How do you think the industry will be affected long-term by the so-called ‘credit crunch’?
Traditionally, when the economy does badly, the entertainment market grows. I don’t see why it should be any different this time. The recession is coming, but it’s not only about the sad situation of people worrying if they can pay their mortgage – it’s people wondering if they can still afford to spend 500 to go crazy in Ibiza twice a year. People spend less than a tenth of that on a video game that will last for hours in their own home. Cost-wise for a decent amount of hours of entertainment, it’s cheap. Brutally cheap. The recession shouldn’t have too much of an impact.
As a third-party publisher, what do you make of the Nintendo software market?
The reality is, the Nintendo market always gets super overcrowded. The only five titles that do well on their machines are the top five titles – and there’s a good chance three of them are first party. Where people go wrong in the casual market is that, while the development costs are exploding on the casual side, they’re treating the Wii like the old PC market – making very cheap, accessible games. They think if they make ten titles and two are hits, they will finance the other eight.
But they forget the other eight crappy titles will flood the market and will lead to problems in terms of production and manufacturing – and upset retailers. The consumer will be pissed off because they’ll be confused. How many Cooking Mamas or pony games does the consumer really need?
Carnival has been a great success on Wii. What’s its secret?
Getting it early to the market. It was also decently innovative and did something new. And we got Nintendo’s support, which was also a factor. The promise of the title is also straightforward: ‘Carnival’ tells you exactly what’s in the box. Sure, it doesn’t have a movie licence or Mario; but everyone can imagine what it does in a nanosecond just by looking at it.
Would you have had that success if it came out six months later?
Had we released it last week, it would have been much tougher. There’s far too much stuff in the Wii market and it’s hard to shine. While the Wii’s the strongest growing console, it’s a risk not to have well known brands in your games. If you’re a girl that goes to a nightclub at 11pm, it’s easy to shine. If you go at 2am when all the models are there, it’s much harder. You’ll have to get up on the loudspeaker and dance a little to create some attention.
Do you see iPod Touch as a rival to DS and PSP – as Apple has claimed it can be?
We’re very much a multiplatform developer – so we’ll give any system a try. With the iPod, we look at the commercial opportunity, but realistically. We’ll give it away to other people to do for us, or we’ll do it in China to give it a try. We could allow one of our premium studios to give it a go, and I’m sure product development would be very excited. But it would be a bit of a waste of time.
Sid Meier’s very excited by it, for instance, but it’s not a clever use of his time. I don’t think it will become serious competition to DS. It’s still cheaper to get a handheld than an iPod Touch. And at some point you cannot have a machine that does everything. You can watch movies on it, but they’re a little bit too small. You can browse the internet or write emails, but it’s fiddly and by no means perfect. If Apple really want to go up against Nintendo and Sony, they need their own gaming device. Are they capable of it? Sure. They’re adventurous, they have balls and a great marketing power. But I don’t think the iPod can do it.
Do you have any plans to take the 2K Sports brand into genres more loved by Europeans?
We need a real European title to grow in that region – we focus a lot on US sports at the moment. We’re always willing to try things. We do the best tennis game on the market, which does okay in the UK.
We tried to do boxing, but it didn’t do that well. But at least we gave it a try. On snowboarding, we did Amped, which did well and had good scores. But after the last one, we got scared about whether the market numbers were as high as we needed. We felt we’d leave it for later. Now others are making snowboarding games, we might go back and do it again.
What about a football game?
That’s the one sport you need to really break the European market. There are two great games out there – both are really respected and crown jewels for the companies involved. How many people tried to have another football game? Everyone – and I think everyone got burnt.
Even having another football manager game here would be very hard. The last thing I’d do is burn a gazillion dollars on what’s already out. But if anyone in our group comes up with a good, innovative idea for the football market, we’d definitely be willing to do it. Five years ago, if someone came to us with the idea of a street football game we might have done it. The success of the street football game shows it’s possible to do something new and successful in that genre.
Are there any genres in gaming that you feel 2K should have more of a presence in?
We want anywhere between five to eight IPs that are very franchisable and give us steady profit. It’s all about good ideas. We will keep building. The video games market has made it harder to come up with a new genre, but we’re always ready to do that.
Are you confident that Bioshock can become a monster franchise that can go on for decades?
Some of the mega-franchises we talk about only lasted ten years because companies took five years to ship a game. Look at Duke Nukem.
It’s been a great franchise for 20 years, because it seems like it’s been in development for 20 years. For Bioshock, because it’s so story driven, the question obviously arises: how long can you do it without turning into The Matrix?
The first Matrix was great, the second one was weird and the third one, you thought: Who [making this] is on crack and who isn’t?” But, then again, look at Star Wars. It’s a fight between good and evil, just like Bioshock.
If we spin it the right way and get the right twist of innovation, we can make six parts of it. But we have to be careful not to cash in. I won’t name the company, but there was a great racing game years ago. They brought it back year-on-year. If you look at the scores, it’s hard to believe what they’ve done to it. It’s upsetting, actually.