[With ‘first-500’ pass deadline almost due for November’s GDC Next, GDC’s Director of Online Community Patrick Miller reached out to many games industry luminaries to see where they think the future of video games is headed. This interview is the latest installment of a multi-part series that will run up until shortly before the ‘future of games’ conference, which takes place in Los Angeles, CA from November 5-7, co-located with the App Developers Conference.]
Ubisoft Blue Byte senior online game supervisor Teut Weidemann has had an extensive career in the games industry. I could introduce him simply by his credits, which span from Turrican, to Panzer Elite, to The Settlers Online, among others. But the name of his upcoming GDC Next talk, “Why Everything in Games Today is Irrelevant” says enough. I spoke to him about why he sees mobile games as the center of the future game industry — and how he sees the mobile games sector changing over the years.
Patrick Miller: Your talk at GDC Next appears to be pretty bold on the prospects of mobile games as the future of the industry. I’ve spoken to many devs that are having problems in mobile right now, though, due to discoverability and user acquisition issues, and bottomed-out price expectations (among other concerns). What do you think devs need to do differently to succeed in mobile? What do you think needs to change in the app stores, platforms, hardware etc. to enable a wider variety of devs and games to succeed?
I also think if you want to address the largest userbase possible, you should make sure your setting and genre is compatible with that. I see many devs complaining that their “Science Fiction Tower Defense Game” doesn’t sell. That’s obvious, isn’t it — if you count the number of tower defense games in the app store, and then the science fiction setting on top of that? Yes, Sci-Fi is niche when you ask your worldwide audience.
I don’t think the hardware has to change. It’s the fastest-selling device humanity ever invented, so they do most things right. I see the innovation coming in microsteps from now on, and I hope that doesn’t annoy the investors who expect huge jumps.
If the key is app discovery and advertising your app, then it’s up to the operators/manufacturers to optimize this. I mean, why doesn’t Apple sell ads in their app store for apps? That’d be huge! As huge as Google ads, maybe!
PM: From the dev side, what does a dev need to do to make their studio mobile-viable? How do you think the prerequisites for entering the mobile market will change over the next few years?
TW: Developers need to change a lot when they want to succeed in the mobile market. First: It’s not mobile. Research has shown that people play at home most of the time. I also don’t believe too much in “all games / genres work on all platforms”. I think the best sellers will always be the ones who are perfectly fitted to the device: You need to embrace the device, its attributes and user experience, and optimize your game for it.
It’s where most traditional devs fail, and that’s why most top apps are from new teams — because they think differently, less in restrictions and best practices. That’s also why I love the indie market.
This step of adaptation is a tough learning curve, and when you talk to devs who have experience in the App Store, you learn a lot in a very short time. So I can only recommend networking with them, talking to them, learning from them. It’s the little things which make you fail. I hope GDC Next and ADC is a good place for this.
PM: You’ve been around in mobile games long enough to see the hype explode (mobile games will make us all rich!) and then die down (mobile games are a terrible way to make money!). From your perspective, where are mobile games going to go from here? Are there any emerging trends or interesting work (design, biz, whatever) in mobile that you think people are sleeping on right now?
TW: The first movers made money — as always. Now everyone tries, and of course there is congestion and problems. Not everyone can be successful. This is a normal behavior of new markets, nothing to worry about.
What I am worried about is the lack of entry barrier into the app market. This causes problems which need to be fixed at some point. We already see that a large portion of apps are never downloaded (zombie apps), or clones entering the market in a short time from countries which are beyond your control, etc.
This will be fixed when problems become more serious, but as for the future I see a huge market simply due to its size. We will have billions of devices in the world very soon — around 2016. Just due to the market’s size, and the fact that you can publish your app worldwide without even leaving your chair — this means that if only 0.1% download your app you suddenly have a reach of millions. Which other medium can claim this?
Yes, this comes with a price, but we’ll learn over time how to address those problems. You have to break an egg to make an omelette.
PM: You mention the current mobile market’s issues with low barriers to entry; what would an ideal mobile market look like, to you, in terms of how people find games in an App Store?
TW: I think over time the app store has to mimic Amazon.com. They do an excellent job of discovering stuff to buy. Until then, devs need to be creative, unless they want to be totally dependent on Apple featuring you.
The ideal mobile market would self-regulate apps it no longer needs or which are unpopular. There are a lot of zombie apps in the store which could be removed and no one would care, but would improve app search by the user. I also think apps which help discovery should be more popular, and Apple should support those — but regulations must be in place to prevent exploitation.
PM: How do you see the game pricing situation in the mobile market shaking out over the next 5-10 years? Will devs be able to recapture higher price points ($5-$50+?), or do you think we’re more or less stuck with ad-supported/freemium models as the standard?
TW: The freemium model will dominate. You can’t beat free. However, some apps make sense to be sold for a fixed price, maybe add in-app purchases for expansions or extra services. Some really premium titles, high-end games, will catch users for close to retail prices. I bet we will see a huge, successful game for $50 soon — we already had $20 games making good business. If you have a core audience who wants your game, then you can do this.
PM: Like you said, mobile games can reach a far wider audience than any other hardware device pretty much ever. How do you think this will change the way games are made (and which games are made) over the next 5-10 years? Do you anticipate any radical shifts in terms of demographics or audience — and do you think that’ll change the kinds of games that are made?
TW: I think mobile will train our “next generation of gamers” who will eventually move to console or PC to play the “other” games. Exciting times, as this will grow the market. We also will see a lot of cross potential between core games and mobile. Ubisoft currently supports tablet-console co-op gameplay with Watch_Dogs and The Division, and the teams are gaining experience, learning what works and what doesn’t. I think we’ll also see more games migrating from mobile to the console or PC. This is already happening and in motion.
PM: Let’s change tracks a little bit: What inspires you and your work (either in games or outside of it)? Read any good books lately?
TW:I love to read, but to be honest, I rarely have the time for it these days. I play most online games (both client and mobile) as research, and that takes a lot of time. So I am mostly inspired by our industry itself, the creativity and surprising new games coming out each year.
The only other media catching my attention are good TV series. I’ve loved them since Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and saw so many that I actually ran out of good ones to see. Luckily, there is plenty of supply from the excellent sources, HBO, BBC etc. I even fell in love with lawyer series like Suits and Boston Legal.
Then my third pillar of inspiration comes from feedback of my four kids and my wife (who is a gamer as well). As they are 50/50 male/female and two age groups, I get instant and honest feedback about whether I suck or not. Pro tip for gamers: Marry a gamer and you’ll be happy!
PM: Sometimes it seems like the best ideas in tech and games simply didn’t happen at the right time. Is there anything you’ve come across in the history of video games that you think was too early to succeed?
TW: I remember the Apple Newton and loved it. I have fond memories of Palm’s PDAs. I remember the industry going crazy about Virtual Reality, and it suddenly died. Now it has a revival. I remember the Nintendo Power Glove.
Nearly all cool stuff has been here before — but with less execution, maybe. The one thing I firmly believe in being too cool to ignore is 3D printing. Imagine: you order an army for your game and its on your desk the next morning. If they could only move…which leads me to micro robotics. We see fully computerized mini helicopters and quadcopters, but soon we’ll see cheap robots in miniature. Then we can actually talk about real tabletop action! For nerds like me, it’s a glorious future!
Registration is now open for GDC Next and the co-located ADC. The first 500 attendees who sign up can save over 30% on ADC, GDC Next, or a combined VIP Pass — but reduced-price passes are selling fast, so register soon! For all the latest news on GDC Next, subscribe for updates via Facebook, Twitter, or RSS. Also, check out the previous ‘What’s Next’ interviews with David Cage,Warren Spector, Sunni Pavlovic, James Paul Gee, Raph Koster and Chris Pruett.