The new pixels aren't messing around.
The good old times of retro games and its bulky accompaniments are a thing of the past as we enter the age of immersive gameplay. Gone are the analog joy sticks and 30 frames-per-second (fps) graphics, and in its place the casual gamer can now experience the stunning engagement of Virtual Reality (VR) gameplay, from which itself comes a dimension of exciting and endless possibilities of VR applications. We speak with three captains of some of the most well-known names in the gaming industry for their insights into the ever-changing face of gaming as they front this new experimental wave of gameplay to the masses.
Clive serves as Unity's Chief Marketing Officer. In the role, he is responsible for global strategies and tactics in customer marketing, product marketing and ecommerce.
Prior to Unity, Clive served as COO for Zynga where he successfully transitioned the company's revenue and audience to mobile. He was Chief Executive Officer of DeNA West, the company's American and European division. In that role, he oversaw the company's mobile social game platform, Mobage West, and also managed DeNA's western third-party business and first-party game studios in San Francisco, Vancouver and Chile. Prior to that, he was Vice President of Studios, managing DeNA's internal studios in North America and Europe, and the Vice President of Marketing and Revenue at ngmoco, Inc., a mobile game company acquired by DeNA in October 2010.
Before joining, ngmoco, Clive spent more than 15 years at Electronic Arts where he served as Vice President of Marketing, managing some of the world's most successful game franchises including FIFA Soccer, Need for Speed, Medal of Honor and Command & Conquer. Additionally, he held management positions at Mattel, Inc., where he led international marketing and licensing for Hot Wheels Motorsports.
Hi Mr. Downie, it’s a pleasure having you for this chat. Tell us about yourself in 30 words.
I’m a marketer fortunate to have more than twenty years of experience in an industry I love, avid sports fan, and most importantly, very proud father.
What do you think are some of the challenges of creating a unique gaming experience?
I don’t think gaming is much different than other art mediums. There is total freedom of expression, so the sky is the limit. Many creators are inspired by experiences they’ve seen, so the friction between iterating and innovating is perpetuated. They must decide what the experience is grounded in, whether it be an art style, narrative, music, characters -- and see that vision through.
You have been in Unity for some time now. How do you think its marketing has reached out to the masses? (Eg. Better understanding of Unity games)
In my two years at Unity, we’ve gotten better at talking and really listening to our customers. That work ladders up to everything we do: better understanding of their needs and pain points influences our product, and in turn our marketing. We help developers see why our features are critical to bringing their visions to life and building better businesses. Because we’re a B2B company, mainstream awareness has come more slowly, but many gamers recognize Unity as the foundation of some of their favorite games, like Angry Birds to Lara Croft GO, INSIDE and Job Simulator, to name a few. You’ll see more here as we continue to help Unity creators share their stories with the world.
Virtual Reality (VR) is a hot topic now. Where do you think it will lead the gaming industry to?
There has been a lot said about VR and where we’re going. Early projections were more bullish than they should have been, but we think five, ten years from now we’ll start to see some real adoption. The game industry has always adopted and helped accelerate new technologies, and gamers are eager for innovation. So, we’re seeing existing players like Ubisoft and Sony get involved and newer pioneers like Owlchemy Labs and their Job Simulator really helping to define new types of gaming. VR enables wholly immersive gaming that blends cinema with non-linear storytelling, which opens up a world of possibilities and design intricacies, from sound to space and scale. We think VR gaming will become a mainstay for gamers, but believe non-gaming applications will be what tips VR to the mainstream.
How does Unity intend to be part of this phenomenon?
You need a 3D engine to create VR. We have more than 10 years of experience and technology that makes it easy to get started. Anyone can download Unity, but it does require some basic programming skills. We’re continuing to work on more artist-friendly tools. VR will be driven by a wide array of content created by indies, early adopters, tinkerers and innovators, and we want to be the foundation that supports all of them.
Pokemon GO was a worldwide success. What role did Unity play in its story?
We’ve been honored to be part of their journey! Niantic used Unity’s 3D engine to power the game, including our built-in capabilities to publish across Android and iOS.
The game implemented Augmented Reality (AR) for its players, which was considered new for the gaming arena. How else do you think AR can be incorporated into Unity’s works?
Part of what made Pokemon GO so successful was its accessibility: anyone with a smartphone could instantly play and connect with the concept. But it is just one example. Thousands of developers use Unity for different types of AR -- in fact, 80% of Vuforia (an AR platform) apps are made with Unity. There are so many interesting applications, like games HoloGrid: Monster Battle and LEGO: FUSION Town Master, retail, automotive, just to name a few. We’re continuing to invest in technologies that will enable advanced graphics, performance and interactivity for AR apps across phones and dedicated headsets, like Hololens.
How can the mechanics of storytelling be better conveyed through the use of VR and AR?
Everyone creating for VR is pioneering a new language of storytelling. Rapid iteration and experimentation is par for the course as we figure out what will work, and what won’t. The intricacies of 360 degree space invites complexities, and exciting challenges. The rules fly out the window. Creators need to anticipate a new level of depth, and compel the viewer to experience it -- for example, what would a player see when looking at the underside of a table? How does sound draw your eye? How do you create parallel actions, or prioritize one over the other so a player can still experience both? And the complexity goes onward from there. We just have to continue enabling people to create, experiment and experience great content to push the medium forward.
How will Unity be enhancing gameplay for mobile phone games?
Graphics are at the core of what our developers do, so it’s an area of continued focus and investment. We want to help developers take advantage of the latest generation of devices and create faster, richer experiences. We recently announced deepened support for the Metal API for iOS and macOS, as well as Vulkan -- both of which are designed to increase speed and overall quality. In turn, players enjoy more beautiful, engaging experiences.
What would be your idea of a perfect game?
I really do play a lot on mobile; I’m often on the go, so games with shorter levels are ideal for playtime throughout the day. I’m drawn to action and ones with increasing difficulty --current favorites include Legendary, Critical Ops and Gear Club. A little friendly competition also never hurts.
Hello Mr. Takigawa, it’s a pleasure to have you share with us your insights. Could you share with us about yourself?
I have been working in Sony from 1986 and I have been fortunate to work in different regions for Sony, including Europe, South Africa and China and to work on various Sony’s segments, like Vaio, mobile and now PlayStation. Currently I am the Southeast Asia regional head of Sony Interactive Entertainment Hong Kong Limited (Singapore Branch).
What do you think Sony Interactive Entertainment (SIE) is to both gamers and industry players?
We believe SIE’s PlayStation brand is synonymous with gaming, especially console gaming. PlayStation has been around for more than 20 years and we have been the forefront of gaming platform worldwide, and this goes hand-in-hand with the gaming content that is available via our platform. Recently, ever since we unveiled the PlayStation VR and the PlayStation 4 Pro, we’ve received a tremendous response from gamers and developers alike.
There have been some top quality titles available for PS4 platform, such as Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Uncharted 4. How does SIE plan to continue to keep up with expectations of gamers?
PlayStation works closely with developers to enable them to tap into the features of our PlayStation 4 console, cutting-edge technology such as the PlayStation®VR and PlayStation®4 Pro to not only create quality gaming content but also an enhanced gaming experience.
The PS4 is capable of supporting 4K resolution and HDR content, allowing gamers to experience a higher level of immersive gameplay. What would be the next technological step for SIE?
We are consistently seeking innovation in developing technology to improve PlayStation not only as a gaming platform but an all-inclusive entertainment platform. With the recent launch of the PlayStation VR and PlayStation 4 Pro, we are dedicated to working with developers to expand the VR and 4K content for all gamers.
Tell us one game you feel that might change the industry.
We have many groundbreaking titles that push the quality of gaming content. The Last Guardian, Uncharted 4, Horizon Red Dawn are among the slew of amazing games that puts gamers at the very edge of their seats with amazing graphics, gameplay and a solid story line. Personally, I feel Uncharted 4 gave me a satisfying feeling. It was a very well-made game where Naughty Dog has developed a great narrative experience while showcasing what PS4 console can do, as the visual of the game looks very impressive.
In your opinion, what is/are the unique characteristic(s) of gaming within the SEA region?
We feel that SEA is a unique region as it comprises of many different countries with different culture and languages, which affects the gaming audience in SEA. The gamers here have a wide variety of taste and influence, from console gaming to casual mobile gaming, from competitive to online cooperative gaming and from Western pop culture to Asian pop culture, like anime. Essentially, we see SEA as a region with huge potential since majority of the population is quite young and they have been exposed to gaming in one way or another.
What can we expect from SIE in the future?
SIE will further evolve PlayStation as an entertainment hub for all while we still keep providing the best interactive entertainment experience to a wide variety of customers. In a near future, we are looking forward to releasing highly anticipated titles like The Last Guardian on December 6th and Horizon Zero Dawn on February 28th, 2017.
Mr Tan Chek Ming is the Managing Director of DigiPen (Singapore). Prior to this, he was the Strategic Advisor from June 2013 to Sept 2014.
He was the Deputy President (Operations) of the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) from Sept 2009 to Jan 2013. At SIT, he managed the overseas universities' partnership, strategic planning, Marcom, Comms & IT and Estate development. He helped start SIT in Sept 2009 after working on its conceptual plans during his 2008-2009 stint at the Ministry of Education (MOE). Before joining MOE, Mr Tan was the Assistant Managing Director at the Singapore Economic Board (EDB)'s New York office from 2005-2008 where he oversaw EDB's America, Japan and European operations.
Hello Mr. Tan, thank you for taking the time to chat with us. Could you tell us more about DigiPen (Singapore)?
DigiPen (Singapore) started in 2008, at the invitation of the Economic Development board (EDB). In 2010, it became a partner with the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), Singapore’s 5th Autonomous University. We teach Computer Science, Design, Digital Art & Animation and Engineering. DigiPen students from different programs work together (through projects) as a way of demonstrating what they have learnt. In this way, we educate students to be more versatile and team-ready, mimicking actual commercial environments.
You mentioned before DigiPen (Singapore) “started nothing more than a hopeful idea” between you and Mr. Claude Comair (President and Founder of DigiPen) in early 2000. What was your vision for the Singapore branch at that time?
That was a long time ago! I was in EDB then, helping to develop the digital media industry. I have always believed that the success of the digital media industry (and the service sector in general) hinges on talents. To achieve that, Singapore needs good educational institutes in the respective areas of expertise. That was the raison d'être for bringing DigiPen into Singapore - to provide that special training for the digital media industry.
I met Claude and Jason Chu (COO of DigiPen) at an EDB arranged dinner for game companies at Redmond/USA. Claude was receptive to EDB’s pitch to set-up DigiPen in Singapore. That was how it all began, just a hopeful idea and a meeting of minds. But look at where it has brought us. It is indeed very satisfying to see the outcome after so many years. Perhaps it is because “you reap what you sow” that brought me back to DigiPen (Singapore).
What can you tell us about DigiPen’s collaborative efforts with other companies?
We make a deliberate and conscientious effort to consult companies in the digital economy. DigiPen is about “theory and practice”. Digital technology advancement is moving at an inexorable pace. In order to make DigiPen relevant, we must keep in tandem with the industry and improve our pedagogy accordingly. Otherwise, our “theory and practice” will lag the industry, and we will be ineffective.
Because DigiPen is very well known for developing talents for game companies, I would say our nexus with game companies are the strongest. For e.g. Ubisoft, Koei Tecmo, Bandai Namco, and gumi Asia engage us actively, not just in recruiting our graduates/interns but also updating us about their businesses, staging art competitions, breakfast with their CEOs, industry talks, etc. In Singapore, we want to be the University of Choice for the game industry.
Moreover, we are also very pertinent to non-game companies. This is because our graduates are already working in Continental Automotive, Autodesk, PSA, ST Electronics (Training and Simulation Systems), P&G, Quintiles and SMEs like Esco and AP Origin. These companies need the same computer science, design and artistic skills so highly desired by game companies.
In 2009, the WSQ DigiPen®-Ubisoft® Campus Programme was launched to help working professionals’ transition into careers in the game and media industry. What influences drove this programme into fruition?
This is an excellent example of how we collaborate with a specific company. Ubisoft and DigiPen came into Singapore in the same year, 2008. Ubisoft could not get enough of the type of manpower they needed and we were still ramping up. So, we teamed up to create a 10-month programme to convert PMETs to computer science, designers and artists for Ubisoft. It worked because both DigiPen and Ubisoft combined our expertise to solve a manpower shortage problem. Ubisoft recruited extensively from this programme until DigiPen could provide enough graduates for the game industry. As a result, Ubisoft is the biggest hirer of DigiPen alumni in Singapore.
We know that DigiPen has partnered with Koei Tecmo, how has this partnership alter the way DigiPen students learn?
This collaboration is no different from the collaborations we have with Ubisoft, Bandai Namco, and Continental Automotive. We work with our partners to arrange internships, company talks, and special get-together sessions for our students in their junior and senior year. Such arrangements expose the students to a variety of company cultures and practices. It also helps the students match what they learn at DigiPen with actual commercial challenges and make them even more productive upon graduation. Our graduates realize this and have come to appreciate the DigiPen environment more, even though it was painful for them when they were undergraduates. Hopefully the current students can take advantage of this and we hope to form more partnerships with companies to provide opportunities for our students.
Last year also saw the establishment of DigiPen Game Studios (DGS), a partnership with the Media Development Authority (now reorganized as the IMDA) and Nintendo, which organized the first annual DigiPen Game Conference for third party developers. Where do you see this initiative heading to in the future?
Again, our motivation in doing this was to establish a closer relationship with companies, in this case Nintendo. DGS intends to be an industry developer and a publisher. We start with a call-for-proposals every year during the DigiPen Game Conference. Being able to work with Nintendo is a wonderful opportunity. Together, we hope to mentor and publish more made-in-Singapore games. Nintendo, with the recent Pokémon GO sensation, Super Mario Run on the iPhone plus the upcoming Nintendo Switch console, is riding a new wave of popularity. If we can catch this wave, it will do our game industry a lot of good.
DigiPen Singapore graduates have begun establishing their own independent game studios here in Singapore. What does this mean for the gaming industry, both locally and worldwide?
For the game industry to flourish, we need both the MNCs and the SMEs. Our alumni game studios are part of the SMEs. We have studied the game industries in Norway, Finland, and Sweden. We are very impressed with the mix of MNCs and SMEs that they have. They support and reinforced each other. They had an earlier start but their circumstances are quite similar to Singapore.
I hope that we can grow such a system in Singapore and our alumni game studios can contribute to this sector. We want to see more made-in-Singapore games and more home grown studios. We want to see award winning games and successful companies emanating from Singapore so that the world can take us seriously. I got involved with the digital media industry some 20 years ago and we still have a lot to do. But I believe that DigiPen (Singapore)’s presence and the pipeline of graduates we are churning out will help Singapore in that endeavor. Give us another 5-10 years.