PS3 has “many years to come.” Ray Maguire and Ian Livingstone interview – part two

The second part of our chat with the chair and deputy chair of Bafta’s video game committee. Today: is the industry being creative enough?

Yesterday, we talked to Bafta video game committee members Ray Maguire, head of Sony Computer Entertainment UK, and Ian Livingstone, life president of Square Enix, about the state of the games business, the polarisation of the industry and the lack of media attention for interactive entertainment.

Today, a day before the GAME British Academy Video Games Awards, we look at innovation, education and the fragile future of the sector… Where are the interesting things happening in the games industry at the moment? What are the emerging trends? Ian Livingstone: From a purely industry point of view, rather than my personal position, all the excitement seems to be happening in the online space. With the wide penetration of broadband, there’s never been a better time for content creators to reach a large audience. There’s been a major growth in the number of small development teams and with that comes huge creativity, because they don’t have to go through a process – via publishers, via retailers, via people who don’t know as much about games as they do – to get to the public. They can serve the content they want to create, to consumers who are interested. The fact that Minecraft won a lot of rewards at GDC shows what one person can do – it’s a very innovative title and he sold a million copies at ten dollars a piece. Through traditional channels, that wouldn’t have happened. We’re going to see a lot more of that. Even if these people only sell one copy, they have the pride and desire to carry on. There’s never been a better time for creativity to flourish.

RM: At the other end of that spectrum for me, it’s what happens with 3D. We’re seeing 3D as a staple part of the cinema experience now and that will transfer into the home – as it’s already started to do. It’s estimated that by 2014, 40% of homes in the UK will have a 3D-capable device, whether that’s a laptop, a TV or something else. Soon, when people begin to replace their flatscreen televisions, they will probably buy one that just happens to have 3D capabilities built in. That opens up an environment for content providers to invest more money into 3D material. Sony has a lot more games coming in 3D this year, and it does enrich the experience. It’ll be a reasonably long haul to get there, but I think it could become the norm.

Will Sony be looking to encourage indie developers to explore technologies like 3D and Move?RM: There are two ways we interface with people who want to develop. One is through the licensed partnership agreement – via this, we have support systems to impart knowledge and ensure third-parties can create the best content possible. The other side is more of a homebrew-type situation with the PlayStation Minis programme. These are very low budget products by design. It’s an area I’m sure we’re going to develop and make it easier for people to take part. One area that really interests us is tied in with Ian’s report – we need to get people creating something of value, especially at university, and we should give them the ability to publish what they’re doing. That’s something we’re looking into at the moment.

But the process can start with standard retail games that include creation elements. We’re looking at LittleBigPlanet 2 at the moment and how we can use that to encourage creativity. It’s basically an editor, you put levels together, write a story… When you look at the creativity coming out of a million consumers, it’s unbelievable – the stuff they’re coming up with is outrageous. It shows that if you give gamers something that’s easy enough to deal with, you’ll get creativity in abundance.

The area we also need to look at is much deeper, hard coding. We have 5000 secondary schools in the UK, if we put computer clubs into all of those, and we had just one child from each school going to university to study games development, then say we only had one out of every ten of those joining the industry, we’d have 500 people joining the workforce every single year. That would be a great achievement. We also need script writers, fantastic fine artists – we’re reliant on all the other arts to be part of the overall production. But maths, physics and coding are fundamental – games can’t exist without them.

Bafta can help us here. It is a charity and education is a huge part of it. It’s important to reach people through the events we put on throughout the year, and we’re looking to put on more. We also video as many as we can – you can see some great footage on the Bafta website. Bafta is a massive brand, it’s got creativity written through its DNA, it also has access to wonderful people who can bring this stuff to life for kids. There’s a great way we can all interact here – it needs some thinking about, it needs some sorting out, but it will develop over time.

The games being nominated for Bafta awards this year are very much core titles – Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty Halo, etc. In five years time, would you like to see a more diverse range of experiences being put forward for consideration?RM: This is very much a question of push and pull in terms of products and customer demand. Heavy Rain has been successful for us, yet when you look at CoD it’s dwarfed in terms of numbers. Consumers are asking for many different genres, and we will supply according to that demand. We’re looking for a point of difference as well, and the creativity of developers will ensure we’re still pushing in to new areas. But that will be down to consumers – if it’s engaging and appealing, then they’ll buy our product, if not, they’ll reject it and we won’t make any more. I think genres will remain pretty similar but there is potential to tell more and better stories. There is more dialogue, more plot development… we try new genres, some stick, some don’t, that’s just the way of the industry.

And as a console manufacturer, how does the constant evolution of technology affect your business? How will you build PlayStation 4 to allow for the creation of new game types?RM: It’s the same conversation as it was for PlayStation 1, 2 and 3. With the amount of money required nowadays to develop and launch a new platform, you have to have a long lifecycle. With PS1, launched in 1995, we ended up with a seven year active lifecycle and a 10 year overall lifecycle. When we set out to invent a new platform, often it’s something we can’t actually make yet, because technology hasn’t got us into a position where we can make silicon that thin, or where we can manage that amount of heat or power.

PlayStation 3 was the classic example – nobody else could create it for us so we had to build a fabrication plant to make it ourselves. And then there’s a learning curve of how to use the technology to get the most out of it – so classically at the launch you’ll get one or two brilliant games then a lot that struggle to use the power because it’s complicated. Right now, we’re seeing a lot of the power of PS3 being used so the games are looking great, and that’s good for third-party publishers as they start to make good money on the big winners.

Where we go after this is an interesting one. The online side is very interesting and is a big part of our business going forward. But in terms of what sort of technology we’ll be using, it’s far too early to say yet because we’re only half way through the lifecycle of PS3 – there are many years to come on that machine.

Is Britain under threat as a game development nation?IL: I hope not, but there are a lot of urgent issues that have to be addressed to boost the industry. Historically, we are brilliant at creating games – after Sir Clive Sinclair put affordable computing into our hands we had Elite, GTA, Tomb Raider… We got off to a great start, but we didn’t invest in that. It’s a typically British story – we come out of the blocks flying, but then everyone else wakes up to what we’re good at an overtakes us. Foreign publishers see more value in the IP we create in the UK than we do ourselves. So many of our studios are foreign-owned now, and a lot of talent has gone abroad to work in Silicon Valley and Montreal. I would hope that in the indie space there’s an opportunity for the rebirth of UK brilliance.

Do you, as a publisher, have a responsibility toward supporting UK development?IL: I don’t think anyone has a responsibility – even though I’d like to personally. You have to go where the skills are high and the costs are low. As an industry, we’ve lobbied hard for tax credits and have been ignored by the government. So you have to compete with Montreal, which offers 37.5% production tax credits. That’s hard cash in your hands, matched with a very skilled labour force. They’re able to effect a brain drain from the UK because they’re offering very good salaries, a great quality of life and great opportunities.

They’ve achieved in ten years what it took the UK 25 years to achieve, because the Canadian government invested in the industry. They spent half a billion Canadian dollars attracting the likes of Electronic Arts, Ubisoft and Eidos to set up shop there – but that in turn has let to $1.5bn of inward investment. They’ve created this fantastic ecosystem for video game development, which we have not done in the UK. You need access to production tax credits to create a level playing field and a skilled workforce, and if the UK can’t match Canada it’s no surprise that publishers will place their development studios elsewhere, which is a tragedy given our heritage.

How about at Sony? Are your development studios in the UK still important?RM: Clearly we’re very proud of the products that are coming out of studios in the UK. We face exactly the same issues – we have to look at staffing costs, the projects, the funding. But we have a responsibility to make sure we’re pushing the boundaries, and we need people who are at the top of their game in terms of R&D. At the moment, Britain is a good place to find them. What would happen if we could no longer find that talent in the UK? I don’t know…

You can watch the Bafta video game awards online via the Bafta site.



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Keith Stuart © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds is updated frequently per day with all latest Free Slim PS3 news.

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