EA’s Moore: “Microsoft has been very aggressive with us, as had Sony”

The COO explains the tricks and troubles of preparing for the new consoles

Peter Moore

Electronic Arts was responsible for one of the definitive moments of Gamescom. Not at its own press conference, not during an interview that went on in its giant press area, but during the Microsoft conference when it revealed that all European pre-orders of the Xbox One would receive a free copy on FIFA 14. Has EA chosen its side in the console launch war?

Speaking to GamesIndustry International EA’s COO Peter Moore denies the charge of favouritism, explains that free-to-play isn’t the devil, and describes how the company is preparing for the logistical nightmares that simultaneous console launches present for publishers.

Q: What are your priorities as the launch of the new consoles get closer?

Peter Moore: Now the picture is becoming clearer each day with dates, it’s still a little piecemeal, but dates, countries, we need quantities. A company like ourselves we need to figure out where the numbers are going so we can deploy our marketing resources accordingly. But you were at the press conference yesterday, you saw the games, we feel like we’re in a great position to really nail the launch with the big franchises.

“Not everybody’s going to get next-gen. Everybody thinks they will, but very few will”

We’re still looking at the conundrum of how do you get consumers still to remember current gen is there? And everyone’s excited about this big shiny object that’s a next-gen console but hello, we’ve got some stuff here and so that’s a little bit of a challenge for my teams in the field, because not everybody’s going to get next-gen. Everybody thinks they will, but very few will, so it’s the classic conundrum of the transition – the interest starts to wane in the current generation, and at the same time the next-gen, they just can’t make enough for the demand.

So we as publishers have to manage that and bridge that gap and get people still to pay attention to a very vibrant, powerful community called Xbox 360s and PS3s, tens of millions of each. And then at the same time you’re doing two separate ad campaigns for things like FIFA and you want to make sure that we get people excited but not so excited they forget the other thing. It’s a classic transitional thing that those of us in the publishing world have to worry about.

Q: And this is the first time the two consoles have launched so closely…

Peter Moore: Almost simultaneously. The challenge is more for the retailers and we have to work with them and Microsoft and Sony have to work with them and if they’re literally within a week or two weeks of each other it’s not easy for retailers to manage their retail presence, what do do they focus on, hardware takes up a lot of room in stores and back rooms, what are their allotments? And so it becomes a real challenge for retail and we have to work with retail to make sure we can help.

But our titles have to flow in for 360, PS3, PS4, Xbox One, all have to be merchandised correctly. Manufacturing becomes an issue, because they’re both on Blu-ray. So things that gamers don’t have to worry about but we have to worry about is getting the flow of manufacturing right, getting the quantities right, making sure everything is at retail. Depending on which goes first they may want to change the store to focus on the new console coming out, I mean it’s just what we do. That’s the work we do, that’s the business that we’re in.

But to your point this is precedent setting, it has never happened this way. There’s always been a period of time, a sorbet between consoles, that has cleansed the palate and allowed us to move on. It might be a week, who knows? Microsoft needs to cough up the date.

Q: EA seems to have developed, and obviously you personally have, a very close relationship with Microsoft. What are the advantages for you in that?

Peter Moore: We have relationships with both companies that go back many many years, so I think that what you saw yesterday was, just from a phasing perspective, you saw a little bit more of the Microsoft stuff. We have a lot of partnership opportunities with Sony, with the PlayStation 4, which we have done for many many years, that maybe we should start talking more about.

“Microsoft, particularly in Europe, feels it needs to catch up a little bit with the PlayStation brand”

But it may have seemed that way, I don’t think that we’re favouring one over the other, we love them both dearly. It’s important to the publishing community that both are very successful and I think they will be very successful. I think the gamers, the fanboys, I’m an Xbox guy, I’m a PlayStation guy, they’re going to make their choices. I see a lot of talk about people who are going to try to get both.

Microsoft has been very aggressive with us, as had Sony, we’re a very powerful publisher obviously, that has the ability to deliver great content and makes a difference on their platforms, and they want to make sure they get that.

Q: One of those partnerships has been the free copy of FIFA for every pre-ordered Xbox One, that seems to be breaking the rules to give away your biggest seller?

Peter Moore: There are rules? We look at opportunities to put as many copies of FIFA into consumers’ hands as we possibly can. We’re very proud of that game, we’re very proud of the fact that it’s not just a game that you play off a disc but the digital services, FIFA Ultimate Team, in particular is important to us, so the more consumers that own FIFA the better opportunity we have to interact with them, to be able to offer services to them, so it’s worked out well.

Microsoft, particularly in Europe, feels it needs to catch up a little bit with the PlayStation brand and this is one way to do it. You take soccer and you add Europe to the mix and then you bring it together. And I suspect as well Microsoft is looking at ways to add value, as I’m sure Sony is here to make the price points feel a little bit more of a bargain. We sat down a while back and talked about this and that’s how it happened.

Q: How important is the arrival of free-to-play on consoles for EA?

Peter Moore: Free-to-play does a very simple thing, it just brings more people into gaming. We’ve knocked down the barrier to price because it’s free, everybody has got a device that they can play it on so there’s no reason not to. It brings more and more consumers that we then can engage with, but you’ve also got to be comfortable with the fact that the great majority of those people are not going to pay you a cent. Not a red penny. And you have to be comfortable with that. Which we are.

But if you’re playing PvZ 2 you can see that nice balance. I have not been, and I’m maybe not as deep into it yet, I don’t feel like I’m being pushed. There’s no pinch points, I know I’m going to buy a lot of plant food as I get through the levels, I just… it’s the best thing that ever happened to me, to get that plant food. When you get into the panic situations… But then again I can grind and do that, the glowing zombies that you kill give you some plant food, I think that PvZ 2 is a game that I think is well balanced, nicely tuned, if you don’t want to spend money it’s still a lot of fun, if you really want to progress through the game and get deep into the game, spend some money, buy some plant food, the choice is yours.

Q: People perhaps just need to accept that free-to-play is here to stay now…

Peter Moore: I watch the debate that goes on on your site and your sister site about free-to-play and it’s just… and then some voices of reason kick, actually because of our Popcap conversation which you guys reported on and it went pretty deep in the comments and then you had people come in and say ‘look, it’s just a business model,’ because it’s like the Satan spawn to some people and it’s the end of the world because games are free-to-play. And then you get some voices of reason – it’s just yet another business model, it’s bringing more people into gaming, it’s a way that publishers can continue to build a growth strategy in a world of turmoil and disruption that is our industry right now.

“It’s like the Satan spawn to some people and it’s the end of the world because games are free-to-play”

People can shout about [free-to-play] all they like, there are hundreds of millions of people taking advantage of the fact that they wouldn’t have considered themselves gamers a while back, and you can thank games like Angry Birds a few years ago, PvZ came in where as tablets exploded and smartphones exploded… people aren’t going to pay $10, $15, $20 when you have a free-to-play game on there and I think that brought people in, that funnel now gets wider. And we as an industry should be so much happier that more people are playing games.

Q: Do we need to find a different way to do free-to-play on consoles? Online is either very hardcore, or very casual, console players are a different audience.

Peter Moore: I think you’re going to have to. You look at games and console is a different experience. You’re sat back on the couch, 10 feet away from the TV, using a controller so you need to have your wallet – press A to buy or whatever, it’s got to be pretty simple, but I think you’re right. I think there’s got to be something that feels more relevant to a lean back, 10 foot experience that has a game controller rather than a keyboard or a touch screen. Otherwise it just feels like it’s gimmicky, it’s maybe redeployed from a different platform, it’s just not going to work on consoles.

And it has to be right as well because also one of the things with console gaming is you sit down, you get comfortable and you’re going to go for an hour, two hours. If the free-to-play on the consoles in constantly stopping, having to play with your buttons and triggers to buy something or whatever, that’s going to get really old, really quick.

Q: How do you feel about the next-generation’s focus on the independent developers? Is there any way you can be a part of that as a big publisher?

Peter Moore: We own a company called Chillingo, we’re very proud to have them up in Macclesfield, of all places, that deals almost exclusively with indies. That’s what they do. And every now and again a game will come through – they discovered Angry Birds, they discovered a little company called Rovio that was on the Chillingo platform and every now and again something will come through that’s innovative and really redefines what that type of gaming is.

“If three guys in a garage are able to do better than we are with the resources that we have then that’s our fault”

At the console level, and both Sony and Microsoft in the last few days have been talking about indies and self-publishing, I think its complementary, if three guys in a garage are able to do better than we are we the resources that we have then that’s our fault. But they might do something very cool, very different, remember like LittleBigPlanet came out for PS3 a few years ago? And everybody said – that wasn’t an indie game because it was a decent sized studio – but they needed a publisher and Sony loved it, Sony bought into it, it became one of its first creative type games, it was very cute, so you’re going to have those things come through.

We don’t see it as a threat, I think it’s complementary, it gives us an opportunity to see talent, maybe we can nurture that talent, maybe they need publishing help which we do very well, I like them. If they’re providing great, innovative, different game experiences for gamers it’s all good.

Q: EA has made a habit of acquiring successful studios, is that still part of the plan in these more costly, transitional times?

Peter Moore: Absolutely, it’s been a tradition for 20 years.

There’s less and less though of the independent developer that can afford, without a publisher already locked in, to develop games. So we’re seeing less of that, but we are doing, and this is something Chillingo does very well, looking at the mobile space. We’re seeing tonnes and tonnes of innovation in the mobile space. More and more people who might have been working on big console titles seem to be moving over to mobile development.

So Chillingo again does that service for us, we’ve got business folks there that manage tonnes of content coming through and every now and again they spot a game and say ‘this is a lot of fun.’ And then they get that in front of Apple, they get that in front of Google and get it as a featured app or whatever. And that’s what Chillingo does very well.

Q: With such expansion in mobile and free-to-play, is AAA still the core of your business?

Peter Moore: Core, what we call our high-def business, is still the lion’s share of our revenue this year. We will sell a lot of discs, the demise of the packaged goods is grossly overstated, with the console cycle coming up again and refreshing that gives us the opportunity to actually grow our packaged goods business.

But fast on the heels is mobile, free-to-play. The mobile business is just on a growth spurt for us because we’ve got great games, Simpsons: Tapped Out, Real Racing 3, Plants Vs Zombies 2, three great games that make a difference. Free-to-play is going to be our entry into some markets where we’ve never had a lot of success, we’ve just announced Brazil and Russia for FIFA World. You’ve got the free-to-play publishing group which currently sits in Stockholm right now, and then you’ve got the great brands that we have, particularly with FIFA, then it’s a good recipe to go in finally with some real relevance for a Brazilian or a Chinese consumer – we’ve just done a deal with Tencent for FIFA in China.

So yeah, I think the free-to-play market is going to be a growing market, you’ve just got to figure out where it sits from a mobile perspective. When we talk free-to-play we typically talk out of the browser, but now the free-to-play model is most ubiquitous in mobile and we don’t do premium mobile anymore, everything is free-to-play.

Q: How is the PC market working for you these days? Still have some big PC only IP like Sims, and you have the Origin service…

Peter Moore: We’ve been the number one PC games publisher forever, we’ve never walked away from the PC. Sims has been a part of that, our shooters have been a part of that, some of our sports games, FIFA on the PC, Command and Conquer, Ultima is still running somewhere, so you have enough presence on there and it’s been very powerful, it’s the roots of the company. The company was built on the Apple 2 and the Amiga PC, and has never stepped away from PC gaming ever since

We enjoy the PC platform, it’s an open platform, you don’t have to ask anyone’s permission, we can deliver updates and patches as fast and as frequently as we like, it’s a great platform for us, we’ve always done well on PC.

“The demise of the packaged goods is grossly overstated”

Q: You mentioned the Sims franchise, you’ve announced just Sims 4, what it is about that series that has such longevity?

Peter Moore: It’s pretty simple, The Sims as a community has been there since the get go with us. And the idea of Simming Life, which was Will Wright’s vision for it, I think gets you deeper inside a game experience than playing a Battlefield, playing a sports game, because those things happen and then you put the controller down and they’re gone. With Sims you’re always thinking about your Sims. What’s happening there, what you’ve built, the relationships the Sims are having and it’s persistently going on.

We touched on something when Will did the original Sims and we’ve been able to keep that alive and innovate, the expansion packs are a very important part of that otherwise you get bored, but then you get a new expansion pack and off you go. I just think the level of engagement with The Sims is higher than anything I’ve ever seen in games before. Even shooters.

Q: Can we expect any more big announcements before the consoles launch in November?

Peter Moore: Well we need to deliver the games now. We’ve hyped them enough at both E3 and here, we’ve done a nice job in getting a lot of excitement, now the teams go back and now it’s heads down. You certainly know when Sony’s launching so you’ve got one delivery date there, because it gets very chaotic. Particularly the launch of a console, you’ve got to get it in line for disc manufacture, you’ve got to get in line for cert and submission, the QA resources have got to be there because now everything is coming down to the finish.

Now you know where the finish line is, so in Sony’s case it’s the 15th and the 29th, and you need to make sure that you’re ready. A lot of panic, you’ve got this operational time to when you go theoretically final to then you deliver it, first time going through this generation, through cert and submission, all different processes than we’ve probably had before, yeah, it’s head down and go time now. We have to deliver.



League of Legends dev opening NY office

Riot Games has signed a five-year lease for a building in Manhattan

League of Legends

GamesIndustry International has learned that Riot Games, developer behind the free-to-play giant League of Legends, has signed a new lease agreement to rent out the entire second floor of a building at 49 West 23rd Street in Manhattan. The real estate transaction listed in the New York Times indicates that Riot has committed to a five-year lease with an annual rent of close to $240,000.

Requests for comment have gone unanswered at this time, so it’s currently unclear if the New York office will be used for game development or if it’s dedicated to marketing and business activities. Riot is headquartered in Santa Monica, has another US office in St. Louis, and also has offices across the globe, including Dublin, Seoul, Sao Paulo, Sydney, Moscow, and Istanbul.

Riot’s League of Legends has been enormously successful in pushing the free-to-play market and it’s also shined a spotlight on the rise of eSports. The US State Department recently recognized League of Legends players as pro-athletes. Riot did run into a bit of trouble earlier this week, however, when the company admitted that its servers were hacked, leading to a security breach of North American accounts tied to 120,000 transactions.



Sony’s Gara: 20-year high for UK PlayStation pre-orders

“Our internal conversations are now all about securing volume”

Sony's Gara: 20-year high for UK PlayStation pre-orders

Following the news last night at the Sony Gamecom press conference that the PlayStation 4 had already seen over one million pre-orders, Fergal Gara, Sony Computer Entertainment’s UK and Ireland managing director revealed that the UK had played a major role in that total.

“Andy [House] quoted a number last night for pre-orders, in fact he quoted a low end number, he said ‘in excess of'”, Gara told GamesIndustry International this morning.

“The UK represents a significant proportion of that, we’re talking unprecedented levels of pre-orders that we haven’t seen in 20 years in this business.”

“Our internal conversations are now all about securing volume”

“Yes the pre-order phenomenon is a reasonably recent one, or certainly growing in recent years but it does mean that demand is well ahead of our expectations as they were earlier in the year so our internal conversations are now all about securing volume.”

He said that while plans for the launch were still underway, it was a big moment for the company and he did not expect it to be “low key.” The launch date for Europe is currently November 29, around a week after the release date industry insiders are expecting for Microsoft’s Xbox One. Microsoft have not released any pre-order numbers as yet.

“There’s nothing better in any form of business than when customers are rewarding you with their custom and it’s absolutely true to say, particularly since E3, gamers have been rewarding us with their commitment and their pre-orders,” added Gara.

“We don’t allow ourselves to get in any way smug or complacent but yes we are confident, and that’s a good place to be.”



Retail isn’t going away – Ubisoft digital head

Chris Early says brick-and-mortar does some things better than digital; Ubi is experimenting with episodic titles

Chris Early

Ubisoft’s VP of digital publishing sees a day when the publisher’s digital revenues will surpass its retail business, but he also sees a limit to how far the balance between the two will tilt. Early discussed the subject with GamesIndustry International at the Electronic Entertainment Expo.

“The underlying question is, ‘Is retail going away?,'” Early said. “No. And maybe that’s funny coming from a digital guy, but I think retail’s a strong part of our industry and it will continue to be so. Over time, when it goes to 50-50 or maybe beyond, will some stores close? Probably, just like some record stores closed. Maybe the store experience will morph. Maybe you’ll see more of an Apple-type experience store where you’re able to do things, but I don’t think it’ll go completely away.”

Early said the reasons for that fall into a few different categories, from consumer behavior to technical limitations to one of the biggest hurdles in the digital world: discoverability.

“The physical store is a well-designed mechanism for discovery,” Early explained. “You have expert help right there, a wide variety of products you can go through relatively quickly. That’s hard to do still on a console or a PC. There’s lots of content, but how do you easily discover what’s the best thing to do? We haven’t solved that.”

Of course, digital has a number of advantages over retail, not the least of which is its ability to support non-traditional business models. One such model is episodic gaming, which saw a breakout success recently with Telltale Games’s Game of the Year-winning series The Walking Dead.

“I will say we’re definitely experimenting down that [episodic] path, but not to necessarily make a half-priced product to start with.

Chris Early

“The episodic model’s been talked about for a long time, but the challenge comes to one of investment,” Early said. “How much do you invest in the structure of the building and only furnish a floor at a time? We’ve still built a 60-story building, and if we only deliver three stories, I still have that infrastructure I built. It’s solvable at some point. Even look at Telltale, that took them several iterations to get to that place, and some games that didn’t work that well helped fund that engine to get to the place they are today.”

As for when Ubisoft might embrace episodic gaming, Early suggested that from a certain perspective, it already has.

“I will say we’re definitely experimenting down that path, but not to necessarily make a half-priced product to start with,” Early said. “Look what we just did with Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. We took the entire Far Cry 3 engine that we just sold for $60, made a five-hour game and sold it for $15. And it sold like mad. People loved it.”

The rise of digital gaming has also given publishers more ways to monetize players. Whether it’s with free-to-play games or downloadable content for premium titles, the industry focus is shifting such that the number of boxes a company shipped to stores is telling less and less of the overall story. At the same time, average revenue per user (ARPU) has become an increasingly significant metric as publishers realize some players are willing to go far above and beyond the $60 threshold of the retail space.

Ghost Recon Online may be too conservative about monetization, Early suggested.

While Early said Ubisoft pays close attention to ARPU, it has tried to minimize player discontent while doing so. He noted that in the free-to-play Ghost Recon Online, players never need to part with real money to make their way through the game. Those willing to spend money may be able to buy experience boosts and cosmetic changes to their characters, but the developers didn’t want to drum up revenues at the expense of player satisfaction.

“We’ve been very careful to make sure the players don’t feel nickel-and-dimed,” Early said. “And it’s probably resulted in us being a bit conservative on that end.”

As for DLC, Early noted that increasing the ARPU on $60 retail games helps to pay for the costs of AAA game development. That’s a problem Ubisoft is also addressing from the other end of the transaction, as Early said the company works to keep costs down where it can. For example, its multi-studio development process means a number of the developers for a hit franchise like Assassin’s Creed are located in places where they have a lower cost structure than the franchise’s lead developer, Ubisoft Montreal.

“One of our designers said it best when I was talking to him the other night. He said, ‘We respect our players’ gaming time.’ And we do that by delivering strong entertainment value,” Early said.


The Greatest Generation

GamesIndustry International looks back on the past eight years as a golden age of gaming

The Greatest Generation

The current generation of consoles started in the holiday season of 2005, with the launch of the Xbox 360. With apologies to the Wii U, the next generation will begin this holiday season when the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 arrive. The intervening years have been some of the most eventful in gaming history, changing and challenging our definitions as to what games are, who plays them, who makes them, and how. Whether or not these developments actually happened within the console space (and many of them did not), their impact has not been limited to one platform, or any corner of the industry specifically.

We may disagree about what we want out of games, what games should be, and what trends may be good or bad. Regardless of what our positions are on those subjects, we should be able to look back on this generation as a golden age of gaming. For posterity and perspective, here’s an incomplete chronicle of events of monumental significance from the past eight years, each prefaced by some brief thoughts from industry voices with first-hand knowledge of the situation.

Steam Redefines Digital Distribution (Ongoing)

“No company is perfect, but Steam is by far the gold standard in digital distribution. Everything they do from developer support to storefront curation and planning is top notch. A game can be released on Steam and potentially make millions of dollars all without the need for a publisher and every other expensive and sometimes unnecessary obstacle developers have to overcome for other distributors.”–Tommy Refenes, Team Meat

Yes, Steam was first announced in 2002, but it wasn’t until 2006 when Valve really opened up the catalog to games from third-party developers and publishers. And that’s when it really started to resemble the service we know today. Since then, people have essentially stopped predicting the death of PC games. And it’s not because the shelves at GameStop are suddenly cluttered with copies of Surgeon Simulator 2013.

STEAMWith Steam, Valve has done as much for digital distribution as digital distribution did for it.

Steam has become a one-stop shop for games, whether it’s the latest AAA release from a major publisher or a one-man indie studio with an interesting idea. Steam has become the Amazon.com of PC digital distribution (all the more impressive considering Amazon sells downloadable games itself). But there’s one trait Steam shares with a brick-and-mortar titan like Walmart, and that’s the demand for shelf space. So many people want their games on Steam that Valve has largely outsourced those decisions to its customers.

But Steam has meant so much more to PC gaming than just being another place to spend money. It addressed piracy. It addressed problems with patching. Like Xbox Live, it brought the social sphere into the same place as the storefront and the games themselves. And it has done all of this while maintaining a reasonably pro-consumer approach to its business (as regular customers during Steam’s seasonal sales will tell you).

Guitar Hero: Birth of a Rock Star (November 2005)

“Before Guitar Hero, music/rhythm video games were not in the top 10 genres of games sold in the US. Americans didn’t buy music games. By Guitar Hero 3, we sold $1 billion (with a B!) worth of Guitar Hero product. Guitar Hero became the second game to crack $1 billion sales in a single year. We heard similar stories of Guitar Hero’s impact on music sales too. Guitar Hero not only changed the video game world, it shook up the music world as well.”–Charles Huang, co-founder of original Guitar Hero publisher RedOctane, CEO and co-founder of Green Throttle Games

These days, the Guitar Hero name conjures up memories of closets jammed full of plastic instruments and a relentless onslaught of retail releases oversaturating the market. However,the series gave the industry much more than just a cautionary tale. In conjunction with Harmonix’s follow-up Rock Band, Guitar Hero provided a compelling example of the power of social play. For a time, these rhythm games were the new karaoke, present at wedding receptions, house parties, bars, basically anywhere people converge to have a good time. And it wasn’t just anywhere; it was virtually anyone. The plastic guitar was approachable enough as an interface, but it was absolutely compelling as a prop. It didn’t matter how good people were at the game; everyone wanted to have a go as an ersatz Eddie Van Halen, or bust out a Pete Townshend windmill. Everybody gets the appeal of music, and everybody got the appeal of Guitar Hero.

Guitar Hero

The appeal of toy guitars was nearly universal.

Just as important, Guitar Hero and Rock Band showed the industry that people were willing to spend a lot more than $60 on a game experience. Between the guitars, drums, and microphones, people were spending hundreds of dollars just on controllers for the game. Add to that the deluge of downloadable content (the Rock Band series has more than 4,000 songs available as DLC) and suddenly gamers were investing not just in a single game, but in multiple ecosystems, committing to peripherals for the system of their choice and a library of songs for their favorite series. Before everyone in the industry was talking about whales in free-to-play games, Guitar Hero was already proving that a particularly devoted segment of an audience could be monetized far above and beyond the price of a standard game.

Microsoft Launches Xbox 360 (November 2005)

“The Xbox 360 was a lot like the Tesla Model S – not the first product, but definitely the one that delivered on a bigger vision in a package that had mass-market appeal. It made a lot of big bets: HD graphics, broadband-connected games, and a live service that in some ways represented gaming’s first social network. But these were bets that the industry sorely needed to break out of the basement and into the living room, and for eight years the Xbox 360 has delivered for tens of millions of gamers.”–Peter Moore, Electronic Arts COO and former Microsoft interactive entertainment executive

App Store

Xbox Live was the killer app of the Xbox 360 launch.

The release of the Xbox 360 had plenty of problems, from system scarcity to a weak retail lineup to faulty hardware. But it had one thing that worked phenomenally well, and that was its online integration. Microsoft completely overhauled Xbox Live for the system, changing it from little more than a persistent friends list to an honest-to-goodness ecosystem. Before Gears of War, Xbox Live was the 360’s killer app. Xbox Live achievements were an instant hit at launch, changing gamer habits in powerful ways and shedding light on just how far people will go to earn virtual merit badges, an idea that would quickly spread to every corner the gaming universe. (Well, almost every corner. Nintendo, as always, did its own thing.)

The Xbox 360 launch also took Xbox Live Arcade, a forgotten experiment on the original Xbox, and used it to carve out an entirely new market of console game development. The rise in HD development costs may have killed the viability of the mid-range retail release, but early Xbox Live Arcade games like the addictive and acclaimed Geometry Wars were evidence of an unexpectedly strong market for $5 and $10 downloadable games on consoles.

Nintendo Wii Expands the Audience (November 2006)

“The Wii ushered in a new era of motion control gaming and reinvigorated the video game industry with new mainstream consumers. Non-traditional gamers from grandparents to young kids were connecting in the living room – it truly leveled the playing field for an entire household via more inclusive and interactive gameplay. Ubisoft saw the console’s potential and was an early supporter of the Wii, positioning itself as the number one third party publisher leading up to and at the Wii launch with brand new franchises such as Rayman Raving Rabbids, Red Steel, and Your Shape.”–Yves Guillemot, CEO of Ubisoft


Who didn’t see at least one picture like this in their newspapers in 2007?

Long before Nintendo announced the Wii’s name or controller to the world, it had publicly code-named the console “Revolution.” That would prove to be prophetic, as the Wii was a cultural phenomenon, hard to find on store shelves for its first three holiday seasons. It lacked the horsepower of the Xbox 360 or the PlayStation 3, but the Wii’s controller–perfectly complemented by the pick-up-and-play fun of Wii Sports–made the system an ideal ambassador to expand the gaming audience beyond the core crowd.

All of a sudden, mainstream media coverage of games changed from scary stories of school shooters to soft-focus features about a Wii Sports bowling league at the old folks’ home. Intuitive new interfaces became the order of the day, with Microsoft rolling out Kinect and Sony investing in Move. The Wii’s appeal may have faded over the years, but the system worked wonders in changing not just the way people play video games, but the way they perceive them as well.

Apple Reveals iPhone, Google Intros Android (2007)

“A few years ago buttons on mobile phones were the only way to control the game. Nowadays, touch screen, gyroscope and GPS are an inalienable part of mobile gaming. And as the hardware gap between mobile devices and consoles is diminishing, more mid- and hard-core gamers turn to mobile. We see definite strengthening of the social aspects in the games as well, and I think this tendency will continue in the future. We were lucky enough to start working at the dawn of the industry, and it’s exciting to see how impressive the changes are, and how it continues to evolve.”–Efim Voinov, chief technology officer and co-founder of ZeptoLab

An argument could be made for either one of these events being the most significant event of the generation on their own, but there’s been enough overlap in how they’ve upended the industry that we’ll combine them into one write-up.

It was always cool, but the iPhone didn’t become significant to gaming until the introduction of the App Store in its second year. Since the introduction of the App Store, the iPhone has realized its true potential, upending and all but assimilating three previously lucrative markets: mp3 players, mobile phones, and portable gaming devices. But perhaps the biggest contribution the iPhone made to the mobile gaming market was to formalize a cohesive ecosystem around it.

App Store

The iPhone was always cool, but the App Store launch turned it into a phenomenon.

Prior to the iPhone, the carriers had their own scattered assortment of shops, selling games through them that may or may not work on the handset downloading them. The market was fragmented, and there were no assurances that a game would come to every carrier, or even the most popular of handsets. The iPhone and the App Store made the consumer experience as frictionless as possible in a way that no other mobile company had managed.

One of the key innovations was Apple’s insistence on getting the user’s credit card info, which made purchasing new apps as easy and painless as possible. Further down the road, the introduction of in-app purchasing unlocked a tidal wave of spending and solidified the domination of the free-to-play model. Apple brought ubiquity to the market, and in so doing opened the floodgates of developer support, ensuring the App Store would never lack for quantity of games.

Meanwhile, Android has provided Apple’s iOS with an open-source competitor, a necessary counterweight giving consumers and developers another option for mobile platforms, and an inexpensive, open-ended, and unrestricted one, at that. A key part of the Android project was the desire to create an operating system with “no central point of failure, so that no single industry player could restrict or control the innovations of any other.” If games are to realize their potential as a creative medium, developers can’t always be subject to the whims of a corporate censor. Android ensures that no matter how dominant the smartphone and tablet market become in gaming, there will be a place for games like Phone Story and Endgame Syria.

Android’s approach has been a success, with the operating system now in more devices around the world than iOS. However, Google’s OS hasn’t exactly eclipsed the competition, as Apple still takes the lion’s share of revenue from mobile gaming.

The Free-to-Play Boom (2009-2011)

“Free-to-play has been successful because it acknowledges that all players are different, and it provides them a variety of ways to access, play, and purchase content. Free-to-play is beautiful in its simplicity. It democratizes and makes true capitalism out of the gaming space. Free-to-play keeps games evergreen, opens them up to a wider audience, and forces true competition. There is so much free content out there; to truly compete, you have to create great content. With great content, everyone wins.”–John Smedley, president of Sony Online Entertainment

Free-to-play games have been around for more than a decade, but it was only during this generation that they really took root in the West. From the astronomical rise of Facebook games to more core-targeted efforts like World of Tanks and League of Legends, the free-to-play model has been adapted to serve essentially every audience in the industry. At the same time, it has underscored the enormous potential of social ties to enrich game experiences (to say nothing of game developers!) and provide compelling entertainment.

Planetside 2

Free-to-play encompasses a lot more than Facebook games now.

Free-to-play has also introduced new challenges for designers, changing the way they think about the relationship to their audience. In the most successful and enduring free-to-play games, the business model has been intertwined with the primary gameplay, but it has not been the driver of that gameplay. Designers need to give players a reason to spend their money while avoiding a pay-to-win model where only the free-spending players are enjoying themselves.

The free-to-play model has attracted legions of developers to mobile platforms, and even those who didn’t make the jump are putting its principles to use on virtually every other platform where games are played. Free-to-play has conquered the MMORPG market, with only World of Warcraft still holding fast to subscriptions (and gearing up, apparently, to shift to free-to-play). Now free-to-play is coming to consoles in a big way with World of Tanks for the Xbox 360, and in the process it’s already revolutionized Microsoft’s processes and policies for updates. The free-to-play business model is sure to be an important part of the future of every game platform.

iPad Debuts (April 2010)

“Apple’s iPhone was already well on its way to securing a foothold as one of the ‘key’ game platforms when the iPad hit the market, and when it did, the two Apple devices Voltron’ed into arguably the most course-altering combo in this era of the games industry. With the launch of the iPad, the floodgates swung open and both consumers and developers raced onto the platform. And although it’s hard to see past the jaw-dropping financial impact the iPad had on our industry, it also had another impact: large screen touch-based (aka tablet) gaming became a platform unto itself.”–Nathan Vella, co-founder and president of Sword & Sworcery developer Capy


Some mocked the iPad when it was first announced, but Apple would have the last laugh.

The debut of iOS and Android devices, free-to-play games, and the introduction of tablets are all intertwined. Each enabled the others, and the combination of them all redefined the game industry, or at least reallocated it. While the traditional console market lagged, these innovations thrived.

It may seem obvious in retrospect, but tablets were not pre-destined for success. When Apple unveiled the iPad, it was derided by many as a larger iPhone that couldn’t make calls. No less an industry visionary than Jesse Schell mocked the device in a DICE Summit talk, calling it an oversized Swiss Army Knife that nobody would want, a stupid idea. Schell has since acknowledged he made the wrong call, but it’s not like anybody needed him to confirm that. The iPad has already sold well over 100 million units, and an entire classification of computer, the netbook, has fallen victim to its incredible ascent.

The Kickstarter Revolution (2012)

“Every creator wants to control the manner for which they develop and to decide the future of their vision. Crowd sourced financing not only allows this control but further puts the proceeds back with the owner.”–Brian Fargo, founder of inXile Entertainment

One recurring theme this generation has been the ongoing erosion of barriers to entry in the gaming industry. Games are easier to get than ever before, downloaded to your pocket for free instead of purchased at the mall for $60. They’re easier to play, with designers increasingly concerned about accessibility and new interfaces allowing for those without lightning reflexes to enjoy the hobby just the same. And they’re also easier to make, thanks to cheaper development tools and the advent of alternative funding for developers. And as much as Minecraft needs to be namedropped somewhere in any article about the amazing things that have happened this generation, that game’s alpha-funding model has not yet proven as influential as Kickstarter’s approach to crowdfunding.

wasteland 2

25 years later, gamers are getting a Wasteland 2 sequel because they were willing to pay for it up front.

Double Fine Productions wasn’t the first developer to turn to Kickstarter, but its success on the platform precipitated two floods: one of money from fans eager for a new Tim Schafer adventure game, and one of recognizable developers Kickstarting projects they wanted to make outside of the existing publisher system. To date, the crowdfunding platform has helped nearly 2,000 development teams raise a cumulative total of $138.6 million for game development. That may only be enough to pay for a few AAA packaged console titles, but given the dramatic upheaval in recent years, the industry doesn’t rely on that market nearly as much as it used to.

Kickstarter has also changed the way developers make games. Where game development used to go in a vacuum, with people working for years before any of their work was exposed to the light of day, these Kickstarted projects are more like working in a fishbowl, where developers share everything from the earliest concept art to decisions on balancing the final game. And sometimes these developers go even further, soliciting direct input from their backers and blurring long-established lines between audience and artist. It’s an inversion of the traditional game development paradigm, reflecting the interactivity of the medium with interactivity in creation. And if it proves sustainable (something it seems too early to be sure of), this could change the very nature of the industry as much as any new business model or piece of hardware ever could.

This generation has not only seen the arrival of huge new platforms, but the arrival of new business models whose impact is still unfolding. Digital distribution is changing not just distribution but the nature of game designs. Free-to-play is also changing game designs, and crowdfunding is changing the entire process of development from a secretive endeavor to a group activity conducted in public.

Many of the trends here dovetail nicely, showing a sort of synergy in their impact and working together to push the industry in the shared direction of accessibility and ubiquity. In just eight years, gaming has gone from a hobby dominated by $50 retail power fantasies enjoyed in the living room and den to one with offerings at plenty of price points, enjoyable by anyone, anywhere and about almost anything.