What will the future of gaming look like?
Interview: Former Sony boss, now Capcom COO, David Reeves glances forward...
When David Reeves tells you something "isn't rocket science", you'd best believe him.
Before he was deputy president of Sony Computer Entertainment worldwide, and before he took the job of Capcom's global COO in March this year, Reeves boasted a Ph.D - and fruitful career - in Chemical and Astrophysics.
He joined Sony in 1995 and spent 14 hugely successful years at the platform holder. Having overseen the launch of PlayStation and PS2 across Europe, he became president of SCEE in 2004 - and Kaz Hirai's global deputy in 2006, a joint role he held for the next three years.
So whether it's the finer points of aerospace engineering or video game hardware trends, Reeves is a man who knows what he's talking about.
Thankfully, when CVG catches up with him, he's in the mood to discuss the latter, having just debated gaming's 'new power base' on stage at the excellent London Games Conference.
And as he explains, seeing where the humble games console is headed certainly "isn't rocket science" - but it is very intriguing indeed...
You talk of gaming's 'new power base'. But how is a relative dinosaur like Capcom going to survive it?
It's safe to say we're going to stick to what we're good at. We're going to stick with the people with the same DNA developing the games and we're going to 'place the chips' on the platforms that we know well.
But at the same time, you'll see us expand into the digital era - as we've done with Dead Rising 2. We had a Prologue, the game and then an Epilogue. The Prologue, Case Zero, was, in fact, monetised. That was somewhat of a first, but it was very successful, because it meant that the people who really wanted to play actually paid for it.
We take hold of this digital era, as I have done before in a previous life [at Sony], but try to move it on even further. We don't just want to join it, we need to improve on it. All of the people at the top of Capcom are looking at this - ways to interact with retail and different ways to monetise digital content.
What do you think we'll be playing video games on in five, 10 and 15 years time?
Why can't consumers just put a game on their iPad, or tablet, play it, put it down and then go upstairs and continue it on their TV - where it's completely multiplatform? I think that's a little bit unrealistic in the next five years because so many people have got commercial interests at heart. But it will probably only take two or three of the consortium to get together and say: "Okay, if it's worth our while, let's do it."
When you're on the first-party side, you realise how really, really expensive it is to develop a platform. Whether it's PS3, or Xbox 360 or even Wii, they cost millions - maybe not billions, but absolutely millions. You don't know when to put that stake in the ground of technology and move on. You know, say 'that's enough'.
Eventually, it may just become so expensive to develop that Microsoft and Sony say, 'Okay, let's get together.' I'd say it's between 10 and 15 years away. That's how long I think it will take. I don't think it will be the next console cycle, but probably the next cycle after that, where you might have something platform-agnostic.
But it might be different players, of course. It might be Google getting together with, dare I say, Microsoft, or Google with somebody else.
What do you think of the idea of TV-based gaming - whether that's a Cloud-based gaming service on your telly or a physical chipset inside your TV?
I think both are absolutely viable. And I think that although they'll start of being niche, they will develop very, very rapidly. Just like cable TV - that took a long, long time to take off, but once it did, it really took off. They are absolutely viable. You could have a gaming TV channel, or apps. And they will be monetised, because I think you'll see they'll start putting gambling on there as well. That will bring up the revenue streams.
Lots of people say dedicated mobile gaming devices could be set for extinction - because people want multi-use devices like a phone...
I actually disagree with them. I think that the 'Bat-belt' trend - where you have different devices for different functions - will continue in perpetuity. When you have a multi-device it's okay for some people. For instance, I have a Blackberry and I can do all sorts of things with it, but I have another device for gaming as well. I think that people are going to continue to have two or three devices.
When people say: 'Multi-devices will be king,' I'm always tempted to reply: "What about N-Gage?"
In the future we'll see the main gaming device - whether that's PSP2, I honestly don't know, or 3DS. [I don't think] it has to be a multi-function device to be successful - if you've got good games.
On the home console, I think maybe you eventually may to have email capability, that sort of thing - multi-function up on the customer's screen. But for mobile? No. I think people will continue to carry two devices around.
Do you think gamers will 'graduate' from iPhone onto PSP2 and other handheld consoles?
The research - not that I've done with Capcom but that I've done previously - shows that it is actually two way. People come into iPhone because they want to play these little games, but then they want to move on - they want a more serious machine. The number of people who are playing these little games on iPhone and other, it's amazing. In two years time, maybe they are going to 'graduate'; maybe they will be playing Street Fighter on 3DS.
Studios such as Rockstar, Treyarch and Bungie are spending more than ever on the development of games. Will the day come that this level of expenditure has to stop?
I think that publishers will continue spending [on development] until they can be fairly certain that they will get over 90 per cent on Metacritic. People like Ubisoft, Rockstar, EA - Capcom included - that will be their philosophy. We're not going to put games out if we think they're less than 90 per cent - not that we're too bothered it they're 88 or 89 per cent, but you get my meaning.
I think these companies will continue [to invest record amounts] because they know that if it's a really, really great game it is going to sell. But if it's down in the 65s and 70s... you could get away with that on PS2 or maybe PSOne, even DreamCast, but consumers unfortunately at the moment don't have the money. They're only going to buy the great games, or just the games they really want. No longer will they [arbitrarily] try and get one game a month.
There have been some really great games out recently - like Sega's Vanquish, which is superb - that somehow don't seem to be selling. Five years ago, those games may have sold double. The recession has had an effect, unfortunately.
We're seeing prices of Triple-A games creeping up - Black Ops has just come out at £55 RRP, just like Modern Warfare 2 before it. Is that a sign that the business model is under threat?
No, I think [Activision] look at their research, and it tells them they can get people to buy it at that price - certainly in the first five weeks. Consumers know they can move it down, but they're so excited in those first five weeks, they'll pay more for it. The publishers have worked out their model, and if they can get people to pay a higher price they will. It's not panic. It's very carefully thought out.
What do you think the next generation of home video games consoles will look like?
That's a really difficult one. It is really difficult to say when they put that stake in the ground. If there's a PS4, I don't think it will be that much different from PS3, other than that it will probably stick with Blu-Ray. With MS and with handhelds, there'll be a temptation to move to Flash memory.
I think there may not be an optical disc. I have no inside information at all, I just feel that Flash is so useful now, and the price is coming down so much.
It will be network-based, it will be Flash-based. Disc is expensive, but I don't think Sony can give up Blu-ray. Microsoft I think have a choice. As do Nintendo - and there's a big opportunity there. They already work with cartridges, which is essentially Flash. That's the medium they will use.
What else will they add? It will be exactly what smart-phones have done. You'll be able to organise everything on your home console. The big difference I think will be the relationship between the static console and its brother, which is the mobile. Say it's a PS4 and a PSP2 - only an example - they will be symbiotic.
Microsoft may bring out a console and a handheld, and Nintendo will do the same - they'll all be symbiotic. Although they're not agnostic - you can't play everything on all three - you might be able to find that on each console, you have a stripped down version of a game on the portable, and the full game on the static, within individual manufacturers. It's not rocket science to me. That almost certainly will happen.
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