Andrew Brown asks…

Find out what happened when Activision’s Andrew Brown quizzed Microsoft’s Neil Thompson, Sony’s Ray Maguire and Nintendo’s David Yarnton…

What are your thoughts on when you expect sales of digitally distributed games to overtake those of boxed product on your format?

Neil Thompson, Senior Regional Director, Northern Europe, Entertainment & Devices Division, Microsoft:
This depends on what your criteria and price point definition is – value or volume. I expect digital distribution of game content to explode in the next three years as more publishers encompass the value of Xbox Live and its ability to deliver on-going value to customers through digital enhancements that prolong the life of games.
However, from a value perspective, I still see boxed product through retail as playing the lead role during that time horizon.

Ray Maguire, UK Managing Director, Sony Computer Entertainment UK:
We create and deliver entertainment content that appeals to, and is consumed, by an ever-growing and changing audience. This content ranges from snackable mini games on the PSP and PS3, sold through the PlayStation Store, through to blockbuster Blu-ray releases such as Uncharted 2 or Heavy Rain.
It’s worth considering that the Digital Britain
Report only suggests all UK households have access
to a 2Mbps minimum broadband line by 2012. So whilst it may be convenient and straightforward to download relatively small files, it’s unrealistic to
expect the vast majority of consumers to access and store the 25 or 50 gigabytes of data that make up a Blu-ray release.
Therefore, whilst the popularity of and demand for bite-size content will continue to grow, there’ll still be a need for a storage medium that’s both convenient and accessible to the majority, not the minority, for some time to come.

David Yarnton, UK General Manager, Nintendo:
I don’t think that digitally distributed product will overtake our boxed product for a long time. Right now, the majority of consumers are not ready for this and those that are, are a very narrow band. Consumers have taken up downloading content in some areas but we still see retail being a vital and valued partner for some considerable time to come.

Will the games industry eventually live in ‘the cloud’, or do you think companies like yourself will continue to manufacture ever-improving boxes for the foreseeable future?

Ray Maguire: Whilst the remote storage and access of files is becoming increasingly common, when it comes to delivering an entertainment experience on par with the quality consumers have come to expect and that they demand, dedicated games consoles remain the only systems powerful enough to do this.

Neil Thompson: I’m convinced the cloud will play a central role in the games industry of the future and already is today through services such as Xbox Live. How you connect to the cloud and the services it can deliver across multiple devices is the exciting new world we are now entering.
Our strategy is certainly to enable people to connect to their key entertainment content through innovative services that span across multiple devices.

David Yarnton: Whilst we can give people unique and ever-surprising experiences, we will continue to innovate in the way that we provide both hardware and content to them. At the moment our consoles, physical hardware and software provide the means for developers to do that.

Facebook on DS, Twitter on Xbox 360, movies on the PlayStation Store… In your own unique ways, you’ve all embraced social media and add-on content through your hardware in 2009. Why do you think there’s been so much momentum in that area this year and how do
you see it developing in 2010?

Ray Maguire: Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are now an integral part of people’s lifestyles and entertainment demands, so their integration into both hardware and software is an obvious and natural transition. Communities play an important role in helping to shape and define the PlayStation experience online, which is why it’s important to support and engage with the consumers who use these sites on a daily basis.

Neil Thompson: Consumers are increasingly demanding more from their entertainment services. Offering them a wide range of entertainment experiences that enable them to connect to their friends is essential if you are to be relevant in the next year and beyond. Xbox is at the forefront of that with great Zune Movie Full HD Streaming service, Live TV with Sky, or Facebook and Twitter.
The challenge all companies have in this space is driving innovation at the pace of change the market is asking for. Software innovation will be the magic ingredient that will enable companies such as ours to keep meeting this consumer challenge and keep formats fresh and exciting.

David Yarnton: Content and the user experience when using our platforms is always important and the DS and Wii can offer a lot more to people than they often expect. Many of these additional functions are often made available, but sometimes in a complicated way. So when we can make them free, simple and safe we will release it to our customers.

John Riccitiello reportedly estimates that we live in a world of a billion gamers. Does that mean you’re only just scratching the surface – or that we live in a ‘post-gaming age’, in which the idea of ‘a gamer’ has been completely redefined?

Neil Thompson: Even defining gaming is becoming ever more challenging. It is sometimes better, I believe, to think about interactive entertainment that spans all ages, all genres and multiple types of experiences. In my opinion, when our industry is placed in this context we have only just begun.
There is a world of opportunity where ‘interactive entertainment’ can play a role in our lives that is
much more expansive than the way it is defined
today. For developers, publishers, devices manufacturers and services providers – including retailers – this offers us all a massive opportunity in the short and long term as long as we’re willing to innovate and constantly redefine who we are and what we are here to deliver.

Ray Maguire: Play is an integral part of our DNA from birth, and forms the very fabric of our ability to learn, engage with, and enjoy the world around us. When you take this inherent instinct into consideration, then we really are just scratching the surface right now – and the question becomes how we make the fruits of our industry enjoyable for, and accessible to, the broadest possible audience.

David Yarnton: We still have a long way to go before we can claim that gaming is a mainstream recreational activity. We definitely think we are only just scratching the surface – and our tactic of expanding the user base and bringing new people to gaming has expanded the market for everyone. We still have a long way to go and it will take many more years before we can consider what we have achieved as being ‘the full potential’.

Make a bold prediction about what you think the industry might be like in 2019 – and the role your formats will play in that.

David Yarnton: By then I will have less hair, but
there will be a lot of people in the industry now who will have retired or be close to it. That means there
will also be a lot of our customers who are all in the same position having also grown up with video
games. What does this mean? It hopefully means that these people, their children and grandchildren will accept video games as a mainstream form of entertainment just like movies, TV, music and books are now. The industry will be in a stronger position as our products are used across all levels and ages of society and beyond what we can imagine now.

Neil Thompson: The connected ‘gaming’ world will be of a size that will make it the biggest country in the world; People will seamlessly access their 3D interactive content through a multiple of devices using natural user interfaces; My Gamerscore will still be in three figures; Wales will have won the 6 Nations another seven times; And I still won’t have completed Halo on legendary…

Ray Maguire: The Daily Mail runs a competition offering readers the chance to win Grand Theft Auto VI, signed by the game’s ambassador, Keith Vaz; The Government announces a pledge that all UK households will have a minimum of 8Mbps
broadband connection, whilst Sky and Virgin Media unveil their one-terabyte-per-second services; Stuart Dinsey launches an aggressive takeover of Simon Cowell’s media empire, and The X Factor gets a subtle branding makeover, with the letters MCV.

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