The event was chaired by Matthew Handrahan, a journalist at Gamesindustry.biz, and speakers comprised Tak Fung, founder of game developer Supermono Studios, Gareth Edmondson, CEO of Thumbstar Games, Simon Oliver, founder of HandCircus, Oli Christie, CEO of Neon Play, and Patrick O’Luanaigh, CEO of games developer/publisher nDreams.
The future of gaming
The conversation opened on the future of gaming, and Edmondson, formerly of Ubisoft, and ex-Lionhead developer Fung were both in agreement that game console makers need to be looking at digital distribution, social interaction, and free-to-play options for their next generation consoles.
Edmondson claimed that tablets are catching up with consoles in terms of performance, what with the launch of the new iPad and the constant improvements made by Nvidia on its Tegra3 chips. That said, the Thumbstar Games CEO admitted that Sony (with the PlayStation 4) and Microsoft (with the next Xbox) could yet widen that experience gap in the next year.
The tablet’s emerges: So it is death of the console?
All speakers on the panel were in agreement that the tablet is changing the way people are gaming, with former Eidos employee O’Luanaigh convinced enough by the form factor to question whether set-top based consoles, like the Xbox, can continue to dominate over tablets after this next generation of device, especially given the life-cycle of tablets over consoles. “These game console makers have to stick with a design which has to be sustainable for the next ten years, and that's a long time”.
Fung was less enthralled by that possibility, believing that the sit-down gaming experience means the console isn’t done yet. “It’s not the end of the console. Gamers don’t really want to play ‘triple A’ games while they’re moving.”
O’Luanaigh suggested that there may be some mileage in console games which can be continued on-the-go – using a tablet – before being picked up later on the console in the evening, but warned that the rise of mobile gaming could make console gaming almost obsolete in years to come. “By the PlayStation 5, the console gaming market could be a very niche market, but with the same high costs involved”.
Simon Oliver agreed that Apple is putting more and more pressure on console makers to deliver, while Neon Play’s Oli Christie suggested that console gaming is ‘getting more and more squeezed’ by the emergence of the tablet, before amusingly referring to the new iPad as to enabling games developers to be able to do ‘more cool shit’.
Mobile gaming apps are most freemium…for now
The issue over freemium gaming apps for smartphones and tablets also came up at the conference, and it was suggested that this model currently accounts for between 70% and 80% of the mobile gaming market. O’Luanaigh was forthright in the opinion that console makers need to adjust the cost of their own games, to stop gamers shifting to the cheaper games on a smartphone or tablet, while the rest of the panel seemed to be happy with the business model, even if most do expect a slight upswing in paid-for gaming apps.
Neon Play’s Christie admitted to be no fan of the freemium model – saying that it’s harder for indie developers to survive, and reckons that there may eventually be something of a gamer backlash in future, as players become increasingly frustrated over constant reminders to upgrade in-app. The panel estimated that around 70-80% of mobile gaming is based on the freemium model.