Friday, September 18, 2009

Missing Kotick's Point: The resurgence of PC gaming

GameSpot has an article Activision games to bypass consoles covering CEO Robert Kotick's presentation in San Francisco. The article quotes him as saying that his goal "was to take all the fun out of making video games."

I've seen several references which conflate that quote with another in the article:
"We are very good at keeping people focused on the deep depression."
But taken in context the meaning is different:
The executive said that he has tried to instill into the company culture "skepticism, pessimism, and fear" of the global economic downturn, adding, "We are very good at keeping people focused on the deep depression."
The depression he refers to isn't the lack of fun, it's the economy, stupid!

If this wasn't bad enough, by focusing on the "fun" remark, an even bigger point is missed:
"expect many of our products to be playable independent of a console," specifically saying he'd been impressed with media hub functionalities shown by 1080p TVs that let users stream content from their PCs.
That's right, PCs.! The CEO of major publisher is stating that contrary to the common wisdom that PC gaming is dead, he intends to start moving products off consoles to PCs.

There's a long history of friction between game developers and console companies. Not only has access been limited (Nintendo approves just a few third party developers) and development costly, but the console makers collect hefty royalties on each unit of the game sold.

Add in the cost to sell downloadable content through the console's online stores (and in Sony's case, the PlayStation Network Bandwidth Fee) and Kotick's motive is clear. By moving to the open platform of PCs, Activision Blizzard can control the distribution of its DLC and reduce cost by selling in its own online store, 2.0 was announced in August at Blizzcon and covered very thoroughly by Gamasutra in The Man Behind Greg Canessa Speaks. Canessa worked previously at Microsoft where he was "one of the executives over Xbox Live" and speaks with firsthand knowledge of the limitations of the one-size-fits-all online platforms offered on consoles.

Canessa discusses the opportunities inherent in deeply integrating online services into each game in a custom-fitted way, starting with StarCraft II. Matchmaking, ladders, and leagues will be implemented and the mod community will be supported. He goes on to say:
"What we're doing with the marketplace -- and that's again a post-ship future -- is to provide a common aggregation point like the iPhone's App Store..."
As shown by SOE's experience with Free Realms, microtransactions work best when buying is tightly integrated into the game, which can be done better on PC than consoles. Compared with the online and DLC possibilites available on the PC, consoles start looking restricting and outmoded.

Returning to the original Kotick article, the big news was the resurgence of the PC platform at the expense of consoles. Even though bypass consoles was in the title, that point was missed by many.

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