Digital shift could mean game over for big publishers, Ed Fries says

Microsoft’s former games VP Ed Fries has warned big publishers that a digital gaming future could result in their demise

He told [a]listdaily that the shift from physical to digital eradicates the very reasons large publishers were formed in the first place.

Who knows if there’ll be big publishers in the future? There don’t have to be,” Fries said. Maybe the world of the future doesn’t look like that. Maybe it’s just lots of small developers, getting together and then breaking up into little teams all over the world, that’s where great games are going to come from.

Big publishers were formed because games were really expensive, there were big distribution issues. Walmart didn’t want to deal with a hundred companies, they wanted to deal with four or five. A lot of those things changed with digital distribution. Maybe what we’ll see in the future isn’t like what we’ve seen in the past. What does that mean? There are winners and losers all through that.

It’s not necessarily a better future for anyone. If you’re at a publisher, it’s ‘Oh, maybe my future is not so good.’ Even from a developer point of view, it might mean you get a hit and then you don’t get a hit again. Angry Birds this year, next year it’s Supercell, the year after it’s Mojang. It’s random little groups all over the place.

Maybe that’s where the most creativity is going to come from. Customers will just pick and choose, as they always do, whatever’s hottest, most fun at that time. That’s a very different world we have to think about.”

He was more complimentary about Microsoft, however, praising the platform holder for its response to the Xbox One controversy.

I was impressed,” Fries added. I was concerned that they wouldn’t change, and I was impressed that they did change, and changed quickly. They clearly are responsive to feedback, and I think that’s great.

We all make products for customers, and it’s important that we listen to our customers when they have things to say to us. It’s a lot more true than it was in the old days. If you think about games, we used to spend three years making games and stick them in a box, and people liked them or they didn’t like them.”

The comments make a pleasant change for Microsoft after two industry figures in the last week accused it of being too weak for its policy U-turns.

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