascinating and educational evening.
It was then off to the bar with me as it was time to kill off all those new brain cells I had just acquired. Cheers!
© 2012 Chris Fox
Filed under: Console gaming, Game Industry News, Industry News, Interviews, Oxcgn Special feature, PC News, PS3 News, Xbox 360, Xbox 360 News Tagged: | 22Cans, Alice Taylor, BBC Worldwise, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Bullfrog Productions, Dave Bailey, Games Workshop, Ian Livingstone, Lionhead Studios, Mediatonic, Molyneux, Peter Molyneux