Kakul Srivastava oversees product and operations at Tiny Speck, a San Francisco-based company that’s developing the new massively multiplayer online (MMO) game, Glitch. Before Tiny Speck, Kakul was VP, Product Management for the Communications & Communities Division at Yahoo!. She also served as General Manager of Flickr. The company is now looking to change the way browser-based MMO games are played. Srinivasta talks about the future of gaming and what role the cloud will play in this exclusive interview for dperry.com by John Gaudiosi of GamerLive.tv.
When do you think the video game industry will become mostly digital?
If you look at the number of people who are playing games right now, the vast majority of game players are playing games online — especially if you include the Zyngas and the Asian MMOs as part of that equation in terms of global reach. The predominant part of today’s gaming user base is digital and digitally delivered.
If you were designing the next killer console, what would you focus on?
I think the killer console is going to be your mobile device. That is absolutely where people will play more rich and involving, and even graphically intensive games. That’s what excites us is how much more you can do on the iPhone 4 than you were able to do with previous generations of iPhone. And if you watch Android development cycles, it’s going to be your mobile device.
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?
That pace of change is why mobile devices are going to be the console of the future. The way player interaction and player needs are changing, it’s much faster than the five to seven years that we’re talking about. And also the developer community. You look at people who are developing games and developing titles, they are pushing the limits on these devices constantly and that pace of innovation is going to be why these devices win out.
Some of the really big game publishers still don’t focus on Facebook and Google players, how long can they keep ignoring these platforms?
It’s not specifically about what the social network of the moment is, whether it’s Facebook or whether it will be Google Plus in a few years or some sort of Twitter modification. It’s really about the fact that people like to play games with other people they know. It’s about playing games with each other and tapping into that social structure in some way. There are some players and some games that build their own social network inside the game and that’s great, but I don’t think you can ignore the fact that people have already spent a lot of energy crafting their friend lists on the other social networks. You have to tap into that to get a leg up on bringing experiences to people where they can play games with their friends.
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?
We just love how fast all of these technologies are moving. We believe browser games and mobile games are really the main areas to focus on. These Web-based technologies are pushing the envelope to allow a richer and more interesting, and more graphically powerful experiences to be built. We’re focusing on Flash-based browser games. We’re very excited to see what happens with Flash Stage 3D and the power that that’s going to allow our game to have.
What role do you see the cloud playing in video games movie forward?
I think that the cloud is very important because a lot of games are just going to be played there. But it also lets you tie back into your social group for gamecenter-like functionality, where you can have leaderboards with your friends. You can exchange scores and updates with other friends regardless of which game you’re playing. Those kinds of experiences will be very, very important moving forward. They’ll become a baseline or expected functionality for games. It is important right now, so I think those cloud-based experiences are critical.
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?
We’re in a very different part of the industry than the traditional game publishers are and the bet that we’ve made is that it’s absolutely critical to have a close relationship with players as they play games online. We want to understand how they’re playing our games, what features they like, what features they don’t like, what kinds of things that we can do to enable them to have a more rich and meaningful social interaction. Having said that, being able to do it really well is important and there’s still a gap in how well the industry as a whole is able to service customers who are largely experiencing the games online. Developing that core competency will be important before they can say, “I want to own these players.” Players won’t let companies own them if they’re not providing great experiences.
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?
Yeah. I would definitely say browsers and mobile are by far the leading contenders and I’m not even talking about the future. It is what is happening right now. If you look at the numbers of people who are playing MMO’s online and the number of people who are playing social games. Zynga is obviously one example, but a number of Asian social network game-based providers, the volume speaks for themselves and this is where the growth in the industry is coming from. I think what you’re going to see is there’s a base-line of hundreds of millions of new people who are coming online, playing games, and they’re playing these baseline social networking type of experiences, but what they’re going to want to do ultimately is have much more of these rich, involving experiences that become more and more social over time, and that’s really going to be the sweet spot, and with Glitch what we’re doing is we’re aiming for that. We’re aiming for a very new kind of MMO, browser-based game, but has some of these accessibility aspects to it, very social aspects with a very sort of friendly and playful aspect to it that’s really like no other game out there right now. That’s really going to be important.