Interview: Mario Wynands On Why Next-Gen Could Fail
Mario Wynands, now the managing director of publisher PikPok, said one of the three next-gen machines could drop out of the console race and iOS, Windows 8 and Android could become the dominant gaming platforms.
Here’s the full interview:
Could you elaborate on what you mean by ‘manufacturers are still wanting to control content and prices too much’. Do you have any examples of this?
Console manufacturers have always heavily curated content for their platforms in the past, a necessity to ensure a consistent user experience and maintain minimum quality standards, so an understandable tradition for retail games.
However, the associated processes and controls around bringing a title to retail have extended to their digital distribution channels, and in fact it is actually more onerus in some ways to deliver and support digitally.
With digital content moving to a place where it is more of an ongoing service than a static product, rigid controls fight against a developer’s need to be responsive to opportunities and issues.
An example of this might be XBLA, where independent developers are unable to self publish, pricing is stratified in fixed bands, discounting is unavailable for most titles, sales and usage data is only reported quarterly, there is immense pressure for exclusivity and platform differentiation, and releasing content or updates for free can be very challenging.
XBLA has been a great opportunity for smaller players in creating a new content channel, and there have been many big wins there, but it has failed to evolve with the needs of both consumers and developers over the lifetime of the console.
What has been your experience, as a developer, approaching the new consoles? How do you think developers are going to approach them?
After the challenging period we have had over the last 5 years, there are numerous people optimistic about this next generation.
Expectations are the new consoles will reinvigorate a flagging console market. But we are already seeing that optimism starting to waiver as sales estimates are reduced and consumer hype is failing to materialise.
As a developer who has moved into the publishing space, console is a challenging space for us given high investment requirements and the controls over content mentioned above.
Fundamentally, before we even consider developing for a new console, the platform manufacturer has to confirm both that we can self publish and that we’ll be able to publish with the increasingly dominant free to play model.
Without both of those items checked off, it isn’t even worth continuing the discussion.
What do you mean by ‘fail’ when you say the new consoles will fail? How do you measure success?
In my opinion, the market is now unsustainable for 3 dedicated game consoles, much less the myriad of new players jumping in. Indeed, it might not be sustainable for any dedicated consoles.
This new generation is arriving with all the challenges of the last generation unresolved in terms of low margins on hardware, high development budgets, limited shelf space, used commercial game sales, piracy etc.
On top of that they arrive facing increased competition for consumer attention via smartphones, tablets, and a resurgence in PC gaming.
The retail infrastructure is collapsing as revenues fall and retail chains supporting games have been shutting their doors.
Consumer expectations of quality continue to rise, and while there is downward pressure on pricing at the same time.
The environment is hostile enough to the traditional console that I think one or more of the big 3 will drop out completely, but I’m expecting all 3 to make losses without radical change to their business models (hence my calls for revamping of their digital offerings).
What do Sony and Microsoft need to do to make the new machines a success?
I’m not sure I know the answer here, because the challenges they face seem to me to be insurmountable.
Certainly, radical change is required and the solution is not in the details of performance and specific technical features.
As it stands, there is already little meaningful difference between 360 and PS3 in terms of the consumer experience, despite the radically different architectures and approaches.
For both retail and digital, Sony and Microsoft have to make it easier to get content on their platforms via streamlined processes, open up to a wider range of developers and publishers, allow a broader set of monetization options.
They have to sell a lot of hardware (obvious perhaps, but not easy), and they really, really need to get behind digital in a big way to offset the retail rug being pulled out.
If PS4 and Xbox 720 are not successful, what will take their place?
We are seeing an interesting shift in terms of how and where games are being consumed.
Software licenses are increasingly permitting usage across multiple devices of differing qualities, user content and progress is being stored in the cloud, content can be consumed anywhere with the proliferation of high performance smartphones, tablets and laptops.
The move is from gaming being a specific activity available at a single physical location to games being accessible anywhere, anytime, on whatever device the consumer has and consumed at a rate that the time and spending preference allows for the individual.
Platforms which have laid the groundwork for this shift include iOS, Android, and Windows 8. In all these cases, though to varying degrees, there are a range of devices supporting gaming from the phone through to the TV set.
As we see these platforms continue to evolve in terms of hardware, OS, interconnectivity, and online services, I think we’ll see them become the dominant gaming channels.
This represents some big challenges for how content is created and monetized, but something I’m confident a publisher like PikPok can flourish at given the work we’ve been doing behind the scenes to evolve our technology, design, and production processes.
You say Wii U is in serious trouble. What does Nintendo need to do to make it a success? Why do you think big third party games are not selling? Are third parties abandoning Wii U already?
My “serious trouble” comment was made in the context of a forum thread discussing poor UK Wii U sales based on anecdotal discussions with a number of developers and publishers at the DICE Summit.
As suggested in my broader comments, there was no talk of new or future Wii U titles, suggestions there wasn’t much Wii U work for hire floating around, and talk of product cancellations.
Now, I didn’t poll everyone at the show, nor was I specifically going out of my way to find out about the Wii U plans of everyone I was talking to, but there was enough casual discussion to form a trend for me to warrant throwing that into the mix for discussion.
Those comments seem to have taken on a life of their own on NeoGAF, prompting a more critical look at what is going on and the usual debate.
In terms of where Nintendo goes from here, it is difficult to say because the challenges they face are very real in terms of a struggling retail sector.
And third parties have always struggled with software sales in the shadow of the great first party titles Nintendo creates (something I saw very clearly given our company was an NPD subscriber for many years).
I can’t say I know the answer, but I Imagine it will require resolving the market confusion as to what Wii U actually is, building consumer excitement, and selling a lot more hardware. A lot more.
On a positive note, they have actually progressed their digital channel significantly since the last generation and opened it up a lot. The just need to get the install base there and continue streamlining the process in order to make it a more viable platform to develop for.