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Unite 09: EA's Hilleman On Unlocking Gaming For The World

In order to reach new audiences, games have to "fit into the day-to-day" of people who don't categorize themselves as "gamers," said EA chief creative director Richard Hilleman at the Unite Conference.

Chris Remo, Blogger

October 28, 2009

4 Min Read

The future of gaming is persistence and ubiquity, argued Electronic Arts chief creative director Richard Hilleman in a Unite Conference keynote -- games must continue to evolve to accommodate the ever-growing audience of those who play casual, low-investment experiences for people who don't necessarily consider themselves "gamers." Hilleman, speaking at San Francisco's Fort Mason Center, kicked off with a review of his career at Electronic Arts, which has encompassed 25 of the publisher's 27 years of existence. "Anyone who thinks there was a golden age of video game design never owned a 1541 disk drive," he joked wryly. During that time, the biggest change to games and the game industry has been the change in the people making and playing the games, Hilleman said. At one point earlier this year, he pointed out, EA had the top title on a Nintendo platform -- the first time the company had ever achieved that -- in EA Sports Active and the top title on the PC in The Sims 3. Neither game is targeted at the traditional "gamer" demographic. He showed slides of the 30-something Gina and the elderly Molly, who both characterize themselves as "not a gamer" -- even though their average time playing games per week is only slightly lower than Xbox 360 users. Another user, Jazz, is a golfer; she too does not consider herself a gamer, but she plays numerous golf video games, whether it's a Facebook game or Tiger Woods PGA Tour, on her laptop. "If you try to pigeonhole them into the gamer category, they will be driven off," Hilleman warned. "That is not their lifestyle. It has to fit into the day-to-day of what else they do." Smaller, More Portable, Lower-Investment The total combined install base of the Wii, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 is about 100 million units. The iPhone, Nintendo DS, and PSP total about 200 million. But the number of computers equipped with Flash numbers in the billions. And while netbooks currently only have an install base of 30 million in 2009, that figure is up more than 100 percent from 14 million in 2008, demonstrating far more explosive growth than in the closed gaming platforms. "We're about to have a war between netbooks and phones that's going to result in a whole lot of innovation," Hilleman predicted. "Our ability to be on those platforms is going to be based on our ability to build entertainment experiences that fit into those [non-gamer] lifestyles." One experience that doesn't fit into that lifestyle, he said, is full-scale gaming on the PSP Go: "You will exhaust the battery before you finish downloading an equivalent UMD-based game," he pointed out. "That's kind of a problem. This is not a long-term sustainable idea." Developers must create smaller, more portable, lower-investment games for such platforms, Hilleman said, and environments like Unity can help drive that. And that progress can come in areas one might not expect. As far as virtual worlds go, "I'm getting less and less convinced that these matter," Hilleman admitted, but on the other hand, "I think you're going to see some of the great innovation in the next few years around advertising in games, because there's a lot of money in it, and they're desperately looking for new things." Golf, And The Challenge Of Ubiquity A big part of the puzzle is gaming ubiquity, the exec said: the ability to continue a given game experience from one location or platform to another, seamlessly. "We are frighteningly close," he said, then brought up EA Tiburon's John Sousa to demonstrate the company's Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online, a browser-based version of EA's popular golf franchise. "I'm playing close to next-gen quality on my PC in a browser," he said. The game can host many players all cooperatively -- not competitively -- playing their own single-player game of golf in the same environment. "If you play it with a lot of people, it looks like Missile Command, Hilleman joked, as numerous golf ball trajectory trails streaked through the sky. "And if my boss comes in, or my wife is screaming at me or at the kids, I can just close down my browser and come back later -- on my laptop, on my kickass desktop PC at home -- and just resume my game, and it will pick up wherever I left off," Sousa said. "This future is coming fast," Hilleman said. "Golf is almost supremely suited to this application -- it's turn based, the amount of data you need to throw around is remarkably small." "For other kinds of games, it might not be [as easy]," he admitted. "If you're on a first-person shooter, ther'e s a limit to what you can do on a four-inch screen, but maybe you can upgrade your gun and work on its accuracy. The notion of ubiquitous gaming isn't just about the same gameplay, but it is about the unified experience of the customer, which may not even be about video gaming but about something else."

About the Author(s)

Chris Remo


Chris Remo is Gamasutra's Editor at Large. He was a founding editor of gaming culture site Idle Thumbs, and prior to joining the Gamasutra team he served as Editor in Chief of hardcore-oriented consumer gaming site Shacknews.

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