EA: Games providers must adapt for connected TV rewards

Games providers face a number of challenges in addressing the connected TV market but there are huge opportunities if they approach the market in the rights way, according to Richard Hilleman, chief creative officer at games provider Electronic Arts (EA). 

The key is for games providers to respect the time and money available to this consumer segment, and to develop games features that appeal to the market, said Hilleman, giving the opening keynote at the TV Connect event in London. He said EA will build games that have cross-platform appeal, with the ability for devices such as tablets and TVs to interact.

Games can be delivered to connected TVs via apps, browsers and streaming. Streaming delivery is currently the primary route to market for connected TV games, said Hilleman. He said the use of HTML5 would also help transform the gaming experience on TVs. However, gaming companies would have to make the software stack on connected TVs work to its maximum capability to deliver a compelling experience, he said.

While delivering games via dedicated apps is another route to the connected TV, the problem with apps is that “TVs are not iPhones”, said Hilleman. “Apps are rarely updated on TVs. The majority of the games we have today are client-server games. If you don’t update your app for three and a half years it’s very difficult to keep you in my [gaming] family,” he said.

Delivering games via apps was to some extent inhibited by TV manufacturers’ choice of operating systems, said Hilleman. “I like Linux but I don’t have any games on it. It’s a problem for me. LG has changed onto WebOS which we have done some [games] on [but] Android is becoming a more important part of the ecosystem,” he said.

Hilleman said Android would be the central platform because there were many Android set-tops as well as TVs, and Android would increasingly become ubiquitous across multiple device types, while walled garden systems such as iOS would have limited penetration. “The good thing is that this is a market with explosive growth. Chinese TVs with Android are coming to the US and that’s good news for us. We are optimistic about that change,” he said.

Consuming games on the web is more flexible than delivering them via apps, Hilleman added. However, he said the problem is that browsers on TV are not high-performing enough for EA’s products.

Currently, streaming offered the best means of delivering a compelling gaming experience, Hilleman said. “The good thing about streaming is that it can produce fidelity magic. It looks as good as we can make things look. We can transfer PC derivative products to it easily. The challenge is bandwidth,” he said.

He claimed that in the US, low average bandwidth presented a significant hurdle to streaming games. A partial solution could be if games providers compressed their products at a different stage of the delivery cycle than they currently did.

With streaming, a high cost-per-user was also problematic for games providers, said Hilleman. “I think there will be improvements in [bandwidth] bringing down average cost per user. Server cost per-user is an issue. As penetration grows, there will be improvements,” he said. He added that many of the games favoured by users in the connected TV market were more akin to mobile games than “triple A console games” and these had a smaller bandwidth footprint.

Addressing differences between the connected TV market for games and the console market, Hilleman said that a return to the principles of “coin-op” games rather than high-concept console games would point the way. “The typical player on these platforms will not be typical of console gamers,” he said. However, many mobile gamers play as much as console gamers, but play more often in smaller time segments. The same customer can also behave differently in different environments. Mobile and social gaming are the dominant platforms in the market today, he said.

“I don’t think this audience is going to spend US$60 a time for games,” he said. “We’re going to get less money from them but more often.” Previously, he said, games companies had asked for much too much “controller skill” for users. Touch-based tablets have changed people’s expectation, however. “This device has changed expectations for those non-console players,” he said. Using an iPad can help educate users, for example through the use of video “walk-through” tutorials. However, game design had to be based on more “granular” principles than triple-A concept games, just as tablet and mobile games required different times to resolution, said Hilleman.