“Never underestimate the power of identity, and the drive that today’s game players have to build status and power around that identity.” This was the message from EA Sports, SVP of Worldwide Development Andrew Wilson, at a Gamasutra-attended talk during the UK's Develop conference in Brighton today.
“Games of today have to ensure there is a means and a mechanism for every player to measure themselves against others,” he explained. “This idea is core to all human interactions: we have a need to compare ourselves against others. If all games of the future require a social element, then the core to that element are the ideas of: collecting, building, playing and sharing.”
Wilson’s comments came as part of a broader argument that all games of the future will need to be social experiences if they are to succeed in what is a rapidly changing marketplace. "There is a consumer shift happening in games, the same way it happened in music and movies and if we don’t get ahead of it we will find ourselves in trouble," he said.
“Consumers are changing their consumption behaviors. They are saying: ‘We want to see evolution in this space; to take control of the way we access content like we have taken control of music, television and movies.' As such, all game developers need to build a social ecosystem that allows you to interact with a game property at any time from any device.”
Wilson was quick to point out that the business for $40-60 games purchased from bricks and mortar shops is not necessarily obsolete. “But what we know from the amount of people playing games on Facebook or their phones is that a fundamental shift has occured, lowering the barrier for players and exponentially growing the number of gamers worldwide as a result. And the driver for this growth is social experience."
Wilson revealed that the questions he is asked most often concern whether the free-to-play and micro transaction models are really the future of gaming or merely a passing fad. "In order to evaluate whether it’s hype or reality we must look at the numbers," he said. "What you see when you pull these apart is that, while our industry is growing, the growth is very clearly coming from digital and as such is here to stay."
"Zynga has generated close to a billion dollars almost out of nowhere in the past three years," he said. "Their achievement has been making games something that anyone can get involved in: they’ve lowered the barrier to entry to our industry. As a result the number of people that call themselves gamers has expanded to 1.2 billion people. The inherent thread of DNA across them is digital.. How do we harness digital to change our future."
But while Zynga et al have brought in more gamers, Wilson pointed out that the challenge now is: what are we supposed to build? “Is it a matter of jamming a PS2 experience onto an iPad?,” Wilson asked. “No. Rather, those companies that will have the greatest success will be those that figure out what a connected experience looks like across these new platforms.”
There is a new expectation from users that their games are truly social, Wilson argued. For developers nervous by these fundamental shift, Wilson was eager to emphasize that change is good, pointing to examples outside of the games industry such as Netflix and Amazon’s Kindle as products and services that have adapted and flourished in the face of creative destruction.
“Everything we do moving forward needs to be socially engaging," he said. "Those who look to be ahead of the curve are already thinking about change and how the empower the consumer to drive further change are the companies that will do well. Whatever you do, don’t wait to innovate”, he urged the audience in conclusion.