EA, Wargaming and Peter Molyneux on the uncertain future of triple-A game development

Next week, Wargaming CEO Victor Kislyi, EA’s chief creative officer Richard Hilleman and 22cans’ Peter Molyneux will be among the speakers at DICE Europe in London, the event’s debut this side of the Atlantic. In a whitepaper released before the event, they each answered the question: Are triple-A games becoming untenable? These were their responses.

Victor Kislyi is the CEO of Wargaming.net. Its free-to-play MMO World of Tanks has over 60 million players in more than 200 countries, and it is being released on Xbox 360 soon.

“I would firmly discourage anyone from considering triple-A a substitution for quality. It’s not like developers of free-to-play games are saying, “we couldn’t do triple-A; it’s free, what did you expect?” That’s simply not the case.

My bottom line would be that the games of the future have to be triple-A and they have to be free-to-play. You can’t collide those concepts; they have to come together. There are a couple of exceptions: Clash of Clans, Minecraft, Angry Birds, Tetris… by no means do those titles fit the category of a triple-A game by definition. There are many types of consumer – like my five year-old son – who don’t care about the number of polygons, he doesn’t care for crystal clear graphics from something like the Crytek guys put out; he’s quite happy with Angry Birds with its pixel graphics.

With Minecraft, people don’t care about 3D. It’s pixels, but it’s taking the world by storm. These games may not be triple-A looking, but their market segments tolerate this – it’s the ‘all about the fun’ experience.

This is a whole new world; not a black and white one. No matter how much I consider myself the pioneer and evangelist of free-to-play, I cannot say ‘you’re not free-to-play, so you’ll fail’. This monetisation method is just one concept which helps games to reach more people and be more successfully commercially. I’m not saying your graphics can be shitty or your server connection can have problems – it all still has to be beautiful.

Looking specifically at hardcore gamers, the answer is yes: games have to be triple-A and free to play. Don’t trade one for the other.”

Richard Hilleman’s career at Electronic Arts spans back to the creation of the original Madden Football game. He is currently the publisher’s chief creative officer.

“What is true today is that there are fewer triple-A games being built than at the same point in the previous generation. I’ve done some calculations that say there were about 125 teams in the industry worldwide working on what I’d call a triple-A game on a console, and that was seven or eight years ago. That number today is well south of 30; probably in the 25 range.

What’s interesting is that, if you look at the composition of those teams, the numbers are exactly the same: those 125 teams became 25; the size of the teams increased by a factor of four. This has everything to do with the standard definition to HD change. If you look at the math, that change is about content – richly about content – and as we evolved, our costs went substantially up. And the number of people on teams with that kind of vision went up by necessity.

I don’t see that kind of content-oriented change coming in this next generation of platforms. As a result, I think we were on a path that made me nervous, but it seems to have stabilized.”

Peter Molyneux

Peter Molyneux OBE has overseen the creation of games including Dungeon Keeper, Populous, Black & White, Theme Park and the Fable series. He is currently working on Godus at his new startup 22cans.

“No! No, absolutely not. I just think, like any proper industry, we are diversifying. And in diversification, it doesn’t mean a person playing a tablet game is going to kill off triple-A gaming. I do think triple-A gaming is going to have to go through a re-invention at some time or another as to how it monetises itself, because at the moment, triple-A gaming based around a retail release at a specific time… That model, we start to question a little bit because retailers are incredibly challenged in this digital world. The other reason to challenge the model is that the big problem with triple-A gaming is that there isn’t enough of it. As a consumer, I don’t want to wait nine months for my next triple-A hit. Gaming needs to get into a rhythm like cinema does. Hollywood goes a very good job of always having something exciting for us to go and see. Hollywood has this system where they release according to this calendar the whole year.

In the games industry, we tend to focus on holiday… all the titles come out at the holiday season, and I think we need to give our triple-A gamers a reason to keep playing throughout the whole of the calendar year.

But I think it’s here to stay; it’s definitely healthy, and I think it’s going to have to re-invent itself digitally. Triple-A is very stable, very defined, and we know the audience we’re appealing to, and if you make a hit, you’re going to get 10, maybe 20 million people playing that game. So I don’t think it’s going to die.

Whether we need three consoles manufactures, or two, or even one… whether there should be more examples of things like League of Legends, and World of Tanks, which is a more free-to-play equivalent of triple-A gaming… I think we probably do. And so it’s just going through an evolution.

Really, mobile is like TV, and triple-A gaming is like films. I’m sure if we were around in Hollywood boardrooms when TV started to become prevalent, I’m sure they probably said, this is the death of cinema – but it wasn’t. It just meant it had to adapt.”

There’s more information on DICE Europe and its speakers through the link.

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