Video game veteran Ed Fries has spent the past 30 years working in the video game industry. He released his first game for the Atari 800 in 1982 while still in high school. Fries graduated from college and got a job at Microsoft. After a decade working there, he took over the games division that eventually created the Xbox. After 20 years at Microsoft, Fries retired and now works as a consultant, board member and adviser for game companies all over the world. He talks about the future of games and what role the cloud will play in this EXCLUSIVE interview for dperry.com by John Gaudiosi of GamerLive.tv.
What are your thoughts on the emergence of social casual games?
One way to think about what’s happened is that games have just become more and more accessible and are now reaching out to a broader and broader audience. Right now the big trend in the games business is what we call free to play and it’s sort of the ultimate in accessibility. In the old days, you had to go to a store to buy a game for $50 from a whole shelf full of boxes and maybe you liked it, maybe you didn’t. Free to play is the opposite extreme. The game is right there on your browser or your cell phone. It’s available immediately. It’s free, and you play it and if you really get into it then you pay for virtual goods and actually fund the development of the game. This model can be as lucrative as or more lucrative than that retail box model, which is kind of amazing. The whole company, Zynga for example, is built around that model.
Do you think that microtransactions seen in these social games and MMOs and 99 cent app stores will drive prices down across the whole videogame industry as has happened in music?
I don’t know. I would like to think that there is going to be a continuum of offerings of different quality levels and different prices just like TV, where there’s free TV that’s advertising funded and that’s a certain level of quality or I can go see a big movie blockbuster. TV didn’t put movies out of business. Gamers still love their Call of Duty and their Halo and on those projects the teams are getting bigger still. The budgets are getting bigger still. Those projects have over $100 million development budgets, which is kind of amazing to those of us who have been around from the beginning. So you have these big blockbusters and it makes sense for companies to develop those and then you have everything down to free to play.
What role do think retailers will play in the future where more games will be streamed from the cloud and sold straight to consumers?
I think that’s the question all the retailers are asking themselves. Part of what’s exciting as a game developer is that it’s easier and easier for us to make things and get them right out into the hands of people. There aren’t a lot of hoops we have to jump through or a lot of people we have to talk to. If you’re going to put an app up on the app store, a guy can do that in a garage. In a way it reminds me of the old days when it was just one of us making a game and you’d put it on a bulletin board and people would see it and download it. We’ve kind of gone back to the future.
How do you see mobile games influencing the industry today?
For the people I work with it’s becoming more and more important. It’s just another way to reach out to everybody. With a game console you had to go out to the store and pay $300 and hook this special thing up to your TV and deal with all that hassle. Everybody has a cell phone. It’s a required part of being part of society today. So when those devices become really good gaming machines, then we have just a fantastic way to reach people that we didn’t have before.
What are your thoughts on how fast mobile processing power is progressing?
It’s incredible. Gordon Moore drew this line forty years ago and said things are just going to keep doubling every few years. And forty years later it’s incredible the amount of power that we have. As long as the engineers can keep following that line, it’s just going to keep getting better.