President and Chief Operating Officer at Activision Blizzard
At Activision Blizzard, we've built a deep library of owned IP, and believe that wholly-owned entertainment franchises offer the opportunity for limitless innovation. We create and publish some of the most enduring video games in the industry, supported by the very best creative teams in the world.
Fundamentally, we want our beloved franchises to be available for players all around the world with more frequent content, in whatever format or platform they want and with the commercial model that works most broadly. A franchise is not living up to its potential or expectation if it is not available on mobile – a priority for our future. Our Call of Duty franchise now has free-to-play entry points across mobile, PC and console, and has seen an increase of over 100 million players in a little over a year. This is the template we're applying to our proven franchises as we aim to grow our audiences to 1 billion players.
Our fans want to play together, and Activision Blizzard is about connecting players and communities around the world through social features in our gameplay. We continue to increase investment in our talent and resources across our iconic franchises having recently announced that we intend to hire more than 2,000 developers. Continuing to invest in creating epic entertainment is our commitment to our players and our franchises that we believe will have the biggest impact on the industry for years to come.
The next great game idea can come from anywhere. Traditional game development paths will continue to yield hit games. However, unique aspects of mobile games in particular, currently the fastest-growing part of the game industry, mean that teams do not have to be limited to traditional game development paths when working on mobile.
Diversified and distributed prototyping and marketing strategies, such as those found in hyper-casual mobile games, will continue to migrate into the casual and midcore space, especially as a means of validation for new projects. Teams that combine this with the right technology can accelerate timelines and eliminate wasteful production cycles.
These methods are especially useful in validating new mechanics and themes. In the past year, we've seen the emergence of several new genres and subgenres of mobile games. Just as the growth of streaming TV has resulted in a plethora of niche content, the ability to reach specific audiences on mobile devices means that innovation in mobile games will never be stagnant. Having a big toolbox of strategies and technologies along with the right people to apply them is the key to success in gaming whether you are entering an entrenched space, forging a new path or doing something in between.
At Alienware, it's not just about selling hardware, it's about empowering our community to celebrate PC gaming. Through our community site, AlienwareArena.com, we've been able to offer keys to closed betas and early-access games, in-game items for free-to-play titles, gratis "base game copies" to prepare our community for new DLCs/expansions and even free trial periods to subscription models. Our philosophy is very user-centric, and our community plays a vital role on how we approach innovating gaming experiences.
Cloud Gaming – We recognize the emergence of cloud gaming and shared our vision through Concept UFO. Much of creating the future of gaming revolves around community insights, and since last year we've hosted three unique developer forums. Insights gleaned from these forums have helped us reimagine the future of gaming — in our design and planning phases as well as validation and testing phases. Through these new advancements, our focus is to break down technology barriers to innovate for future gamers and our community.
For tomorrow's gamers – As COVID accelerated the growth of PC gaming, comes its next generation of fans. We collaborate with technology vendors/providers to design experiences that meet the needs of the demographic shift – ranging from high-performing desktop PCs to thin powerhouse laptops. As the gaming population grows, our job is to anticipate the community's changing needs and deliver the best experience to gamers.
Game production will be very much like film production in the future, with big, tentpole titles being made much in the same way movies are made and sold at retail for premium titles, smaller games sold via subscription (like Netflix or HBO), and even smaller games offered for "free" through some type of commercially supported or in-app purchase model (like broadcast television). This is already happening to some extent, but we're beginning to see crossover among platforms and models, with games like Fortnite adopting the same model for synchronous play across many platforms (PC/console/mobile), games like Call of Duty adopting separate titles for different platforms and others mixing and matching.
The advent of streaming technology is about to materially expand the market for premium retail titles, much as innovations in video-on-demand increased demands for movie rental. We should expect companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google to leverage their cloud infrastructure to offer all of the various game models, since each can eliminate the need for consoles, which should double or triple demand for each game. As technology continues to evolve, we may see a return to distributed computing with a "Trojan horse" console buried in a smart speaker or other device one of these tech titans manages to get its customers to buy. That possibility creates a compelling opportunity for owners of game intellectual property, with multiple windows offering them the chance to monetize their games again and again.
As revenue from in-game purchases surpasses game unit sales, publishers are recognizing player engagement is the key metric driving long-term success. For the first time in 2020, the largest U.S. publishers generated more revenue in-game than from the original sale of games.
In this new free-to-play value chain, fans must be converted into players, and the industry must provide content and organized programming both physically and digitally to continually keep communities engaged – and esports is the critical link. This shift has highlighted the intrinsic and standalone value of esports as both an engagement tool and revenue stream. Long-term player engagement requires long-term value creation, community building and contextual programming, and the game experience must continue to evolve with new content.
The outcome of this model shift has phased out massive components of the industry's infrastructure, and created new ones. Notably, traditional marketing and retail channel management intended to create big opening weekend sales are no longer relevant. Instead, investment in perpetual esports programming that begins with a game's launch and continues in perpetuity will create the virtuous cycle of fan and player engagement needed to accelerate publishers' development strategy.
Additionally, investment in the amateur and casual player infrastructure — to convert fans into players — is required to maintain the engagement loop. Unlike traditional sports, esports are being built from the top down, leaving significant gaps in the developmental pipeline and alienating communities. The enjoyment at this level is what builds the volume of players and contributes to fan development culture that extends a game's life cycle.
Kevin McAllister ( @k__mcallister) is a Research Editor at Protocol, leading the development of Braintrust. Prior to joining the team, he was a rankings data reporter at The Wall Street Journal, where he oversaw structured data projects for the Journal's strategy team.