Birmingham’s EGX convention was the biggest and most legitimate gaming show to hit these shores, perhaps ever. We met Amazon, who had almost every title shown at the event available to pre-order, to talk about industry trends, VR, 4K gaming and who will win this Christmas, Microsoft or Sony.
With Sony’s PS4 Pro out soon and Microsoft’s Project Scorpion coming out next year, do you see this creating a spike in electronics sales and if so, which items?
Beyond the consoles themselves? 4K TVs are the obvious one. We’re still getting clarity on what the PS4’s specs will be. There’s some debate about whether it can do 60 frames in 4K and so on. But as those things become clearer, we’re sure to be more informed on its influence over the market.
Obviously Sony has a vested interest in the future of 4K gaming being one of the major manufacturers of 4K TVs. And beyond that, it’s hard to tell. In theory, those boxes mean you don’t need a secondary streaming device. Those boxes are promising to enable a virtual reality experience so they may well be able to help spur on sales of those devices as they start going into their second phase. There’s always a knock on effect when devices of this nature come out.
Could you please let us know what the advantage of the new consoles brings to gaming?
It’s a good question that. From a retailer’s point of view we’re still trying to work through that with both of the manufacturers. Obviously there’s a lot of statements out there, a lot of buzzwords floating around. But when a game comes out and you can actually play it, what will the gamer see? What will they feel?
There’ve been some customer reviews on Xbox One S, the two terabyte version launched in August, saying that from a games point of view its faster, the controllers are more responsive, there’s less drop out; those kinds of things. But they’re customer reviews, so they’re as honest as the people who wrote them, but from what we can see it’s been accepted that the Xbox One S has been a step up.
I’ve literally been walking around the stands at EGX seeing the PS4 Pro playing on a 60 inch TV, and the colour definition just makes the game jump out the screen. So things like that can help you feel more immersed without the VR Headset. Again, they’ve got lots of claims about what they can deliver but it’s all about what the customers can get their hands on that will really determine their experiences.
How will VR impact the videogame markets?
The jury’s still out, I think. They’ve got some interesting initial games that if those early adopters love they’ll convince all their friends to buy it as well. If not, it ends up like the Wii Fitness Board or one of those other accessories that have come and gone over the years. It should hopefully spur on new developments, new ways of developing, and possibly new formats of games which would be very interesting.
And then there are the new applications outside of videogames. I’ve seen medical students training using the Oculus Rift. You can even have a go at certain procedures yourself. There are many applications beyond gaming be it film, tourism, occupational or recreational training. All sorts of things that aren’t videogames.
What kinds of games do you suspect will be successful in this brave new medium?
I’ve played a variety of things. It seems to heavily lend itself to any kind of genre where you are sat down. So with that in mind, I’m very interested to see how the Call of Duty demo plays. I saw the Fallout 4 demo live. Obviously, the two most dominant genres are First Person Shooters and FIFA every year, which are two types of game that don’t lend themselves very well to VR. So, I don’t know the answer, but certainly racing games seem to hit a sweet spot.
There’s all sorts of point and shoot sitting in a car games, also any type of solo sports game seem to work well on PSVR. RIGS is fascinating. You need a game where your comfortable looking around and behind you and that kind of thing. The 3-D Platformers, which isn’t something I necessarily expected works too.
But that’s the kind of thing everyone’s waiting for. To find out what will be the killer app. I’ve tried lots of different demos and that’s the thing when you’re at a convention and all you’ve got is twenty minutes, you don’t know what everyone will take home and play again and again. That’s what will ultimately make or break virtual reality as we move beyond the initial excitement phase. A lot of people will buy it, try it and decide whether or not it’s the kind of thing that brings them back again and again. That’s what makes it move from a niche to a real mainstream medium.
Do you have any idea what that Killer App might be?
Yes and no. It’s really encouraging the way that people are getting their hands on VR with these demo levels. So this Q4 we’ve got Star Wars, Call of Duty, Batman. But they are all only demos really, they’re not fully playable games, so it’s hard to tell where it will all stick. And as for developers continuing to support it. Well, until you have an install base big enough to justify their involvement, they ain’t gonna come.
What games besides the obvious Call of Duty and Battlefield titles do you see as being successful this holiday season?
It’s really interesting because you normally come out of E3 with the big three doing what they do regardless. But there’s always a few big releases that isn’t from one of the big three franchises (Call of Duty, Battlefield, FIFA). Last year the games were Fallout 4, Star Wars Battlefront, and then there would be the others scraping around the edges of that. I have to say that this year it’s really unclear. You still have your Call of Duty, but this year there’s a whole bunch of unknown quantities inching up to get people’s attention.
This year there’s Mafia 3; the remastered games are doing really well which would mean Skyrim and Batman: Return to Arkham; Watch Dogs 2 etc. It’s going to be really fascinating to see which one breaks out. Nothing yet is standing out as the best-selling title of the year. But everything seems to be doing ok.
What does 2017 hold in store for gaming?
So, the defining chapter in 2016 is to increase the user base of the current generation consoles, yet there are still a lot of people not converted. The install base of the current generation is still nowhere near that of the old. The PS4 Slim and the Xbox One S really helps in terms of getting people in. But what we’re really missing is games for families. Ratchet has been really good for that this year. Overwatch has actually scratched that itch as it’s not quite as violent as some first person shooters. And hopefully there will be more successes coming through. And with the titles coming in 2017 hopefully the install base grows.
That opens the market up for everyone and gives developers more confidence to develop games, and you get a much richer cycle. Hopefully in 2017 we’ll have the Nintendo NX and based on their track record that should bring families back in. We think we’ll have Microsoft’s Project Scorpio but we don’t really know what that is yet or when it will turn up. And given the current and speculated technical differences between PS4 Pro and Scorpio, who knows if there might be another PlayStation in the mix as well?
But apart from that I think we’ll continue to see an increase in digital downloads, which possibly presents an opportunity. There are less games coming out every year on disc, but more DLC coming out every year. There are less games but more ways to keep customers engaged. It’s an interesting way of managing your game’s community. So sales for 2017 can be a bumper year for hardware, accessories, VR experiences if they deliver on the promise. Then the games will have to deliver. Mass Effect Andromeda will be a big one we hope, Injustice 2 should be a big one. And then Nintendo making a comeback is always a really exciting time.
Do you think that PS4 will need to revise their console to react to Scorpio? It’s able to do things that PS4 simply cannot.
So Microsoft say. It will be interesting to see when it comes out what it can really do. I think if you’ve seen the recent comments by (President and Global CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment) Andrew House, he’s been talking about how Xbox isn’t their competitor, the PC is. So, I don’t think PlayStation will be forced to do anything, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they started looking at higher end tech this time next year. Back in the day, everyone was extremely surprised by the success of Xbox Elite, which was the first big step in that direction. I think that console opened everybody’s minds to upgrading during a generation. You’ve got some customers who really want to get better specs on a machine. The challenge there is not dividing the community behind that. That’s the difficult bit.
Who is going to be more successful this holiday period? Microsoft or Sony?
I’ll sit on the fence on that one. Historically, in the European market, you see PlayStation far, far ahead. In the U.S. and the U.K. it’s always been much, much closer. Last year everyone said that Microsoft have got the games lined up, they have the lead on the one terabyte. This year they came storming out, but guess what? It was pretty equal again. So I don’t want to make predictions, they’ve both got interesting line-ups. But our customers want the games at the end of the day. Whoever wins and loses, from our point of view isn’t really relevant.