Pt 2: The Crysis 2 studio discusses demos, mobile platforms, 3D and motion control

Crytek and the shifting state of play

Last month, when Develop published an investigation into falling Development budgets, there was something we heard many times over, from numerous sources, that didn’t make the final edit:

A long list of developers, design directors and company execs told us that indie studios struggle with business, unless they have their own engines to sell.It’s a theory that’s tricky to disprove – the likes of Epic Games, and even Valve, have prospered by offering their tech to other studios and aspiring developers. Moreover, it’s a business strategy that CryEngine vendor Crytek takes very seriously. From its very first day since forming, the Crysis studio has intertwined its engine and game businesses.

In the first half of our interview with the studio, we spoke with Carl Jones (director of global business development for CryEngine) and Cevat Yerli (company CEO) to discuss the engine that’s positioned at the axis of Crytek’s entire business. Today, however, our attention turns to games.

Crysis 2 is of course competing in a very competitive FPS space on the PS3, PC and Xbox 360 – does this make it more tempting to release a demo of the game to lure the market?
Yerli: I’m not sure of that. That’s something we need to think about, because we haven’t fully decided on this yet. But whether we do have a demo or not, do I think companies need to release so many demos? I think that we’ll see more and more games not carrying a demo in the future, because it becomes prohibitively expensive. Also, given the time pressures in making a demo – in fact given the time pressure of making a quality demo – I think it all becomes really difficult to work with, and I think we’ll see less and less of them in the future.

But as I said, we’re still undecided on whether we will release a demo released for Crysis 2.

EA has floated the idea of ‘premium DLC’, which will be released before a game’s launch and distributed at a cost to the consumer. As an EA partner, is this something Crytek supports?
Yerli: I read a lot about this, and read about the backlash as well; people complaining that they would essentially be paying for a beta.

I think EA’s strategy is interesting, overall. The thing is, every time we see a publisher doing something to improve the industry, making things more commercially viable and actually increasing the market, people instantly think this is only some money-hungry ploy.

Really, what this is, is an attempt to salvage a problem. The industry is still losing a lot of money to piracy as the market becomes more online-based. So it’s encouraging to see strategies outlined to combat this.

EA’s strategy seems to be a good one, but we have to see how it forms.

Surely for a market strategy to work it needs to be popular within the market, which this isn’t.
Yerli: Yes it is quite unpopular, but this is a messaging issue. The problem with any new strategy like this is it initially may appear as a blood-hungry, money-grabbing strategy. But I think there is a genuine interest here to give gamers something more than a small demo released for free.

A free demo is a luxury we have in the game industry that we don’t have in other industries such as film. Because we’ve had this free luxury for so long, now there are plans to change this people are complaining about it. The reality is that we might not see any free game demos in the long term.

I think the whole issue needs to be explained in a better way, because there is good thinking behind EA’s plan. I understand why people are thinking that all EA wants to do is maximise profits out of the audience, but really, what it’s really trying to do is get investment back but while being as fair to the gamer as much as it can. Ultimately, it will be a better deal for the gamer.

The mobile and social game markets continue to expand to new heights and pass key milestones by the month. Are these sectors now too big to ignore?
Yerli: Yeah, the social and mobile spaces are certainly something we’ve been looking at for a while now. Well, we’ll have to see what time brings, but that’s all I can say right now.

But I take it that – when looking at these spaces – you see opportunities?
Yerli: Well, I think the App Store changes the perception of game prices, which I really don’t like. It’s pushing out games at such a low price that it distorts the perception of what a game should be priced at.

iPad and iPhone are both doing a real disservice to game prices by allowing games at such low price points – it is an issue the industry has to address at some point.

Jones: And the market is so saturated now, that a lot of iPhone developers won’t be making a second game.

Yerli: Yeah.

Jones: They just aren’t getting a return.

Yerli: These games launch low as well. I mean, an iPhone game will launch at maybe $1.99 and go down from there. If the prices were higher, the store would be less crowded, have a higher competitive pressure, higher quality and better returns.

The App Store games are under such pressure that, too make money out of it I would find very challenging.

If you look at someone who now takes a casual interest in games; they can get their iPhone and iPad games for something like $4.99, and that drives down sales on mobile platforms, and that in turn will drive down sales of handhelds, and eventually all this pressure will drive down the prices of full console retail games.

That in turn could put all sorts of pressures on how the games are made. Perhaps in the future, the big retail games will take two hours to complete.

Is this race to the bottom putting you off iPhone, or mobile, development?
Yerli: No, not really. The markets will not be regulated by pricing, but by content. Maybe in the future – let’s say we develop Crysis 5 – that game might be a two-hour game selling for $4.99.

One of the busiest topics in game development right now is motion control. Where does Crytek stand?
Yerli: We are working very closely with Sony and Microsoft in regards to motion control on both the PS3 and Xbox 360 – that’s as much as NDA allows us to say right now.

Okay – let’s talk generally about Crytek and motion control.
Yerli: Yeah, I mean the CryEngine supports new technologies such as motion control, but again, that’s all we can say at this stage.

I understand you’ve been demoing the CryEngine’s stereoscopic 3D properties.
Jones: Yes we were showing off our real-time stereoscopic 3D, which is native in the engine and can be used at just a click of a button. Also, we can generate high-quality movie output in 3D too.

I think people are starting to wake up and take notice that 3D is on its way, it’s not long before developers are taking advantage of it.

I think we need to see which way the hardware goes, because obviously 3D is still quite expensive to set up domestically. But this is a technology that is going to move fairly quickly, and it won’t be long before the whole service is going to be ubiquitous.

We are taking 3D very seriously. It certainly adds a lot to a number of games. Depth perception in an FPS really changes the game and makes it a lot more enjoyable.

Does that sort of technology really make a difference in Crysis 2?
Yerli: First of all there’s no comment on Crysis 2 being in 3D, and secondly, yes it does make a big difference [laughs].

If you look at the engine, 3D does really improve things, but we don’t have a strategy for Crysis yet.

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