Hold To Re­set

Alex Hutchin­son talks plat­form ex­clu­siv­ity and spe­cial hats

EDGE - - CONTENTS - ALEX HUTCHIN­SON Alex Hutchin­son is co-founder of Mon­treal-based Typhoon Stu­dios. He can be found on Twit­ter at @BangBangClick

Google has fi­nally an­nounced its brand new game-stream­ing plat­form, cun­ningly ti­tled Project Stream. It’s a slick and easy to use im­ple­men­ta­tion of a cool idea: what if any­one who has ac­cess to a browser could just press a but­ton and play any game they wanted, any­where, at any time? But with ev­ery­one scram­bling to be­come the ‘ Net­flix of games’, Google is about to con­front the same prob­lem Net­flix al­ready did: it doesn’t have any con­tent. More chal­leng­ingly, un­like Net­flix, I don’t get the im­pres­sion that Google par­tic­u­larly wants to make its own games, or even pub­lish them. It needs other stu­dios – ones like ours, in the­ory – to do it in­stead.

Over the last few years I’ve had sev­eral meet­ings with Google’s out­reach mob, from the early days when its team was mostly peo­ple from Sony, to the more pol­ished suits from this year’s GDC. Even­tu­ally it set­tled on ques­tions pub­lish­ers and dis­trib­u­tors have been ask­ing devs for years: would you make some­thing ex­clu­sively for us? What about a timed ex­clu­sive? What about just some ex­clu­sive con­tent? A unique weapon? A cool out­fit? A hat? What would a hat cost?

This is both an ex­cit­ing and ter­ri­fy­ing ques­tion for any game de­vel­oper (the ex­clu­sive bit, I mean; none of us has ever been par­tic­u­larly ex­cited by mak­ing hats). Gain­ing early ac­cess to a plat­form or a pe­riph­eral can be a ticket to big sales in a rel­a­tively con­strained market. But choos­ing an ex­clu­sive plat­form by def­i­ni­tion shrinks your po­ten­tial au­di­ence, and adding any unique fea­tures in­creases costs and, po­ten­tially, de­vel­op­ment time.

Ubisoft has a his­tory of good early bets on new hard­ware and by get­ting in early, it has been one of the only third­party pub­lish­ers to make any real money on Nin­tendo sys­tems. Red Steel did sur­pris­ingly well by be­ing out on Wii launch day, al­though the strat­egy doesn’t al­ways work. Ubisoft was an early backer of VR and, well, that’s not ex­actly paid off yet.

Split­ting your bets across gen­res and plat­forms makes sense for a big pub­lisher, but at Typhoon we have one bet to place, and we don’t re­ally have the cash in the bank (yet!) to sur­vive a long pe­riod of try­ing to se­cure a new project if this one fails. In our world, we need to give our­selves as many op­por­tu­ni­ties to find an au­di­ence as pos­si­ble: we could cer­tainly sup­port unique fea­tures or bonuses for spe­cific plat­forms, but the idea of ex­clu­siv­ity would es­sen­tially re­quire some­one to of­fer so much money that we could sur­vive if we didn’t sell any copies at all. And while there have al­ways been a few van­ity stu­dios on the pay­roll of big plat­form hold­ers, we are not that com­pany.

So what should we say to Google? Maybe we could make some­thing unique for Project Stream that would be at­trac­tive enough for Google to get you a bit of ad­di­tional fund­ing, or maybe some mar­ket­ing on the plat­form to raise aware­ness, but more and more it seems like the only sen­si­ble strat­egy for a de­vel­oper is to re­main as plat­form-ag­nos­tic as pos­si­ble.

High­light­ing the po­ten­tial ter­ror of be­ing tied to a sin­gle piece of hard­ware was Mi­crosoft’s im­me­di­ate trump card when it an­nounced the XCloud ser­vice, which sounds ex­actly the same as Project Stream ex­cept with an im­me­di­ate and vast back cat­a­logue of games. I pre­sume even­tu­ally it will have built-in ac­cess to the Game Pass li­brary, so it also has a clear and solid busi­ness model, which from a con­sumer per­spec­tive is great. That Mi­crosoft and Google have an­nounced their plans so closely to­gether is, how­ever, a con­cern: any stu­dio who has signed up ex­clu­sively with one ser­vice or the other could end up back­ing Betamax in­stead of VHS and killing their com­pany.

The power we have at Typhoon is that we don’t re­ally care which plat­form is win­ning the con­sole war, or even if there are any con­soles, be­cause we make con­tent, and that will al­ways be the thing that drives ex­cite­ment amongst play­ers. The hope of a new con­sole is about the kind of games it could power, not the fan­tasy of sta­tis­tics and tech demos. And that for me is the uni­fy­ing el­e­ment of all these cloud an­nounce­ments: the ob­fus­ca­tion of plat­forms and hard­ware. I don’t care about what is hap­pen­ing un­der the hood, I just care that we get the best game pos­si­ble, and if we end up with a va­ri­ety of peo­ple of­fer­ing ser­vices that mean play­ers don’t need to worry, then play­ers and devel­op­ers will be the real win­ners. The more the mer­rier, then – just so long as we don’t have to make too many spe­cial hats.

I don’t care about what is hap­pen­ing un­der the hood, I just care that we get the best game pos­si­ble

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