This week on the Player Engage podcast, join host Greg Posner and special guest James Batchelor, editor-in-chief at gamesindustry.biz, as they delve into the roller-coaster journey of the gaming industry during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ll explore the initial boom in gaming, with console and mobile game sales skyrocketing as homebound individuals sought entertainment, and how this led to rapid expansion within gaming companies. But as the dust settles, they’ll also tackle the tougher side of the story – the market correction leading to significant job losses and the reshaping of the industry landscape.
The conversation will take a deep dive into the human stories behind the layoffs, the evolving mobile gaming scene where technological leaps meet monetization hurdles, and how the premium game market is adapting to these new realities. Greg and James will also shine a light on the resilience of the industry, discussing how laid-off talent is finding new opportunities, potentially sparking innovation in indie studios.
Wrapping up, the podcast will address the current state of play in mobile gaming. They’ll analyze why, despite powerful devices like the iPhone 15 Pro bringing console-quality games to our pockets, the free-to-play model still reigns supreme. Listen in for a thought-provoking session that covers the highs and lows of the gaming world, with expert commentary and insightful analysis. Don’t miss this in-depth episode of the Player Engage podcast!
Intro: 00:00: 00:15: Welcome to the Player Engage podcast, where we dive into the biggest challenges, technologies, trends, and best practices for creating unforgettable player experiences. Player Engage is brought to you as a collaboration between Keyword Studios and Helpshift. Here is your host, Greg Posner.
Greg Posner: 00:16: 00:38: Hey everybody, welcome to the Player Engaged podcast. Today’s going to be a really exciting episode. I am joined by James Batchelor, the editor-in-chief for gamesindustry.biz. I’m planning to talk about all the current news that’s happening in the industry. James has got a front row seat for that, and he’s got a great informative website that keeps people up to date. Before we jump into it, I’ll hand it over to James and say, James, welcome to the show. Anything you want to say about yourself?
James Batchelor: 00:39: 00:56: Ah, just thank you very much for having me. Yeah, my name is James. I’m a journalist in the games industry. I’ve been entirely focused on the b2b side, the so the business side of journalism, the trade journalism. And for about 17 years now, it doesn’t feel that long. But apparently that’s how long I’ve been doing it.
Greg Posner: 00:56: 01:34: It’s awesome. And looking at the companies that you work for, you’re a Eurogamer and a number of other different publications and magazines. And I think there’s a lot of cool things out there. And gamesindustry.biz is one of the first websites I usually open up in the morning when I’m trying to figure out what’s going on in the industry, because, you know, there’s a lot of good nuggets in different places. And where do you find a place that actually collaborates and all puts them all in one place? I think it’s really informative. How do you stay up to date in the current news cycle? Obviously, there’s a lot of news that comes out all the time recently in gaming, it seems to always be some sweaty week on what’s going to happen here. But how do you always keeping a front row seat here?
James Batchelor: 01:34: 02:20: And honestly, it’s a mix of trying to keep on top of my inbox, Because the amount of stuff that comes into that like just on a frequent basis, I had a holiday about a month ago, and I got I think it was 3000 emails in two weeks. So some of the news comes directly to my inbox, but also I kind of I constantly have like a window open with I use Feedly to just show like all the news that’s going up on all the other sites to kind of just check that I don’t miss anything. And I used to, before Elon ruined it, TweetDeck. TweetDeck was the perfect way to see what people in the industry were talking about. So like, rather than just copying other people’s homework from other sites, like, oh, hang on, a bunch of developers are talking about something that Unity’s done, right? What has Unity done? Let’s look into this. So yeah, just constantly being on the internet is how I keep up with it.
Greg Posner: 02:20: 02:49: Yeah, that’s a great point, right? Feedly is something I just recently started using. So I’m trying to wrap my head around which RSS feeds I want to apply to. It’s cool stuff. Before we get too far, I also want to mention James is also now going to be able to add author to his list of, I think this is the first time author, to a list of achievements with his new book coming out, Best Non-Violent Video Games, which is fantastic because violent video games scare me, but I see you still play them. But how did you get into that idea of a book?
James Batchelor: 02:50: 04:02: So that actually stems from something I’ve been doing as a side project for, blimey, about 10 years now. I run a Twitter account called Nonviolent Game of the Day. I’ll try and give you the brief version. It sounds a little morbid and I always worried about coming across sounding too casual, but it stems from the Sandy Hook shooting. After the Sandy Hook shooting, there was the usual blame going on video games and violent video games rather than the killer’s access to guns. It was, well, he’s playing lots of violent video games, therefore this must be what has propelled him to do this. Despite the fact that years and years of academic studies have failed to prove a link between violence in video games and violent actions of their players, The debate about video game violence reared its head again. And one group from a now defunct website called GamerFit Nation decided they would do a ceasefire, an online ceasefire, right? We’re not going to play violent video games for one day. We’re going to stop playing violent video games to kind of show that gamers respect what’s going on here. We don’t all share this kind of love. We’re not all dependent on video game killing. So yeah, they did that as a kind of, I apologize, my phone has just been going off.
Greg Posner: 04:03: 04:06: Like you said, you’re a busy man.
James Batchelor: 04:06: 06:31: They did this as a mark of respect to show that they understand the severity of the tragedy and to show that not everyone is reliant on video game killing as their leisure time. And it got me thinking because it’s like, well, just because they’re not playing violent video games doesn’t mean they’re not playing video games. So I thought, I wonder what sort of games they would be playing, what other titles you could play on a day if you want to take part of the ceasefire, but you do want to play games. And I started thinking about potentially putting a list together. And the more I looked into it, like, you know what, you could probably play a different nonviolent game every single day, there’s definitely going to be enough out there. And so I started compiling them on this Twitter account. And originally, it was a tumblr blog as well. But everyone seemed to miss the tumblr blog. So I just stuck to Twitter. And I’ve got I’ve actually got a database like so again, like this goes back to staying on top of things like anytime a video and nonviolent games announced or shown off or it’s demonstrated an event or something, I add it to my database, my, I say database, that’s a really fancy word for a Google spreadsheet. And I’ve got I think it’s something like, I’ve covered about 1200 plus games so far, I’ve got 3600 left to go. And that’s without going through the entire history of video games, because I’ve not scoured the last 50 years for every single nonviolent video game. That’s without the mobile, I’ve barely kind of touched I’ve done some mobile games, but you think like how many match three games and idle clickers and so forth, like it’d be impossible to like list all of those. And more are being announced every week, which is fantastic. So yeah, so that’s something I do in my spare time. And I, I got to the point where it’s like I actually scrolling through a Twitter feed looking for recommendations and normal and video games is not a conducive way to find something you want to play. I would love to do it as a book. Fortunately, a journalist I know, Chris Scullion, works with a publisher called Pen and Zord Books. He does things like the NES Encyclopedia, the SNES Encyclopedia, so books like, here’s every game ever released for this format. He was saying, my publisher’s interested in other gaming books, does anyone have any ideas? I messaged him saying, really interested in the idea of doing a non-violent game, but do you think they’d be up for it? And he goes, yeah, absolutely. I think, I think they would. So he put me in touch. They loved the idea of it. And the best non-violent video games is now available in, uh, both the UK and Europe and in North America released a couple of weeks ago in North America. So go buy it.
Greg Posner: 06:32: 07:12: Awesome, congratulations. And that’s a great story as a father to a five-year-old and three-year-old who I’m excited to who are playing video games now. It’s always touch and go about which games we open up. It’s just kind of like, do I really care if he sees that? We play the Lego Marvels and you know, like… blocks are exploding and it’s like, all right, whatever. And then I’m thinking about if I want to start up Call of Duty, I’m like, that’s not a good idea for them to even watch it. So I love the idea of just creating a database that has all this information that you can just basically, is this game safe? Is this game like, yeah, I’m trying to think of, probably shouldn’t go there with my mind, but like a good place you can go and just check your facts before starting your game. So you know what you’re walking into.
James Batchelor: 07:13: 07:31: Yeah, that’s that was that was the aim. And it also like time, hopefully helping people like kind of break out and try different games they wouldn’t have done before. Like I say in the intro of the book, like I really hope people find it you know, if you find a new favourite game, let me know because I’d love it if like people have a reading thing you actually I wasn’t going to play this, but this is brilliant. Why have I never played this before?
Greg Posner: 07:31: 08:31: So I want to kind of keep this topic top of mind. As I asked my, my question I have here was that this weekend, I think it was this weekend, right? You were at EGX conference and one of the, one of the, uh, one of the shows or panels, that’s what I’m looking for panels that you went to, I believe was a pitch your game panel, which is always fun. I mean, it’s something that we talk about here is like, hey, it’s like, let’s hear what indie developers are coming up with and see if we can help enable them to kind of step up and get the help that they need. And When the podcast we talk about focuses about the player experience and violence in the game is part of the player experience. And so is moderation and community and support. And we’re seeing a lot more of that based on even what Microsoft announced a few weeks ago about kind of the moderation in games. When you listen to someone pitching a game, do you listen to how, I guess, how they’re handling violence in games or bullying or moderation in games? Is that anything that’s top of mind or is it purely story and gameplay that you’re excited about?
James Batchelor: 08:32: 10:53: No, I am interested. I mean, I’m personally interested in seeing what people do other than combat as a core gameplay loop. I think there are so, so many more things that video games can do and already do. And hence, you know, the 3,600 games on my spreadsheet and the 300 plus in the book. I can never remember who said it to me, but one developer once said to me that the industry changed with Space Invaders. Because as soon as we knew that, getting one pixel to fire another pixel at a third pixel and making that third pixel disappear, the instant injection you get of endorphins, the satisfaction of that, that puts us on the road to, well, let’s make games that are about killing all of the things. And obviously, as video games have become more sophisticated and more complex, like, you know, they’re much more graphically realistic version to this. You’ve seen games that really kind of revel in that. The one I always think of is Bulletstorm, which gave you the points we’re giving based on how stylishly you killed things. The vast majority of games now are very kind of loot-driven because it’s all based on the numbers, and the numbers dictate how well you can kill things. And so anytime a studio is coming up with a game that is not centered around that, is centered around a very different kind of core loop, Plucking examples out of my head, like Heaven’s Vault, the core loop there is translating ancient hieroglyphics and trying to understand the meaning. That’s absolutely fascinating. Journey was absolutely classic. That game is just about traversal, about trying to get from one space, explore a space and trying to understand what happened around it. Moving Out, Overcooked, all those sort of things. People like frantically cooperating on some silly and perhaps impossible task. The rise of simulators, the stuff that’s out there like, you know, obviously journalists went nuts for Euro Truck Simulator 2, you know, a good few years back, but like, you know, farming simulator is huge. And what I love is like, sometimes I get press releases like, there’s stuff like Mining and Tunnel Digging Simulator, Chemical Spillage Simulator, Air Traffic Control Simulator. These are all real games. I played one at EGX, Space Trucker, and it’s basically Euro Truck Simulator in space. I played it for five minutes. I’m like, this is brilliant. I’m really enjoying this. I don’t need to be swooping around and having dogfights and blasting space pirates out of the sky. I’m quite happy really struggling to park this floating cargo block within the designated area.
Greg Posner: 10:54: 11:44: That’s I love that you say that this weekend, I’m embarrassed about the amount of time I put into Starfield just building outposts and getting one outpost to put the right minerals into another outpost, into another galaxy. It’s just like, literally, I could do anything in this game and I spent hours just building outposts. And it’s this interesting concept of creating a new mechanic, simulation being a type of mechanic that kind of triggers you and gets you excited to do something, right? Get those endorphins going without having to make that one pixel disappear. And I think, as you’re sitting listening to pitches from people, is there any kind of concepts, and probably this, but like, that excite you? Like, I’m sure you’ve you heard concerts about first person shooters and third person shooters and stuff. It’s like, all right, what’s the exciting mechanic here? Are there any mechanics that I guess maybe that’s a question any mechanics that you’ve seen coming out that excite you in the industry?
James Batchelor: 11:44: 14:28: I mean, I’m not on the receiving end of pitches that often, like the the pitch against the dev panel. It was just it was just a fun thing. I thought it’d be funny. Like let’s get to complete random people off the show floor. to pitch ideas to game developers and see if they’re judging them. Some of the ideas were really cool. Someone pitched a pod racing game, but you are robots, and if you crash into each other, all the components of your pod fall apart, and you have to race to grab as many components as possible and put your cart back together, and you could even steal the components. That’s not something someone’s working on, that’s just a really fun idea. I think anything that’s a twist on an established genre is great fun. Just really clever things that people do, particularly in the first-person space. I think in first-person games you assume it’s all going to be shooting and then as soon as you change the actual verb of what you’re doing, so power wash simulator, everyone loves this, you are shooting. It’s a first-person shooter but it just happens to be you’re shooting you know, water instead of bullets, which is brilliant. And that lightyear frontier that’s coming out is, you know, it’s a mech game, but rather than the mech going around and killing things, it’s a mech that farms and you’re spraying water and using it to dig up stuff. The other examples, there was some great stuff. Even if you just change the context, the one I liked was, I always feel quite a little bit self-indulgent giving this example, but please bear with me. Rainbow Billy and the Curse of Leviathan was a game developed by a Canadian indie called Mana Void. They read an article I wrote listing me trying to plug my non-violent games sort of stuff. I did an analysis of how many games at E3 2019 were non-violent. If you look at all the games that were shown off during the showcases and on the show floor, etc. How many were non-violent? It was something like 30% at the absolute most. Mana Void read this article. They were working on Rainbow Billy as a kind of a proper traditional JRPG. And they read this and they realized, well, actually, there is a lot of violence out there. Let’s try and reframe what we’ve done. And they changed their game from it’s still turn-based battles like a JRPG. But rather than trying to whittle down the person’s health bar and kill them, you’re trying to whittle down their depression, or their anxiety, or their anger, etc. I believe, likely, the monsters you face start monotone, and you’re trying to fill them with the colours of the monsters in your party. Once you’ve done that, you’ve kind of helped resolve their issue, and you befriend them, and then they join your party so you can use them in later battles. Mechanically, it’s still a JRPG, it’s still essentially turn-based battles. But the context is completely different and not violent. I think that’s really interesting.
Greg Posner: 14:28: 15:36: I love that concept. This is something at Keywords, what we do recently is we have a lot of moderation teams built in. We work with a lot of moderation tools. We always kind of previously talked about penalizing the people that are doing bad in video games, like bullying or anything like that. But rather than doing that, I said we should we should try and do a focus on rewarding the positive, right? I think there’s more that comes out of rewarding the positive than always blaming the bad person, right? I mean, I’m sure you remember, and I remember back when GTA 3 came out years ago, right? I feel like that was the first big step of guns in games, violence in games. That’s at least the first thing that resonates with me, because I remember what that was like, and it’s still going on. But I think if we start rewarding good actions in games, people taking the time and highlighting that. It’s like watching the news. The news is just a negative place to be and watch. But when you see positive stuff in news, it gets you excited, like, oh, there are good people out there. And I think rewarding the good in games, and I love the idea of, hey, instead of killing someone, you fill them with different hope, or you take away, like, that’s an awesome approach to keep doing what you’re doing, but kind of spin it in a way that is a more positive light.
James Batchelor: 15:37: 17:44: Yeah, exactly. I mean, the stigma about violence in video games, it’s not going away, as you say. I feel like it’s got better. I think mainstream acceptance of video games is getting better. It’s now more, you know, like the larger concern is things like, you know, in-game spending and addiction and all this sort of stuff. But I mean, it’s been going for years. I remember the upset around GTA 3, but then obviously there was upset around, you know, the earlier GTAs. And even like before that, I apologize, I don’t remember the exact story, but my understanding is that the whole reason the ESRB, the Yay! Drones, came about is because of backlash against things like Mortal Kombat. So the industry is fairly good at reacting and trying to address concerns of violence. If you look at the industry as a whole, and I mean as a whole, including mobile, everything, it may even be that the vast majority of people playing are playing non-violent games. Candy Crush, non-violent game. Coin Master, non-violent game. you know, even things like Clash of Clans and stuff, you know, they’re particularly popular. And they’re not graphically violent. You know, so violent, nonviolent games are out there. They’ve been there. They’ve been there since the beginning. Like, as I kind of say in the book, like, the very first commercial video game was Pong. It was a game of table tennis. like there was no violence in that. So non-violent games have been throughout the core of the industry from the beginning and have done things to really kind of change the way the industry goes. I wrote a piece a few years back on the impact of Farmville. Obviously the original Farmville closed a couple of years back and the original Farmville, because it became such a huge hit, It didn’t invent the mechanics it used, but it really popularized the use of timers and the UI things where you get stars every time you harvest your crops and stuff. All the sort of stuff, social things, where you’re gifting your friends or visiting your friend’s farm. The sort of stuff that we see in a lot of casual games and free-to-play games, etc. All that was popularized by Farmville, which was a non-violent game. And that’s had such an impact on the industry.
Greg Posner: 17:44: 18:54: Yeah. And that means Farmville is such a unique case too, right? Because they also utilize Facebook as a, as a, their platform of choice, right? That means anyone can get Farmville, right? They just have to log in with their Facebook, they can start using Facebook. And I think, you know, violence in games, maybe it’s not going down, maybe it’s less of a focus, right? We still have violent games. But, but I think the bigger concern now is bullying, right? And like you said, the microtransactions. I give my kid my phone to play some silly game that he runs and turns into more people. And then all of a sudden, literally every 15 seconds, an ad pops up. I’m like, how are you even playing this game? There’s more ads in those games. He loves the game. This is what worries me. Maybe it’s just me now as a father, right? That look at the industry. It’s like violence is still a concern, but if he turns off video games, he’s going to turn on Marvel on the TV, right? And he’s going to see violence there anyway. It’s this predatory things that are more of like, this is where in my mind, we have to be worried about in the future. And the next thing was going to be the next thing, right? I mean, our age was violence. Next stage was gambling and addiction. The next stage will be who knows what, but it’s an interesting place to be in. Yeah.
James Batchelor: 18:54: 19:35: No, agreed. Agreed. At the risk of going on a tangent, I’m also a father, I’ve got two, I’ve got five and seven and my son has been into video games since he was kind of like three and a half, four. And yeah, that balance of like, well, yeah, okay. what do and don’t I think he’s he’s safe to play like I let him play him in something like spider-man because it’s a 16 rated game he just wants to swing around he just swings around the city and if he comes across bad guys we just run away we don’t show like because the fighting there like he’s visually quite violent not like there’s no like blood and gore and broken bones and stuff but we just run away just to be sure because he wants to he wants to swing around like spider-man my son is going to be devas he loves spider-man he doesn’t realize that we don’t have a playstation
Greg Posner: 19:36: 19:50: We were an Xbox family. So he is going to be devastated when he realizes he can’t play that game, but we can watch all that. We’ve been watching clips on YouTube, which is fun because it is a visually beautiful game and we are very excited about the release of it.
James Batchelor: 19:50: 20:02: It does look excellent. A friend of mine, we’re basically still hoping that Insomniac basically make a Spider-Man game based on Spidey and his amazing friends from Disney Plus. Let’s get that going.
Greg Posner: 20:02: 20:20: That’s going to have to be… who makes all the other games who makes the the Peppa Pig game and the outright outright games, they’ll have to make it. I saw they had a DC game. I like outright games. I love watching my kids play that. That’s how they got started with games. I think it’s just so good for kids. Yeah.
James Batchelor: 20:20: 20:28: Oh, yeah. No, my son. My son’s into video games. I say scratch nutty adventure by outright games. And he’s still playing that now. He’s like, yeah, so
Greg Posner: 20:29: 20:35: We’ve gone way off topic, but my kid loves Goat Simulator 3. It is a hilarious game.
James Batchelor: 20:39: 20:45: He loves it. Absolutely loves it. I can tolerate Goat Simulator 3. Goat Simulator 1, I hated.
Greg Posner: 20:45: 20:46: Yes, I agree with you.
James Batchelor: 20:46: 20:51: All he wanted to play for a year. He was like, why this game is awful.
Greg Posner: 20:51: 21:28: And now they have like Rocket League in there. He’s like, can you play? I’m like, no, I’m not going to. I’m kind of pivoting here, right? It’s been a big news quarter, half a year, whatever you want to call it at this point between Unity making their announcements, Lyos, which continue. This weekend, I read somewhere that EA said that gaming is pulling in $350 billion a year, a lot of it, which is mobile related, which I think maybe people outside the industry don’t realize how much money mobile gaming is truly generating. Now, we also had Activision, Microsoft getting approved. I think it was this weekend or late last week. It was Friday. It was Friday.
James Batchelor: 21:28: 22:12: I was in the middle of EGX when the email came through. I was at EGX, but it was in my hotel room. I’d literally just woken up and got a text. The CMA has approved MS-ABK. It’s like, oh God, here we go. Fire up the laptop. Here we go. And for news, I genuinely felt like a weight had lifted. It was it was the afternoon when Microsoft officially announced that they had, they’d completed the deal and Activision is officially part of Xbox. And the weight that had lifted because like, two, almost two years of making of worrying that I’m going to miss the next step or trying to like waiting, particularly the last month or so, like you’re waiting for that last final approval to come through. It’s like when when’s it gonna happen? And now it’s done.
Greg Posner: 22:13: 22:27: Do you think it’s as, I’m not going to use the word bad. Do you think it’s as, is it going to be as big of a deal as people think it is knowing that the next, what, 10 to 15 years of Activision games are going to be on multi-platform anyway?
James Batchelor: 22:28: 25:21: Um, I mean, that that deal, that could that concession is not as significant as it seems like it hasn’t changed the deal that much like that. That concession is like, okay, so yeah, Activision games are going to be available on other cloud gaming services. For that, you know, like any any games that are currently available and any release in the next 15 years will be distributed by Ubisoft on other cloud gaming services. they can still go on Game Pass. They can still make stuff exclusive to Game Pass. That’s not something they can stop doing. They promised 10 years of Call of Duty on Switch and Nintendo, but 10 years later, who knows what they’re going to do? Call of Duty was a big sideshow. It makes absolutely no sense at all for Microsoft to make Call of Duty exclusive to Xbox. That just makes no financial sense in any way, particularly given the dominance of PlayStation like this. There are a million people who only play Call of Duty on their PlayStation. There’s a million PlayStation owners who only play Call of Duty. There is no way Microsoft was ever going to do what it did with Starfield, and I think back and forth on confirming that Elder Scrolls VI is going to be exclusive. But what if a Guitar Hero revival is? What if the next Tony Hawk’s is? None of those are as big as Call of Duty. In terms of the impact this deal is going to have, I honestly don’t think we can know. I don’t think we can know. I doubt it is going to be entirely beneficial for the industry for a company the size of Microsoft to acquire a company the size of Activision Blizzard and then not be an impact on the rest of the industry. That’s just very unlikely. It’s going to impact competition in some way. It might inspire competition, perhaps. Like, now that Activision’s out the way, people might want to try and make their own Call of Duty competitors. I mean, no one’s managed it in 20 years, but why not give it a go? Yeah, I mean, funnily enough, I’ve paused mid-feature. I’m writing a feature just before speaking to you about reactions to this and talking to analysts, talking to developers. It’s mixed. Some are optimistic. Some are like, all this is doing is leveling the playing field for Xbox because PlayStation and Nintendo are so far ahead. Others are like, this is going to be really devastating for, say, indies on Game Pass. If the new Call of Duty is available on Game Pass every year, why on earth would you play an indie game on it? But then I’ve had another indie developer say, well, actually, more people signing up for Game Pass to play Call of Duty on it means more people that are going to be playing my indie game in between each Call of Duty release. It’s a cop-out, but I honestly don’t think we can possibly know the implications of the full impact of this deal. There’s never been anything like this in games history, so it’s impossible to know how this will end up.
Greg Posner: 25:21: 26:01: Yeah, that’s well said. I think, you know, playing Starfield now, whether it’s multi-platform or not, I don’t think Microsoft cares because there’s no in-game transactions, right? Not yet, at least. I think Microsoft realizes, they see the success, how mobile gaming has worked by subscription, right? And by continuous passes. I don’t see why they would make Call of Duty an Xbox exclusive. It’s going to kill the revenue of Call of Duty. It’s going to kill what Call of Duty was. Will they still do it to sell Xboxes? Maybe, but I don’t think they’re going to sell a significant amount of Xboxes by having Call of Duty only when half the people that play it anyway are playing on PlayStation, especially with cross-platform playing now, it’s pretty much seamless on who you’re playing anyway. It is fascinating to see.
James Batchelor: 26:01: 26:29: Call of Duty is, without fail, one of the biggest-selling games of every single year, and has been for 15, if not 20 years. That is because it is available on PlayStation, Xbox, and PC. If it were suddenly to drop PlayStation in particular, given that that is the market-leading console, it would not be the biggest-selling game of every year, and therefore would be a massive chunk of Microsoft’s revenues. now Microsoft’s revenue. So like, it never made sense for Call of Duty to go exclusive.
Greg Posner: 26:29: 27:09: It didn’t. But it’s going to be fascinating to see what happens because Microsoft owns a lot of interesting IPs now to see what they can, if they can actually build that first party killer app to start attacking back at PlayStation. It will be an exciting time to see. Other news, right? I mean, Unity has been happening, layoffs are happening everywhere. I know you mentioned some companies already through our conversation here that have been affected by layoffs, like Team17, who make Overcooked and stuff like that. I mean, what’s your take on why EA is reporting a massive $350 billion a year and companies are having layoffs? Is it all COVID related?
James Batchelor: 27:09: 29:38: Yes and no. Basically, when COVID happened and pandemic happened, It’s no secret that the industry benefited from this. There’s no polite way of saying it. The industry was boosted by the fact that suddenly everyone has to spend their time at home. The amount of people that bought consoles in the opening weeks of the lockdown measures, the amount of people who spent more money on their mobile games, etc. People needed entertainment and video games are really good forms of entertainment when you’re stuck at home. Investors got really excited about this, like all the money people, the money men, started pouring more and more capital into the games industry. That allowed companies to expand drastically. I can’t remember which company I was talking to, but one of them has expanded from 120 people to 300 people within the space of two, three years. And now that the market’s calming down and investors aren’t as quick to pour money into it and debt is more expensive and all these kind of macroeconomic factors, the market is realigning. It’s a correction. It’s a correction. It’s a very uncomfortable correction. I mean, not even uncomfortable as it is underselling it. I think there’s 6,100 jobs in the games sector alone have been affected so far this year. Tens of thousands more if you look into the broader tech sector like Microsoft and Amazon and Google. It’s beyond unfortunate. It’s a horrible reality of the industry is that every time there’s a massive sudden period of growth. companies have to kind of slim down and streamline and the human cost of that is just devastating. I mean, all these are publicly traded companies. They have to kind of assure their shareholders that they’re keeping things lean as money becomes an issue and as the global economic scene becomes a lot more uncertain. It’s awful to see. I hate reporting on layoffs. The only silver lining I ever get is I hope that like You always see loads of studios like on Twitter, on social media, on LinkedIn, et cetera, like anyone affected, please drop us a line. We’ve got a bunch of vacancies. We’d really be keen to help people out. And then occasionally you obviously get like people who’ve been laid off, band together and form a new studio and that studio goes on to do awesome things. It’s awful that it takes layoffs to get to that stage, but yeah, we’re in a period of market realignment at this point, market correction. I’m just really hoping it slows down soon and just normalizes.
Greg Posner: 29:39: 30:40: Yeah, it’s a good point on the kind of alignment of people who might start new studios or go to go to some indie studios. Right. That means there is a lot of talent out there right now that’s available. And hopefully they can find homes at studios where they can make an impact, make a difference, take their learnings of bigger AAA studios and bring them down to smaller studios. I think that’s a great, great point. And maybe a silver lining in all this. If you’re going to start your own video game company right now, Where would you put your focus on building a game? Is it, I guess, this is a bad question. I probably don’t want to ask you, but is it focused going to be more on kind of, again, a community? Is it going to be on the game itself? Is it going to be on sound and visuals or are you going to go mobile? Are you going to go, yeah, this question is probably has too big of an answer that I’m not really sure how you answer that. But like with all that money in gaming, why do you think AAA studios are still making games on, on console rather than focusing on mobile? Ah, it might be too loaded of a question.
James Batchelor: 30:40: 33:30: No, no, it’s an issue. I’m trying to work out which part of it to answer first. And why why triple A games still making games for console mobile because mobile is incredibly competitive. Because you could pour hundreds of 1000s of millions hundreds of millions of dollars into making like this incredible triple A game, especially now that mobiles are starting to catch up with the hardware of consoles. We saw this with the iPhone 15 Pro, the fact that’s gonna be able to run Assassin’s Creed Mirage and Resident Evil Village, things like that natively, like not streamed, that will be downloaded onto your phone and run natively. Like you could do that, but the audience is just not there, like the monetization is not there. The mobile market has been so pushed towards free-to-play and very, very, very, very cheap games. you cannot justify spending blockbuster budgets on a mobile game because you’ll never recoup that cost. Even if you do a kind of micro transaction and so forth, there’d still need to be a price of entry. We’re starting to see some exceptions, things like Genshin Impact. Genshin Impact could be classed as a AAA game. That’s done really, really well. That’s free to download. That’s a brilliant game. I’ve played a fair amount of it. But yeah, I think AAA developers still want to. There’s enough of the traditional games industry that want to continue producing traditional games experiences, and for that you need a console, you need a PC. People are invested in that device. People have bought that device, and then you buy that title. And before you’ve even opened the game, you have invested enough money and time into it that you’re like, I’m going to give this a fair shake. Mobile games, you download. It takes seconds to download. Maybe Resident Evil Village won’t. But mobile games take barely a minute to download. You open it up, and if it’s not hooked you within that first minute of play, you delete it. You don’t even think about it. It doesn’t bother you. The premium game market sadly on mobile has really dried up. There are some still out there doing it well enough, but convincing people to buy a mobile game in the face of Sony free-to-play alternatives. And mobile gaming, just the form factor, the nature of mobile gaming, mobile gaming is something we do around everything else. You play a quick game of Ruzzle or Candy Crush while you’re watching the telly, or while you’re on the bus, or while you’re waiting for your train to arrive. You dip in and out of mobile games, whereas AAA games you sit and you dedicate time to. People don’t dedicate their time to mobile games in the same way, which is why developers can’t make those sort of experiences. And that’s even without getting into the whole controls. I know you can Bluetooth a controller to your phone, or you can get one of those like cradle things that snap onto it. But the vast majority of people play one handed with your thumb. And most games don’t lend themselves to that.
Greg Posner: 33:30: 34:20: Yeah, it’s great. Great insight. And I think it also with the mobile games, right? Also, that taps on different different age groups as well, right? I mean, my mom will pick up a game and play Sudoku on her phone or something like that, but she’s not gonna pick up an Xbox controller and start playing. Even if Sudoku is on the Xbox, she’s not going to do that. I think the foreign fact that it’s fascinating that you mentioned the competition, right, which is obvious, because I don’t like one match three, I just download another match three. But it’s funny to think about the cost of a triple A game. on Xbox and PlayStation and PC versus the cost of a mobile game and how much money each of them bring in. And I think that’s what also makes this Microsoft deal as we’re going back to that kind of fascinating, because when all of a sudden I don’t have to pay for the remake of Tony Hawk, hopefully three and four, because it’s on Game Pass, right? Like why, how are they going to fund the next ones and how they can do the next ones, right?
James Batchelor: 34:21: 36:30: It’s an interesting time for gaming. The value proposition of video games is changing so much at the moment with, you know, obviously we’ve had the rise of free-to-play and you’ve even got free-to-play on consoles now. But yeah, the rise of subscriptions, the way that Microsoft is pushing for subscriptions, and it’s not just games, it’s wider entertainment. Like, you know, the subscription model has trained all of us to kind of expect access to a vast library of content for a, you know, relatively cheap fee per month. You know, no one buys, not no one, I imagine DVD sales and Blu-ray sales have taken a hit because people just sign up to Netflix or Disney+. I know plenty of people who don’t buy books because they’ve got Kindle Unlimited. How many people buy albums nowadays because they can just look up the music on Spotify? Subscriptions and streaming have disrupted every other form of entertainment to the point where people just expect access and convenience rather than ownership. And I’m still of a generation that I would prefer ownership. I prefer to own the things that I’ve got, because you never know when that thing is going to be pulled from the service you’re subscribed to. You don’t own anything that you have access to there. But enough people are shifting towards that model. And the assumption is that that’s going to be where video games go. But I think there are enough differences with video games, both in terms of budget, and the expense of them, and the way that people engage with them. People you know you people binge TV series and stuff on Netflix so that justify you know you can binge like so many different series on Netflix and some different films within a year that you more and more than make up your monthly fee. Some people only play one or two games a year so actually. $70 times two or three is all they need to spend. I’m on Game Pass, genuinely considering whether or not I’ll re-subscribe because I don’t play enough games on it. I’ve got enough in my backlog going on. You look like, yeah, there’s something like 300, 400 games on Game Pass. I’ve probably played 15, 20. Am I getting the most out of that service? It’s different. It comes down to everyone’s different perspectives.
Greg Posner: 36:30: 36:50: It’s also, I mean, I could speak from the TV perspective, just fatigue kicks in, right? Like, which streaming service do I need to open up to get this? Like, in the States, right, I was watching Thursday Night Football last week, and it’s on Amazon Prime, like who thinks to launch on Amazon Prime to start watching live TV when I have YouTube TV, and I have everything. It’s just like, all right, I don’t know where to go.
James Batchelor: 36:51: 37:45: And again, it goes to the whole macroeconomic climate. People are tightening the belt. People are looking at what subscriptions they are going to cut down on. I’ll be honest, we’re looking at dropping… We’ve got Sky TV, our cable TV. We’re going to drop that because we spend most time watching Disney Plus and Netflix. We can justify those because we use them enough. but we don’t justify sky how many people can justify playing um paying a game subscription when there’s so many free free alternatives or you buy a call of duty and it lasts you a year if you’re that sort of player you know but the amount of people playing fortnight you know kids playing fortnight they only play fortnight you know they don’t need a subscription they don’t need other games like you know game subscriptions aren’t uh a guaranteed success. Like I think there’s a lot going on here that that raises two questions of whether or not subscription can take off and disrupt the games industry that the way that they did the all other forms of entertainment.
Greg Posner: 37:45: 38:10: I know it seems like Microsoft’s giving it their best try. And yeah, for as an Xbox player, I hope it works out. But we’ll see where that goes. I don’t want to keep you for much longer. And I know you got a busy day here. One of my last questions I have for you is anywhere from one to three, you can pick your number here. From an experience perspective, like you launched the game and it’s just like, wow, what are the top three games this year that have really like
James Batchelor: 38:11: 40:36: blowing you out of the water. Number three, I’m going to give a shout out to this game called Deceive Incorporated. This scratches a very particular itch for me. Do you remember the multiplayer for Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood? I briefly remember it. So there’s a brilliant multiplayer game where you are all You’ll pick a character, there are clones of that character who are NPCs in the level, and you’ve got to work out which of the clones are the enemy players and assassinate them. And if you assassinate an NPC that’s not an enemy player, it just disappears. Deceiving Corporate is like that, but better, because it’s very spy-themed, it’s a heist, and you’re all disguised as NPCs. Half of you are on a team who are trying to pull off some sort of heist. Half of you are the guards who are trying to work out which NPCs are the human characters. The guards and thieves can all kind of scan any NPC you walk past and change your disguise at any moment. It’s a brilliant kind of stealth and social deduction game. I absolutely adore it. It’s brilliant. Number two, I would say Baldur’s Gate 3. I am barely three hours into it, but I love it. I had no interest before, people went absolutely nuts about it at launch. I was like, okay, I’ll give this a go. And honestly, after years and years of my colleagues trying to get me into D&D, I think Baldur’s Gate 3 might be the one that does it. Because those little dice roll, like mini games, not mini games, but like, yeah, the little dice rolls, like actually showing you the dice and letting you kind of influence it with your your bonuses and so forth, rather than just a small box, a text box, someone saying, oh, you rolled this really opens up the idea of, okay, I get it now I understand what’s making my choices. So I’m really keen to get more into that. Number one, hands down, Tears of the Kingdom. I am absolutely loving the new Zelda game. I’m a Nintendo fan. I’m always going to love the new Nintendo game. Breath of the Wild was amazing. I’m a bit more of a traditionalist 3D Zelda fan, so I wasn’t sure about Breath of the Wild to begin with, but I recognize it’s incredible. Tears of the King is like that and so much more. I don’t want it to end. I’ve been playing it since launch. I’ve put about 70 hours into it. I’ve only done three of the main areas on the surface. And I don’t want to finish it because I want to say, OK, now I’ll go and do this bit. Now I’ll do this bit. No, I haven’t done enough shrines yet. And I’m done. I’m done with the depths. And I love it. Absolutely love it. Amazing game.
Greg Posner: 40:36: 40:52: Awesome. Yeah. I’ve heard great things about Baldur’s Gate. I’ve heard great things about Zelda, clearly. So I’m going to look up Deceive Incorporated. It sounds like a fun game. So I appreciate that. That’s a great list. I think that’s all I have for you, James. I appreciate you coming on and learning about the industry. Is there anything you want to just talk about or plug?
James Batchelor: 40:54: 41:41: No, if I may just briefly plug my book again, The Best Nonviolent Video Games is available from retailers in hardback and in ebook form. You can find links to buy it. I’ve actually got a website for I’ve published a couple of fiction books as well. So it’s jamesbatchelor.me There are links to buy the book there and a couple of other books I’ve got. I’ve published two books. One is Wandless. It’s an urban fantasy novella about a witch on the run. She’s escaped from a prison camp. It’s kind of Harry Potter if the Muggles found out that witches and wizards live among them and put them in nice prisons. And then Blow the House Down is an action-packed take on fairy tales. And it’s what happens when you sit in a room with your wife and your sister who are watching Once Upon a Time and think, I wish this had more gunfights.
Greg Posner: 41:42: 41:58: Perfect. Awesome. Well, we’ll have all of James’ information as well as information to his book and gamesindustry.biz on our PlayerEngaged website we’ll talk about. I really do appreciate hearing your insight in the industry, James. Thank you so much for joining me today and I hope you have a great rest of your day.
James Batchelor: 41:58: 42:00: Thank you so much. Really, really appreciate you having me on.