Above: Sony’s CES booth.
Image Credit: Photo by Tom Cheredar/VentureBeat
Stevenson: Yeah. It’s tailor-made for cloud, I think. I would agree that this isn’t a zero-sum game. There are going to be many devices out there and people are going to choose to game in different ways. That’s totally cool.
We do think that cloud can move across a lot of this. The ubiquity argument behind cloud is that you’re able to play in one place, then play in another place, and have a seamless interaction with your game throughout the day. I get up in the morning, go to breakfast, and play a high-fidelity experience on my tablet. On the way to work, I play on my smartphone. On my lunch break I can play again through a web browser. Coming home at night, I turn on the console and play a super-high-fidelity experience, and it’s all the same game. It’s a continuous interaction throughout the day. … It is step by step, though. It takes time. Netflix didn’t get to be ubiquitous overnight. These are three- or five- or seven-year sorts of timelines.
Question: Does Oculus see the Microsoft experiments with the IllumiRoom as competition?
Mitchell: I haven’t tried IllumiRoom, and I’m always hesitant to comment on things I haven’t tried myself. My gut instinct is that it’s a different experience. It’s about expanding the experience from the screen into the room and integrating it into reality a bit more. I don’t think we see them as competitors, but I’d have to try it to give you my reading.
Above: The Illumiroom projects images from the game screen across an entire wall.
Image Credit: Microsoft Research
GamesBeat: The IllumiRoom is a projector that projects things around the TV. You extend the feeling of what’s going on. You could have snow falling inside your room if you had snow falling inside the game. But it requires a pretty good projector, which isn’t cheap. There’s a company called Keecker here that’s built a little traveling robot with a projector built into it, and the firm is going to sell that device for $4,000 or $5,000. It’s a bit out of the realm of what people pay for a game console. Albert, do you have any thoughts as well?
Penello: This is one of my favorite topics because it comes up at technology panels all the time. I love Microsoft Research, that they play around with stuff like that. People have seen the videos. But it’s not anything that we have plans to make into a product. It’s hard to say that it’s any kind of competitor to something that these guys are showing here.
Question: Have there been any cloud business models around working with carriers and operators to provide a joint service?
Stevenson: In the cloud context, you’re trying to reach the cloud streaming customer, and they come in all different forms. There could be people connected through a set-top box, or a mobile device, and obviously talking to an operator and working closely with them is a potential business model — getting access to their customers and providing a streaming solution to them. It’s on the horizon. You can expect to see that down the road.
Laes: As far as the Angry Birds business model, the original Angry Birds was a $0.99 download on iOS. Once Angry Birds launched on Android, we decided to go to free to play. We hadn’t supported it before because at that time, free to play didn’t exist yet. But it wasn’t a viable business model to have a paid game on Android go big. So, we decided to go free, and that was the right decision at that time. We wouldn’t be at two billion downloads without it.
But it’s not about giving the game away for free and making all our money from consumer products or licensing or all kinds of other business. Those are very important parts of the entertainment franchises that we’re building, but we want to make profitable and successful games. We definitely don’t consider them advertisements for consumer products. I’ve worked 14 years in games, and that’s what we do. We have 300 people trying to build the best games in the world.
GamesBeat: What’s the technology hurdle or the challenge that stands in the way of your vision for where gaming is going to go?
Laes: For us, the biggest challenge is that we want to build bigger games that have higher fidelity but represent a bigger download. On mobile networks it takes time and it’s not a convenient experience to get that download right away. We want to build games that require connectivity as you continue to play the game, to have that backend connection and cloud processing and so on available. It’s about the mobile connection, when people are on the subway or in an elevator or something like that and want to continue to have a seamless experience. Before we get to a point where the cloud is always available, always reachable with high bandwidth, that puts a limit on the kind of gaming experiences we can build on mobile. There’s enough pixels, enough power, enough fidelity to build great games on mobile, with great UI and great controls and so on. But building that long-lasting, server-backed experience right now is pretty difficult on mobile.
Mitchell: I talked about our challenges before. There are so many, when it comes to delivering the Holodeck. VR input is a key one. Display technology is a key one. Content is key. Coupled with content, for us, going back to the ecosystem challenge. All of my fellow panelists up here have great user bases to interact with. With Oculus, we’re starting with an installed base of zero.
We have 50,000 developers working with Oculus Rift dev kits, but until there’s an audience to monetize against, it’s hard for a developer like a Rovio to take a bet on it, because the economics of it just don’t work. Getting developers excited about the possibilities, inspiring consumers, and really delivering on the Holodeck — and that’s what we want to do with the Oculus Rift — really, execution is the only thing that stands in our way.
Penello: For us, it’s around natural user interaction. As Nate pointed out earlier, when they’re dealing with vision, there are a lot of scenarios as far as how people interact with that and what sort of challenges they face. For us, we’ve been working with Kinect for many years. Things like voice and gesture, making it just work, the customer expectation now is that they’re going to be able to interact naturally with their devices. That creates a much higher bar for getting it right.
My proudest moment is when I’m upstairs and I hear my wife say, “Xbox, on.” That means that it works. Her tolerance for technology failure is very low. The fact that she’s embraced it in our living room and using it tells me that we’re doing good work. But we have to deliver that on a global basis, in different languages, different accents. Making our console global and natural with language and gesture is one of the things we’re working hardest on right now.
Stevenson: From the cloud streaming context, again, latency and bandwidth are always a concern. It’s the last mile to the consumer, and also the last 10 feet in the house, with Wi-Fi challenges. These things are all solvable. They’re advancing in the right direction. With Wi-Fi, getting quality service of standards in play, improving routers, lots of different things are helping solve these problems. Over time, we believe these trends are moving in the right direction.
I will say that scaling the cloud, particularly in the streaming business, where you’re reliant on higher-end processing and data storage, it’s more challenging. We’re dealing with rendering and running games. Scaling that business, scaling the data center, requires careful business planning and also looking for those technology advantages. How can we do this cheaper? How can we do this more efficiently? How can we virtualize? How can we do things in a way that make the ecosystem more economical? All these trends are moving in the right direction, for sure, almost faster than we can keep up.