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Protocol Gaming
Your essential guide to the business of gaming with Seth Schiesel and Shakeel Hashim.

The best game is the one your friends play

The best game is the one your friends play

This week in Protocol Gaming, your weekly guide to the business of video games: Gaming is more about people than technology, Twitch's mea culpa and the two tech trends EA's Samantha Ryan is most looking forward to.

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We're having our first panel tomorrow at 2 p.m. ET! Join Seth; Activision Blizzard president Daniel Alegre; AMD chief of gaming solutions Frank Azor; Electronic Arts senior vice president Samantha Ryan; head of Facebook Gaming Vivek Sharma; and Manticore CEO Frederic Descamps. RSVP here.

The Big Story

It's all about the people

When you're first learning about this industry (if it's not in your blood because you grew up a player), you constantly hear the same refrain: "It's all about the games."

It's a phrase loaded with good intentions. When someone repeats it, they usually mean: "You may think success in video games is about fancy technology or the smartest business model or marketing or distribution or brilliant strategies, but it's not. Games are fundamentally an idiosyncratic, creative product, so all that really matters is the content itself."

That's the truth, but it's not the whole truth. And to folks who don't actually play games, it risks giving the misleading, incomplete impression that game "content" is a static artifact like a book, album or film.

Games are not static artifacts. Games — from tic-tac-toe to chess to Monopoly to Call of Duty — are different because they are engines and context for genuine interpersonal human engagement.

It's not really all about the games. It's all about the people.

  • Games connect people with a direct, emotional intimacy that linear, noninteractive media simply cannot.
  • Direct, emotional intimacy with other people may be the most valuable, magical thing in the world, especially right now.

That is why I didn't play on the new game consoles from Microsoft and Sony at all last weekend — because my friends don't have them. To me, playing games without friends is work, not play.

Like so many people right now, I miss my friends. So I spent the weekend with some of them, within the worlds of a 17-year-old game (Eve Online) and a 16-year-old game (World of Warcraft). And I don't mean playing with a bunch of old bittervets. A cousin I hadn't spent time with in years asked if I would teach him about Eve; a new friend who just bought her first gaming PC in a decade wanted to hang out in WoW.

Even nominally single-player games are often sustained by their communities (not to mention leaderboards).

  • Games require players.
  • The companies and games that foster that social layer and nurture the fundamental human need for touch are those that thrive over the long term.

So when people ask me (as they do), "What's the best game?" or "What's the best console?" I ask them in return, "Where are your friends?" Because that is where we all belong.

- Seth Schiesel

Overheard

  • "When we think about Game Pass on our side, it's another outlet for our content creators to go find new users, to find a way to monetize those users that may not have played their games." — Xbox CFO Tim Stuart said Game Pass offers the chance for games like Grand Theft Auto to drive revenue from users who would never have bought the game by itself.
  • "Your frustration and confusion with recent music-related copyright issues is completely justified. Things can — and should — be better." — Twitch apologized to streamers for the way it handled a recent influx of DMCA notifications, saying it was unprepared.
  • "Lil Nas X put on an incredible show this weekend." — Roblox CEO David Baszucki said the service's virtual rap concert last weekend received more than 33 million visits.

JOIN US TOMORROW

Azure

Join Protocol's Seth Schiesel tomorrow at 11 a.m. PT / 2 p.m. ET for a discussion on the evolution of gaming. He will be joined by Activision Blizzard President Daniel Alegre, EA SVP Samantha Ryan and Facebook Head of Gaming Vivek Sharma. This event is presented by Microsoft Azure. RSVP now for more details.

RSVP

Lootbox

5 Questions for …

Electronic Arts' Samantha Ryan

What was your first gaming system?

My first gaming machine was the Atari 2600, which my sisters and I played until the joysticks wore out. I was also very fond of the Commodore 64! We lived in the middle of Ohio farm country and were always looking for something to keep us busy as kids!

What is the most important trend in the game business in 2020?

One of the most important trends over the past few years, not just in 2020, has been the rise of customization and user-generated content. In fact, for some younger players, games with powerful creation tools were their first experiences. Giving "power to players" to shape, grow and evolve their play experiences collaboratively with professional developers will become increasingly important, particularly for some genres.

I have always loved the creation and building process. I remember teaching myself how to build levels with professional engine tools back in the days when I worked on No One Lives Forever. I never could have imagined less than 20 years later my own child would have the same power in tools available to any gamer anywhere!

What has been the most overlooked aspect or development in the game business over the last year?

Game development is a unique blend of entertainment and technology, which makes it especially difficult! As we move into next gen, with more advanced graphics and gameplay, teams are working hard to push the limit … but innovation can take time and a lot of collaboration. This is particularly difficult in a work-from-home environment. It's just harder for creativity to come out naturally on a Zoom.

I'm awed at the work our teams have done in the past year working from home and grateful that EA has been so supportive of our employees during these difficult times. And yet, I see the impact it has, particularly on games in early development or games finaling. We'll all have to continue to find new ways to work remotely. The great thing about our industry is that we are creative and resilient!

What new technology or technical development are you most looking forward to?

There's two completely different technical trends I'm looking forward to — vastly different than each other! The first is the development of sophisticated NPC AI. Imagine playing an RPG where instead of stiff, lifeless NPCs with limited quests, a player could interact with emotionally rich characters in a more meaningful and varied way. I love RPGs and believe that is an area ripe for future innovation. The second is that I want to be able to take my HD games on the go and play them anywhere. Single platforms feel so limited, and I think players will continue to push for cross-play and cross-progression experiences.

What games are you playing recently that don't come from your company?

As I write this, I'm about to start AC Valhalla and as well as the new Ghost of Tsushima co-op. I just finished about 30 hours in Genshin Impact … although I am probably ready to churn. My husband and I often play Age of Empires II together on weekends, and I was literally bugging Phil a few weeks ago on how AOE4 is coming along. We also just played the last Borderlands DLC Bounty of Blood, although we're sad there's not more DLC.

Occasionally I play Wynncraft with my son, and he's excited as they announced a new update. He recently wrote a 76-page exploration piecing together Wynncraft lore, and I helped him spell-check it. Yes, I am doing my part to contribute to the next generation of gamers! I also still play Marvel Contest of Champions on my iPhone, although I'll admit I don't play as much as I used to. Gardenscapes is another old standby to kill time. I just finished my Horse Farm, which is pretty far in. 😊

Look Out For

Miles Morales is trash

Thanks to a very funny bug, that's literally true. He can also become a fridge, if that's more your vibe.

Thanks for reading. Tell your friends and colleagues to subscribe here, and send tips, feedback and ideas to sschiesel@protocol.com and shakeel@protocol.com. See you next week.

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