Deanbeat News

17 May 19
Nolan Bushnell is often called the father of the video game industry, but he’s also the father of eight children, and we recently got to see him interact with four of his kids in a conversation about what it was like to grow up Bushnell, with gaming in your blood. This remarkable conversation took place at our recent GamesBeat Summit 2019 event, which we held in April in downtown Los Angeles at Two Bit Circus, a “micro-amusement park” that is like an arcade meets Ready Player One. That place was special because it was created by Brent Bushnell, one of Nolan’s sons. Bushnell is 76 years old, but he is as witty as ever when it comes to describing his learnings as a creative showman. You can see the conversations we had on stage in the videos embedded in this post, as well as a video interview I did with Nolan, in a conversation recorded by my own daughter, Danielle Takahashi. What this family’s legacy tells us is that the first generation of video game creators is passing on their experience to the second generation, much like parents have passed on their appreciation for Star Wars or Disney. And like those parents and kids, the Bushnell family has slowly come to realize that their dad passed on something special to them. Tyler Bushnell said on our panel that he started figuring out that his dad was someone important in the video game business because the kids could always find some kind of older console tucked away in a closet and pull it out and play it. That made Tyler curious about games and inspired him to go into the business. He is now the cofounder of Polycade, which is bringing arcade machines back to bars. But Brent Bushnell didn’t want to go into games at first. He went into web hosting, auto salvage systems, and art. “I really didn’t want to [do games]. It wasn’t until I met my cofounder Eric [Gradman] and the art we made turned into games that I realized it,” said Brent Bushnell. “I know so much about this. Why am I not in games? It was a 20-year cycle for me.” Jason Robar (left) and Brent Bushnell talk at GamesBeat Summit 2019. Wyatt Bushnell turned to game design when he figured out that he needed to learn something that could earn him money. He steered into social games because his father told him never to compete in a “red ocean,” where there is too much competition. Alissa Bushnell went into public relations, and she wanted to hone the storytelling of game creators so that they could succeed with his business ventures. “The story I remember so well [from Nolan] was the rocket ship and the lifeboat,” Brent Bushnell said. “He said, ‘Listen. You have to have the lifeboat, the thing that is going to make you money, the thing you can rely on. But always put some time into the rocket ship. The rocket ship is what you want to do, the thing that is your life’s work. But you can’t have the rocket ship without the lifeboat. That stuck with me for a really long time.” Alissa Bushnell said, “We learned how to play games from this guy (pointing at Nolan). We learned how to play business from this guy.” Like learning how to cheat, Wyatt interjected. “I feel like learning how to cheat and not get caught is really an important life skill,” Nolan Bushnell replied. Tyler said, “We learned early on that dad couldn’t be the banker in Monopoly.” Alissa Bushnell said that the kids all learned how to solder when they were young. He encouraged them to be makers and to think out of the box. (Left to right) Wyatt Bushnell, Alissa Bushnell, and Nolan Bushnell. They also learned that while their father is a great big thinker, he isn’t as good at staying engaged in day-to-day tasks, particularly if it becomes boring, Wyatt Bushnell said. Nolan Bushnell agreed. Jason Robar, cofounder of Author Digital and moderator of the family talk, asked Nolan Bushnell when his kids started teaching him about things. “Incessantly,” Nolan Bushnell said. “You realize very quickly that they know so much more than you do, like everything about being a teenager. They constantly recalibrate you.” “We were all the beta testers,” Alissa Bushnell said. They were also competitive when they were growing up, and they also all worked for their father at various times in their lives. They learned how to take risks. They also joked around a lot and had a good appreciation for humor. “If you can survive in our environment, you have a really thick skin,” Nolan Bushnell said. (Left to right): Brent Bushnell, Wyatt Bushnell, Alissa Bushnell, and Nolan Bushnell. As for location-based entertainment, Nolan Bushnell started out as a “carnie,” or carnival worker. He put his first video game, Pong, in a bar. For Brent Bushnell, the circle became complete when he and Gradman founded Two Bit Circus, which at first was like a modern traveling carnival. They had a lot of experience working on a restaurant with games, dubbed Uwink. That business didn’t succeed. “When your dad was the boss, you had to double prove yourself,” said Tyler Bushnell, whose first job was at Uwink. “The last thing you want is for everyone to think you got the job because of your dad.” “It’s called the nepotism curse,” Nolan Bushnell said. Nolan Bushnell admitted to being something of an anarchist as a parent. He said that if grow up always obeying the rules, you never learn when it’s OK to break them. They took the collective learnings from Uwink and Chuck E. Cheese, and then they built the 40,000-square-feet version of Two Bit Circus in downtown Los Angeles. The business opened in September 2018. The place is a modern take on location-based entertainment, with things like Killer Queen arcade machines and a robot bartender. That place is an experiment on the kind of fun that you can create when you put a lot of people together in a social gaming mecca. Nolan Bushnell said the idea for Two Bit Circus circulated in the family for a long time, long after the creation of the Chuck E. Cheese location-based entertainment chain. Brent Bushnell said it was inspired by the problems of having too much screen time and not enough face-to-face contact. “We’ve always talked about how there needed to be something more,” said Nolan Bushnell, in an interview with me. “There is a whole class of games that are not available. So you have to build them yourself. They can be really simple, but very powerful.” Two Bit Circus is still a work in progress. But Nolan Bushnell said he is so proud of what his son — and his family — have accomplished. Brent Bushnell said he sees Two Bit Circus as a platform, one that can change out the games over time as better ones become available. Two Bit Circus “We like to say it’s half done,” Nolan Bushnell said. “What we are seeing is a real thirst for group games, where you get together and collaborate physically. When we talk about our design cycle going forward, it should be a lot more collaborative. More fun for people to get together and compete with strangers. Bring people together in a new way.” I’m so glad we were able to curate our event with so many Bushnells in attendance on appropriately jovial panels. They taught us all a lot, and I would encourage you to check out the entertaining videos.
10 May 19

One of my favorite business books is Built to Last: Successful habits of visionary companies, by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras. Starting the 1990s, they studied thousands of companies to figure out what made some exceptional. They focused on 18 companies that had lasted for generations, including HP and Disney, and explained what made them […]

03 May 19
Official Cryptocurrency Blockchain Bitcoin News & Information

[ad_1] We dove deeper into blockchain, cryptocurrency, and games at our GamesBeat Summit 2019 in Los Angeles. We had a panel on it last year, but the game industry leaders that are diving into blockchain games have more credibility now. The skeptics persist, as cryptocurrency scams and fraud are still plentiful. There’s a Gold Rush […]

03 May 19

We dove deeper into blockchain, cryptocurrency, and games at our GamesBeat Summit 2019 in Los Angeles. We had a panel on it last year, but the game industry leaders that are diving into blockchain games have more credibility now. The skeptics persist, as cryptocurrency scams and fraud are still plentiful. There’s a Gold Rush mentality […]

27 Apr 19
Quijano: On Stuff

Over the course of the last two console generations, industry analysts have made a number of ridiculous arguments about the gaming industry. In 2013, a handful of articles decrying “The End of Games” and saying that “Everything Will Go Mobile” began making the rounds. Horace Dediu Dirk Schmidt’s piece at Asymco was one of the […]

26 Apr 19
Cryptocurrency and Blockchain News

The DeanBeat: Reinvention at the GamesBeat Summit. #bitcoin #crypto #cryptocurrency #cryptocurrencies — Cryptocurrency & Blockchain News (@cryptoicobull) April 26, 2019 from Twitter

26 Apr 19
I’m very proud of our GamesBeat Summit 2019, the event we held about Building Gaming Communities at the community-oriented Two Bit Circus in Los Angeles. It was all about fun, with a major subtheme of reinvention. We had nearly 500 people this time, and that made it hard to talk with everybody I wanted to catch up with. I’ve formed relationships with many of the people who spoke at the event over the decades, and it’s always fun to see how they are reinventing themselves and gaming. But so many people attended, I could not chat with them all individually at this event. Chris Taylor and Dean Takahashi at GamesBeat Summit 2019. We had 97 speakers across 52 sessions on two concurrent stages producing more than 24 hours of content. Fortunately, we’re going to put most of the onstage talks on our VentureBeat YouTube channel for on-demand viewing. What I enjoyed were the moments of silly banter with old friends and raising questions that didn’t have answers. In this column, I will talk about just three of the speakers here — the talks that I personally moderated. Those included fireside chats with Chris Taylor, founder of Kanoogie; Michael Condrey, founder of 2K Silicon Valley; and Brock Pierce, chairman of the Bitcoin Foundation and blockchain entrepreneur. All three have reinvented themselves. Chris Taylor   Chris Taylor of Kanoogi gave Dean Takaahshi this bowl. Chris Taylor went from running large teams at Gas Powered Games and Wargaming to a solo shop, guided by his own inspiration and a single artist. He stepped off the hamster wheel of making bigger and bigger games, each one more intense and graphically beautiful. Now he’s back with a company called Kanoogi. “I said I wanted to do something with deep gameplay,” he said in our fireside chat. “I want to write all the code myself. I want to go in deep, as an indie developer.” He is making a platform for super-fast web games and a title called Intergalactic Space Empire. He broke the rules, making a browser-only game that, when it comes out, should run on just about any computer in the world. With 30 years of game development behind him, Taylor is starting over from scratch. I’ve seen the arc of his life, with its peaks and valleys. A decade ago, Taylor was the emcee at our very first GamesBeat Summit. Seven years ago, he took up the hobby of making pottery. He gave me one of the bowls. It means I’m part of Taylor’s inner circle, and it’s exciting to see him get excited about doing something new and totally different. Now he thinks that Kanoogi can enable billions of people to play games in a web browser, with no need to download. “There’s nothing worse than doing the same thing every day of your life,” Taylor said. “You gotta do something different. It’s not all about the money. I’m tired of money. It’s about art, and life experiences, and friends.” Michael Condrey Dean Takahashi and Michael Condrey speak at GamesBeat Summit 2019. Michael Condrey has also gone through the time warp, morphing from developers of games like Need for Speed and Dead Space at Electronic Arts, to cofounder of Sledgehammer Games and creator of titles like Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Call of Duty: WWII. He walked away from that 300-person studio last year and recently announced the formation of a new studio, 2K Silicon Valley. Condrey has already assembled a team of 30 developers, and he has approached it with a new eye toward diversity from his very first hire. I asked him about that, and he reminded me that he has a daughter, and that he would like her to grow up and have the opportunity to work in the game industry someday. For that to happen, the industry has to change to be more hospitable toward women. I asked Condrey about the idea of “responsible game development,” and he had an interesting answer. He said that he has often thought about the kind of content he has made in the past, like games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, where just a certain kind of enemy was depicted as evil. And he thought about the mass shooting at Christchurch, New Zealand. In this global gaming business, in these times that we live in, is it a responsible thing to create such violent games? Condrey didn’t have an answer to that, nor do I. I used to be hyper-sensitive to violent games at one point in my life. I didn’t play them. But slowly, I picked them up again. And when I picked them up, I didn’t play games like Grand Theft Auto because you didn’t get to play the “good guy.” You were a criminal. I have moved beyond that point in my life, and I am able to separate fiction from reality, and I will play characters who are both bad or good now. But they still make me ask myself questions. Like whether we can solve issues like game addiction. And Condrey is asking himself those questions anew as he starts a new studio. And he’s acknowledging he doesn’t have all the answers. Embracing change and changing times, is sometimes what you have to do, he said. Brock Pierce Brock Pierce and Dean Takahashi at GamesBeat Summit 2019. Brock Pierce came onstage as our last speaker on the Boss Stage, closing the conference. And he was like the boss of bosses. Pierce, the chairman of the Bitcoin Foundation, has been described by Forbes as a “Bitcoin billionaire.” We don’t know what his net worth is, but he has been at the right place at the right time. I met him during the heyday of social casino games, when he was starting a company called Playsino back in 2012. I stuck with games and he veered off into Bitcoin. Just as he was early with internet video, virtual goods, and other waves of technology, Pierce was way ahead of the game in seeing the potential of blockchain — a transparent and secure decentralized ledger — and cryptocurrency, a digital currency which uses encryption and blockchain to securely regulate the currency and verify the transfer of funds. In 2013, he cofounded Blockchain Capital, which raised money to invest in a large number of blockchain startups. He was forming new companies every 45 days. In 2017, he was a shareholder and adviser for, which held an initial coin offering (ICO) and sold $700 million worth of its EOS coins. EOS tokens are now valued at around $4.9 billion. He was also an investor in Tether, which like EOS is also one of the largest digital currencies in the $350 billion cryptocurrency market. He left in March 2018. Now Pierce is coming back full circle on games. At first, he felt like cryptocurrency needed a foundation, with faster, secure, and programmable blockchain platforms like EOS and Tron. And now that the foundation is there, Pierce believes that blockchain-based games have real potential. This is one of those seams between games and technology that could lead to something big, or blow up in disastrous ways. He thinks we are like at the beginning of internet 2.0. “I do my best not to drink my own Kool-Aid, and I do my best not to be blind to what is going on,” he said. “I get very nervous. A lot of people show up to make a quick buck.” People get caught up in scams and gold rushes. But the collapse of the price of cryptocurrencies has caused a cleansing of these people, he said. “Bull markets produce bullshit, and bear markets bear fruit,” Pierce said. Pierce wants people to learn, empower themselves, and decide how to apply new technologies like games over the long term, and not worry about the “fear of missing out,” or FOMO. He now sees companies coming out of the blockchain prototyping stage, with technologies that are ready to scale. Blockchain panelists at GamesBeat Summit 2019 (left to right): James Zhang, Miko Matsumura, Roy Liu, Kevin Chou, and Arthur Madrid. “We have blockchains you can build games on,” he said. “Imagine if you had access to the iPhone before its release. You start thinking about can you build games for this iPhone. This is the time. I think we are at that moment.” Entrepreneurs like Kevin Chou, cofounder of Kabam, are now investing in blockchain, and Pierce thinks that’s a tea leaf. At an earlier panel, Chou said he was excited about the opportunity to use blockchain to change game economies. “It’s a big deal,” he said. “When you start to see people who can do anything in the gaming space do this, pay attention.” Pierce is mulling whether to invest in game companies himself once again to kickstart the blockchain gaming space. “Under the right circumstances, I could see myself doing something in this space,” Pierce said. He doesn’t have to do this just to become a bigger billionaire. But Pierce said he believes a “billionaire” is someone who positively impacts the lives of a billion people. Thank you for coming I enjoyed these talks. I hope our audience did too. I heard from a lot of people that it was our best GamesBeat ever, and I humbly accept that gracious praise. We reinvented our show at the micro-amusement park Two Bit Circus, just as these entrepreneurs reinvented themselves to get ready for new waves of gaming. If you came, thank you for being present. Or if you viewed in on the stream, I’m glad we could entertain you. And if you missed a lot of sessions like I did, check it out on our YouTube channel over the coming weeks. It takes a village to make a gaming community like the GamesBeat Summit. Thank you to those who helped put it on. I’m glad those videos will live on because it makes me feel like we built something of lasting value.
29 Mar 19
Gamers have been excited about battle royale games like Apex Legends and Fortnite. But if you pull up 10,000 feet to see what’s really happening, it’s clear we have a battle royale in the game industry itself. I have been fond of dividing the world of the game industry into the intentional game companies — Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo — and the accidental game companies — Amazon, Google, Apple, and Facebook. By accidental, I mean that they created platforms that were meant for something else, but eventually taken over by games. The iPhone is a perfect example of that. The intentional game companies have been deadly serious about games for a long time, and they have decades-long credibility with their customers. The accidental game companies have created huge platforms that game developers have adopted, using them to create tons of money. These include the Google Play Store, Apple’s App Store, Facebook’s Oculus virtual reality platform, and Amazon’s various game services, Twitch streaming service, and Lumberyard game engine. (This story foretells the kind of discussions we’ll have at GamesBeat Summit 2019, our event in Los Angeles on April 23 and April 24.) The battle royale begins Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, at GDC 2019. I’ve often speculated in the past — in interviews with former Sony executive and current Google Stadia chief Phil Harrison (back in 2017 at the Gamelab event in Barcelona) and Jack Tretton, the former head of Sony’s U.S. PlayStation business — that the big tech companies would eventually wake up to the gaming opportunity. And in the past couple of weeks, we have seen that happen. On March 19, Google CEO Sundar Pichai took the stage at the Game Developers Conference to declare that games are for everyone and that it wants billions more people to become gamers. That carried gravity. And Phil Harrison brought game business cred as he announced Google’s cloud gaming platform. Jade Raymond, formerly of EA and Ubisoft, pledged she would make games for this platform and run Google’s internal game studio. The Netflix of games An Apple Arcade appears. On Monday, Apple became the latest company to propose a subscription game service, Apple Arcade, launching this fall. It is the latest company to offer a “Netflix of games,” where you can enjoy dozens of hundreds of high-quality games for a monthly fee. These companies are all realizing that gaming pushes the intersection of creativity and technology — a street corner that Steve Jobs used to say drove Apple forward. Jobs sadly never came to accept gaming as a passion. But it is clear that Apple sees gaming as a way to push forward technologies such as the smartphone itself or to give birth to new ones like augmented reality. We can expect more from Apple to show it really does care about games. Pichai praised gaming for “pushing computing,” a goal that all of Google cares about. He pledged that Google’s dozens of data centers would stream high-intensity games over a low-latency network in 200 countries around the world. Amazon got religious about games earlier, and Jeff Bezos has been hiring game developers like John Smedley and telling them to make games with “ridiculous computation.” It bought Twitch for $970 million in 2014, and now Twitch’s streams reach more than 100 million gamers a month. And Facebook, not to go unmentioned, dove deep into virtual reality in 2014 with its nearly $3 billion acquisition of Oculus. Add China’s Tencent to the mix, and the global nature of the battle royale takes full shape. The earlier Phil Harrison Phil Harrison (left) of Alloy Platform Industries and Matt Handrahan of Back in Barcelona, in 2017, I asked Harrison — who was then a neutral venture capitalist — what he thought of the intentional and accidental game companies. Harrison replied, “Which would you rather be: a focused company with a smaller balance sheet, or an unfocused company with a very large balance sheet? Ultimately a strong balance sheet is a good thing to have, which is why a company like Amazon could end up being a disruptive force in games. They have AWS as this secret provider of incredible services to so many games companies, which they’re monetizing like crazy.” He also said, “I think Amazon knows they have a games business. It’s interesting that the games bit of Amazon reports in to the AWS leadership. That’s not a surprise or an accident. That’s very purposeful. The one unknown, unseen is what Apple is really doing in AR and VR. I don’t believe for an instant that what they showed at the worldwide developer conference is all they’re doing in AR. But they made a very strong statement of intent, and that’s exciting for the future.” I’m pretty sure you could have substituted Google for Amazon in that conversation, but Amazon signaled its intentions earlier with the Twitch deal. Jack’s insight Jack Tretton on the stage during Sony’s 2013 E3 media briefing. And I also asked Jack Tretton, the former head of the Sony PlayStation business in the U.S., what he thought of the competition. That was way back in March 2017. “I had an opportunity to have a one-on-one meeting with Jeff Bezos. He reached out to me just after I left Sony. I really enjoyed that,” Tretton said. “I’ve certainly spoken to Google and Apple as well. They’ve always had the potential to be major players, but I didn’t see the passion at the commitment at the points when I spoke to them, what I feel you really need to have.” Tretton added, “There was no question, when I joined Sony, that they were in it to win. They were investing the resources and they had the know-how to be successful. Microsoft was always committed. They had to go through some growing pains because they do things uniquely, but I never questioned their commitment. To be successful in this industry, you have to be committed.” And Tretton said, “There’s never been any question in my mind that Apple, Amazon, or Google, types of companies like those, could be phenomenally successful if they committed to it. But you know better than anybody that gaming culture is unique. It’s unlike any other business. If they try to run it like other parts of their business, they’re going to struggle. The keys to success at Sony and Microsoft — they’ve kind of been islands off the corporate coast. They’re not running Xbox the way they’d run Windows. That’s a lot of the reason why they’ve been so successful. It’ll be interesting to see how that culture and that commitment evolves at companies like Google. I did hear about Phil’s appointment. I certainly wish him a lot of luck.” The war for developers GDC 2019 drew more than 29,000 people to San Francisco. Now all of gaming is in play. Developers are being courted like crazy. Mel Kirk, vice president of publishing, said that all sorts of publishers are approaching his pinball game company to get its games on their platforms. These tech giants each have enough money to buy just about every major gaming company in the industry. They are not necessarily going to do that. Because in gaming, the talent can walk out the door the second that an acquisition closes. Tencent, aware of that, has been buying minority stakes in a lot of game companies — like Riot Games, Epic Games, Supercell, Frontier Developments, Glu Mobile, Grinding Gear Games, Skydance Media, Activision Blizzard, and Ubisoft. Game engine makers Unity and Epic Games are also squaring off, adding a unique dimension to the competition for games. They enable developers to publish their games on just about any platform, so the developers do not have to beg the platform makers to help them. Yet the platform makers are making serious chess moves. If Google allows Epic’s Unreal-based games to run on any platform — PCs, consoles, tablets, and smartphones — then Unity’s ability to do that has less value for developers. And if Google can get high-end games to run on smartphones, the gamers don’t have to pay Apple anything, cutting Apple — which makes billions of dollars by taking 30 percent of game revenues — out of the financial take entirely. Harrison said that Google would try to improve its cloud-gaming latency by making sure players could hop from the computer in the Stadia controller to the Google network, bypassing other players in the “last mile.” Could that be a 5G play? Or will it mean Google Fiber and Google’s mobile network will carry that signal? I don’t know, but if I were Comcast and Verizon, I would be a tad worried about the consequences of that strategic move. You can bet that those who have shown their cards yet are intensely focused on the battle royale strategy. I am certain that we will see Microsoft’s response at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in June. But privately, one exec noted to me that Microsoft’s Azure cloud business is already bigger than Google’s cloud. Indeed, Microsoft did its own test run of cloud gaming with Crackdown 3, applying the data center computing power to add more destruction to Crackdown 3’s multiplayer mode. The global chess game Phil Harrison shows the Stadia controller. As I told many people last week, the global chess game for gaming is afoot. And I have no idea where the pieces are and who has the queen. But it sure is fun to watch. In my latest interview with Harrison, I could still see that Harrison was as sharp as ever. He knew the strategic importance of YouTube, which has become the platform for gaming influencers. He knew the challenges of getting a company like Google to care about games, and his answer was telling when I asked him if Google was really serious. “Google has, rightly or wrongly, trusted me with a huge amount of autonomy to build this vision and tell this story. But I can’t do this on my own,” he said. “What I love about Google is the collaborative nature of the company and the fact that I have partnerships all across the company, from YouTube to our technical infrastructure to Google Cloud to our hardware business, who are participating and partnering with us to make Stadia real. It’s not just my team. It’s a much broader team.” He added, “You saw, with Sundar [Pichai, CEO of Google] as part of our presentation yesterday, that we have the support and investment from the top. But we do have the autonomy when we need it.”
22 Mar 19
Google is finally taking the game business seriously. Not satisfied with its role as owner of Android and the operator of the Google Play store, the company announced Stadia at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco on Wednesday. It was one of the most ambitious announcements of the last decade — a full declaration that Google cares about games. And it was the talk of the show. Stadia is a cloud gaming platform that resides in Google’s data centers, which compute the graphics and actions in a game and then send the results in the form of a video to the player, regardless of which machine the player is on. It lets gamers play high-end games on low-end machines, including TVs, smartphones, tablets, PCs, and lightweight laptops. It will be able to run single-player games like Doom Eternal at 60 frames per second in 4K resolution with HDR (or high-dynamic range). It comes with a controller that has a button that lets you capture your gameplay and share it directly to YouTube. Fans who watch the YouTube video can click on a link and immediately go into a game to try it out, or even join a streamer in a match. The controller will connect to WiFi networking that will lead you to Google’s backbone network that will minimize interaction delays, or latency. Stadia will also be able to play games in a split-screen mode. To lead the business, Google turned to an industry operator who has a lot of cred. Phil Harrison ran Sony’s worldwide game studios and served as an executive at Microsoft’s Xbox game business. And this week, he made his first public appearance onstage as a vice president and general manager in charge of Google’s Stadia business. I’ve known Harrison for years, and I was able to sit down with him and quiz him about the big questions of the Stadia business. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview. Stadia is the plural of stadium, in case you were wondering. GamesBeat: I get the feeling that Google and Stadia have been the talk of the show. Phil Harrison: That’s kind of intentional. [laughs] But it’s nice to know it was all worthwhile. GamesBeat: What convinced you to sign up with Google in the first place? Harrison: I wouldn’t say I was done, but I was as far away from corporate life as you could possibly imagine. I got a call — long story short, I said, “No, I’m not looking for a position, but let me see if I can be helpful to you in maybe finding the right person.” But I was convinced to take a phone call, which turned into a video call, and I said, “Oh, that’s kind of interesting.” I met with Sundar and Rick and Ruth, and I started to understand not just the vision that Google had, but also the constellation of capabilities that Google had. If we could line up the planets properly, it would be, no pun intended, a game-changer. I decided that I was so excited by that that I would move from the U.K. to the U.S. and bring my family. You can get a sense of my commitment. GamesBeat: Somewhere there they convinced you that the cloud for games was going to work. Harrison: My analysis was that cloud streaming, the math and the science of cloud streaming, was proven. It was more the scale of infrastructure required. It’s all very well doing it in a test or a trial or a regional basis, but to get to the kind of scale takes a Google. I think you run out of companies before you run out of fingers on one hand, that can do this on a global scale. Nobody else has YouTube. Nobody else has the investment in the fundamental hardware architecture fabric inside the data center, which we don’t actually talk about publicly as to what is. But the level of innovation and hardware that Google has been investing in for 20 years is extraordinary. Coupled with — Google likes hard problems. We like to go for the difficult things that will transform an industry and take it to a completely different level. GamesBeat: Very quickly, what are all the questions you’re not answering right now? Nothing about business model, nothing about subscriptions, nothing about launch dates. What else? Harrison: We did have a launch date. We’re launching 2019. GamesBeat: That’s a bit of a vague one. Harrison: I’ll give you more specificity. It’s going to be closer to the end of 2019 than the middle of 2019. [laughs] Google’s Stadia game controller. GamesBeat: One thing I heard when talking to people was, “Oh, there’s a gotcha here. They never mentioned the actual latency.” But I thought that if you could play Doom Eternal to the satisfaction of people like id, you must have solved that. Harrison: We believe we have solved it. While we objectively have solved it with Doom Eternal, and we’ll encourage you to form your own opinions, we also would point you to a very technically astute, deep editorial on Digital Foundry. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Digital Foundry. They had a chance to look deeply into our latency, and they said that it was — I’m summarizing, but basically the same as an Xbox One X locally. Completely independently. We will continue to make investments on our codecs, on the hardware inside our data centers, and on the intelligent networking traffic that we’ll build on top of that. We’re not done. We’ll continue to innovate on that. Then the final piece of the puzzle is the proximity of our data centers to the general population. The 7,500 edge node locations around the world we talked about yesterday, that’s a very significant capital investment, which allows us to get close and cheat the speed of light as much as we can. GamesBeat: The controller had a clever thing in it that shaves some milliseconds off? Harrison: Yeah, quite a significant amount of time. It’s WiFi directly to the data center in the cloud. It does not pair at all locally with your device. GamesBeat: How is it making that hop? Harrison: It’s effectively a computer inside it that talks directly to your WiFi network, and then connects directly to the game instance in the cloud. GamesBeat: Is it okay to have this be wireless, then, and to have it communicate? Harrison: It’s absolutely wireless, yeah. We showed it connecting to the TV yesterday for purely presentation reasons. You invite 1,500 people into a room full of WiFi, you can cause some unintentional consequences. That’s why we started with it being wired. But it’s a wireless controller. GamesBeat: I’ve been talking to more people about data centers recently. I talked to Equinix, and they said they can get 60 milliseconds anywhere in the country [and with four corners of the U.S. covered, that comes down to 15 milliseconds]. The crucial thing for them is to have the handoffs between different parties, like AT&T to Comcast or whatever it is. I’ve heard other people also talk about that, saying you can get delays in the last mile of some kind. How do you help solve that part? Harrison: It’s two parts to that equation. One is what I call the pairing relationships that you have with the ISPs, and the other is the distribution of your physical infrastructure. Crucially for Google is the fact that all of our data centers are then connected together by our own proprietary backend, hundreds of thousands of miles of fiber-optic cable. Google was all over GDC 2019. GamesBeat: Less handing off or no handing off. Harrison: Almost no handing off in many cases. That means that across the country, New York to San Francisco, for us, is 20 milliseconds. GamesBeat: Valve said their network needs to do 30 to 60 milliseconds in response time in order to run Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and DOTA 2. That’s the way they do it, not as a cloud game. But if you have that, then players are happy. Harrison: Sure, that makes sense. GamesBeat: Does it mean you guys have to operate in that sort of realm, under 60 milliseconds? Harrison: Some games are very latency-dependent. That’s why we showcased Doom Eternal. Talk to Martin and the team at id and they will tell you what their experience was like. They were satisfied, and they were rightly a tough customer, a tough partner to bring to our platform, because they were skeptical, as Marty said on stage yesterday. They didn’t think it would be possible, but when they understand exactly how it works, they said, “Okay, we’re all in.” Other games are much more latency-insensitive. By demonstrating an action FPS with a very high framerate requirement, then all the other games that you can imagine go from there. GamesBeat: As far as convincing the triple-A game companies, what part of that is difficult? How are you accomplishing that? Harrison: I’m not going to answer the question in the way that you would hope, but you’ll see in the summer what our launch lineup and beyond looks like. We should have that conversation again. I think you’ll be impressed with the partners that we have brought to the table, brought to the party so to speak. I would point you to what we did with Project Stream back in October of last year. We landed, day and date, with Ubisoft, the latest version of their most successful franchise. That should give you a sense of the direction of travel that we have for the kind of partners and the kind of games that we’ll be bringing to Stadia. Crowd Play through YouTube and Stadia. GamesBeat: Did you ever have any temptation to do a console because that was what people expected of you? Harrison: None whatsoever. GamesBeat: That defeats the purpose of it. Harrison: Correct. Not only does it defeat the purpose, it would hold back our vision of the data center being your platform. It sounds like a buzzword, but it’s very intentional that we describe ourselves as a new generation for the 21st century. We have got to this inflection point in the industry where — let’s say, for argument’s sake, the industry is 40 years old. For the last 40 years, games have all been device-centric, meaning as a developer I build for the capability of the box. They’ve been package-centric, meaning a floppy disc, a cartridge, a cassette in some cases, an optical disc, or more recently a downloadable package. But still, those two philosophies have constrained the development process and the design thinking of games. Now games are network-centric, completely network-centric and device-independent. The industry won’t transition from one state to another overnight, but we hope that Stadia becomes the tipping point, the fulcrum that helps that transition begin. GamesBeat: The things that seem fairly brilliant — this controller, with the faster speed, and the YouTube integration — it looks like you can do that without hardly any bandwidth costs. You already have that stream in the data center. You know what the player is doing. All you really need to know is what the player said, or a little video of the player saying it, going back up from the user’s home to the cloud. Harrison: Actually, it’s even more impressive than what you just described. Our technology is so capable that we actually have two simultaneous 4K streams coming out of our platform. Let me qualify that. One which is up to 4K, depending on the bandwidth you have into your home. If you have slightly lower bandwidth, we’ll bring that resolution down to 1080p. But there is always a second stream available which you can send to YouTube, which is always 4K, 60 frames per second, HDR. Jade Raymond at Stadia launch. GamesBeat: I get 200 megabits a second downstream, but only five going back up. It sounds like that would be a challenge to deal with. Whatever you’re sending back up, is it not that much? Harrison: It’s just joystick commands. It’s tiny. It’s bits. GamesBeat: I guess what I’m not understanding is voice. If you’re talking on a stream, the voice originates in the home and has to go up. Harrison: But still, it’s compressed. It’s a few hundred kilobytes. We’ve put in some redundant data to do error correction and stuff like that. GamesBeat: I may have the wrong impression, but when you’re playing something like Apex Legends and all of a sudden everyone stops talking, you wonder if the game was able to handle that. Harrison: The contention issue you describe in a multiplayer game is probably not a function of your upload speed. It would be a function of the way that voice is matched and multiplexed at the server level. GamesBeat: But the point is, you don’t have to send up a ton of stuff. Harrison: Yes, it’s tiny. It’s kilobits per second, not even megabits per second. GamesBeat: The split-screen feature was also unexpected. I didn’t realize that this was the reason it disappeared from games, that they’re so networked now that they can’t afford to be sending this stuff. Harrison: It’s also because of the complexity of the visuals. For a game, within its engine, to divide the resources in half and give you two separate views of the world — particularly games that are using internal streaming, meaning streaming from a disc or from memory — it’s really hard to do. It’s almost the first design feature to get cut. But now, with Stadia, that comes back, and not just two, but four or eight. We can internally stream from game to game. We showed that in the demo yesterday. Developers are very excited about that. Phil Harrison shows the Stadia controller. GamesBeat: Google likes to think long term. I’ve heard some long term concerns that people have. One was, if we’re going to have a trillion things connected on the internet, according to Masayoshi Son — there’s a lot of AI there. But there’s so much data that a lot of the processing in the future is expected to go to the edge, and not to centralize in the data centers. And they’re saying that’s because there’s too much data to send. You have to look at the data, process it, and figure out what you want at the edge. That’s a whole shift of computing from an assumption of data centers centralizing it to everything computing in all locations. You might have a lot of traffic on the internet in the future that you have to contend with, as both Google and Google the game company. Is that something to worry about? Harrison: No, it’s not something to worry about. I agree with the trend, that there is going to be more data and more demands on our infrastructure, but that’s exactly why we have made those fundamental investments in our own backbone that connects all of our data centers together. We’re not touching the public internet. I agree with you, but it’s not something to be concerned about. That’s one of the long term investments that Google continues to make. GamesBeat: The other thing that’s come up is that data centers are going to melt the polar ice caps if you’re successful. Harrison: Well, actually, that’s a very easy question to answer. All of Google’s data centers run on green energy today. There’s a great blog post on Google which will give you details about how we do that. GamesBeat: As far as how much content and how many games you have to make, what have you thought about that? Harrison: I don’t know that it’s the volume of games. We’ve had conversations over the years many times about what it means to be a first party. A first party studio is the studio that can help bring the platform to life in a unique and exclusive way that helps raise the bar for everybody. What Jay talked about quite right was not only are we going to do that, but to every extent possible we will share those learnings back with all developers on our platform, so that everybody benefits. That got a cheer, quite rightly, because I think that is a philosophical shift that the industry needed. We want to make sure our studio, internally and externally, create those beacon, lighthouse experiences that demonstrate–”Oh, that’s what it means when the data center is your platform. That’s what it means when ML and AI become part of games. That’s what it means when conversational understanding and natural language processing from the Stadia controller to the game allow you to chat with an NPC in a believable way.” There are things we can push on that are going to help the industry. GamesBeat: You see those as things that will make your games different. There was that mention of thousands of people in a battle royale game, instead of just 100. Harrison: Yes. Now, whether it’s fun to have a 1,000-player battle royale was not the point. It’s more about the technical capability of it. GamesBeat: How do you succeed in getting good people like that to work on this? Harrison: I’ve been really happy with the team I’ve been building. More than half of my leadership team now comes from the game industry. We have some very seasoned talent. We have some great new passionate thinkers. It’s fun seeing the inside of Google that Sundar alluded to yesterday. There are a lot of passionate gamers who got into tech because of games. They work at Google. They’re now able to bring their talents to a game platform. It’s a win-win. It’s not just about hiring people from outside of Google. It’s also about finding those talents from inside. The Stadia controller from Google. GamesBeat: As a game executive, do you feel like you need a certain amount of autonomy from the top? Sony managed, over many years, to have games as an island of executives, it seems, free from the interests of the other parts of the company. I heard someone at Amazon asked if they would set up their game business that way, and the response was, “No, we would not. We would operate as one company.” That person turned down the job, because they believed that in some ways, the game executives needed autonomy. Harrison: Google has, rightly or wrongly, trusted me with a huge amount of autonomy to build this vision and tell this story. But I can’t do this on my own. What I love about Google is the collaborative nature of the company and the fact that I have partnerships all across the company, from YouTube to our technical infrastructure to Google Cloud to our hardware business, who are participating and partnering with us to make Stadia real. It’s not just my team. It’s a much broader team. You saw, with Sundar as part of our presentation yesterday, that we have the support and investment from the top. But we do have the autonomy when we need it.
15 Mar 19
The Game Developers Conference will draw more than 20,000 people to San Francisco next week, and it will be like dropping another quarter in the arcade machine to play games like Platform Wars and Battle of the Game Engines. With so many developers attending, the platform, tool, and engine companies are jockeying to be noticed. They want the developers to use their stuff, and not the others, because it will bring great games and tons of users to their platforms. This battle for the hearts and minds of developers is bigger now. “We saw a bit of that creeping in last year, and we’re seeing it in full force this year,” said Katie Stern, director of GDC Events, in an interview with me. “It’s exciting that they think of GDC as a place where they want to get their message out — that we have the right audience for them, and it’s where they want to make their big splash. We’ve heard from a few folks that they use GDC strategically as a launch site for new campaigns for whatever they’re announcing.” The biggest news coming next week is a sponsored talk by Phil Harrison, vice president at Google and former bigwig at Microsoft and Sony, about Google’s plans for the game business. Google even teased the event on YouTube to make sure developers show up. Hoping to head that off, Microsoft this week demoed its Project xCloud, which uses the Azure cloud to enable players to play high-end games on any device. At the actual event, Microsoft will be throwing a number of parties and receptions touting its love for diversity, accessibility via the Xbox Adaptive Controller, and other underrepresented communities in game development. Valve also announced a beta of its Steam Link Anywhere technology in advance of its own disclosures next week. In another sponsored session, Amazon’s Rich Hilleman will talk about the company’s vision for games at 10 a.m. on Monday. Facebook and its Oculus division will be out in force pushing their news. Tim Sweeney of Epic Games will once again tout the Unreal Engine and its progress in creating digital humans, or animated people who are so real you can’t tell them apart from real people. Down the street, in a less expensive venue outside of GDC, Unity John Riccitiello will show off his company’s latest Unity game engine technology — in competition with Epic. And Herman Narula, CEO of Improbable, maker of SpatialOS, will tout tools that enable small developers to make massive online worlds. Narula recently had a spat with Unity, but things are said to be patched up. Nintendo will show off some indie games, but Sony seems particularly quiet in terms of a presence at GDC, beyond a number of celebratory God of War talks. Perhaps Sony is plotting the revelation of the PlayStation 5 at some other place, later in the year. Who can forget that GDC was once the place where Bill Gates unveiled the original Xbox design (2000) or that former Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata talked about the Wii or Brain Games in keynote speeches? Now, the GDC lets the platform companies duke it out in sponsored sessions. “As we see more and more of these big players have their own user conferences and things along those lines, they’re used to having their own crafted, curated experiences to create these kinds of messages,” Stern said. “It made more sense for us as a show to allow them a platform to do that in their own way. That’s why we don’t do the keynotes and product announcements. As part of the show content, they can be considerably more meaningful. We can allow them the opportunity and space to do it in a way that’s unique to their brand and their voice and how it fits within the broader GDC context.” While GDC is where the platforms and tool makers win over the allegiance of game developers, it’s not so much a place where the big games of the year are revealed. There are some secret briefing sessions, of course, but the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3, in June in Los Angeles) remains the place for big game revelations. With all this jockeying, it’s easy for press people like me to forget about the sessions. I had to look through 400 sessions to see which ones I had to attend. But it was a little pointless because so much of my time will be taken up covering the game engine wars, the platform wars, doing interviews, and seeing game demos. If you see some great sessions, please flag them for me. I am looking forward to seeing some games for the first time and doing interviews with a number of interesting people in the industry. I’ll be excited to see who gets some special recognition at the Game Developers Choice Awards on Wednesday night, where we’ll see a replay of the Red Dead Redemption 2 versus God of War awards battle. Rami Ismail at the #1ReasonToBe at GDC 2018. But in the past few years, I have always enjoyed the #1ReasonToBe panel. It started as a women’s panel, and it has evolved into a global diversity session where developers give their existential reasons for being game developers. It’s always moving and generates standing ovations. Rami Ismail, the cofounder of Vlambeer, organized the session once again this year, but he once again had trouble getting visas for his panelists to come to the U.S. This is yet again a direct result of President Donald Trump’s tight immigration policies. Ismail has been so fed up with this process that this year he created the GameDev.World event, which will be an online-only conference in June that will feature game developer talks translated in real time into eight languages. I’ll sit in Ismail’s session again, shed some tears, and get my fill of immersion in gaming culture at GDC 2019. While I’m sure that one day I’ll be able to watch it all online, I wouldn’t miss attending this event in person for the world.