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Epic's Rein, Sony's Harrison Clash Over Keynote

Epic's Rein, Sony's Harrison Clash Over Keynote

July 13, 2006 | By Jon Jordan, Brighton

July 13, 2006 | By Jon Jordan, Brighton
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Considering the Develop Conference was kick-started by Mark Rein’s controversial keynote, it only seemed fair that Epic’s spokesman was on hand for the final session of the two-day conference in Brighton, England.

He didn’t come alone however, being joined by a bucket of beers, Phil Harrison, Sony’s president of worldwide studios, Kamar Shah, Nokia’s global industry marketing manager and Revolution Software’s Charles Cecil, who was fresh from receiving his Development Legend award at last night’s Develop Industry Excellence Awards.

Set up as an informal end to the conference, the session - which was entitled ‘Where we are and where we’re going’ - nevertheless threw up some interesting issues. And despite the jovial nature of the proceedings, which were deftly compered by Develop magazine’s executive editor Owain Bennallack, many of the points raised in Rein’s keynote were revisited.

“I think I disagreed with everything you said,” half-joked Harrison, before adding the more subtle criticism, “In a keynote, you’re supposed to set the mood for the conference and inspire people. You didn’t do that.”

Rein remained unrepentant, although he was at pains to make clear his argument against episodic content. “I’m trying to warn those developers coming to us to use Unreal who don’t have a publisher or any funding and think they can sell small strips of their game in episodes,” he said. “If they get a publishing deal which lets them make the entire game and then release it in episodes, that’s different.”

There’s no personal beef between the two men, of course, but their roles in the industry mean they sometimes see the world in different ways. One area where they do agree however was the current buoyant nature of the development community.

“This is a new beginning. There are lots of opportunities out there and publishers are making big bets,” Rein said. “When I walk past our designers, they are very pleased about what they can do with new hardware.”

“You only need to look at basic macro economic factors to see the industry is growing,” Harrison concurred. “More people are working in games development than ever before.”

As the head of a small development studio, Charles Cecil was more sanguine however. “The industry always experiences business cycles and I think that will continue until online distribution channels allow us to break out.”

A question from the audience bought such feelings into sharper focus. Asking if the panel thought the combination of mobile gaming and next generation consoles would be enough to grown the market, considering the budgets now required for triple-A games, Harrison said no.

“The biggest fear I have is we won’t change the way we approach the business of making games,” he confessed. In his opinion, key to growing the market will be providing more flexibility in terms of the type of games created, pricing models and the targeted audiences.

Another area Harrison discussed with feeling was how the ageing of the developed world could affect the games market over the medium term.“We have about ten years to work out what we’re going to do,” he mused. “I don’t think 50 or 60 year olds will enjoy games like Gears of War. We’ll need to think about making games that will be enjoyed by 70 year olds.”

Continuing the blue sky thinking was discussion of the impact of social interaction sites, such as MySpace, and user generated content sites like YouTube, on gaming.

“I think YouTube is the better example because it’s more creative,” said Rein. “With future versions of Unreal Tournament, we’ll definitely be looking to get mods and user generated content made available for consoles, assuming Sony and Microsoft let us.”

Mobile networks such as the UK’s 3 are already enabling such interactions, Kamar Shah said. Its Reality video portal enables people to upload video content shot on their phones, which they will receive a micropayment for when other users download it. “People are making thousands of pounds from this already,” he said.

It’s a trend Harrison is keen to encourage. “We’ve already announced My Singstar for PlayStation 3, which was inspired by fansites and people sharing photos of themselves playing SingStar on Flickr,” he said. The service will allow people to share videos of themselves playing the game with their friends, amongst other things.

The trick in future, Harrison said, will be for developers to move from thinking about releasing discreet games within the retail channel to something more akin to starting a businesses. “These are very different mindsets,” he pointed out. “Starting a business is about setting up an ongoing relationship with your players.”


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