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Listening is one of the things I like best about my job. Over the past few weeks, at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles and elsewhere, I had a chance to interview a bunch of executives, CEOs, and game creators about their views on gaming. This week’s column takes snippets of wisdom that I gleaned from those interviews.
I enjoy talking to smart people and interpreting what they have to say. In this case, I’m trying to narrow down to the most important nugget that they each shared during the course of a longer conversation. This is an absurdly difficult task, but as I write this column a couple of weeks after E3, I’m trying to absorb what was really important. I think that everybody in the game industry should undertake this kind of exercise now and then, synthesizing the huge data dump we get from the industry’s biggest trade show and summing it up. And if you were as busy as I was, I’m sure you didn’t have time to read many of these interviews during the show. This is a quick way to catch up on what you missed.
If you want to see the full interview and the context for the quote, click on the person’s name. These are interviews that you’ll read only on GamesBeat, and we are happy to present them to you in digestible form. You’ll notice that most of the photos are by me as well. I’m not the greatest photographer. These people are movers and shakers, but I believe at the core that everyone I interview is a person. I like to convey that humanity in some way through a photo, and I snapped most of these myself as I did the interviews. I hope you enjoy these words and images. Some of these folks will be speaking at our GamesBeat 2015 event on Oct. 12-13 in San Francisco. I’ll let you guess which ones for now.
Also, here are quotes from the 18 game industry leaders we interviewed at last year’s E3.
Mike Gallagher, CEO of the Entertainment Software Association
On diversity at E3 and the gaming business:
“You’ll see examples of the diversity of the industry on display for the whole world to see. When it comes to diversity on an international base, 40 percent of the exhibitors are international companies. When you look at where these products come from and who they’re for, it’s everyone in the world.
“When it comes to gender issues, I spoke about this with you at your conference. We see the trajectory for the games industry as very bright. In 2009, according to IGDA, nine percent of the industry were women. According to the same source today, that number is 22 percent. The Higher Education Video Game Alliance, 63 universities with programs that teach video games or have video game degree programs, they’ve said that their video game programs have proportionally twice the representation of women compared to computer science and engineering at 34 percent.
“The industry is on a path to an even greater number of women engaged in making games and growing the industry. Women are already playing games, we know that. 44 percent of gamers are women. You’ll see those numbers pull quite a ways ahead of the rest of the tech industry. It’s because we’re a creative medium. You’ll see that on the floor at E3. We’re proud of where the industry is going in that respect.”
Andrew Wilson, CEO of Electronic Arts
On EA’s competition:
“The competition we have is competition for your best time. As human beings, we have an amount of time we allocate every day to entertainment. That might be watching TV. It might be playing games or listening to music or reading books. These days it’s shopping for a lot of people. Amazon wants your shopping experience to be interactive and fun and give you rewards. It sounds a lot like making games to me.
“When we think about competition, we think about you as a player and what you’re engaging with through the day. We know that we need to engage with you a certain amount of time per day in order to maintain that relationship. That might mean we’re competing with another console developer, another mobile developer. It might mean we’re competing with your bank, which is trying to make the banking experience interactive and fun. We might be competing with you and your articles.
“It’s not just competition for games. The world has woken up and recognized that interactive entertainment is the best form of entertainment. All of a sudden everyone is trying to do what we do. We get up and we’re looking left, right, front, back and trying to make sure the experiences we deliver to our players are the most entertaining, most rewarding, most inspiring experiences possible.”
Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision Publishing
On a commencement speech he delivered at UCLA about creative leadership:
“That was a speech delivered to kids who just earned an art degree. It was geared toward them, not toward business leaders. But my message to them was to not accept limitations on themselves that the world would try to put on them as creative people.
“When I was asked to share whatever wisdom I’ve learned, it occurred to me that — it made me wonder why so few creative people are asked to lead things. Every other discipline in the business world is routinely considered for leadership positions — operations, finance, law. It’s almost never a creative person. Part of that is perhaps a bias the world has about creative people. Part of it is things creative people tend to do to themselves.
“I encouraged the kids to think of themselves not only as creators, not only as the fuel for organizations, but as potential leaders in those organizations, and to do the work they need to do to be prepared and informed to help make the big decisions. Step out from behind the walls that we put up around ourselves.”
Shannon Loftis, head of publishing for Microsoft Studios
“On Xbox One backward compatibility with Xbox 360 games:
“Gamers have been asking for it since we launched. Recognizing that it’s important to our fanbase, that people have made significant investments in time and passion and money in their 360 collections, we wanted to make sure that value extended into the Xbox One. But it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t simple. We’ve had engineers working on this for a long time. Many of the 360 games are so deep and rich, so beloved, that people aren’t ready to give them up yet. It’s easy to just not make it a choice between the two. You probably already know this — we had scarce engineering resources. But because it was it so much in demand, and because people were enjoying games online so much, we put some people on it. They’ve created 360 emulation in software within the Xbox One architecture. When you put your disc in the drive, we download a little shim that allows it to talk to the 360 emulation. We load up a bit of the Dashboard, and then you launch your game from there. But you still have access to all the Xbox One features.
“Loftis on women heroes in games:
“Gamers form the deepest bonds with the content and have the most immersive and engaged experiences when they have something they can relate to on the screen. Adding a more diverse array of characters invites a more diverse set of gamers. Making gaming more inclusive is good for everybody – good for gamers, good for developers, good for people in general. That’s right. Lara Croft is someone I’ve identified strongly with for years now. Player choice is another thing. The more we give people the opportunity to customize their experiences to suit their tastes, that’s great.”
Brendan Iribe, CEO of Facebook’s Oculus VR
On the company’s new Oculus Touch hand controllers:
“These are the Half Moon prototype of the Touch controllers. The goal with Touch was to make it an extension of yourself, to get your hands in the game. We experimented with a lot of prototypes. We didn’t want you holding wands that you might fatigue on, where you’d have to rest your hands. These rest in your hands. You can keep your hand open and still interact. You’ll be able to point or give a thumbs up. Now you have hands. Your hands are really in the game. Not just you holding something, but being able to look down and feel like those are your hands. You can reach out and pick things up, interact with elements in the world, flick things with your finger, give somebody a thumbs up. This is the first generation on a path toward truly getting your hands in the game, true hand presence.”
Sean Murray, cofounder of Hello Games
On making a massive game like No Man’s Sky with a small team:
“I was at Criterion, which got bought by EA. As Criterion, we were fiercely independent. We had publishers like Acclaim and EA, but they were never allowed in the building, basically. Criterion just worked on its own games. Most people were totally shielded from it.
“After we were bought, it did become more difficult to do something more innovative. A big publisher really comes into its own when it’s doing a sequel, something like that. Doing a new IP is twice as difficult with a large company worrying about it. You just never know. When we first announced No Man’s Sky, there was no way to know whether it would resonate or not. The more people you have involved, the more second-guessing comes about. Are people going to like the name, the style, the content?
“This is a very hard game to make with a small team, but it would be even harder to make with a large team — Ubisoft putting 400 people on it or something like that.”
Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft’s Xbox game business
On partnering with Oculus VR on virtual reality:
“I go back to our origins with Windows, when there were software companies and hardware companies doing real innovative work on top of the platform. That’s a good spot for us to be with Windows, supporting these ecosystems that grow up. Some of them we’ll participate in with go-to-market products. HoloLens is one of those. Xbox is one of those. Other opportunities, it’s best to find people who are doing amazing work and say, ‘What can we do to help you guys be more successful with your product on our platform?’
“That’s where we are with them. I’ve known Brendan for years. I’ve known Jason and the team here, both Jasons. It was a natural because of the relationships. In the collaboration that’s been going on for a while, it’s been nice to see the progress. The teams are working hand in hand. It’s great to be able to come out here on stage.”
Richard Marks, director of Sony’s Magic Labs
On the immersiveness of virtual reality:
“The thing that’s different in VR — the sense of scale matters in VR. You see these huge things and they feel huge. Even if you’re just playing a space sim game, you get a feeling like the Battlestar’s huge. You don’t get that feeling looking at a television set.
“The other big thing with VR is the space. Having something feel like it’s close by to you. Some of the character interaction — when you feel like somebody is next to you in VR, it’s a lot different. Multiplayer things — rigs is a multiplayer game over the network. We already have multiplayer games, of course, and you have audio chat, but you don’t really feel like a person’s there next to you when you do that in a regular game. In VR it feels like they’re there next to you. That’s a powerful feeling. The sense of immersion is the key with VR, that feeling like everything around you is more real.
“As far as the second screen, we let developers choose. If they want, they can have a completely different image on the main TV. The player could see something different. We happen to have two TVs here, but really it would just be this and this that you’d have in a game. This is just for showing, to make people understand. The game developer can decide to have an asymmetric experience where people are playing with you. They might have a top view of what you’re doing.”
Hermen Hulst, CEO of Guerrilla Games
On creating the brave new world of Horizon: Zero Dawn:
“We wanted to do a new game, a very beautiful game. We’ve always worked in science fiction, but the Killzone series was a very dark kind of science fiction. We wanted to concentrate on beauty.
“The backdrop, the foundation of this game is a beautiful, lush, rich natural world. It’s about 1000 years on from a cataclysm that happened. Nature has reclaimed the land, and here’s a twist for you. Humans are no longer the dominant species. It’s the machines you see depicted there that roam the land. They’re in charge.
“Humans are still around, working the land, but they’re now in a state where they’ve never lived in a world without the machines. Different tribes deal with the machines in different ways. Some are hunters. A member of this tribe is Aloy, our lead character. She’s a robot hunter. You play as her.
“When you’re making a game of this magnitude, almost all creative decisions change a lot. You try different things and see what happens. Aloy has been in the concept from the very first day, though. This is what we wanted to make. It was always her. We wanted a lead character who’s curious, who can take in the awe and magic of this world. We wanted someone agile and intelligent. We wanted her to be smart before, during, and after combat. She fit that bill perfectly.”
Victor Kislyi, CEO of Wargaming
On acquiring and remaking Master of Orion:
“When I was a kid there was Civilization, there was SimCity, and there was Master of Orion. We’re an MMO company. Master of Orion is not going to be an MMO. It’s a classic 4X strategy game. We got the license at auction. We had no choice. We absolutely had to get it. We’re reproducing it in its classic, beautiful way. The graphics are upgraded to the 21st century, because my son won’t play a 320-by-240 [resolution] game. We don’t even have devices to display that. But we’re giving back to the community. I want kids who weren’t even born to 20 years ago to touch the classics.
“World of Tanks players are our main customer base. To anyone who’s a fan of empire-building, who’s a fan of smart games where you make decisions at a slower pace—you win or lose this game by making hundreds or thousands of decisions about warfare, science, diplomacy, exploration. This is not World of Tanks. I love these games, though. I’m excited and proud of this. I’d love to think so, but the answer is probably no. Look, it was simple. Atari. Auction. Master of Orion. Oh, my god. We gotta get it. What do we do next? Let’s just go get it! There was some talk about what we’d do with it afterward, and we decided to bring back something classic.”
Scott Moffitt, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Nintendo of America
On the transition to the new NX game console next year:
“I don’t know if I’d call it a transition year. We have the gas pedal to the floor on Wii U and 3DS. The games we showed today and the games we’ll have coming next year are a demonstration of that. Eight games coming between now and the end of the year on Wii U, starting with Super Mario Maker. They’re games that reach all audiences. There’s something for everyone. For casual or family gamers, you have Super Mario Maker coming. You have Yoshi’s Woolly World. Mario Tennis. That’s on top of Mario Party 10. We launched Splatoon recently. That’s a great year in itself.
“With 3DS we have six games coming between now and the end of the year. Animal Crossing on 3DS and Wii U as well. You have Star Fox on Wii U for core gamers. Xenoblade X is coming for core gamers. We’re not thinking of this as a transition year. We want to maximize the potential for both Wii U and 3DS. We have third-party content coming on both as well. This is our opportunity to demonstrate all that is possible with the GamePad.
“When you look at the quality of content that’s available on our system — one way to look at quality, the gold standard of quality as far as we’re concerned, is games that get an 85 critic score on Metacritic, and also have an 8.5 score from users. I think it’s important to have both points of view. We have 23 games, far more than any other platform, that meet that standard of quality. For gamers that haven’t yet bought a Wii U, clearly the best games in this generation are available right now on Wii U and 3DS. There’s a ton of great content to play for those who haven’t bought already, and for those who are already enjoying Wii U and 3DS games, who knows how many more of these games we just talked about will also rise to that quality standard? There’s a lot we have coming for both core and casual gamers alike.”
Keiji Inafune, head of Comcept USA and creator of ReCore
On the inspiration to create a brand new intellectual property with ReCore
“What I think, for a lot of us, is that it’s not a specific movie or show or actor or actress or anything like that. We’ve all individually experienced, in many different ways, different types of entertainment, whether it’s TV, games, anime, comics. I have my own way of processing those things. They’ve left memorable impressions in my mind. Mark probably has his own set.
“With every new project that I challenge myself to take on, it’s the culmination of all these great memories and inspirations. There’s something that I can squeeze out of all that, all my experience, and put that into the new project. For example, this is clearly not a Japanese anime, but there’s a sensibility or core element of anime that I know is in there, because I’m putting it in there. On the other hand, there are also a lot of influences and experiences, lasting scenes and memories, that I’ve gotten from big Hollywood feature films. Part of that is also in there. And that just comes from me. Mark has his own set of things that goes in.
“In short, I wouldn’t call out a specific title or character. It’s layer after layer, and what comes out of all that is what’s represented here.”
Pete Hines, vice president of PR and marketing at Bethesda Softworks
On revealing Fallout 4 just ahead of E3 and then saying it would ship in November:
“I jokingly have what I refer to as the rule of one E3, which isn’t really a joke. It has proven time and again to be a good rule. Any game should be at one and only one E3. More than that and you’re trying to talk about the game for too long. You’re trying to keep people’s attention for too long. It’s more time than you can maintain momentum, more time than you can fill with content. You’ll be sorry.
“In the case of Fallout 4, we felt the demand was so high that we’d be better served going shorter and having less time to fill, playing on the idea of immediacy. Again, that was part of the Shelter thing. We tend to lean toward shorter rather than longer campaigns, although DOOM is at the opposite end of that spectrum. Id was talking about that title at QuakeCon seven years ago, before we even acquired them. It’s still being talked about. That’s a mistake I don’t want to repeat. I’d rather compress the time from ‘This thing exists!’ to ‘Now you can play it!'”
Yosuke Matsuda, CEO of Square Enix
“Going back to the last generation of games, a lot of Japanese publishers were a bit too cautious about the Western style of gaming, or Western games in general. Because they were so conscious about that when creating their own games, that could have factored into those types of games not doing as well. But it’s very important for us to draw on the uniqueness of our creators, draw on their strength. By doing so we’ll be able to create more appealing games. Rather than copying what others are doing, we’re focusing on what our creators want to make, what they believe in. Those all factor into creating better products. In that sense, with Square Enix and our creators, we believe we’ll be able create more appealing RPGs. As you saw at our conference, we have a large variety of games in our lineup — in the West and in Japan as well. We have a great variety of interesting games. We believe we’re becoming a publisher with a very interesting position in the industry.”
Jason Rubin, head of Oculus Studios
On the kind of entertainment we’ll see in virtual reality:
“My guess is, what’s going to happen is we’ll start with a lot of experiences that developers know how to make. They’re going to be great experiences. But as time passes, and also with new input devices, we’re going to branch out into new experiences. There are going to be old genres that don’t translate, old genres that translate with a little work, old genres that are awesome and made even better, and then a ton of new genres that are called for in VR.
“I’d imagine we’ll see an explosion of different types of games. After a bit more experimenting, people will start hitting with totally new things that we don’t even know how to define for a few years.”
Ru Weerasuriya, creative director at Ready at Dawn Studios
On making VR games that won’t make you dizzy:
“We have to think about that in every decision we make. You’re right that there are things we have to make sure we address when it comes to movement or sickness. The interesting thing is, a younger generation seems to be less prone to getting sick, which is a cool thing to think about for the future. At the same time, we’ve made a lot of decisions that leverage VR without sacrificing gameplay. We can take away that nauseous feeling through the gameplay we’ve chosen.
“The game we’re making now is built for VR more than anything else. We didn’t say, ‘Hey, we have this cool game already, let’s see if it works in VR.’ We’ve been analyzing VR for a while now and trying to figure out the things we need to do. The gameplay mechanics evolved from that. There’s no doubt that we’ll be addressing those issues as we keep developing.”
Mike Fischer, vice president of marketing at Epic Games
On the long gestation of Epic’s next game, Fortnite:
“It started out as a really small-scale project. It was the outcome of an internal game jam. Then, as we saw the potential in the game, the scale and scope grew. At one point there was also the decision to move it to Unreal Engine 4, to make it as a testbed initially, and then hopefully as we’re rolling out to the public a showcase of some of the things the engine can do.
“The game is very unconventional in the sense that it’s a cartoony world, but it’s completely procedurally generated. You can create all kinds of worlds and traps and interact with the environment. The A.I. for the husks is incredibly clever. It looks, on the surface, like a wacky, fun, simple type of game, but the technology that delivers it is world class.”
Owen Mahoney, CEO of Nexon
On the changes sweeping through gaming:
“I was interested in what [Unity CEO] John Riccitiello said at your summit. I was thinking back to Nexon’s IPO, which was in the end of 2011. At the time, I remember talking to fund managers, who were very sophisticated, around the world. The viewpoint at that time, with what seemed like a lot of justification, was, ‘Everybody knows the games business is transitioning from console to Facebook games.’ And I’d think, ‘Wait a minute. Everybody doesn’t know that.’ I can see why you’d think that, but that’s not necessarily a trend. What was clear at that point was that revenue was going up on Facebook and the console cycle was down. But that doesn’t mean people were stopping playing console games to play casual games on top of Facebook.
“I was thinking about this because of a conversation we had internally. The constant of all this goes back to a question of, ‘Are there fun games to play? Are game developers really focusing on creating fun online games, games that are built to last?’ Everything else, in my view, is secondary to that. It may not seem sexy to say that, or say that’s the new thing, because it’s been a constant throughout the history of the industry. But it seems to me that whenever the game industry has gotten away from that and thought the trend was about something else, or that the big topic in the industry was about something else, then the industry has gotten itself in trouble.
“The industry has gone through generations of thinking about graphical fidelity as the primary thing, or Facebook games as the primary thing, or monetization strategies as the primary thing. What really matters is game quality. If you think about the game companies that we all admire, they’ve been companies that have stayed close to that path and not worried too much about what the rest of the crowd is thinking about.
“We’re going to be successful company if we stay close to that vision. We will not be as successful if we stray from that vision too much.”
Ian Roxburgh, creative director of Total War: Warhammer at Sega’s Creative Assembly
On switching from historical games to fantasy:
“There’s a lot of history buffs in the studio, for obvious reasons, but we’ve wanted to make a fantasy game for years. Over the last three or four years we’ve been recruiting heavily to beef up our skill set and train people up so that we have the ability to have two Total War teams working in parallel with each other. We can carry on making our history games and also do a Warhammer game without impacting the schedule for either.
“Imagine what it’s like for artists and animators and designers. Even the coders — just playing with these things is genuine excitement. We love our history games, but this is something completely different. It’s a real fresh start.”
Scott Hartsman, CEO of Trion Worlds
On the new mission for the company:
“The original Trion vision was about technology, technology, technology. Over time that morphed into one that was about games and customers, games and customers, games and customers. Then that expanded into games and customers with our games as well as partnered games. That’s where we are right now. It has to be about the games. It can’t ever be all about the tech, because customers can’t care about the tech. Customers care about games. They care about fun. That’s been my background. I started out as a writer for games, back when they were text MUDs. For me it’s always been about, what is the end user experience like? How can we work with more people who have the same vision we do for what awesome is? How can we constantly be improving over time?”
Martin Klimscha, CEO of Hitbox
On competing against Twitch and YouTube in game livestreaming:
“They’re like Coke and Pepsi. They’re both huge. We’re Red Bull. We’re pushing forward for what gamers need. We don’t have any plans to go horizontal. We want to focus on our core audience of gamers and deliver one feature after another. We’re creating a new experience in the livestreaming world. We want to bring viewers closer to the broadcasters and the content, giving them the option to participate in content creation. That’s why we’re focusing on new technology, on low-latency approaches. We’re bringing a realtime experience to both broadcasters and users, connecting them in real time. We have HTML5 chats, 1080p 60FPS streaming. Now we’re working on 4K streaming.”
Kristian Segerstrale, chief operating officer of Super Evil Megacorp, publisher of Vainglory
On the critics of the company’s strategy to make a hardcore multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) on mobile:
“We don’t pay too much attention to the company-watchers. Frankly, it’s the journey you’re on whenever you try to do something different in this market. People look at you through eyes trained by how the previous generation evolved. That may or may not be how you evolve. Our view of the future is clear. We’re convinced that portable touch screens will be the primary gaming device of the future. Software that creates great core gaming experiences for players will become very big over time. Perhaps two or three times even what PC gaming has become over the past three years. There are more screens out there. All these devices are connected. It’s easier to have an impromptu LAN party on your portable device than on your home PC. Somebody’s going to go out and build this. But it won’t happen overnight. It’ll happen over the next three to five years. We’re excited by the start we’ve made, but we think it’s a broader industry change. We’re excited to be part of it.”
Neil Druckmann, creative director at Naughty Dog for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
On Nathan Drake’s last game:
From the end of Uncharted 3, Nathan Drake—he was a treasure hunter, a criminal, and he’s given all that up. He’s trying to settle down. And then this brother he thought was dead for years shows back up in his life and pulls him back into this adventure. This time they’re pursuing the treasure of Henry Avery. Avery was known as the King of Pirates, one of the most successful pirates of all time, and one of the very few who got away. He was never caught.
That gives us the historical what-if. What if Henry Avery massed all these other pirates and they built this amazing utopia where they pooled all their treasure together? Nathan initially thinks he’s doing it for one reason, getting back into this world of modern-day treasure hunters, but as you saw in the demo, even though there’s all this danger, bullets flying, and the stylized reality of Uncharted, this is what he lives for. He’s an adrenaline junkie. At the end of it you see that Elena’s back. She expects him to be in another part of the world, and she catches him in a lie.
Every character in this cast is a different facet of Nathan Drake. All these characters have evolved over the course of three games, too. We’ve seen how tumultuous the relationship between Nathan and Elena has been. Now it’s all coming to a head. You’re going to see each one of these characters being honest. We’re writing them honestly. They have their own objectives. They all have things that they want out of life and that they want out of Nathan. He can’t align all of that together along with what he wants.
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