Develop speaks to the men predicting the future of the video game sector

Fortune tellers

The Creative Industries Knowledge Transfer Network is a UK think-tank dedicated to predicting the future of the creative industries in Britain. Develop sat in on a meeting with Tiga CEO Richard Wilson and quizzed both on what’s in store for national games development…

How does the CIKT Network function?
John Cass, Director, CIKTN: We are funded by the government through an agency called the Technology Strategy Board. They exist to accelerate business innovation in the UK, giving grants to companies seeking to get risky products and services off the ground and funding Knowledge Transfer Networks to build communities in many different sectors.

Our network serves the creative industries. We link businesses together and help them to understand the future, as well as to discover funding opportunities through the TSB and the private sector

What has your work taught you about the likely future of the games development industry in the UK?
JC: Our research led us to three central provocations: One, content experience is king; Two, convergence is critical; Three, privacy is tradable.

For the first point, what we will see in the future is that the content will be experienced in a particular context each time. So, the particular way in which content is delivered to an end user on their mobile, TV, console or PC, in fact any platform at all, is going to become a critically important dimension of the overall experience.

Games companies are way ahead of the curve here. I think that, generally, this is one thing that most people are realising quite slowly, but the games industry has been integral in showing how critical the user experience is.

I wonder if they could take that kind of quality of thinking and work with other sectors to be able to deliver an improved experience of interaction with content in the future. For film industry, or for TV or whatever.

Richard Wilson, Tiga: I agree that in the future successful companies will be the ones who integrate with others across sector boundaries. Those who work together to create great games alongside great TV programmes will give everybody a better experience of the content. In fact, the process of marrying these two things together has already happened in other countries.

JC: I think that a smarter model would be something like Lilo & Stitch, the Disney characters, which have gone through films, TV and games. Something like that, coming up from a level of real grassroots interest, could be very powerful.

People are really quite unlikely to want to invest £100m in a brand new video games IP straight away, but by having a quirky, interesting character in a series of small casual games, and perhaps releasing that on Facebook, then turning that into a show online before bringing that show to the TV, that is more of the kind of migratory pattern that I think should be happening.

LittleBigPlanet is a great idea, to do it in that way. Actually getting people to create their own characters and levels, so you have this user generated content that may turn into something else over time within the game’s community.

Are there any other opportunities available to UK developers?
RW: The UK also has an advantage in the education market. We’re the second most popular destination for overseas students looking to learn about games development, which when you consider our funding is really extraordinary.

Tiga research has put the amount of UK developers making serious education games at approximately 20 per cent, which is very high.These games aren’t their main focus, but being able to play a game while learning seems to make people take games more seriously. I think there is a huge opportunity in that.

Geoffrey McCormick, Consultant, TheAlloy (Brand consultants working with CIKTN): When you think about the way that the education sector leveraged opportunities like broadcast TV in the ‘60s and ‘70s with things like the Open University, you have to wonder if we are making proper use of opportunities available at the moment.

JC: When I suggested this to university researchers and lecturers, they were entirely against it. They don’t like the idea of migrating away from current systems. That’s the biggest barrier. A lot of trouble even comes from the word ‘game’. There are connotations that are not necessarily positive. There needs to be a redefining, or at least a clearer understanding, of everything that the word means.

Other people are using games for education purposes already. If we don’t, I believe that our credibility and our heritage will become less relevant.

What will the games industry look like
in a decade?

JC: The future of games doesn’t lie in the finished, shrink-wrapped game on the shelf. It’s in casual games, online games and the like. People know this, but when you get into this area, you come across something that maybe the games industry isn’t very familiar with at all. How do you manage the huge amounts of data, and in particular private data, which this generates?

There is an opportunity here. If a player has certain preferences in terms of brands or the way they like to play, I can customise that experience to their particular ‘sweet-spot’. Potentially there is a huge amount of data that could be needed in order to deliver those things, and a tsunami of issues that could appear over how companies access, trade and store that kind of information.

It’s like the Old West in the technology industry at the moment. There are no rules, and it’s international. You had all that stuff with the UAE and Saudi Arabia banning Blackberry use because data is stored outside of their jurisdiction. There aren’t any clear norms, its just a lot of really implicit ‘stuff’.

So that is the reason for the third and final provocation. With one and two you open up a world where you actually become very responsible for very different types of relationships with your customer. They need to have a complete knowledge of exactly what it is that you are doing. There is a steep learning curve there and some people are lagging behind a bit.

GM: Privacy as a commodity is so powerful that there is a bit of fear about it, that we could be opening a can of worms to our detriment. I think it could be hugely powerful. If it is handled in the right way, if people are aware of the transaction and accept it, it is a transaction that could really benefit lives.

All of these things could, and should, transform the gaming industry forever.

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