interview


Ian Livingstone: “The move to multiplayer online is unstoppable”

warhammer-gaming

According to recent figures, the video game industry is a big deal, bringing in $65m in 2011 – more than the DVD, movies and music industries combined, and it is set to reach over $90bn in value by 2015. A man who was there right at the beginning of it all, and a keynote speaker on Day Two of the Broadband World Forum 2012, is Ian Livingstone, a name that will have great resonance for gamers of a certain age.

Livingstone’s influence actually predates the mainstream video games industry by at least a decade. In 1975, Livingstone was one of the co-founders of Games Workshop, a purveyor of table-top board games, the most well known of which is the Warhammer series. It also introduced Dungeons & Dragons into Europe and soon after, Livingstone launched White Dwarf magazine, popularising role-playing games in the UK – it is still going today. Another milestone was the Fighting Fantasy series of ‘choose your own adventure’ style books, which became very popular selling over 16 million copies to date.

By the mid-90s, the establishment of computer and video games as mainstream entertainment could have seen an end to Livingstone’s influence on gaming, but he proved adept at moving with the times. In 1995 he was an investor in a gaming company that was acquired by Eidos, creators of Tomb Raider, featuring the iconic gaming character Lara Croft, the poster girl for the 90s video game industry.

Now Life President of Eidos, Livingstone is at the helm of a company behind a string of video gaming hits and can look back on a career at the top of the industry. In 2006 he was awarded an OBE for ‘Services to the Computer Games Industry’ and currently sits on the board for many gaming related bodies  such as UKIE, industry charity GamesAid, the BAFTA games committee, the Creative Industries Council and the British Council.

In 2010 he was appointed Skills champion by Ed Vaizey, the UK’s Minister for culture, communications and creative industries and in 2011 was tasked, along with Alex Hope, MD of Double Negative, to produce a report that reviewed the UK games video games industry as a whole. After all, with financial numbers as big as the games industry, it would more than make sense for the government to pay attention.

To create the report Livingstone and Hope first headed to the universities and then high schools to see what was being taught in terms of computer science, and they weren’t impressed by what they found.

“The problem is that ICT (Information Computer Technology) as currently taught is fairly worthless,” Livingstone told Telecoms.com. “It just teaches secretarial skills, so you learn Word, PowerPoint and Excel. You learn how to use an application but not how to make one. So we don’t give any insight into how technology is made, and how they can create their own technology.”

As a result of its findings the Next Gen report that Livingstone and Hope created suggested that computer science be placed on the UK’s national curriculum. However, while the report was thorough and clear, it failed to make much of an impact at first. This all changed after Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt made reference to its conclusions in his MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival in 2011. Following this, the doors literally opened including that of Number 10. Livingstone went to meet the government’s special advisors who told him that the report was just what they were looking for.

“The short story version is that in January this year Michael Gove [the Secretary of State for Education] announced at the BETT conference that the programmes to do with ICT would be withdrawn from September and be replaced with one with computer science at its heart – so a major victory.”

As a result computer science is now a GCSE subject, the first building block in creating a new national curriculum for ICT.

Along with computer science Livingstone fully appreciates the need for the continued healthy development of both fixed and mobile broadband, in the UK and the world over.

“For our industry connected mobile devices are going to be the number one games platform as soon as next year, with 3D coming to smartphones… so the requirement for faster and faster broadband is going to get greater.”

With LTE now established in major cities in the US and starting to grab people’s attention in Europe too, Livingstone says that these networks will be vital for the mobile gaming to succeed.

“There are going to be more connected devices than there will be connected PCs. Being stuck to a desktop is going to be only for dinosaur applications before long. The number one games platform will be connected mobile devices, phones and tablets.”

Fixed line will also have a vital role to play, particularly in the form of supporting cloud gaming, which is a reality now through ambitious services such as OnLive, where all game data is stored and processed on OnLive servers and sent through to the gamer’s screen in the home.

Broadband is now influencing the types of games that are being created. Could ubiquitous fast broadband irrevocably be the death knell for single player experiences, such as the recent smash Skyrim? Livingstone believes it could be.

“There could be a case for [single player], but that’s not the sweet spot of gaming – the sweet spot is multiplayer. I think most people would want to play against another human being than play against an AI character. There’s nothing better than a human opponent so the move to multiplayer online is unstoppable.”

He also believes that the better the broadband the greater the gaming experience and calls on the UK government to, well, up its game. “Some people always moan about slow broadband in the UK in particular. When you’ve got Korea talking about a Gig on landlines and 100Meg on mobile, to talk about a two-meg standard is a joke.”

Steve Jobs famously said that Apple sat at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts. Games could be said to be an example of this, with broadband the highway that it all runs along. “It’s a combination of art and technology that actually makes games. Games are an art form because they invoke an emotional response,” says Livingstone.

As well as games playing Livingstone also sees broadband as having a key role to play in introducing innovative ways of teaching.

“We advocate a connected world – a wiki approach to learning rather than one person standing in front of a board and boring them to death, talking at them, and requiring that they regurgitate stuff to order. We are all for technology in the classroom – using whatever connected device [students] can to source information they want from anywhere in the world.”

Livingstone also says that the games industry is one that ISPs and telcos should fully embrace and support as it help improve their bottom line.

“The games industry is fast becoming socially acceptable and economically powerful. I think that people are more interested in cosying up to the games industry. With all the sensational headlines in the media ten years ago we were seen as the poor stepchild of the creative industry. People need to realise that it’s more than a few war games and its certainly going to help drive any business, whether it’s broadband or telephone companies.”

It can also play an important role is improving the prospects of the UK economy as a whole, at a time when it needs every bit of help it can get. With physical manufacturing in decline, he believes that the UK is going to have to rely on its creatives and digital industry to drive the economy forward. It needs computer programmers who are going to create content, so that the UK has a chance to create the next Google, Twitter or Angry Birds.

“The exciting thing about the games industry is that technology drives innovation and the opportunities for games makers. Four years ago Facebook didn’t exist, smartphones didn’t exist very long ago, and now you’ve got 300/400 million people playing games off Facebook. You’ve got hundreds of millions of people playing on iPhone and Android. A billion downloads of Angry Birds for example – now that wouldn’t have happened without broadband.”

Ian Livingstone is a Day Two keynote speaker at the Broadband World Forum 2012, taking place on the 16 – 18 October 2012 at the RAI Exhibition and Convention Centre, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Click here now to register your interest.


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