Phil Harrison has predicted that console quality gaming in web browsers will emerge as the next-gen gaming platform.
Speaking at his keynote session at the Italian Videogame Developers Conference in Rome, the London Venture Partners co-founder asked the crowd if they believed they would ever see a game of the quality of Modern Warfare 2 running in a browser.
After a show of hands, Harrison confirmed: “I think the answer is yes. I think in the next five-to-ten years we will easily get this level of game inside a web browser, on your mobile platform, on your iPad, and we will be able to deliver that level of immersion to any kind of screen.”
Harrison then suggested this move will be powered by what he called ‘the browser wars of the 21st century’. This battle to dominate the industry, the former president of Sony Worldwide Studios suggested, will ape the ‘browser wars’ of the 1990s when Netscape and Microsoft went head-to-head to try and own the internet browser space.
“The gathering storm that I’m talking about is about the technology that is going to go into a web browser that is going to power very rich, very impressive gameplay.”
“Somebody is going to win. Somebody is going to deliver console level 3D graphics, video and audio into a web browser. That will be the tipping point for the evolution of our industry that will accelerate what we can do in a browser, and I think will create the next generation platform for games.”
The session, titled ‘What Happens Next, was an ambitious and broad analysis of the future of the games industry marked by optimism for the digital space.
Harrison, who started his career in the industry in 1985 working on Commodore 64 games said: “This is definitely an industry in transition. A sales-centric industry where products are delivered into boxes on disks purchased in stores is now changing into a service industry where everything is delivered digitally on the internet. Now, I don’t think that that is a revolutionary thought, but the speed of the transition is quite interesting.”
He added: “In some parts of the world, such as Korea and other areas of Asia, there is no packaged goods industry anymore.”
Harrison also suggested there is still much to learn from the speed of change in the music industry. “That’s a great early warning system for what is happening in our industry as well,” he stated.
“The important thing is that all of the real growth – all of the additional value that is going to be created in our industry in the decade – it’s all online. I think that that must be a focus of your attention if you’re a developer or you are thinking of starting a career in the games industry. You must think about how you can compete in this new world economy for computer games on the internet.”
Harrison, who joked with the audience about the complexity of some of his graphs, revealed that over 68 per cent of global venture capital money invested in games is dedicated to online games.
“These investments will create the economies of tomorrow. These companies will be creating the new technologies, experiences, game business models of tomorrow. This kind of investment will start to see big changes in our industry in the next three-to-five years in our industry,” he said. “There’s a lot of space here, and those spaces are opportunities.”
Harrison also explained his belief that there is a huge opportunity for success in making games for the core audience on platforms with open policies. Pointing to the iPhone, PlayStaion, Wii and Xbox 360 as platforms with ‘closed policies’ that make submitting games very complex, he suggested that between them they offered a wealth of casual and core experiences.
Citing Facebook as ‘open’– which he admitted was changing – Harrison pointed out that casual games tend to dominate on platforms with less demanding policies.
“The battleground for the future, and the opportunity in the future is going to be about […] who is going to be satisfying the needs of the core gamer on an open platform,” said Harrison.
“This is where we see opportunities for companies to create new businesses. These will be games delivered perhaps in a web browser, and perhaps in the future.”
“It is also a space that other companies will want to move into. The console companies, I believe, will want to figure out how to become more open and to deliver more content without restriction to more people, to stimulate creativity.”
“I think we have probably seen the last of the traditional game console companies already in the market. I don’t think we’re going to see a new entrant who is going to be able to compete at the level that Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have established.”
Harrison went on to express his optimism for the potential of high quality browser games on web TVs, concluding with a message offering advice for developers: “Don’t guess about game design. Use metrics and analytics to underpin every decision you make in your company and inform your game design so you make better, more fun product for people to play. Finally, be brave and ambitious and audacious. This is a great time to start a games company, and I highly recommend you do so. If you have the passion then I think that the opportunities are there.”