No ‘stone unturned

No ‘stone unturned

A hero of British publishing and development for the past four decades, Ian Livingstone finds himself at the centre of Square Enix’s ‘new’ Eidos. Tim Ingham catches up with Lara Croft’s right-hand man…

Can you give us a general impression of how the Square UK ‘merger’ has gone – and how it’s changed the company’s strategy?
Internally, everybody agrees that the merger has gone really well. We are seeing lots of collaboration within the combined business. The job now for Square Enix Europe is to grow the European market with our combined portfolio of products.

What are Eidos’ key titles moving into Christmas?

For a title to become a big hit it is no longer a requirement for it to be released at Christmas. Some people say Q1 is the new Q4... But going into Christmas we hope to have continued success with Batman: Arkham Asylum and we will also be launching Pony Friends 2, the much-awaited sequel for fans of the original hit title.

In the New Year we are looking forward to releasing Just Cause 2. 2010 is going to be exciting not just because of the Eidos label games, but also for the Square Enix label games being released, notably Final Fantasy XIII on 9th March.

What are the strengths in Eidos’ portfolio – and which gaps would you like to fill...

Eidos has a great history of creating single player action adventure games with original characters and strong storylines. Clearly we are in a changing games world as more and more content is not only being delivered online but is also being played online.

Personally I would like to see more co-op and multi-player options in our games, both offline and online. Going forward, online functionality must be a necessity rather than just a nice option to have. By that I mean fully-functional multi-player online play. It will also be important to have more social network elements tied into our product offerings.

Can adult titles succeed on Nintendo formats? Have the ‘glory’ times passed for third parties like yourselves on Wii and DS?
Both the Wii and the DS have been spectacular successes. Nintendo has proved that success comes from creating a gameplay experience to match the functionality of the consoles. There is no point doing straight ports of PS3/360 titles onto Wii and expecting them to sell in huge numbers.

Why bother? The Wii focuses on its unique gameplay created by the motion controller, not graphics. If somebody wants a graphics-intense game, they will buy it on PS3 or 360. However, the rush to publish on Wii and DS has resulted in too many titles that are just not good enough or appropriate for the platform. Inevitably the number of new titles coming out will shrink over time but really innovative titles can still be hugely successful, even for third party publishers.

What do you make of the potential of PS3? Is the best yet to come from the console in terms of sales?
It feels like the dawn of a new age for PS3. This hardware cycle saw Sony slow off the mark, not only third to market but also launching the most expensive console. But recently there have been some significant gains; excellent titles coming out, the slim version and a price drop. Offering BBC iPlayer functionality is a big plus.

The PS3 wants to become the entertainment hub of the living room; used for playing games, social gaming with SingStar, gaming and commerce through PSN, social interaction using its Facebook app and watching movies through Blu-Ray. This console cycle is likely to have a long tail so yes; the best is yet to come for PS3.

PSPgo hasn’t been the ‘explosion’ some were predicting. What do you think the future holds for the console?
PSPgo is a great piece of hardware. But it’s software that sells hardware and PSPgo is yet to offer the exclusive must-have titles it needs to fight the competition.

Perhaps ‘minis’ will make it happen, offering bite-sized chunks of gaming to compete with the iPhone, a device that has jumped into the handheld space with 100,000 iApps, many of which are great little games. And of course innovative titles on the DS are still selling very well. PSPgo’s future is not without its challenges but at least the platform holder is taking a progressive step to challenge the network-only devices.

2009 is very much the year that digital distribution came into its own. How do you see this market maturing in the next few years? Have some boxed products/retail avenues had their day?

It has been reported that disc-based delivery of interactive content is likely to disappear within ten years and high speed fibre optic networks will facilitate delivery and consumption of games. I’m not so sure it’s that black and white. It’s partly a matter of taste.

Whilst there will be an ever-increasing demand for online digital gaming, some people will still want boxed games. Some will still want single player offline games. Look at books. In their physical form they have hardly been wiped out by digital books. It’s a historical inevitability that there will be a decline in sales of boxed products, but it’s nowhere near dinosaur time yet.

Has Xbox 360 broken out of its ‘core’ audience?
Xbox 360 is in a similar position to the PS3 in that it is more than just a games console. The 360 now has Twitter functionality, Sky Player, streams HD movies, has great online gaming, Live Arcade for the more casual games and user-generated games.

It’s a multiple entertainment device with the added attraction of Natal on the horizon promising to deliver new games experiences for wider audiences. The 360 is definitely trying hard to broaden its appeal and I believe it is succeeding. However, it now faces stronger competition from PS3.

Will games retail exist on the High Street in a decade?

Without doubt there will still be games stores on the High Street in a decade. They might have a different product mix, selling more time cards and games-enabled/related devices and peripherals as well as games, but retail will remain an important distribution point and consumer-facing flagship for the industry.

Project Natal: Revolutionary technology or gimmick? What do you predict for the accessory’s future?
Maybe both – and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Certainly Project Natal is a very impressive and compelling piece of technology. The question will be how to make bespoke games and interactive entertainment as amazing as the technology promises today. Project Natal needs to be the facilitator of an entertainment experience that can’t be had elsewhere. That’s the challenge. Right now the signs are excellent.

Can 3D become an industry standard? Or do you think titles like Ubisoft’s Avatar will be remembered as a distraction rather than a brave new world?
For me, having to wear glasses is not a great pleasure. And I have to wear them in everyday life. When 3D can be achieved on screen without having to listen to all the ‘should have gone to Specsavers’ quips, then it has a real chance.

What do you make of the rise of pre-owned at companies such as GAME?
You can’t exactly claim that the practice is good for either publishers or developers. Development costs continue to rise and content creators need to benefit from the sales of their goods wherever they occur.

If no revenue share is offered by retail on sales of pre-owned titles to developers or publishers, these content owners will develop creative online ways to ensure consumers retain ownership of their video games.

In the short term this might be authorisation codes, identification codes or essential online data necessary to play. In the long term, there will be less boxed products.

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