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Industry Figures Weigh In On PS3 Hacker Debacle

January 31, 2011Written by Sebastian Moss

Formerly ELSPA, UKIE is the UK’s leading videogames trade body, with the organisation protecting and representing the UK video game sector – one that has been damaged by growing piracy, causing many developers to lose their jobs, and many titles to lose funding. To learn their take on the consequences of console piracy and how it will affect high end games development, we talked to Michael Rawlinson, Director General of UKIE.

Hi Michael, could you start by introducing yourself, and telling us about your work at the UKIE?

I’m Michael Rawlinson, Director General of UKIE, the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment. UKIE is here to ensure that the interests of the video games and interactive entertainment industry is represented positively to government and to the general public and that the industry is rightfully regarded as one of the UK’s leading creative industries.

Last time we talked, you told us that “as we move forward the smart money is on companies designing and delivering games that will circumvent the need for piracy”, such a statement seems to suggest a free-to-play microtransaction or ad-based business model. However, such a model may not be able to support high end games development costs for AAA titles. As such, do you foresee an end to such titles, with a focus on smaller titles? If so, can consoles remain a part of the gaming industry, when large, blockbuster titles are their main selling point?

The wonderful thing about the video games and interactive entertainment industry – and I think we’ve shown this over the last two years in particular – is just how vibrant the industry is and how it can accommodate a broad range of business models. That is why – in 2010, for example – you are able to have record-breaking AAA titles, whilst at the same time see the casual gaming market boom, particularly online. The games on many of these websites rely on micro transactions, and we’re seeing this more and more in the casual market. Equally on mobile, games often start as free to play and then move to a one-off charge, with additional payments for add-ons. And lets not forget, AAA titles have been doing this for a while as well, for example releasing expansion packs for their already established core audience.

Console gameplay has never been bigger – overall, in 2010 UK consumers bought a total of 63 million console & pc videogames – which works out at more than one per person in the UK.

This traditional model will sit alongside new and innovative ways to bring interactive entertainment to consumers.

Some analysts suggest or predict a DRM based future for consoles, with serial codes and limited installs. Do you believe such course of action would be a step forward, or a step back?

Games piracy is stealing. It harms consumers, local retailers, the UK’s economy and the individuals and businesses who create the games in the first place. The industry therefore needs to consider all options available to it to prevent games piracy.

The games industry already offers consumer a wide choice of games, on different formats and at different prices. We must ensure that any anti-piracy measures do not compromise the offerings that the industry gives to consumers.

Equally, how would the need to always be connected to an online network affect the market?

Over the last few years the online offering of video games and interactive entertainment has really taken off. Consumers have a sophisticated online-console offer in the form of PlayStation Network and Microsoft Xbox Live. These allow consumers to download games to their consoles, or to play with others, anywhere in the world. And the internet has surely been a huge spur to the growth in casual gaming, particularly on social networking websites. The online offering is quite staggering. Publishers and developers are also adding online capability and content to packaged good products. These online features will encourage consumers to buy legitimate product so they can benefit from this rich additional content.

But at the same time lets not forget that many games – if not all – can still be played offline, be it on consoles, mobile phones or traditional PC boxed products. Instead the internet revolution has brought consumers greater choice, and one in which the video games and interactive entertainment industry has capitalized on to ensure the offering to all consumers is as broad as possible. This will no doubt continue as the market continues to expand.

Could you predict what damage piracy will have on the UK console market in 2011 – both to platform holders, and developers?

My position on piracy is very clear: it is wrong, it is stealing, and it affects our talented UK workforce who worked hard to produce high quality content. Piracy means developers are not rewarded for their creativity and ultimately cannot afford to keep making games; it affects everyone in the industry. We are talking about jobs here, and the survival of the UK’s video games industry.

UKIE has consistently argued for greater protection for intellectual property rights, and this is a position we maintain into 2011. We will continue to work with Government and monitor developments, including the implementation of the Digital Economy Act and the Independent Review of IP, to ensure our members’ interests are represented.

Looking further to the future, if a viable way to combat piracy is not found, what impact do you believe it will have on the gaming industry?

The Industry can mitigate a level of piracy through technology and enforcement. However, we ask the public to understand that not only is file sharing illegal but it means fewer games will get made and players will simply end up with a limited choice. This is no good for entertainment, careers for upcoming game makers or jobs for the economy. It’s a straightforward as that.

On the topic of platform holder’s rights to try and pursue legal action against hackers, civil liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation told us that “it’s important that the research and gaming communities resist efforts to intimidate them”, and are against such action – where do you stand on that matter?

Without commenting on the specifics of an ongoing case, it is clear that platform holders – or any rights holder for that matter – should have the right and ability to legally pursue those they feel have infringed their copyright. This is people’s livelihoods we are talking about here, jobs in the video games industry, money being put back into our economy. Gaming and interactive entertainment has never been more accessible for individuals, and there are a range of business models to suit everyone’s needs. There is also a vibrant trade-in/second hand market. I am confident the market will continue to evolve, and those who persist in committing intellectual property theft will be dealt with through the legal system.

PlayStation LifeStyle would like to thank Michael Rawlinson for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer the interview questions and Gemma Hersh for setting the interview up.

It’s hard to argue that piracy is anything but bad, but Sony’s attempts to suppress the tools to hack the PS3 has raised many eyebrows. Where do you stand on the situation? Let us know in the comments below.

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