mark kern -

Sony and Microsoft are closing themselves off from key changes in the games industry, or so believes Mark Kern, the former lead developer of World of Warcraft.

Kern, who's now CEO at Firefall developer Red 5 Studios, believes that both companies are using out-dated business models, and that this is having a negative effect on developers. More specifically, Kern says that the high price tag of games is making it harder for studios to innovate.

"In order to stand out from the crowd you have to spend as much on marketing as you did developing it," said Kern, speaking to Eurogamer. "This is not a sustainable model. Teams have gotten to have to be larger and larger and larger to justify the $60 up-front model.

"It's killing innovation because no one can take those risks anymore or try something new with those kinds of numbers. I think that's bad for gamers and I think that's cripplingly bad for developers. And to be honest, I don't see Sony or Microsoft embracing the openness of the changes that are happening in the gaming industry right now."

Kern also believes that Sony and Microsoft should relax their strict controls on the way games are distributed, as this will make it easier to build large communities around new releases.

"Sony's not had a great track record with open models. They tried to compete with iTunes back in the day and they're heavy on DRM, which I think is a big, huge negative for our industry, and I don't think that DLC models of sort of unlocking content as you go is a way that gamers want to play.

"The reason we have no innovation left on consoles is because you have to spend so much money to make your game appeal to widest possible audience on that platform which is a closed platform, so that's a limited number of users, right? Versus a PC with a free or open distribution model you can build a community around your game."

As a result of this closed approach, the platform holders are shutting themselves off from developers and projects that are genuinely breaking new ground – like Minecraft, for example.

"Can you imagine pitching that to Sony?," Kern asked. "'It's going to look all 8-bit. And it's going to have these cubes.... you bang on these cubes and you get something out of it and you combine it and you can make another cube.' They'll say you're insane. That thing would have never been greenlighted on a Sony or Microsoft platform."

Given his stance, it's no surprise to find that Kern is a keen supporter of OUYA – the $99 Android console currently seeking funds on Kickstarter.

"For the price of the Kickstarter why not try it? Yeah, they may fail. Some people are saying 'oh, it's vaporware.' But I want to get behind people that want to challenge the status quo, who want to try something different.

"So I contributed personally at a level I was comfortable at and then my company contributed to at a level to get a dev kit and hopefully we'll see that and maybe we won't, but it's a risk that we take and it's for something better."

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User Comments

Woffls's Avatar

Woffls@ Lew3107

I think he was just ignoring Nintendo, which seems to be the second most popular approach.

Of course consoles are behind in some regards, it's just that time of their life-cycle. It has always been this way, and anyone proclaiming the death of consoles just isn't paying attention.
Posted 13:39 on 31 July 2012
Lew3107's Avatar

Lew3107@ MJTH

Couldn't care less about that argument, we all know the answer. I'm most surprised that there's a analyst here that isn't bashing Nintendo. It's like it's opposite day!
Posted 13:21 on 31 July 2012
MJTH's Avatar

MJTH@ CheekyLee

Which is why I was saying that this is a bad time to analyse the way things currently are. Current gen consoles are behind the time, in more then just hardware, with new marketing and payment models steadily out-shadowing what sony and microsoft are doing with their traditional models.

However, it is much easier to accept these new ways of doing things with the dawn of a new generation. Microsoft and Sony ,on the outside, may not look like they are not doing the smart thing by ignoring new business trends, but if they embrace them now, so late in to the current gen, it will look rushed and will be obsolete by the time their next gen offerings are out (speculatively next year).

What I'm trying to get across here, is that it is very redundant to say something that is old and about to be made fairly obselete, is restrictive and resistant to change. If Microsoft and Sony don't embrace these new models with the next gen, and don't increase the consumer awareness of these method on their next platforms, then that is something to complain about.
Posted 12:35 on 31 July 2012
CheekyLee's Avatar

CheekyLee@ MJTH

Making games that run on everything is the polar opposite of limiting yourself. Many PC games are poorly optimised, and would be able to run on average spec rigs if the devs would take the time to get it right. PC exclusives tend to do this, multiplatform releases don't.

Consoles are not exactly a dying market, but I echo the sentiments that they are very much behind the times in terms of the way the industry seems to be heading. Alphafunding, free-to-play, flexible pricing; all methods of marekting and generating income that are almost completely absent from console titles. The XBox 360, in particular, is starting to look extremely old-fashioned and restrictive, with its collection of often insane prices for Games on Demand and much greater likelihood of seeing an advert than finding a game on the dashboard. The main factor currently determining if a game is successful or not is consumer awareness, and both Sony and MS do a shameful job in this respect.
Posted 12:12 on 31 July 2012
MJTH's Avatar


I'm really starting to dislike the whole "consoles are a dying market", that some developers are have been spouting. Whether or not its true I don't feel this a good time to analyse the market right at the end of a generation. Sure console sales are down, but that's because this generation live longer then previous ones. There are't that many people left to entice.

I feel the best test of the console market is mid generation (ie 2009 for this gen or 3 years into the start of the next gen). Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are currently coasting off of the petering remains of the current until (around about this time year after next) where the next gen will be fully under way and innovations can happen.

And to be honest the pc market is about as unstable as the console market. Inconsistency with rigs means pc devs limit themselves either by making games that work on everything, or make games the run in high end pc's, which limits its audience. Both markets have their strengths and weaknesses, but are need, and can easily co-exist.

Also it is a little unfair speculate what a company will or will not publish, when people insist on comparing them to hit games that by people/ devs that didn't even look for a publishers when making their games, ie minecraft.
Posted 11:23 on 31 July 2012

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