News Article

Former Rockstar Producer Considers the Challenges Facing Home Consoles

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

Believes that gaming needs to push itself artistically

The games industry is undoubtedly in flux, with Nintendo putting in motion plans to boost the sales performance of the Wii U, while Sony and Microsoft prepare for the challenge of releasing their own systems. When you consider the rise of alternative gaming platforms, such as the phenomenally successful iOS and Android offerings on various devices, games development has arguably never been in such a period of transition.

Jeremy Pope is a man with a rounded perspective, having worked as a producer on major Rockstar titles in the past, while now he heads up a mobile gaming start-up. One area he addressed when speaking to gamesindustry.biz was a perceived lack of forward-progression in games from an artistic perspective. Examples are around of games trying innovative ideas, of course, but Pope feels that on a wider scale there needs to be a rethink of development priorities.

I do agree that we need to be pushing ourselves [as an industry]. With any storytelling medium or any medium at all, you want to have conflict because that's how you can generate interest, and oftentimes the simplest or most base way to do that is through violence that isn't necessarily tied into a deeper, more meaningful story. I think it's often easier to do violence than it is to generate meaningful, interesting conflict through nonviolent ways. I would agree in that sense that we need to push ourselves and get away from sequels and rehashing, and taking what technology affords us and using that as a primary means to justify another rehash; in other words, we're just souping up what's already been done.

Pope also addressed the renewed pressure on violent games from outside of the industry, but defended those such as his former employer, which is so well known for the GTA series. He argued that the games industry lacks a single voice or "great ambassador" to defend itself against such criticism.

In terms of home consoles, meanwhile, Pope outlined a believe that the coming generation will prove a significant challenge for the major players, and that they might not all make it to another system.

I think it's a challenging time to be a console maker, or at least one of the big three. When I think about why they have arrived at the position they have, so much of it has to do with the developer ecosystem. This is why Apple has been successful, because they have an army of developers making apps for them, because they've made it easy to do that. You have so many people who have left console development because it's become so expensive, so time-consuming and only the major players can partake, which means you get projects that aren't as creative and projects where you aren't as involved because you're a smaller cog in the machine. I think that's going to be really hard for them to get those people back.

...I do think there will be a contraction in the mobile industry because there have been so many people jumping into it, but I think a lot of those people are sort of gone for good; they are going to put some of their time and energy into other things like Ouya or Steam Box... It's going to be very challenging for Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. I wouldn't be surprised if we see by the next generation some consolidation of some sort - it seems hard to fathom that we're going to have these three big players again and again with the way everything is shaking out.

This does seem to be a common refrain for some analysts, that the market won't support all three major players in future years. The sales success — or otherwise — of the Wii U and its contemporaries in the next few years will undoubtedly shape company's fates.

What do you think of these comments on the industry's various challenges? Let us know in the comments below.

[via gamesindustry.biz]

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User Comments (39)

Royalblues

#1

Royalblues said:

I assure you, the console is not going anywhere.
Unless you can play cutting-edge and super technical games like Skyrim and Fallout on iphones.

I just can't wait until the other next gen consoles arrive, and they start cranking games.

ungibbed

#2

ungibbed said:

I do see a major shift in the lead of the so called "console wars" simplicity is key but so is the consumer base that makes a decision on what their next system may be. If it be a Wii U or PS4 etc. those more focused on games gets my dollar, any extras are a nice bonus. I see Sony making huge waves but only when MSRPs are given.

Kroisos

#3

Kroisos said:

I will be shocked if at this time next year we don't see articles on how all three new consoles are struggling, how PS3 and 360 are outselling PS4 and Xbox One, and why most third parties are making their games not just multiplatform but multigenerational.

SetupDisk

#4

SetupDisk said:

When games sell millions but companies are not making profit because of production cost obviously something is wrong.

ungibbed

#5

ungibbed said:

One issue I forgot to mention are the disenfranchised. Those who have a massive library of games for the previous system and say once the new Xbox One releases, will Microsoft pull the rug out from under the 360 just as they had to the first generation Xbox with shoddy software emulation. Sony cut the PS2 cord to bring down manufacturing costs early on and to have that feature it required a major investment. Finally backward compatibility was spot on due to hardware being so similar. Only in the last year or so was GameCube shed from the original Wii mainly for cost reduction.

It's another issue as the attach rate on the 360 was so high, that I feel Microsoft shot themselves in the foot. Sony may fare better but the Wii U already had that part nailed as many Wii owners don't sell their first party games. It's strange really that games like Super Mario Galaxy 2 still sell for its original retail price.

TheRealThanos

#6

TheRealThanos said:

@ungibbed Just watched their presentation, and I don't know where your info is coming from, but the new Xbox is reportedly 100% compatible with ALL 360 games, so no 'shoddy emulation' to be seen there. It was already rumored some time ago, and now that the presentation has confirmed that the new hardware combines ALL of the features of the 360 with a Windows core and a middleware platform to let them communicate in an optimized form it's all but sure that exactly that is what is going to happen. And worst case scenario at least more games will be compatible than with the original Xbox titles on 360, because they needed game specific coding to be emulated and it wasn't all glitch free.

Jack_Package

#8

Jack_Package said:

There is a very clear risk to console gamers from the 'mobile market'. I don't think it will be too long before one of the major studios pull out of console gaming altogether, and devotes itself to mobile.

I'm not so sure that 'innovative story telling' is how console games need to compete, though.

rjejr

#9

rjejr said:

@Royalblues - "I assure you, the console is not going anywhere."

Sega and the Dreamcast say hello.

Microsoft - w/ the Xbox One - is trying to turn the paradigm on it's head. People won't buy game consoles that do other stuff, people will instead buy "One" cable-box like device that also plays videogames, DVDs, accesses the internet, etc. All-in-One. X1.

umegames

#10

umegames said:

What's happening (which I'm glad) is we're seeing these "AAA super games" if you will, not be worth it. Gaming has evolved into a cinematic interaction instead of the good ol classics that show creativity, artistry and uniqueness. Realisim can't sustain gaming, it needs to return to what made it great in the 1st place.

maxsonnage

#11

maxsonnage said:

I think he's right. I've been playing games loads since the Atari 2600 and I'm finding games boring and repetetive now. I only seem to really enjoy a game if it has a good story. Virtues last reward was excellent, Laytons are good and I also enjoyed Metroid other M's focus on story. Don't mean I don't enjoy a good online fps, it's just one player games now need to hook you like a good book otherwise you don't play for long.

aaronsullivan

#12

aaronsullivan said:

@Kroisos Starting to feel the same way. The consoles just haven't brought the must-haves yet. I own a PS3 but I'm not sure why I'd want the new ones yet even though I already own a Wii U. There may be quite a bit in the way of compelling games at E3, however. That can do the trick that we are waiting for Nintendo to pull off.

Starzsixty9

#13

Starzsixty9 said:

I really don't have any interest in the other consoles I'm content with my wii u and am just sick of all the back and forth banter :p

theadrock13

#14

theadrock13 said:

Agreed. IMO, Sony will fall away. Remember, Playstation only got life because Nintendo co-developed it then walked away at the last second. Nintendo GAVE Sony life in the console arena. Not to mention that Sony just isn't the electronics kingpin they once were, and the Japanese economy as a whole is suffering badly. Nintendo on the other hand has so much quality IP that it will propel them until their next innovation hits with the market, plus they are still strong in the portable market. Xbox doesn't even have to make money because MS will subsidize the system just to stay in that market. My $0.02.

NintendoPro64

#17

NintendoPro64 said:

Pfft. No matter how bad or good the Wii U does next gen, Nintendo is BOUND to invest in a new console. As long as they profit and don't fumble repeatedly like Sega, they'll keep making new consoles until the entire world is sick of them, and by that time, Nintendo could very well have made some freaky new medium we can't even fathom.

ungibbed

#18

ungibbed said:

@TheRealThanos I'm sorry I got your panties in a wad due to my phone blowing up via multiple twitter feeds and other misc. madness. Still you can't deny the possibility of Microsoft pulling a repeat of what they have done for original Xbox owners. That was pure dirty business dropping it like a bad habit. Sure the chipset was costing a lot of money for production but to completely sweep it under the rug was not cool and the 360 software emulation was rubbish on some games including Halo 2, hard locks with Conker Live & reloaded. I didn't have time to watch the whole presentation as I was working. What data I had had my phone going wild from HTML updates, twitter, and my personal email.

One fact I can state is that is looks like a dish network dvr box in many ways and that the latest COD game will have something called a "story" built into the game. What madness is this!?!?

If such news or a post bothers you this much, step back, breathe, and play a game or two. A ton of information was crossfed everywhere. Some opinions, satire and typical console wars. This is Nintendo related site after all.

Mk_II

#19

Mk_II said:

i've been saying it again and again: Microsoft and Sony will face the same problems that the Wii U is facing right now. Low install base, slow adoption rate and lacklustre 3rd party support for at least a year, maybe longer if the price is high.

ungibbed

#20

ungibbed said:

@rjejr thanks for the link, I think the attacker of my post is having a heathy serving of humble pie. I knew I was right on that mainly due to a switch to x86...

citizenerased

#21

citizenerased said:

@theadrock13 What does the start of it all have to do with it? Nintendo and Sony worked together pre-Playstation 1. Surely the PS2 and PS3's success can't be attributed to Nintendo...?

Henmii

#23

Henmii said:

"Believes that gaming needs to push itself artistically"

He somewhat blames violence, but he comes from Rockstar: Masters of violence!!

I wonder: Many times developers do praise Nintendo-games, but at the same time they always go for violence! Do they really love violence that much, or are they only making it because it sells?! Violence isn't art!!

banacheck

#24

banacheck said:

Nintendo are only where thay are today because of Sony, Sony built the add-on CD-ROM for Nintendos Famicom. Nintendo went on to use the technology but tryed to f-over Sony, by this time Sony built there own console aka Playstation. Once Nintendo found out they tryed to end unsuccessful any deal thay had with Sony & Sonys CD-ROM in 1992.

Nintendo has alway used others technology wether they knew it or not, because of this this put Nintendo at risk in the technology race.

lunchbox355

#25

lunchbox355 said:

@banacheck No nintendo went into partnership with sony for development of the SNES CD add-on. Then at the last minute nintendo backed out and partnered with Phillips which pissed off sony and gave them the opportunity to release the playstation. The failed partnership with Phillips turned into the god awful CD-I with the terrible mario and zelda games. So without nintendo sony wouldn't be in the gaming market not the other way around.

bunnyking

#26

bunnyking said:

Unless you can play a satisfying game of Black Ops2, on a tiny screen with hand cramping controls, I don't think consoles are going anywhere.

ungibbed

#27

ungibbed said:

@banacheck Lunchbox is correct but both ended up as a failure. As the failed partnership between Phillips, Nintendo gave them rights to develop a handful of games starring key Nintendo characters. Phillips was further along but after seeing the poor performance in sales on CD based accessories, broke ties with Phillips. Sony had moved close to a finished product.

As a result, Sony completed what they had from the existing project design and the prototype known as PSX was born.

Zombie_Barioth

#28

Zombie_Barioth said:

Considering Jeremy Pope is a former Rockstar employee one could say he actually has the experience to backup his stance on violence in the industry.

I would be very surprised if all three consoles didn't suffer from a slow start this time around. The odds are certainly stacked against them between the rising mobile market and the bad economy causing people to be tight with their money and seek cheaper forms of entertainment.

ungibbed

#29

ungibbed said:

@TheRealThanos "http://www.theverge.com/2013/5/21/4350662/new-xbox-has-no-backwards-compatibilty"

Give it a rest will ya? A fast edit to hit my mailbox is not going to anything!

tsm7

#30

tsm7 said:

@theadrock13 : Very true. Sony is the only one of the three that really NEEDS it's console to be successful. They lost the walkman to the ipod, their computer to take your pick, their tvs to Samsung and LG. They've had to sell major properties in NYC and Tokyo. The company just isn't doing too well. I hope they manage it because I'd pick them over MS/XBOX.

Kage_88

#31

Kage_88 said:

At the risk of sounding like a broken record here...

... but this is why I'm glad Nintendo are always innovating, and never standing still. If you do the same thing over and over, then the industry is going to stagnate and implode. This may piss-off the so-called 'hardcore' gamers, but experimentation is needed to keep the marketplace fresh; whilst pushing gaming into exciting new territory. This is what I loved about DS and Wii, and Nintendo are continuing this trend with 3DS and Wii U. This is also why I'm sick of Sony and Microsoft doing the same thing over and over, whilst Western developers never seem to stop banging-on about polygons, shaders, RAM, tesselation, CPU, GPU, etc. etc... it's so painful. Publishers and developers have been shutting-down left and right, because of this 'moar powr' obsession (IMO). Returns are diminishing, yet it seems they still haven't learned their lesson; what with talk of PS4 & Xbox One being the 'true' next-generation, whilst the Wii U is literally (thanks Mark Rein) being laughed at.

But hey, who cares about wonderful games like Pikmin 3 and Wonderful 101 when the PS4 can accurately render the pores on Nathan Drake's nose?

samstreet101

#33

samstreet101 said:

I don't know why everyone is being so insecure saying 'consoles aren't going anywhere' etc... He's not saying they are, he's simply stating that he doesn't think the market can support three major consoles in the future. Given how more and more people are treating consoles as an expensive proposition next to other devices, I'd have to agree. You'll always have the hardcore crowd who want to play games on a dedicated console, but if only those kind of people buy proper games consoles, are they enough to sustain the cost of three major consoles? Probably not.

ungibbed

#35

ungibbed said:

@b23cdq the internal SCE project name for the PlayStation was PSX. Please research before spouting off. I used to do launch product game submission packages before a game would be assigned a region code and prefix.

So if that annoys you, I'd recommend a bit of research first. I do know the difference between the two and the PSX was a common moniker before the PS2 became common resulting in the "PS One" or variants of which evolved.

So again before correcting someone. Make sure you know what you're correcting. That annoys me.

Tainy

#36

Tainy said:

Any intelligent person can see that consoles are in trouble, and it's not even because of the over-hyped mobile space. Console games have (thanks more to Microsoft and Sony than anyone else) become a high stakes business. The barrier of entry has only risen each generation. They (and the media) have set some unreasonable expectations in the minds of many consumers of what "next gen" is supposed to be all about. The cost and capacity to produce more advanced hardware gets better over time; but the cost to utilize that technology, unfortunately, has not, and sales have not increased fast enough to displace those costs for the entirety of the industry. This means developers can't afford to take many creative risks, even though they are ultimately necessary in the long run (you just can't sell the same thing forever). Unless they find a way to lower either the costs of development or the expectations of the consumer, they will eventually collapse their own business.

Nintendo seems to be one of the very few big video game companies that understands all of this. Their strategy with the DS, Wii, 3DS, and Wii U is clearly based on what would ultimately be a far more sustainable business strategy. They use new unique control inputs and game mechanics as selling points. Those things can be obtained far more cheaply. The problem they face is that they still have to fight against these other costly "next gen" expectations.

The industry also has another long term problem. There is eventually an end to this graphical and technological progression. When we have photorealistic graphics and ultra computers sitting cheaply in our houses decades from now, how can they possibly move up from that. The only thing they can do is focus on creative differentiation instead of simple upgrades to familiar experiences. And (long) before they even reach that point, the law of diminishing returns will kick in an foil their current strategy before it's even reached it's endgame.

TheRealThanos

#37

TheRealThanos said:

@ungibbed No humble pie, and I definitely wasn't attacking you. Sorry to read that it came across as such. Anyway, it was late over here, I was a bit grumpy and that may have affected my comments. Besides that I wasn't on N-life for a few days because of a sad family matter, but you wouldn't be able to know that, so that's why I'm responding this late, but no offense taken; I rather have honest comments like yours, even if they aren't positive.

You were right though, and I was wrong about backwards compatibility. I assumed that solely based on the incorporated Xbox technology, which turned out to be something else entirely, so my bad.

ungibbed

#38

ungibbed said:

@TheRealThanos no biggie, the hype has settled and gamers are rethinking about choosing the Xbox One to the PS4 which has yet to make its debut. Certainly those who can afford to do so will most likely have more than one game console. The one with the least restriction this time around is the Wii U. Not charging you to play a used game nor the rather intrusive nature of DRM measures by Microsoft really reared an ugly face nearly punishing the honest gamer by requiring a online connection to verify your game licenses every so often or the leashed less expensive model requiring a constant Internet connection. Should your ISP fail, no game for you!

Chances are I may be looking into this too deeply but I expect my privacy online be it reading something on Wikipedia or playing a game on my computer or even my game systems.

In the end, it's just a heat of the moment discussion, being part of a large developer in the past, I take my knowledge with me and as both Sony and Microsoft are switching to x86, backward compatibility on the PS4 is not likely either. Now all I want is a good quantity of quality games for the Wii U and to save the system from shovelware. For those devs sticking with the Wii U, I'm happy to have them around. More so when we start seeing the much untapped potential of the Wii U in the future.

TheRealThanos

#39

TheRealThanos said:

@ungibbed Agree with you on all points. Funny thing is that I'm an IT marketing and sales rep, and have been for almost 15 years, and normally I keep close tabs on all things going on in PC and console gaming. But somehow that didn't stop me almost falling for Microsoft's marketing ploy. I guess that the naive part in some of us still wants to be able to believe that companies prefer doing things for the people instead of for the money... ;)

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