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Digital distribution and mobile games could mean the end of publishers as we know them. And Tony Scott, founder of mobile developer PeopleFun and disbanded Age of Empires developer Ensemble Studios, told GamesIndustry International he will be glad to see them go.
"[L]eaving the traditional publisher out of it, it's been great for the industry," Scott said. "Even with Steam and mobile, both have caused a flurry of creative activity that's great for gaming. So I think the console is the one that's the most stagnant by far. There's just very little way for that industry to change when it's locked up by the manufacturer."
Scott said it is difficult for larger firms to compete with the amount of creativity smaller studios and open platforms can harbor. That does not mean he thinks publishers will disappear, however. He predicts their roles will change to curators who can keep a "monopoly on content," and gave the example of Zynga, which he said will likely do well after its post-IPO woes.
Though Microsoft shuttered Ensemble Studios in 2009 after it shipped Halo Wars, Scott was ultimately glad it happened. He said many members of his team went on to form their own studios and accomplish more than they could have under the constraints of Microsoft. And now they don't need to worry about their projects getting saddled with a foreign franchise halfway through development — which Scott said was the case with Halo Wars.
"[T]hose are some of the dangers of working with a publisher. It's certainly easy to understand the publisher's point of view. 'Looks like you're doing a great game, but wouldn't it be greater if it had Master Chief attached?'"