American McGee, id Software/Spicy Horse

September 9, 2011 — Leave a comment

American McGee has been a creative force behind some groundbreaking games, including Doom, Doom II, Quake, and Quake II while he was at id Software. McGee went on to create a series of successful games over the years, including American McGee’s Alice, Scrapland, Bad Day LA, and Alice: Madness Returns. The game maker embraced digital distribution with American McGee’s Grimm, which was released in 23 downloadable parts via GameTap.
Now living in Shanghai and running his game studio, Spicy Horse, McGee has embraced the booming mobile gaming market recently. His Spicy Pony studio has developed iPhone and iPad games like DexIQ and Crooked House. The veteran game designer talks about the role cloud gaming will play in games moving forward and what the American games market can learn from what’s already happened in China in this exclusive interview by John Gaudiosi of

How do you think social gaming will fit into the games industry in the long run?

Gaming continues to evolve towards platforms and models that emulate commerce, social and “play” elements from the real world. Social activities aren’t our only activities, but they, like social gaming in the future, are a meaningful chunk of our time.

What role do you think instant access to casual games on Facebook has had on the boom we’re seeing?

The relative ease (low cost, quick to launch) with which these games could initially be developed opened the market to new ideas (in terms of monetization and mechanics) and developers — in a disruptive manner. With the console market simultaneously stagnating, mobile devices becoming ubiquitous… the rise of the casual market was almost inevitable.

What can game companies learn from the casual games space and apply to the more traditional core gaming audience?

Faster, smaller development with quicker initial launches, frequent content updates — and the end of “fire and forget” products. And an eye towards larger, more diverse gamer demographics.

Do you think that micro-transactions seen in social games, MMOs, or 99c app stores will drive prices downward across the whole video game industry as happened in music?

I think it’s different because music doesn’t necessarily offer a range of utility or variable status display. Pricing for items, abilities and boosts in games can be driven by branding, emotional value and in-game utility — just like items in the real world. A game item can be made exclusive and priced at 100x the average, and someone will buy it simply because they want the status that comes with it. Items are also one-off. You can’t share your hat with someone and also wear it at the same time. Music doesn’t have that restriction, so it’s easier to be “free.”

How do you see pricing for games evolving moving forward?

Like life, games will become free to play or variations of the free-to-play, freemium model (life runs on the free to play model, you know?) Developers and publishers will take more learning and cues from real-world marketers, consumer behavior specialists and retail experience designers. Pricing will vary — some experiences requiring a “door charge,” while others let you into the store for free. Pricing is all about what a given market will pay. Just have to build the market.

What are your thoughts on the emergence of cloud gaming and how it will impact the industry moving forward?

At a minimum the cloud can offer a universal player profile or wallet — and at the extreme it can interconnect literally everything we’re doing in life with online tracking, game play, status updating, points earning and profile/info sharing. Everything could become a micro-transaction — not in the monetary sense, but in the sense that each and every action or movement in the real world could result in an equivalent transaction of information with our online persona. The cloud could eventually result in a mirror world to our own — one in which our alternate-selves shadow, mirror or amplify our daily lives, entertainment, work or social interactions. Frictionless sharing of data between locations, devices and applications means no boundaries for our digital selves.

What are your thoughts on the future of PC gaming?

The PC will never go away — it’ll just get smaller, more portable, more like the things we’re currently calling mobile phones. Same for consoles. We’ll have different shape formats, but our “personal computer” will just get more personal. Eventually it’ll be the dashboard for our cars, the ticket for our air travel, the location of all our work effort and the home to all our gaming — a powerful local processor able to access the cloud and provide input/output interface options.

How big do you see the game industry becoming with the proliferation of new devices and casual and online games?

Huge. It can only get bigger and more pervasive. The technology we’ve been building to create virtual environments in gaming, the monetization models emerging in free-to-play games, the hardware in our pockets (mobile devices) will continue to converge, reaching into every aspect of our lives, entertainment and business.

How far away are we from the game industry truly going digital where more games are being purchased or played without needing physical discs or retail stores?

I live in China, that future is already here, and it’s pretty cool actually.

Spicy Horse:
American McGee:
Twitter: @americanmcgee

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