Louis Castle will be keynoting the Develop Conference in July. Develop caught up with him before hand to talk about digital distribution and the future of gaming.
You announced the new InstantAction Platform at GDC. What's the thinking behind it?
Video games are increasingly being played online, but fundamentally the distribution model of games and content is flawed. We ask customers to pay large amounts of money on sight-unseen products and wait hours to download it online. Or they’re stuck with a game they had to pay full price for at a big retailer. From the game creators’ perspective, the retailers use their volume to limit publishers’ revenue, and rentals and used game sales are making it very difficult to publish new games. Meanwhile they’re not giving consumers an optimal experience. The games industry still hasn’t experienced the disruption the Internet has caused most other industries. So we see a huge opportunity to change that.
Do you see online platforms like this as an alternative to purchasing hard-copies of games, or the successor to it?
I see it as a natural evolution, just as MP3s followed CDs, which followed cassettes. The Internet is an incredibly efficient way to reach new customers where they already are online, and to communicate directly with them rather than through intermediaries. Online platforms are part of an inevitable trend whereby the business side of games is aligning with how games are increasingly being played.
Do you see any major current or future issues with users downloading or streaming games?
Download times are still a barrier to consumer adoption, but this will become less and less of an issue as broadband technology and access improves. One of our biggest priorities is to tackle the issue of download times, and we’re doing it through a combination of existing technologies which puts games down on a player’s system 100 times faster than ever before, so he or she can start playing in just a couple of minutes. Players get incredibly fast access to the full game – the full game version, not a demo version. The technology we’re using is:
• InstantAction’s in-browser technology, which we’ve had for years, but until now we only applied to our own games. This is our core technology developed over the past three years. It’s patented, and no one else has it. It gives consumers the ability to run a game thru a browser as a native game – full access to the game, peripherals, hard drive, full power of your GPU.
• Progressive download chunking technology that brings down onto the consumer’s computer just enough of the game to run… lets the customer start playing a game while the rest of it downloads in the background.
• Thin-client technology, through partners like Gaikai.
What existing games or franchises would you most like to see available on your platform? Everything. The beautiful thing about the IA platform is that it’s compatible with all games – from casual to MMOs to the iconic names and titles.
What benefits do you think this platform offers over others available, such as OnLive?
For consumers, there are two major benefits over our competitors: ownership and sharing.
*Ownership: InstantAction has no subscription or rental fees – we do not ask consumers to pay forever for the same game. We offer free trials and pay-as-you-go, and once you’ve paid for the game, you own it. With systems like OnLive, you’re always renting the game, whether you have a subscription fee or you’re paying by the minute (and in OnLive’s case it’s both). My team jokes that OnLive = Money for nothing and your games aren't free. Selling big demos = Money for something that used to be free.
*Sharing: The InstantAction platform allows customers to email games to their friends just like they would any simple link, and easily invite others to play in the same way they’d share pictures or videos. They can actually embed and play the game directly in their own blog, Facebook, MySpace or other favorite social network pages and share the action with their entire friends list.
For game creators, the major benefits are broader distribution and customer access.
*Distribution: Because the InstantAction platform allows anyone to embed any game anywhere on the web in the same way you’d embed a YouTube video, game creators can place their games where consumers go, rather than requiring consumers to go to them. This is revolutionary – the ability to embed a game anywhere means consumers can play a game inside a Facebook page, a review site or on a fan site, which means consumers discover games thru their friends and on other sites they visit. By expanding access to games across the web, InstantAction is helping game creators find a different kind of audience & a wider base of users.
*Customer access: Game creators get to stay in control of their customers using advanced metrics and analytics to know how their game is performing in the channel at all times in terms of customer acquisition and monetization.
Why have you included the ‘rent-to-own’ transaction model for platform games?
We’re giving consumers flexibility they can’t get in the offline world –they don’t have to pay the whole price at once and instead pay as they play. This matches all other forms of online media and we feel it is where the market must get to at some point. Importantly, we’re giving game creators the same revenue share on our rent-to-own model, making it a risk-free proposal for consumers and creators.
What impact do you think online distribution platforms will have on the games industry in the next five years?
Can they become the primary source of games content for consumers? What does that mean for developers?
I strongly believe the industry is moving to a digital distribution model. The cost of physical inventories, shipping and shelving products is simply not sustainable. InstantAction and services like ours will eventually be adopted due to their benefit for consumers and creators.
What has attracted you to talk at the Develop conference this year?
I have the opportunity to travel to Brighton at the time of the conference this year so I was very excited when I was asked to speak. With the launch of InstantAction and the release of one of our as-of-yet unannounced games, it was the perfect time to talk about where I think the industry is and where we are all going. It’s a very exciting time full of great opportunity and I can’t wait to share my enthusiasm with the group of talented developers at Develop.