The head of Electronic Arts, one of the biggest publishers and developers in all of games, has a bold prediction for where the future of video games may be headed. During an earnings call today, EA CEO Andrew Wilson said that on a long enough timeline, video games may get closer to TV, movies, and music where the content you consume is not bound to any one specific piece of hardware.
«We are planning for the future,» Wilson said. «We see a world where games are no longer bound by the device, or CPU or GPU; we see a world where they span across platforms, across business models, across geographies.»
Advancements to cloud and streaming efforts in gaming may accelerate the walls coming down, Wilson suggested, and it’s not hard to see why. In the music, TV, and movie businesses, the content you purchase—either as a direct download or through a subscription to a streaming service—moves with you no matter what hardware you have. That’s totally different than the traditional gaming experience where the games you purchase on one platform only play on that specific hardware.
Wilson went on to say that it has made some organisational changes recently to help EA prepare itself for a future where games can be played on any device. Wilson specifically referenced how EA veteran Samantha Ryan is taking over for outgoing executive Jade Raymond is helping to shape the future of EA.
«Some of the decisions we made during the quarter, specifically around Samantha Ryan, … we’re bringing these types of games together that serve as a very particular player cohort in the context of action, adventure, RPG, and simulation,» Wilson said. «We feel very good about the level of collaboration we’re going to be able to achieve across that group to deliver creativity, innovation, and execution more broadly.»
EA already operates a subscription—but not streaming—service in the form of EA/Origin Access. Wilson said subscribers on average tend to play more games, spend more time in the games they play, and spend more money overall. This is all good for EA, but to get people to subscribe, Wilson said EA needs to create new games to bring them in, and then establish a back catalog of compelling content to keep them there. This sounds like the Netflix model, and there appears to be a race among gaming companies to become the first «Netflix of Games.»
To that end, Wilson said EA is always thinking about acquiring content, talent, and IP over time, which again sounds very much like what Netflix is doing to build up a robust library that gets people to sign up and stay. EA is working on a streaming service, and just this week it started to share more details on what’s known as Project Atlas.
Intriguingly, Wilson’s comments match up closely with what Bethesda boss Pete Hines and Take-Two chief Strauss Zelnick said previously about closed system walls coming down. Hines said at PAX Aus that he sees a future where you buy a game and play it on whatever platform you want.
«You might decide to play it on the Sony machine or the Microsoft machine or use the Google [streaming] service, but it will start—I think—to look more like it really doesn’t matter what you choose to play it on,» he said. «You just want to play this game on the thing you choose to play your games on whether that’s because where your friends are or whatever. Things like cross-platform play, cross-platform progression, all of that stuff.»
As for Zelnick, he previously talked about how the «closed system walls» that exist between Microsoft, Sony, and others need to come down. He didn’t mention new consoles by name, but it makes sense that Zelnick—as well as Hines and Wilson—would be among those briefed on the capabilities of new consoles.
«The closed system walls are coming down, and they have to,» he said. «Streaming is going to accelerate those walls coming down. We’re all here for the consumers. If you’re going to create rules that don’t benefit the consumers but somehow you think benefit your enterprise, you’re mistaken. Consumers will go elsewhere. You have to pay attention to what the consumer wants.»
Sony already operates in that space with PlayStation Now, while Microsoft is working on a game-streaming service of its own. Google’s Project Cloud streaming service is already showing with Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey that you don’t need a console to play the newest, best-looking games.
Looking ahead, Microsoft has already confirmed it is working on multiple new consoles, and one of them—Xbox Scarlett—could place more of an emphasis on streaming. According to Microsoft insider Brad Sams, one of the consoles Microsoft is making is a streaming box, while the other one is a more traditional console with support for local play.
Platform-exclusives like Sony’s God of War and the Halo franchise on Xbox are likely not going to go anywhere, as they help the platform-holders sell systems. Even if streaming takes up a bigger piece of the pie, companies like Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo will all surely still push their own hardware and games in some capacity.