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E3 Panel: 'Massively Cross-Platform Games'

On the second day of E3, a panel session was held concerning the 'crossplatform' concept, from playing a game through multiple console media, through more wide-ranging ideas, featuring luminaries like Richard Garriott, John Smedley, and Jessica Mulligan.
On the second day of E3, a panel session was held concerning the 'crossplatform' concept, from playing a game through multiple console media, through more wide-ranging ideas. Panelists included Laura Fryer, Director of Advanced Technology Group of Microsoft Game Studies, Richard Garriott, now an Executive Producer at NCSoft, Ichiro Otobe, Chief Strategist for Square Enix, John Smedley, president of Sony Online Entertainment and Mike Yuen, Senior Director of Gaming Group of Qualcomm. Moderating again was author/consultant Jessica Mulligan. After introducing each panelist, Jessica Mulligan immediately opened the floor for questions. Interestingly, the question was not about cross-platform in terms of an online game, but about the 3DO business dream of one console manufactured by many different companies. John Smedley started by dryly stating: "3DO's massive success speaks for itself." After a few chuckles from the audience, he concluded simply with: "I don't think it's a necessary idea." Mr. Otobe said that he "...kind of wants somethinig like that. In the end you want an open platform. But the path towards that is very difficult. The internet is sort of an open platform, but it wasn't designed for that [specifically]." Representing mobile interests, Mike Yuen said that: "On the traditional console side, I don't think that's going to happen. On the mobile side it's kind of like that already. It's an open platform from mulitple manufacturers... in the next few years the processing power of cell phones is going to be pretty incredible. It won't match whatever the current current consoles are, but pretty soon it's going to be at the level of say, PlayStation One and a half." Richard Garriott, aka Lord British, stated at the beginning of the panel that he was most likely the contrarion of the group, as he doesn't quite see the usefulness of overpopulating servers. "Even within a single MMO once you get more than a few thousand people in the game, additional players beyond that provide no additional value to the players themselves. I'm not sure the game value justifies the money and time." But concerning the idea of a multiple manufacturer-backed open console, he said: "It's definitely impractical. The financial model for consoles is that the price of the console is suppressed to make it accessible to the general consumer. The profit comes from the software. Manufacturers have to, by definition, make money off what they build. So the console would be priced accordingly. And I don't think the general consumer would see the value of cheaper games in comparison to a very expensive console." One of the bigger issues facing cross-platform support is the difference in system specs and controllers. Mr. Otobe said that "...there is the need to balance. When doing offline [games] we always maximize it for the power of the hardware. When moving into the network environment, the playability is the most important. You may need to compromise on the technology, it's [ultimately] about the interaction among people." John Smedley wryly added "Try patching to a memory card. That's hard." He continued that the solution may be assigning different gameplay tasks in the game world to different systems: "What if the person on the console is the pilot, and not the foot soldier? [We need to] tailor the gameplay more specifically for the console itself. On the PSP, the graphics aren't as advanced as the PS3, so we have to compromise." This last comment seemed to perturb Mr. Garriott, who said that: "I do believe that the hardware differences, graphical ,storage or UI makes a big difference. Hearing the word compromise, however, scares me. With technological advancement, you would hope that the games would be judged on the literary content. But the much bigger factor really is the "Wow" factor, that's what gets people to buy. If you have to compromise for cross-platform, then where is the attraction? I'm unconvinced. It's so hard to engineer fun into a game at all as it is. I find the ideas theoretically interesting, but the implementation usually doesn't work." Continuing from that, Mr. Smedley responded that: "I look at it the other way around. What is a game itself? It's people enjoying a common activity together. The experience is different for different people. Someone is playing the game on the PS3 in Tokyo with someone halfway around the world playing it on the PC... it's about interacting and having fun. We haven't compromised, we made it accessible." A question from the audience pointed out that, with increasing focus on mobile gaming, a whole new consumer market has shown up, so who do you build the games for? Mr. Otobe responded that: "Everyone uses mobile phones. You can't think of mobile phone users as just one group. When making a Final Fantasy for the mobile, we waited until the technology was ready to do it right. Until the technology could match what was expected of the brand, no Final Fantasy fan would want to play Final Fantasy on a mobile." Then, going back to the main focus of crossplatform games, he added that: "I have a 360 in my office, a PS2 in my den, and when on business trips I play games on my notebook. Crossplatforming is also about allowing one person to access the same game world from different locations and situations." One of the more interesting ideas discussed came in response to the question of how gaming will effect traditional media like music and films, now that there seems to be increasing convergence. Mr. Smedley responded that: "I feel strongly about this. Sony Online is actually a division of Sony Pictures. We've all ready seen trends of online gaming replacing TV, and film's box office revenue has been going down. People would rather buy the DVD. Things are going to start converging in a weird way. What about a MMO movie? You watch a movie together with friends through headsets even if at different locations. Your own online Mystery Science Theater 3000. Budgets are exploding, so you'll start seeing weird things like that." Since there was no Nintendo representative on the panel, and audience member took the opportunity to ask the panel what they thought of the direction Nintendo is going, which seemed to be almost opposite of Sony and Microsoft's apprach. Mr. Smedley responded that: "I think it's good to see Nintendo try things. They zig whenever anyone else zags. We try that also with things like the EyeToy. Full video chat is going to be happening this year. The opposite ends of the spectrum... that's the fun part of the industry. I love it." Mr. Otobe said: "Console gaming in Japan is shrinking so fast. But the DS is growing. What happened is that the game industry has been catering to only a core audience. A very engineering oriented people. We didn't cater to people outside that group. Now that technology has gotten advanced enough, we have toolsets so that we can have very different people developing games, and then have them reach a whole new audience. Nintendo took advantage of that." Richard Garriott bounced off that with: "Certain kinds of gameplay are cyclic in popularity. I call it the FPS metaphor. There are moments when tech makes a major leap forward... When there is enough technological advancement, you find people dive into very simple gameplay. Just a straight shooter and nothing else... but as time goes on, deepening the game becomes the way to compete - it's not a tech demo anymore. It becomes more about the literary content." He concluded: "Then enough time goes by, and no one has made a great straightforward shooter in a long time, then the new tech comes along and you make another simple straightforward shooter. It actually artistically sets us back significantly. We need to start to compete on the depth of content. The DS is great because it's not competing tech, it's competing content."

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