GamesBeat: Whereas Ubisoft has seven studios working on the same game.
Haddad: We’re probably somewhere in between those. Talent continues to be top of mind for any one of our studio heads, accessing the best talent. Sometimes that might be somebody who’s not located physically in that studio. Setting up processes to be able to access that talent, whether it’s an artist or animator or engineer—we haven’t fully syndicated the process. We have some central services in Montreal around QA and localization to try to get consistency of approach, where every one of our studios doesn’t have to re-establish that. But we’re probably closer to a traditional studio model, accessing some great talent to build out a game.
GamesBeat: I’ve been trying to put together a chart of who has the most developers in house. Ubisoft is saying that they’re at 12,000 now. Microsoft moved this week to acquire and build five new studios. Do you have a confidence in the overall ecosystem for Microsoft?
Haddad: I’d go back to my starting comment. It’s a great time to be building games — from a business point of view, from a global delivery point of view. The number of gamers that are connected on a device is growing to more than 2 billion. The durability of content makes it much easier to invest in. You still have to commit to great quality. Discoverability is a challenge. We think about making must-have games. That’s where we start in greenlighting. Then we know the business and delivery and publishing systems are going to be there.
GamesBeat: The God of War guys had an interesting comment. They worked on that for seven years. The range of what’s possible–the Stardew Valley guy worked on one game, one guy, for five years, and he got it right. All of the variation, from making a game very quickly to making a game in seven years, is interesting.
Haddad: The long horizon games — investing for longer periods to make them great – it’s something you have to pay attention to as we invest time and capital. But as I said, the market – having a great game, having a top 10 game, having a long-term relationship with a fanbase, delivering new content on top of that that continues to delight them – it’s a very good business.
GamesBeat: With the signals coming from the platform companies, do you now have to get into planning next-generation games?
Haddad: It’s a factor. The platforms have done–between generation shifts, whether it’s backward compatability, whether it’s how they’re updating their systems, it’s less treacherous than it was in past cycles. But certainly it’s something we have to think about. At the same time, we have a point of view where great games, because of the digital nature of publishing, have never lasted longer.
It may sound too much like an investment theme, but building a great game is a long-term asset. There’s lots of ways to be able to have that delighting gamers for years and years in the new delivery systems, the new ecosystems of gaming. As a content creator, committing to quality, delighting gamers–we’re fortunate to have some long-term franchises that gamers have loved for years. It leaves our confidence in building for the future very high.
GamesBeat: The only thing I worry about in this new world is the temptation to cut the single-player experience, the campaign. I feel like that’s what gives you the high interest and the inspiration and the reason for playing. If you’re going to play multiplayer, it’s because the single-player campaign was so good, in something like Call of Duty. You find out that you love the world and then you go play in it more.
Haddad: The perfect thing you brought up there is world-building. You know our slate well. In the past, and in as you’d probably guess the present, we have a history of building great worlds with great mechanics. Many of them are single-player. We continue to believe that even as esports grows, even as time spent playing multiplayer grows, there’s still a very powerful space for narrative, storytelling, world-building, long-term engagement games.
We know that’s not everybody’s approach in the industry. How you find those gamers, how you service them, and how you publish inside this time-spent environment, you have to pay attention to that, but we still believe there’s a place for that.
GamesBeat: Does the esports explosion give you some new things to think about?
Haddad: Certainly for games like Injustice, Injustice 2, and the number of people still playing Mortal Kombat X—that’s incredible for something released in 2015, whether it’s on mobile or on console. For us it’s been about long-term engagement, keeping those fans playing, finding a way to compete. I think you’ll continue to see franchise-based tournament strategies from us, to keep our fans engaged in that kind of way. Other people are taking their strategies in other directions, but for us it’s really franchise-focused, engagement-focused, providing a tournament structure and a play structure for competition, and supporting that, whether through prizing or otherwise.
GamesBeat: Do you think things like this will permanently change games, like spectating?
Haddad: It’s fascinating. Warner Bros. as a company has a history, in movies in television, of establishing viewing behavior. It’s exciting to us generally that games are getting as interesting to watch as they are to play. We think about that a lot, as one of the largest providers of television. I personally still believe that the viewing experience can continue to get better for the non-gamer. We believe there’s opportunity in that space.
As you think about how professional sports—the viewing experience when I was growing up watching sports on television, compared to the viewing experience today, with commentary and overlays—it almost looks like a game HUD. There’s a lot of opportunity for game makers to make that viewing experience even more exciting.
GamesBeat: Any other things here that have caught your interest? I wonder if some of Sony’s games may have been PS5 games. They look pretty good.
Haddad: It’s definitely a showcase for the hardware. In general, though, when you really step back and look at it, this was a content-only show. There’s not a single hardware story this week. But the amount of enthusiasm and excitement for everybody, just based on content—you know the history of our industry. When was the last time that there was no major hardware discussion or launch, but the cultural relevance of the event was never higher? It’s all concentrated and focused on great content.
GamesBeat: You guys were very excited about MOBA a while back, and you tried your hand at it. I wonder if the rush for battle royale might go the same way. Two or three games win in the end.
Haddad: It’s certainly a possibility that with such a big, big industry, it attracts new entrants. But it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.
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