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Peter Molyneux FairPlay Interview

by Thomas on Oct. 16, 2002 @ 11:49 a.m. PDT

Ulp. More from the FairPlay campaign - this time a chat with Lionhead's boss 'Peter Molyneux'. (Includes naughty words.)

Peter Molyneux of Lionhead Studios has been used as a stick to beat the FairPlay campaign with since the campaign's earliest days, on account of a dated but accurate quote about game prices - which he has, in fact, never retracted.

FP: Despite the biggest sales figures ever, under the current economic model the games industry appears to be in crisis. We've apparently lost over 70 developers already this year, publishers are losing fortunes. In a few years time, are we going to have any developers and publishers left?

PM: I believe Sony themselves have stood up and said that they really only want to deal with about five developers in the world. Some would say that the age of the small, boutique developer is struggling at the moment, and a lot of developers and smaller publishers are finding it very hard to keep their head above water.

FP: You seem to be implying is that the big four or five companies only want there to BE four or five developers, and are actively pursuing this strategy as a plan to drive everyone else out of business.

PM: I don't think it's as conspiratorial as that, I just think it's them being very professional... The model of there being 300 developers in the UK, and umpteen publishers in Europe, I just don't know if it's a viable model. Because as you've said, so many of them are losing - haemorrhaging - money at a frightening, frightening level. Just in the last week I've heard of a couple of developers who are in desperate, dire straits, and a couple of publishers as well.

FP: It's not just a couple - *everyone* seems to be losing money at the moment. You look at the recent figures of...

PM: Capcom, Eidos, oh God, yeah... Lara Croft has been sustaining Eidos and enabled them to grow the company to 500-600 people on the back of one game. With that and the Sports Interactive titles they grew the company to be worth about £2bn, they were in the FTSE250 (the list of the top 250 companies in Britain), an astounding story, and now they're worth £120m. Fuck... that's going to piss you off, isn't it?

FP: You seem to be putting the industry's problems - not Eidos' specifically - simply down to terrible management.

PM: A lot of the industry's problems ARE down to terrible management. Obviously my speciality is developers, and a lot of developers are very very badly run - they'll wait until they're three months or three weeks away from running out of money, then they'll run around like headless chickens, and it's going to be hard to see those companies survive. My big hope is that we're just in another big seven-year cycle, where games companies will all merge into bigger and bigger huge studios, and then, just like they did before, they'll all split off and we'll have a stage where we have smaller boutique places again - maybe not developers as we recognise them now, but they'll split off.

FP: But as costs have spiralled, how could a small company even afford to start up now?

PM: I'll tell you what I'd do if I was starting out now. I wouldn't even attempt to become a developer, not in the sense you recognise. I'd go to someone like Criterion and buy all their engine technology. I'd get in contact with some art houses in Hungary, which there are lots of. I'd hire one or two concept artists over here, get them to do the concept art, and then send all the middle stuff over to Hungary, and then I'd concentrate completely and solely on the actual gameplay without any of the technical stuff.

FP: So what you're saying, fundamentally, is that the solution to the industry's problems is... third-world sweatshop labour?

PM: Well, it is, actually - that's exactly it. It's not quite THAT cheap, but Hungary will charge a quarter of what any studio here will charge, and that enables you to actually get something to show people, which you might not be able to do here.

FP: Can we really hope to sustain games at £45 if we hope to grow the size of the market as a route to economic viability?

PM: I do think fundamentally that £40-£45 is not a mass-market price, any retailer you speak to will tell you that. The only slight problem with lower prices driving more sales is the attach rate - historically, people only buy about five games or something in the life of their console. As to whether the reason for that is, as FairPlay suggest, the price, well, that's the chicken-and-egg argument, isn't it? I'm pretty confident that when we're selling millions and millions of these games, it's not going to be at 45 quid, but I'm not sure how we're going to get there and what's going to have to give on the way.

FP: This is the odd thing. Even among the people who are viciously attacking the campaign, it seems that everyone starts their criticism with the words "I agree that games should be cheaper, BUT..." Everyone agrees games need to be cheaper, but when we come out and say it we get crucified.

PM: Because we're all terrified. We're all absolutely terrified, on both sides of the coin - if you're currently making hugely successful games you don't want to risk lowering the price because you're cutting your own throat, and if you're NOT making hugely successful games you don't want to lower the price because you think "Well, I'm not going to make any more money that way". It is almost like the Emperor's New Clothes where the industry's slightly in denial about the situation. I think you've obviously stirred a hornet's nest up, and whenever anything happens like that you kind of feel, you know, someone needed to stir it up. Because you don't get the front page of MCV without good cause. I'm going to be watching with interest.

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