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GDC 2006: "What's Next Panel"

What's Next Panel
Jamil Moledina, Director, GDC, CMP Game Group
David Perry, Founder Shiny Entertainment
Cyrus Lum, Midway Games
Mark Cerny, Cerny Games
Masaya Matsuura, NanaOn-sha
Louis Castle, Electronic Arts

From the guide: "This panel of industry experts engage in a detailed discussion on the key issues affecting the industry, including: the technical and artistic hurdles of next-generation game creation, the convergence of film and game, the system-wide changes in the efficient production of bigger games, the broadening of the game-playing market, and more."

Jamil Moledina

The push towards next-gen is first and foremost on everyone's mind. What are the key opportunities for developers?

David Perry

I want to take a look at the Korean market. We need to look hard at how to reduce the price of our games. $3-5/hour of playtime for PC and console games versus much less for MMORPGs.

Cyrus Lum

For next-generation systems, we're designing for the niche market, for the hardcore market, not for the mass market. We need to look at how to reach the mass market.

Louis Castle

It becomes more and more important to be efficient, and efficiencies come from specialization. We have far more specialists and far fewer generalists than we had in the past. You'll see groups specializing not just by platform, or by product type, but by a specific type of component.

David Perry

I salute Nintendo for thinking about how to make the controller easier to use. The controller is where we get killed when we're trying to go mass-market. In the old days of arcade games, there was a new style of control layout for every new game. This was great. Then we standardized on control layouts and innovation stopped.

Jamil Moledina

What do you see as the downsides of moving to next-generation consoles?

Mark Cerny

It's fantastically complex to create these next-generation products. We're headed into the era of middleware, but we haven't defined what it is. We need to resolve this to get games out to market.

Louis Castle

The big epic types of games that I like to make are orders of magnitude more difficult and expensive to make. There are a lot of different solutions, middleware included. I believe in the less is more solution, using what you already have. We have this expectation that every product has to have everything, but games like Guitar Hero that do one thing extremely well, can be very successful. Let's focus in on those things that are going to pay off. The next time I see a proposal that says, "This is going to be Grand Theft Auto with airplanes, and we're going to throw in everything..."

Cyrus Lum

You can't just grab various gameplay mechanics and throw them together. You have to think about the experience you want your players to have. Do you want your players to feel excited? proud? Then work back from there to the gameplay mechanics you need to support that experience.

David Perry

There's a big difference between what the hardware manufacturers want us to make and what the publishers are willing to fund. The hardware makers want originality. The publishers want sequels that reduce their risk. With that said, the beginning of the hardware cycle is when you have a chance -- if you're launching into a mature platform, it's all about sequels and franchises, and new IP has no chance.

Cyrus Lum

You can't make your money back on a $15-25 million dollar product. You have to think about building a franchise and making your money back over two or three titles. We need to look at more creative ways of financing titles. We also need to look at more efficient production methods. Art for next-generation titles is four times as expensive as for last-generation titles. We need to plan better so that we have fewer re-dos in the art process. You can still change your mind, but it costs you $2 million every time. It used to cost $500,000.

Louis Castle

I'd be fired if I proposed losing money on a title and making it back over one or two sequels. We have to make money as we go. We can't build products that are over-scoped.

Mark Cerny

The recoup for a $20 million product is 1.2 million units for an international product. 1.2 million units doesn't sound that high.

Louis Castle

But we're talking about next-generation consoles with limited markets at the moment.

Jamil Moledina

Publishers are experimenting with digital distribution. Xbox Live Arcade and Steam are successful examples of this. Where is digital distribution headed?

David Perry

I see digital distribution as a frontier that could lead to disruptive innovation. I live in a world of paranoia about what's going to happen to us. Will Apple create some clever distribution system? What if MySpace starts giving full games to people? Or Google? What might happen five or ten years from now? What if we're competing against full-quality, $20 million games?

Cyrus Lum

If I were to do a startup, I'd want to look at opportunities with telecom companies -- people with big, fat pipes. Let's do a five-project deal to get people to sign up with you for services. Cut out the middleman.

Jamil Moledina

How can developers create titles moving forward? What options do they have?

David Perry

As I said, I'm looking at the Korean market, where people create niche titles for small audiences and give them away for free, then grab revenue via special enhancements and similar mechanisms. Imagine that PC Gamer arrives on your door tomorrow and it has a full, free copy of a massive multiplayer version of FIFA Soccer. You'd start playing, and lots of other people would, and then the publisher could make money by selling add-ons into the user base.

Louis Castle

That sounds frighteningly similar to the dot-com era. I would caution anyone against saying, "let's go get eyeballs and figure out how to monetize them later on."

If you look at how many recently successful games had some sort of beta or demo, the ratio isn't quite 1:1, but it's close. Consumers have been burned, and they're savvy. At the end of the day, your product has to be of high quality. Consumers will buy titles if they're good, but they need to know that it's good, either because they've played it or because someone they trust has told them that it's good. But the media is less trustworthy than it was.

I think you're going to see the average gamer's library shrink and the rental business continue to grow. Rental is going to impact our business, and it's going to force us to deliver high-quality product.

Jamil Moledina

People are talking about outsourcing. How should developers approach it?

Cyrus Lum

So far, we're concentrating on art, because outsourced art is fairly well-proven. Developers who outsource will fail if it's not incorporated in the production process and planned for carefully.

Mark Cerny

It isn't what you spend, it's what you sell. What matters is what you create, and whether it will sell five million units. An amazing amount of game development (and film production) happens in California, which is one of the most expensive places in the world. I think it's silly to focus too much on reducing costs instead of focusing on building the right products.

Louis Castle

Outsourcing won't solve your problems. If you want the best looking x, go out and find the best person to create x, and be prepared to pay the price. You're not going to mitigate risk by reducing your costs through outsourcing -- you need to be focused on getting the right product at the end.

Jamil Moledina

What games are you playing now?

David Perry

SWAT 4, Guitar Hero, lots of international games, the WildTangent stuff, Black, Ghost Recon on the Xbox 360.

Cyrus Lum

Guitar Hero, the Maze Game.

Mark Cerny

Final Fantasy 12.

Masaya Matsuura

I'm playing what I'm developing now.

Louis Castle

Everything that comes out on the Xbox 360, Ghost Recon on the Xbox 360, Black, Guitar Hero.

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