Paul Gouge is the CEO and co-founder of Playdemic Studio, setting up Playdemic Studios in 2010 with the aim of becoming the first ‘2nd generation’ social games company – with a mission to create the best social gaming experiences on connected devices, from tablets and smartphones to connected TVs and home devices.
Smart TV Radar met up with Paul, who is a mobile gaming expert with a track record of building successful game design houses and publishing firms, to ask a few questions about where things are going in the Smart TV space.
Smart TV Radar: In terms of development time, is the fragmentation of the industry a barrier to porting games to TV, or creating new games specifically for TV?
Paul Gouge: Yes, for developers any platform that requires many SKUs (Stock Keeping Units) is a challenge from both a cost and time perspective as well as the challenge of ensuring consistent user experience. As is well documented, one of the key reasons behind the success of the iOS platform has been the limited fragmentation.
How would you look to create games designed for the bigger screen and making use of the different control methods (most likely a standard remote control on all but the most expensive sets)?
We don’t see the screen size as anything other than an opportunity, however the controller does present a major challenge both in terms of the buttons and controls available and the latency of recognition. We expect to see significant innovation in this area, not least of which will be the use of smartphones and tablets as controllers.
Do consumers want to sit in front of a big screen to play games that are less advanced than their smartphone equivalents, and restricted by unfriendly methods of control?
Firstly, players already sit in front of TVs to play games in their millions. Secondly I would question the notion of ‘advanced’ as this is highly subjective. In our experience casual gamers are not driven by the technological complexity of the products but rather their entertainment value, and so in this sense would not necessarily draw the comparison in the way you have suggested. Success in this space is about making the most engaging games for this platform and playing to its strengths.
Is there a risk that the market is damaging the whole perception of Smart TV, making it harder for it to gain acceptance (‘once bitten, twice shy’) just as the hardware is beginning to get up to speed?
In the main, no. As game developers, we are used to the early stage of any new platform that is not primarily designed for gaming being a difficult phase. We have seen this in both mobile 1.0 and earlier incarnations of interactive TV. What is crucial however is that the main players in the hardware and middleware space learn from the mistakes of the past to avoid a level of fragmentation and the poor UI and UX that we have seen previously if Smart TV is to be a success for games.
What are your perceived strengths of Smart TV and when do you believe it might reach a point where all new television sets have some degree of connectivity?
For us the major strength of Smart TV is that it makes your prime display within the home truly interactive and connected for the first time, bringing all of the strengths of the connected console business to a much wider market. We believe that in 2013 the majority of panels being sold in western Europe and the US will offer the opportunity to connect, however the challenge is the velocity at which TVs in the home are replaced with these new devices. Historically the life cycle of a television is significantly longer than that of a mobile phone or PC. This will need to change.
What limitations of Smart TV are holding back development (e.g. in app purchases, easy upgrades for games once downloaded, introducing new levels etc)?
There are numerous challenges currently, but the single biggest issue is the absence of a dominant and pervasive OS such as exists in the smartphone and tablet market. For example many of the tactical challenges on a technical level would be solved if Apple TV was to dominate in the way that Apple does in the smartphone and tablet space.
If you were advising the TV manufacturers on what to do to help your business, how would you recommend they build and market Smart TV – primarily to an audience that probably thinks of a Smart TV as being a way to merely access iPlayer or Netflix?
The single biggest piece of advice I would offer is to work with your competitors to agree on a standardised OS and set of APIs to ensure that fragmentation and development complexity is minimised. This is better for all stakeholders, developers, consumers and manufacturers, but is always seen by manufacturers as a threat to their competitive advantage. Mobile 1.0 should prove to TV manufacturers that it is in fact the opposite.
With more and more consumers now sitting in front of the TV whilst using their smartphone or tablet, we’re hearing a lot more every day about the ‘second screen’ experience to utilise a second device to interact with TV content. How do you see this working for your games, either current or in development (e.g. social interaction)?
This is where the definition of a ‘game’ becomes quite loose. We are seeing some very interesting integrations of interactive entertainment on tablets and smartphones with broadcast TV. For example the recent Walking Dead app which used audio fingerprinting to build a meaningful interaction between the app and the linear broadcast. Second screen for us however is additional to the broadcast experience rather than being an end in itself.
As an alternative to developing specifically for a Smart TV platform, will wireless screen mirroring of your smartphone, laptop or tablet screen possibly render many Smart TV operating systems obsolete with people simply ‘beaming’ content from the ‘ultimate remote control’?
Yes, we see this as a big part of the future and it may simply be that the Smart TV revolution is more about plugging an HDMI dongle into your TV to allow it to receive streams from your smartphone or tablet than anything else. However, battery life on these devices will be a major impediment and may very well require your device to be plugged in to truly make this work.
Do you think a consumer would be wise to invest in a new Smart TV today, or wait until there is more standardisation through platforms such as Google TV and Apple’s rumoured entry into the marketplace with a full-blown TV?
Early adopters will always be happy to pay premium prices for technology that will soon be superseded, however we will not reach mass-market penetration until the average consumer understands the value proposition of Smart TV for them.
If Google can get things right this time around, and Apple opens up its TV platform, do you think this will be the ‘tipping point’ for Smart TV and, more specifically, gaming?
Simply, yes. If the dominant middleware and UI is either Apple or a more standardised version of Android then this market will become huge. However, it would be a major strategic shift for Apple to allow other hardware manufacturers access to their OS.