Gametech 2012: Ian Livingstone versus the future of videogames

Spanning over two days, Gametech gave dozens of hungry minds plenty of food for thought, with the main course coming from keynote speaker Ian Livingstone. The Life President of Eidos, Livingstone has consistently been a key figure throughout the history of gaming, from co-founding Games Workshop and distributing Dungeons and Dragons in 1975, right through to his later involvement with the Tomb Raider franchise, and receiving a BAFTA, an OBE, and an honorary doctorate in between. He shared with the attendees a wealth of insight and predictions on an industry that he has helped shape for the best part of 40 years.

Gaming, Livingstone says, is only going to get bigger. By the end of 2015 he expects it to be a $90b per year industry, up from the current $50b and propelling it even further beyond the likes of film and television. But with that growth comes change. “It’s in a state of transition,” he says, “but there’s a huge amount of opportunity there at the same time.” While he expects the notion of the Triple-A title to stay, he sees a future without consoles - beyond the next generation of hardware, Livingstone expects a world of gaming conducted primarily via technology embedded in smart TVs, coexisting alongside the gaming we’ll continue to do on our smartphones and tablets.

That area - casual gaming - is experiencing massive growth. Aside from the monetary notions of the word (projections to the end of the year suggest that revenue from downloadable titles will surpass that of boxed product), growth is also happening across the platforms we play, the audiences that engages in them, and the companies that make them. Over 400 million people play games on Facebook, a remarkable feat considering that, three years ago, Facebook wasn’t a games platform. However, rising costs makes developing within that arena a significant challenge, compounded further by the need of an ecosystem of players - an ecosystem like that of, say, Zynga. “Love them or not,” says Livingstone, “Zynga have done an incredible job at building a very successful games company.” But as casual gamers move away from Facebook and towards smartphones, Livingstone ultimately sees the latter as the more interesting platform for the future - there’s more smartphones online than PCs, for instance - and he cites it as “a very exciting space to be in.”

Livingstone also expects to see massive change in terms of game pricing and post-release support. Bottom line: charging $100 and up for a game is not a sustainable practice. And as some publishers move from premium to freemium, they’ll need to find ways to monetise in-game content or serve consistent bite-sized chunks of gaming. “The era of the game designer living in the ivory tower is over,” he says, referring to the days when a game in the wild is a game that’s complete - these days, it needs to be nurtured and sustained.

“Years ago,” says Livingstone, “who would have thought that games like Doodle Jump and Tiny Tower would be successful? Wake up. The second golden age of gaming is happening right now.”

Darren Wells