Games industry is “fighting broadband”

The games industry is the biggest entertainment sector in the world and its principal problem today is the limitations placed on it by broadband networks. That was the message delivered to delegates on Wednesday morning by Ian Livingstone, life president of game developer Eidos and one of the founding fathers of the games industry.

“We’re fighting broadband,” Livingstone said. “You’re holding us back, in many ways.”

At the top end of the games market broadband is the bottleneck. Each edition of Eidos’ military role-playing game Call of Duty takes longer to download than the previous one, he said, because games are growing in file size much faster than broadband speeds are improving. “We have to worry about broadband when we should be thinking about making better games,” Livingstone said. Latency is as much of an issue as throughput, he added; for networked games it has to be a minimum of a single frame of video.

Such is the constraint that the two dominant console manufacturers, Sony (Playstation) and Microsoft (Xbox) have decided not to move to a download-only model for the next generations of their products that are now on the horizon. Both consoles, when they arrive, will still have optical disc readers, Livingstone said, because global broadband speeds are too slow.

In an entertaining presentation that tracked the evolution of the games sector from the original Dungeons and Dragons tabletop game of the 1970s, Livingstone suggested that the sector is often overlooked by the broadband industry. The market is worth $50bn annually today, he said, which makes it bigger than DVD, cinema box office and music. The market is forecast to grow to $90bn by 2015.

In part this is driven by the popularity of mobile gaming, Livingstone said, pointing out that every delegate in the room had a games-enabled device in their pocket. Some 18 per cent of apps in Apple’s App Store are games, and 13 per cent are games in Google Play. There are 30 million daily plays of Angry Birds, he said.

The games industry has had to adapt to this model, which sees developers struggling for visibility in application stores, which Livingstone described as “the smallest shop window in the world.”

The response has been to use social media to allow end users to invite their friends and recommend content peer to peer. Social networks are also an important gaming platform. In August Facebook announced that 230 million of its users had played games on its site in the previous 30 days.

In many ways games have evolved beyond recognition from Pong, the game that kick-started the computerised gaming sector in 1972—although Pong’s social nature and simplicity of operation has clearly influenced the emergence of products designed for Nintendo’s Wii.

The games sector is now evolving from product to service, Livingstone said, and he called on the assembled broadband community not to “rest on its laurels” in enabling that service to flourish.


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