OPINION: THQ talks new tech

Ben Parfitt
OPINION: THQ talks new tech

THE NEW PLATFORMS: FACEBOOK, MOBILE AND THE CLOUD

Next year is my 20th in the games industry and I have seen a lot of things come and go.

I’ve seen hyped things that worked and hyped things that didn’t. What do we actually know? We know that great games find buyers. So we need to take a step back. We could talk about the future of consoles or Facebook. But let’s always stay focused on making great games and great content. Distribution methods and platforms is the easier question if we make great entertainment.

We have to keep thinking about delivering great entertainment. We could easily get confused thinking about where shall we put it all. But let’s not think about that. Let’s just make a great game. It could work on six of those platforms so lets put it on those six. It might only work on two. Maybe it will work on everything.

Take a game like UFC, you could train your character on the iPhone or iPad and upload your character to your Xbox 360 or PS3. You have to think very broadly about what does our consumer want and where will they play. And if you deliver that great entertainment, things like online, offline, retail, Facebook, all those problems become more clear.

But lets break it down. Facebook is a new platform, but it is a different gaming experience. You will never be able to play our new FPS Homefront and get that experience and emotion on a Facebook game. But Facebook can be a great platform for marketing – we are creating games on Facebook just to get some virility behind some of our launches. If we monetise on Facebook that’s great, but if we don’t that’s great too, because if we can get millions of people to see our brand, that’s just as important.

Sometimes your success is as defined by what you don’t do as much as what you actually do. We have been looking at Facebook for a while, but there are already entrenched players there – THQ cannot be the next Farmville. So in what way can we succeed there?

How about with a game like UFC – a brand we have already built – or WWE or Saints Row? If we build the franchise then we can win wherever we choose to play.
We’ve also recently seen iPad introduced to the market. I am a user and I think it is a great media consumption device. And I do not think we’ve seen the best games on that platform yet, so that is a real opportunity there. Our strategy is to build our games and put them on all screens, the TV monitor, the PC screen, the iPad, and where appropriate on mobile.

We already have a lot of games on the iPhone, but we are not going to do a lot of dedicated iPhone games. It is hard to make a lot of money on that system unless you can build brands.

Another new development is Cloud gaming. I love Cloud as a concept. If you don’t have to buy an expensive piece of hardware and software is downloaded immediately, how many more consumers could that bring in to our business? Does that mean it puts Microsoft or Sony out of the market? Maybe not, maybe they’ll be the first companies to do it. It doesn’t matter to me. Lowering that barrier for entry is one of the key things for us.

As a company we have to do everything on Facebook, iPad, iPhone, Xbox 360, Wii, DS, PS3 and so on – but try and specialise in each one of those markets is not what we will do.

3D: ON HANDHELDS AND IN THE HOME

We have been watching 3D and it is all about the user experience. Some of the 3D I’ve seen – both at the cinema and in the games – just doesn’t make the experience that much better. But when I first saw the demo for 3DS – Nintendo came to our offices and showed a select few of us the console – I thought ‘OK, I can see great games on this.’ There is a lot of hype around 3D, but 3D working well and enhancing the user experience, that’s what we’re excited about.

3D has to deliver the right experiences to consumers. It has never been about the technology, it has always been about what we can do with it. And I won’t be convinced until I see a compelling game in 3D on the TV screen.

For example, will I see my son downstairs with his friends, playing a multiplayer game, laughing and joking, with those big glasses on? Are we going to have four sets of glasses lying around that don’t get lost or broken? There are just a lot of issues at the moment. We have seen some technologies that can actually create glasses-less 3D. But it is always about what the consumer wants. And I wonder – for families watching the entertainment or gamers – does 3D deliver today? I don’t think it does. Not yet.

Things can get overhyped in the industry. The only reason 3DS works is because it enhanced the experience. If it is a gimmick it won’t work.

TRANSMEDIA: GOING BEYOND MERCHANDISE

When building an intellectual property one way to do it is across media. The way we think about it is that we are making video games first. Our audience is the gamer so lets make a great title that can then go elsewhere.
For example with Red Faction, there is a made-for-TV movie that is coming to SyFy. They are funding it, so there is no additional capital lost, but it gets that brand out there, builds more affinity for the franchise and grows it across other media.

The idea of using the game as the tentpole for other media – using that media’s access to other consumers to build our brand – we like that concept a lot. It is a way for us to build the intellectual properties that we own.

We have to be very careful of how our brand is portrayed. We have all seen a lot of poor game-to-movie adaptations. We would have full creative control over that and we won’t allow anything to misrepresent what our brand actually is. The IP development team that we now have in place all come out of the other media, and this gives us a good advantage there.

It is a better thing for the business to own a fair amount of our own IP. But that said, there is great IP to licence. All major publishers – including us, Activision, EA and Ubisoft – we all licence. It is always going to be part of our business but building our own franchises is core to our strategy.

MOVE AND KINECT: EXPANDING THE MARKET

The whole industry loves Move and Kinect because they expand the market.

Lets take Kinect. The Xbox 360 today is very much a core gamer box. And the fact that Microsoft is trying to broaden its audience is something we support. Once you’ve got past a certain level you need new consumers, and Kinect should do that. Same for PlayStation Move, which has its own niche to go after.

Anything that tries to expand the market for the publisher is perfect.

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Tags: THQ , new , video games , market , brian farrell

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