Chair Entertainment, an Epic Games studio, has shifted its focus in recent years to digitally delivering game experiences. The games Undertow and Shadow Complex were hits on Xbox Live Arcade. Last year, the Salt Lake City-based studio released Infinity Blade for iOS, a critically acclaimed and commercial hit. Donald Mustard, the creative director and co-founder of Chair Entertainment, believes in a digital future. He talks about cloud gaming, why he’d like the next console to fit in his pocket, and why it’s important for game makers to own the digital rights to their IP in this exclusive interview for us by John Gaudiosi of GamerLive.tv.
When do you think the videogame industry will become mostly digital?
I’ve honestly been really pleased with the digital uptake in the last few years. Since the 360 came out five years ago and Xbox Live Arcade was launched, it really broke the ice in getting people comfortable buying a digital product. Since then with mobile phones and tablets, buying games — and anything — digitally has become so much more accessible. We’re getting way more comfortable with owning a digital product. I think that moving forward that’s just going to become even more popular and more accessible. It’s going to continue to become a huge marketplace.
How far away do you think the switch to digital will be?
I hate saying years on stuff because then if it’s five years from now and it hasn’t come… I think the game industry is still so young. Look at what games have done in just the past three decades. Then over the last five years it’s been so fast. I don’t see that slowing down at all, so I think it’s eminent.
If you were able to design the next console, what would you focus on?
I don’t know if this is maybe possible for the next console, but maybe the one after, but I would want a console that’s compact that could be with me all the time. I would love to have a console that I could download games and books and movies and all sorts of stuff, it’s my DVR, and my entire living room in my pocket whenever I want it. However, when I go to my living room, it wirelessly streams HDMI to my TV. I pick up a sweet controller and it wirelessly connects to my console in my pocket and I can just play games and just keep going from there.
How do you see that impacting gameplay?
Let’s say I was playing Red Dead Redemption 5 on my console when I’m out. I’d be playing the poker game and earning money with these dudes. Then I get home and sit down on my couch and I pick up my controller. I stand up from the poker table and get on my horse and ride off on an adventure. I want that kind of experience and I don’t think it’s that far away.
Some of the really big game publishers still don’t focus on Facebook and Google players. How long do you think the game industry can ignore these platforms?
I’ve played some really fun games on Facebook, Google, and these social Flash-based browser games. I think it’s a really viable segment of the market now and it will continue to grow. As far as Chair is concerned, we always want to be making games on every viable platform that we can get our products onto. I think that Facebook and those other kind of browser-based style games are a viable platform at this point and need to be considered. They bring in different markets and different segments of the market. I think that we have to consider all of that as we design games moving forward.
Now, as a company that is focused on the IOS platform, what are your thoughts about quality, convenience and price and how you would focus on those three things in terms of importance?
I think all of them are pretty important. I know that for us quality is always the number one thing that we’re going to focus on. Then I would probably say price is the next thing. We try in all of our products to really maximize your gameplay enjoyment per dollar that you spend with. Convenience, of course, is something we always consider. The easier that we can deliver our products to the consumer, the better.
A lot of publishers today give away their digital customers to companies like OnLive and Steam. How important is it when the industry turns digital that publishers own their own digital customers?
I think it is very important to own your customer and own your audience. Most game developers at this point realize the importance of owning your audience and finding ways to keep them engaged and to keep them invested in your brands. It’s something that we think about a lot. I don’t know if digital distribution will become more prevalent as much as the accessibility to content will get more noisy. We’re really just competing for people’s attention, whether they’re going to watch their favorite TV show or listen to music or go see a movie or play a game. It’s really how do we find ways to channel people to the content we’re delivering and then keep them interested in our content.
What do you feel is going to be the largest gaming platform over the next ten years: console, mobile, IPTV, or browser?
I think that we are luckily in an age where there will be all of that stuff and I love that as a gamer. All of those things are totally viable gaming platforms and I don’t think any of them are going to go away. Mobile is going to continue to grow. Browser-based games will continue to thrive and grow, as well. And consoles will have their places. They’ll all be there and at the end of the day it will still come down to the games. Good games on those platforms will do really well and will deliver unique experiences tailored to each of those platforms. I think it’s exciting as a game developer that we have so many opportunities to make so many unique experiences.
What role do you see the cloud playing with games moving forward?
I think that the cloud is a pretty awesome thing. Just implementation of what we’ve been able to do with Infinity Blade on iPad 2. I’m buying some items or I play through this much of the castle and I put it down and then I pick up my iPhone to go out and pick up right from where I left. It’s phenomenally empowering just to have that work and sync across devices really quickly. I think that there’s this huge potential for the cloud as bandwidth gets even faster and we can stream more content. There’s just so much we can do with it. I think that it will really change the way we approach delivery methods of games and how quickly we can get people into stuff.