Distinguished Sony panel discusses wild technologies, once unimaginable possibilities, and oncoming obstacles
It’s a common observation that the games industry, certainly over the past five years, has experienced a tectonic shift away from consoles and onto numerous other platforms. But in truth, the games industry has boldly ventured into the unknown ever since the world’s first coin-op, called Computer Space, was released in November 1971.
With the business edging closer to its fortieth birthday, at Gamescom last week Sony grouped together a panel of five bright industry minds to discuss the next ten years for the industry and PlayStation itself.
Below is a full transcript of that panel discussion.
Host, Johnny Minkley: People on this panel have such incredible game CVs, I think to get us stared if each of our panellists could introduce themselves and give us an overview of what they think the next ten years will bring.
Shuhei Yoshida: Hello, I’m Shuhei, the president of Sony Worldwide Studios, I manage Sony’s first party game development. In the last couple of years the advancement of performance processors has been amazing. So ten years, I have no idea! [Laughs] What we can talk about is what we’d like to see.
Today, games are everywhere. As long as there is a display, a custom controller and CPU memory there will always be games – and [in the future] all throughout the day from morning until evening you will have access to them. That’s what I’m really excited about.
Mick Hocking: Hi I’m Mick, I’m the vice president Worldwide Studios Europe, I look after Sony’s UK studios, such as Sony Liverpool, and I also look after Sony’s 3D games technologies, as well as its academic partnership schemes.
Like Shuhei, I’m not exactly sure what will happen in the next ten years. There’s potential of mixing stereoscopic 3D with augmented reality, so you’ll combine the two perhaps on a headset, so you’ll be bringing the real world into the gameplay. That’d be very exciting I think.
Also I think there’s great potential for driving forward games and education. Games have a tremendous opportunity to educate as well as entertain as well.
Mark Cerny: My name’s Mark Cerny I’ve been a designer, programmer and producer for about twenty games, such as Crash Bandicoot, over many years.
The games industry is about to hit a milestone if I’m not mistaken. In November it will be 40 years since Nolan Bushnell introduced videogames into the world. As far as where games will be in ten years; if you look back five years, we never had the iPhone or iPad and we never had Facebook games. These markets no one could have anticipated five years ago, so if we’re talking about what’s happening in 2021 I would say we’re only guessing.
Kellee Santiago: Hi I’m Kellee, I co-founded Thatgamecompany in 2006 and started a three game deal with Sony. We’ve made Flow, Flower and now we’re building The Journey for the PlayStation Network.
And, yeah I agree with you Mark, it’s really hard to predict what will be there in the next ten years. I’m really excited about the sheer variety of gameplay that we’ve seen happening because of the different types of people making games.
We now have a generation of gamers growing up who don’t know what life could be like without the internet. We’re going to be connected all the time, have access to data all the time. There are going to be games that we can’t possibly comprehend right now.
Gareth Edmondson: Hi I’m Gareth, I’m the MD of Ubisoft’s Reflections studio in the UK, which has been going for more than twenty-six years. The sorts of things I’m excited about – well, the Driver franchise is ten years old, and in that time we’ve been able to bring a huge level of immersion to open worlds.
I think the next battle is AI, that’s going to be really interesting, bringing more emersion and depth to players.
Great, a lot of interesting things there and I’d like to unpack that further. We’ll start with you Mick. I’m sure we all remember the virtual reality machines that were around in the nineties. Everyone said they were the future but that just vanished. So you think in ten years time it could be back?
Hocking: Yes we now have the ability to bring very high resolution and graphics to make stereoscopic 3D work. I can see a point where home headsets will become a real possibility. They’ll be lightweight, with high resolution screens, with tracking sensors on the headset too.
Possibly even these headsets’ screens will be transparent, so players can see the real world as well as augmented reality stereoscopic 3D at the same time. So you can have a fully immersive experience, a partially immersive one, or an augmented reality experience with this one device.
Yoshida: [To Hocking] If it’s see-though, does that mean it’s 3D? [laughs]
[To Yoshida] On a conceptual level, is Sony already thinking about these kinds of advances?
Yoshida: There are different types of people in our company, and some of them do research for us and they are looking into future technologies. One of our researchers began working on motion controls in the year 2000, so it took him more than eight years before PlayStation Move was released.
So we have researchers looking into many things that may or may not become a product. Of course we also have engineers who work on products like PS Vita.
So it depends on who you are in the company. We have people working on games that will come out this year, and people who are researching technologies for the next five years.
So Mark, Kellee and Gareth, as developers do you see the main innovations in the next ten years to be display driven or perhaps peripheral driven?
Edmondson: We’ve come to a point where we have very high resolution 3DTVs which are amazing visual spectacles. Surely though, someone is going to come up with something entirely new. Surely that will happen in the next ten years; something that will just blow our minds.
To be honest, as an industry, if we don’t innovate and surprise people we’ve failed anyway. So it’s a necessity.
Cerny: I believe the traditional single player game experience will be gone in three years. By that I mean, today players are playing [offline] single player campaign. In a world with Facebook and social networks I just don’t think that’s going to last.
And I think we are already seeing the wall starting to crumble. Take a game like Demon's Souls. Even though on one level it's a single-player game, as you're walking through the world you're seeing the ghosts of everybody who died in that world via the internet. You can leave messages for them and they can leave messages for you. There's actually a boss you fight in that game which is controlled by another player.
[This talk is about] the next five and 10 years out, but I believe three years from now, if you aren't doing that, you are being criticised in your reviews for your lack of innovation.
The funny thing here is, we don't even know what to call this. Is it single-player or is it multiplayer? We don't even have the words. It's kind of Orwellian. If you don't have any word for freedom you can't have a revolution. How can you be talking about design when we don't have the words to describe it? Yet, that will be the standard, I believe, in 2014.
It’s a good point to bring you in Kellee, because your next game The Journey is a single player game that uses many really interesting multiplayer aspects.
Santiago: Thank you for that. From a content developer’s perspective, I think what we think about with innovation is always on the content side. We’re not thinking about the technology any more than we are thinking about what is the kind of content we want to create.
Innovations in technology allow for developers to unlock potential. So if you have a developer that knows a lot about the physical spatial motions, PlayStation Move comes along and allows them to do that.
Yoshida: I agree that the almost every electronics device will be connected. It's going to be very natural to have the social connectivity behind your game. So, whether or not it's a real-time, synchronous, head-to-head game or traditional single-player game, you could be connected to the world.
Cerny: A game without the presence of other players in it; I believe that is unthinkable given how connected we're becoming.
In ten years will there still be a PlayStation that connects directly to the TV?
Yoshida: Well if we do it right there will be a PlayStation everywhere.
Cerny: Just to speak from a technical perspective, these future games will require an enormous amount of data. Current PS3 top games require 25 or 50 gigabytes. That’s about the only thing today that exists that can’t be constrained. At least in the near future it will be difficult to avoid optical data.
Gareth, where does the era of super-publishers leave developers, and how will this part of the industry evolve over the next ten years?
Edmondson: Well if you’re going to play in the triple-A space, you’ll need to be massive. You’ll need huge teams and very high production values. There are fewer and fewer games that are succeeding on that level.
But look at studios like Rovio, which was recently valued at $1.2 billion, for a very lovely and very simple game. We’re now talking to more customers than we’ve ever talked to before, through Facebook, through tablets and iPhones and Android. There are all sorts of ways we can communicate now and the opportunities there are enormous.
If you’re starting up a studio and you’re trying to compete with Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed then it’s mental. But there are plenty of opportunities in the other areas I’ve mentioned.
Santiago: Yeah digital distribution opens up the possibility for different scale and scope in terms of price point and who your target audience is, which opens up a lot of opportunity.
But I think the notion of what’s necessary to create a triple-A game is today a self-fulfilling prophecy, in terms of what’s expected for a certain amount of money that’s being put into financing a project.
What’s expected in development in return for these investments has its own inefficiencies for what people think it requires in terms of work and manpower, which I don’t believe [in terms of scale] is necessary at all and that’s what we try to prove.
On the technology side, will it become easier and easier to implement stereoscopic 3D technology?
Hocking: Yeah absolutely. The last twelve months saw the launch of 3D in the home, and we’ve seen more than 50 games released in 3D on PS3, and most of them have spent less than half a per cent of overhead costs implementing it. It’s not actually a great deal of effort required.
As time goes on, the first hurdle is about educating people about using 3D properly, but as we move on I think we’ll see people experiment with using 3D within their game designs.
Cerny: If you look at game projects, it actually only takes a couple of days to implement 3D. Believe it or not it’s now harder to support a standard definition TV than it is to support a 3DTV. I think it’s very natural that both of the titles will support 3D.
Santiago: Well our team is twelve people, so it wouldn’t be an insignificant investment for us to support 3D, much like any addition visual feature. I think it’s completely possible for a studio to integrate 3D technology in a special, interesting and meaningful way, but I don’t want to just have it as another bullet point.
Hocking: I couldn’t agree more. And we’ve been saying for months now; don’t just integrate 3D for the sake of it. It must add to the experience. That’s what we’re focusing on.
Yoshida: Looking at a ten year time-frame, I think want people will want is a holographic display, so you can see the characters there in front of you and talk to you. [To Hocking:] Don’t you think?
Hocking: Yeah absolutely. I think holographics is feasible within the next ten years. We can produce a pseudo-holographic effect already by head-tracking the player via the EyeToy, where you can bring an image out of the screen that you can look around. It really does change the experience. What we really want to do is have game designers look at the technology and do something creative with it.
Will we eventually be able to get rid of glasses in home 3D displays?
Hocking: Sorting the problem of having no glasses means you somehow have to solve the problem of getting a different image to each eye, and that is a big problem to solve. I would hope in ten years we can see autostereoscopic 3D with no compromises.
Cerny: Yeah I think bigger explosions are better. Higher resolution is better. 3D is better. But these things just don’t really touch the human heart. And if we’re looking for growth in games we’ll have to start looking for something that doesn’t have to do with explosions sparking off smaller explosions. That’s the kind of games Kellee makes and that’s why I love them.
Yoshida: Let me jump in here because I think what people want in their games in ten years’ time is a perfect digital human being, where you cannot tell the difference if it’s real or not, but it is human in reality.
Hocking: Yes and maybe involving the player as an actor, as a participant. Having a camera being able to study their biometrics and movements, so perhaps you can play a detective game that decides whether you’re lying due to what it reads from your face.
Cerny: The issue we run into is that emotion comes from the human voice and human face. The thing is that film has all the access to that for free, but in games a human voice and a human face are the most expensive things possible.
If you want to do the sort of thing that’s in Uncharted or the sort of thing that’s in Assassin’s Creed, you’re going to spend somewhere between $40 and $80 million dollars. So I really believe it will take ten or twenty years for performance capture tools to achieve enough.
Santiago: I just don’t think humanity is something that technology can do very well. And I don’t think it’s a good use of our time to invest in communicating emotions. I think even the simplistic 2D games can be fantastically deep and meaningful and emotional. What’s stopping games from having a more accessible reach? Honestly, it’s where the money is going.
Cerny: Well why we see so much emotional impact in the Uncharted games is because the actors are filmed simultaneously. The problem is that technique is so darn expensive.
Santiago: But to what end?
Edmondson: Well it’s about crossing the uncanny valley. We’re not there yet, but if we do cross there. But all kinds of games can touch people in different ways, that’s what is so brilliant about our industry. You can have very simple 2D games and very high-end games that do this.
Cerny: Just to clarify my point, I’m talking about the paradigm of creating a game as a Hollywood movie. A summer blockbuster. That depends on performance capture. I completely agree that the games [to Santiago] that you are making, and the games we’re seeing at the Indie Summit, are emotive in another and much cheaper way.
Yoshida: We would like to see more games evoke different kinds of emotions that Thatgamecompany is always talking about.
Santiago: I guess I should say I do like action games and I play first-person shooters and can’t wait for Uncharted 3.
Let’s move on to motion control. Is that going to remain a fundamental part of the gaming experience in the future?
Hocking: Yeah absolutely. I think we’ve just only started exploring the possibilities of motion control. Move has given us the first accurate device use for motion control. I’m also interested in the possibilities of virtual reality and tracking every part of my body. There are loads of things we can do with motion control. Maybe we’ll create objects holographicly and interact with them via motion controllers.
Edmondson: Well Ubisoft Reflections is a core gamer racing game studio, so applying motion control to that is actually quite hard. But we’ve seen like with the new Tom Clancy game a really interesting motion-controlled gun customization shop. There’s a place for it, but it’s hard to make it for driving games. Maybe there is a way, but we haven’t found one yet.
Yoshida: As far as I’m concerned, the motion control of today is like the 8-bit phase of video games. There are so many limitations. Talking about sensors, the game will eventually know more about the player. Not just movement, but where you are looking and how you could be feeling. It’s really difficult to judge this, but I’d like to think that in ten years game developers will have access to player information in real-time. We can create some really… almost dangerous kinds of interactivity.
Mick, looking at what Shuhei was saying about biometric data and what that might do to games; is Sony testing these kinds of technologies?
Hocking: We do lots and lots of R&D in these areas. In ten year’s time I’d like to think we’ll be able to form a map of the player, combining other sorts of sensory data together, from facial expressions to heart rate.
But you can see how, over a period of time, you can form a map of the player and their emotional state, whether they’re sad or happy. Maybe people in their social network can comment on it. The more accurate that map can become the more we can tailor it to the experience.
I’m also fascinated by where AI is going to go. I think AI is always extremely hard to deliver, it’s very tough technology, but it has made steady and slow progress. In ten years are we going to be able to interact with characters in games? In Uncharted you can see games are getting closer to lifelike actor performances, but [despite] the more accurate they are becoming as an acting performance, it’s still acting. Will we have AI that allows us to talk to and truly interact with a character? Will we be able to show the character objects it can recognise?
Santiago: I think it’s really interesting in terms of what we think about in accessibility. Our goal is to have that kind of interaction as accessible as the eye, and being able to take that kind of information from even just observing the player’s face, or extracting an experience just by looking at the very subtle movements of a player’s body.
Edmondson: Actually this kind of technology already exists, it’s just not commercialised yet. We’ve seen very early prototypes of next gen 3D camera technology, but they feature their own processors and just aren’t commercially viable yet. What we can do with that is very interesting.
Games companies are increasingly focusing on delivering their content digitally, yet quality means games have to be bigger and bigger. Are these two forces colliding with each other?
Cerny: I think we’ll just have optical media as the dominant media format for consoles, going forward.
Yoshida: Actually I like to see a game that’s really small, a couple of megabytes.
Cerny: I think there are tremendous games that are digitally distributed, I just think that these worlds that we’re building are huge. All of a sudden you need hundreds of megabytes more data, and if you’re running a game from Blu-ray you can pull that data immediately.
We are going to have this division, I believe, in the games business for about ten more years where, sure we’d like things to be digital – digital distribution is fantastic – but we are going to be sticking with physical data for a while.
Edmondson: We are doing triple-A games you can download to the hard-drive, though. Driver is released on the PlayStation Network in a few weeks, for example. That’s the full Blu-Ray/DVD experience you can download.
I think physical media will remain very important, but I think things are going to shift. How long that will take I’m not too sure. I don’t agree that the size of data will be the limiting factor, though, you can store this data on your hard drives.
Cerny: I just did the math; Metal Gear Solid 4, which is 50 gigabytes, on my internet connection – which is a really god one that I pay a lot for, by the way – would take 36 hours to download. I’m not saying people won’t do that, I just think it won’t be the dominant distribution system.
If you follow the rate that internet speeds are increasing, you’ll still have to wait ten years before that kind of download takes about an hour.
Edmondson: Well, there are game downloads that allow you to start the first chapter while it’s downloading.
By 2021, will the industry still have home consoles?
Yoshida: If the answer is yes or no, I’ll say yes. [Laughs]
Hocking: I’ll say yes. [Laughs]
Edmondson: It’s going to be an interesting few years, we’ll have to see how well things like OnLive does. Who knows, but I would believe there will still be home consoles in ten years. There are still many advantages in that.
Santiago: I would add to what Shuhei was saying. [Playfully] You’re going to have your Sony televisions, complete with EyeToy, and you’re going to have your Sony phone, and your Sony tablet and probably the Sony augmented reality glasses all interacting with each other.
Is there only one more generation of this idea where you get a boxed console that you attach to a television?
Cerny: What we’re going to continue to see is just a pressure to keep console costs low. You have so many places to play a game, I think if you have a $99 console I think that’s a reasonable place to go. A $999 console is not reasonable. PlayStation 3 launched at $599, and I think that’s not a part of gaming in the foreseeable future. Gamers have too many places to go. But if a console does something unique in your home, I think that’s a great
Yoshida: The issue of mobile phones, with lots phone manufacturers building different types of device; that’s a problem for game developers. You cannot focus on one experience. You are making games for the lowest common denominator, so you have to take care of the widest coverage of handsets. You have to therefore limit how much your game can interact with players.
The strength of console, including portable, is that developers have complete control. Console developers know exactly what the consumer experience will be. That’s the fundamental strength of consoles and portables compared to devices like PC or tablets or smartphones.
This question is for our three developers, Kellee, Gareth and Mark – if you could wish for one thing from next gen consoles, what would you ask Sony for?
Cerny: [To Shuhei] Oh no offense Shuhei, but I would ask for the next consoles to simply be easier to develop for.
Yoshida: I agree. [Laughs]
Santiago: Opening up the network to allow developers more access to data tracking, as well as more flexible pricing models.
Edmondson: Yes I would agree we’d like consoles to be easier to develop for. We’d also like to see free-to-play on consoles.
Is that something Sony is mindful of for the next generation?
Yoshida: Next generation? This generation, absolutely. We like to provide our developers with much more services for the platform. Platform holders have data, and that data has not necessarily been available for developers. Sometimes it’s just hard to provide the right data to development teams. But [we are offering] more and more services to developers, and I think things will just get better and better.
Are we entering an industry where mobile games are competing with console games?
Yoshida: I live in Japan and there you see a lot of people carrying mobile devices to play games. There are so many people doing so the Japanese publishing industry is spending more money making portable games. That in turn creates more demand for portable games. From that perspective, developers and publishers have to choose platforms to focus on.