Chris Bergstresser, executive vice president and commercial director for Miniclip SA, has been involved in digitally distributed games for years. Before joining online casual gaming portal Miniclip SA, Bergstresser co-founded Vector Entertainment, which launched the online title Vector City Racers to the tune of 500,000 registered users in eight months. Bergstresser also served as senior vice president of publishing and online entertainment at Atari, where he launched the company’s casual games group. Bergstresser took some time to discuss the future of games and what role the cloud will play in this exclusive interview by John Gaudiosi of GamerLive.tv.
If you got out your crystal ball, when do you think the video game industry will become mostly digital?
What, you mean it hasn’t yet? Kidding aside, I think we are basically there. If we are talking about console content, give it another 3 to 5 years. The only reason why I say that is because I truly believe there will not be an Xbox 3 or a PlayStation 4, as we know them today. Rather, I believe they will be home media servers that will load and distribute content across multiple devices — i.e. PC, mobile, smart TVs, etc.
If you were designing the next killer console, what would you focus on?
Home media servers — a way to manage your content and then deliver it to any device you own – i.e. PC, mobile, smart TV, etc. I think the DVD/Blu-ray business is going to be limited in the future. The risk to have a disk-based console for the future is too big. Moreover, the economics of a disk-based system (develop, publish, etc) is not very good. There’s no pricing flexibility, and limited revenue channels. However, for a purely digital product, the pricing is much more flexible and the revenue channels very diverse. I think it would be hard for publishers, in the future, to feasibly support a disk based console.
EA stated that a 5-7 year console cycle is a serious problem when Apple refreshes hardware every 12 months and ships new features multiple times a year. Is our industry moving too slowly?
I think the only area where the video game (console) industry has been slow moving is digital. As for hardware, you have to compare apples to apples here. Apple and other PC makers need to refresh quite often because they sell multiple-use devices. Consoles are a single-use devices and don’t need to be updated as often. One thing we lose sight of is that games are driven by funding and accessibility, not graphics. The bestselling titles in the games business aren’t the uber 3D titles you see on console. They are simple, fun, easy-to-access games. The fun factor accounts for everything
Some of the really big game publishers still don’t focus on Facebook
and Google players, how long can they keep ignoring these platforms?
They need to jump in now. But, and this is critical, they need to forge new paths. Zynga has forged the path of the single-player spam game for social media. No one is really doing multiplayer social games and I strongly believe that is where the future is. The limited number of multiplayer games for social media have incredibly long play times (higher user engagement). This is critical. The higher the engagement level, the higher the revenue per user and average revenue per user. Zynga lives on pulling pennies from millions and millions, which has worked well for them. However, I would be willing to bet that their engagement levels aren’t nearly as high as groups like Kabam. I don’t believe Zynga’s model is sustainable long-term. So the console publishers have an opportunity here to re-define the social games space.
Facebook games seem to be on an accelerated evolution path; what technologies are most exciting to you? For example, have you seen Flash Stage 3D (Molehill) or Unity or Gaikai who can instantly stream products like World of Warcraft inside Facebook?
The evolution needs to be connectivity and access. Not just getting hooked in through Facebook, but any social media platform that makes sense. In addition, it is absolutely critical that publishers and developers incorporate a strategy to leverage multiple devices — i.e. a game that works across PC, mobile, smart TV etc. As for Facebook as a stand-alone, there are other options. I think that Facebook is a good tool to have, but it is oversaturated and a single distribution point. As mentioned before, it is better to incorporate a multi-platform approach. Miniclip has done a wonderful job with this where we have leveraged our 65 million unique
visitors on miniclip.com onto iPhone. iPhone is another platform that is oversaturated with games, but we have been able to get out of the clutter by leveraging our online platform.
Conferences seem to talk a lot about three ideas: quality, convenience & price. When you look at very valuable companies like Zynga, what order do you think they focus on these three things?
That depends. If quality = fun, then quality is first. If your game isn’t fun, then the others don’t mean much. As for convenience and price, they kind of go hand-in-hand. If the price is good, people will buy. But they won’t buy if it isn’t convenient. If the value proposition is not communicated well (convenience) then no one will buy. I would call it the fun and access paradigm.
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 digital customers?
I think it is critical that companies have direct access to their consumer online. The only way you can create a profitable and sustainable product is by engaging your audience directly — listen and iterate. Using my company (Miniclip) as an example again, Miniclip is a distribution platform with 65 million unique visitors. When a partner “publishes” on our site, they do get direct access to the consumer because once a consumer registers with a partner’s game, that user is theirs, not Miniclip’s (we do share revenue on that user though).
Zynga has an advantage as it can easily place their games on any website. Gaikai is helping EA do this with their high-end games. How important will it be to have your games instantly playable on your website?
Again, it is all about (1) fun games and (2) how easy that fun game is to access.
What do you feel is going to be the largest gaming platform over the next 10 years? Is it console or mobile or IPTV or browsers?
It is living in the cloud and having a game accessed/played across multiple devices.
Finally, if you could invest into any video game related company right now (besides your own of course!), who would it be and why?
I would invest in developers who are creating content that leverages multiple devices/platforms. I can’t say who or we might not be able to invest.
Chris Bergstresser: @bergstresser