Pride of the North

What’s new for this year’s Festival?
We’re in a new venue this year, the Corn Exchange. It’s certainly going to be funkier than in the past. It has nice features and we’re trying it out. It has the same benefits for attendees, but might be even more fun. Also, this is the first time we’ll be covering Facebook games. We don’t have a specific section on iPhone games, but they’ll be equally prevalent.

I was at South By South West Interactive earlier this year, and they had a big showing then. We also have some standard, traditional subjects, such as financing for publishers.

I’m looking forward to seeing Playfish boss Kristian Segerstrale. That company has around 500,000 concurrent users and five millions visits a day – all through Facebook, which is amazing. The theme for this year is that out of chaos is born opportunity.
We step back more than other game events and discuss ‘around’ subjects, for a more compelling experience. We’re also very welcoming of everyone. If it’s interactive, we’re interested. And if we think it has impact on the industry we’re even more so.

What do you see as this year’s particular highlights?
There are multiple highlights, especially with EA Sports’ Peter Moore in town. I’m particularly looking forward to the debate on the future of blockbuster games, which will focus on whether they are coming to an end. No-one really believes that they are completely, of course – but things as we know them certainly are. Ray Maguire, Ian Livingstone and Peter Moore will be involved in that one. It should be an interesting debate.

I’m also looking forward to [former Edge editor and BBC journalist] Margaret Robertson, who always has a wise take on the industry. This year, she’s going to talk about the contention that the storylines behind today’s games are, if not distracting, then perhaps less than essential. People can work out the story pretty quickly in a game. I mean, you wouldn’t have a porno film with a three-hour intro.

There’ll be plenty of controversial subjects to evoke discussion around the coffee bar. It’s one of the things that makes us unique.

What’s your view on the future of the blockbuster game?
Before there can be as many blockbuster hits as there were in the past, games have to be produced in a more efficient fashion with more productivity tools. There has to be some hybrid form of monetisation, including both the upfront spend and an after-market transaction. In order to price the games at a level today where they would support an industry like it was ten years ago, they’d have to be 70. People just don’t have that kind of money; there’s a psychological glass ceiling.

Consumers won’t spend more, but to make the game, publishers have to spend more. That’s a key problem. The cost of development is ten times what it was for PS2, and more like 20 to 50 times more than on PSOne.
Then there’s all this casual stuff that costs hundreds of pounds and that can reach 50 million phone users. The market has expanded very much as a result of escaping the keyboard and escaping high price points.

I don’t think anyone wants to see the end of this era, but some things have to come in line before it will grow again, because there are too many things competing for the consumer’s time, including free MMOGs that take hours to complete.

Then there’s Facebook and Twitter; people are Tweeting themselves half to death. There are lots of things you can get for less than the relative value of paying 50p an hour for a very high end game.

What separates Edinburgh from E3, Cologne and other shows?
E3, Cologne, CES and GDC all do their thing brilliantly, but Edinburgh is more of a celebration of the creativity of games and interactive experiences. Although we do cover some business, it’s more of an exploration of the canvas of interactivity.

We’re more future-facing in a long-term way, while those shows are more about what’s coming in the next few months. We try to get out ahead of what’s coming. We covered micro-payments in the last couple of years – and they’ve really taken off this year. We had a session on GPS last year. It’s still a bit early on that, but there’s no doubt in my mind that real GPS will have an impact in gaming at some point soon.

People who visit Edinburgh are there for different reasons than when they go to E3. They’re interested in explaining the creative culture of games. Some people might think that idea is just too airy-fairy for them, but a bit of blue sky thinking isn’t a bad thing once a year – especially in an atmosphere of live creative thinking like the Edinburgh Festival. Some of that atmosphere rubs off on us.

This isn’t a giant for-profit event. Most people involved work on the content and other aspects are all volunteers, including myself. We think it’s an interesting way to look at the business. If people agree with that, they’re welcome. If they think it’s too far afield to them, that’s fine – they won’t be interested in looking at the industry this way.

It’s an intimate, convivial event. It’s the same people in the same room for two days – it’s just that some of them happen to be pretty important! I’m sure we’d like [attendance numbers] to go up over 300 eventually, but we’re at about 250, which is a perfect size for what we want to achieve for now.

You will once again set the tone for the Festival with your introductory speech. What themes are on your mind?
I’m still digesting what’s going to be covered and see the trends. I can make some predictions of multi-playing devices, where a game has a personality of its own and you can enter it from a phone or an iPod, do a bit of work on it in the office, and then enjoy it on a big screen when you get home.

Other than that, I’ll probably just say: It’s tough out there folks! There seems to be an endless duel between publishers and retailers, but the truth is, it’s tough for everyone at the moment. At least we’re having a tough time in a fun business. We could be having a tough time in plumbing supplies.

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