Ian Livingstone: India the games industry's best kept secret

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Few people outside India know of the country's potential as a hub for quality game development, and that will only change once Indian developers start creating globally relevant games, industry veteran Ian Livingstone has said.

Livingstone, who was one of the founding members of Eidos and is a regular industry representative in the political arena, was in India recently on a promotional tour for the upcoming Tomb Raider game.

Having been a frequent visitor to India, Livingstone has had the opportunity to observe the Indian industry's progression over several years, and we had the opportunity to pick his brains on the growth of the Indian development industry and consumer market from an outside perspective, as well as his thoughts on digital distribution, boxed retail, and the future of console gaming.

MCV: You've been to India a few times and you've had a first-hand look at the Indian industry over the years. Has the game development industry progressed the way you would have expected?

Ian Livingstone: The Indian industry is what we call the best kept secret. Not a lot of people outside India know that it exists other than for outsourcing. I'm aware of studios here making games in full development, though that's mostly for the Indian market. A market that has an audience of 1.2 billion people is pretty large. Of course, not all of them are online and not all of them have smartphones, but there's a fantastic starting point which is the envy of many countries. But to be taken as a real industry of international repute, it has to create content that addresses a global audience. So I think the creative component is the bit that's still lacking, which is fine for the domestic market, but not for the international market.

Japan has also made a lot of games that are inward facing, and not many games have gone beyond Japan at a successful rate, but they have addressed that issue a lot and, over the years, more and more titles are coming out of Japan. So it's a question of understanding the cultural requirements on an international level, which is so important now, because when games ultimately become all-digital, all-serve, to global audiences via broadband, if you want to have an international success, you have to have an international franchise. It has to have universal appeal. Angry Birds is not a Finnish looking game; it has global appeal.

MCV:As a consumer market for games, has India grown the way you thought it would have?

Livingstone:It's quite a tough market. Clearly a piece of the market is dominated by pirates. That's one revenue stream that's not available to you. Because of import duty, console games are very expensive relative to the per capita earnings, so that's put a break on the increase of the market as well. But despite that, there have been some very favourable trends. You know that the Indian population loves playing games. So it's just a matter of trying to find the right balance between pricing and content, and we'll get there eventually. It's got amazing potential as a market.

MCV:With this big shift towards digital distribution, do you think boxed retail will go away soon?

Livingstone:If you look at what's happening in the UK, retail has suffered badly. Lots of retailers have closed and there's the perception that the games market is dying, but it's anything but dying; it's growing. The global software market is $50 billion and that's going to rise to $90 billion by 2015. The simple truth is that games are moving from being a product to being a service. I'd say this year we're going to reach the point whereby revenues derived from online content is going to be greater than revenues generated from boxed product at retail. So companies have to adapt their business models, and you can be sure that the growth is going to be in the digital space and not in boxed products.

MCV:So will we see companies like Square Enix abandoning boxed products in the near future? Wouldn't that adversely affect countries like India that don't have a high rate of broadband penetration?

Livingstone:Boxed games aren't being abandoned just yet. I think the next iteration of consoles – the PS4 and the next Xbox, have got optical disc drives even though they probably don't want to have them. Broadband speed globally isn't at a level that justifies digital-only. So they've gone halfway. With the next Xbox, you supposedly have to have an internet connection, and the discs are watermarked, whereby once played on one console it won't play on another. So I think the generation after that will be digital-only, if indeed there is a box at all.

MCV:With smartphones and tablets becoming more and more powerful, do you see mainline, full-featured games from franchises like Tomb Raider or Hitman being released on these devices someday?

Livingstone:I'm not convinced by that. I think games will be appropriate for the platforms that they're on. For me, when I play Tomb Raider, I want a big screen and a controller rather than a virtual analogue stick, which I find cumbersome. I want that big, immersive, cinematic experience. It's quite like I would love to go to a cinema to watch a Hollywood blockbuster, while I'm quite happy to watch an indie film, where the production values aren't that great, on my iPad. It would be a shame to watch some films on a smaller screen; you want it on as big a screen as possible. So I think the rise of gaming on tablets and smartphones is going to be relevant to the platform. There will be casual games; 2.5D works well so you don't need games to be fully 3D; indies can express themselves in a million ways. That is what's so brilliant about it. It doesn't follow a specific formula like console gaming. I wouldn't want all games on tablets suddenly being action-adventure with 3D characters in 3D worlds.

MCV:There's talk of the next-generation – the PlayStation 4 and the next Xbox - being the last console generation. What are your thoughts on that?

Livingstone:Who knows; ten years is a long time in technology, and especially in games. It's difficult to predict because so many factors come into play, not least of which is how fast broadband is going to be. It's likely that there won't be a set-top box anymore. It's likely to be technology embedded into a smart TV that's connected to the internet and everything will be served from the cloud.

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