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Brighton Rock: Relentless's Eades on life beyond consoles

As his company's name suggests, nothing can halt Relentless Studios co-founder Andrew Eades. Despite cancelling his Develop presentation, the battler found time to talk to Lewie Procter about the shape of things to come.

Looking a little bit like death warmed up, a very ill Eades predicated a similar fate for console gaming.

"Not death of the consoles, but death of the growth in the console business, if you see the subtle differentiation," he said of the topic of his cancelled presentation. He was supposed to deliver his thoughts on the matter to the Develop Conference yesterday.

"I maintain that there is probably 150 million, to 200 million tops, console gamers out there. If you're part of the hardcore gamers, you've already got a console, and there's not a lot more we can do to increase that pool of players."

Although Eades concedes the console gaming scene will grow - "but at a very slow rate" - he's more excited about the non-traditional devices looking like increasingly relevant games destinations.

"There is a whole world of people out there who wouldn't consider themselves gamers, but they're going to have gaming devices in their homes. They're not called consoles - they're flat screen TVs that are connected - and I think in 2015 you're going to be seeing a TV with processing power of a 360 in-built," he said.

"Samsung are doing this already with their connected TVs. You've got a TV with increasing processing power, and it's always connected to your home internet connection. It's really a small step to then consider that as a console type device."

A similar increase in grunt is happening with devices like the iPad, and Eades expects that to accelerate until it reaches a similar growth pattern as PCs - Moore's Law, in other words.

"I'm looking at devices that David [Armor], my business partner, likes to call stealth gaming devices like iPhone. People don't buy iPhone just to play games on, but they find themselves playing games on them increasingly.

"I'm looking at stealth gaming devices."

"People don't buy a shiny new LED flatscreen TV to play games on without a console, but they are slowly finding that there is a games channel on there, and they can play games."

Asked if he sees electronics companies taking over from the big three of Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony, Eades pointed out that Sony is remarkably well-positioned for that transtion.

"That TV screen in your living room is really important real estate to companies. Now, Sony recognised that a long time ago, and brought the Playstation brand into your living room, connected to your Bravia TV - hopefully.

"Microsoft recognised that this is something they can't miss, and started building consoles for the living room based on PC technology. Apple are in there with the Apple TV, but it doesn't take a massive leap of imagination to think about the Apple TV being switched on to be games capable, and then you've got a viable console there. And obviously there's always rumours about an actual Apple screen, big screen TV. Google had a go earlier this year with their Google TV.

"So all the main players in this market are all trying to do that. They all want to own the distribution to your living room television, because that's really powerful."

New hardware, new markets

Relentless's aim is to build "perfect games for a social, living room environment," Eades said, citing the Buzz! series of quiz games as examples of titles that require no specialist gaming knowledge to engage with.

"If you're a gamer, and you see a crate, you know exactly what that means, and you know what to do. Now, I'm yet to find a crate in real life that provides me with health. It's a videogame metaphor and language that we all understand.

"It's not about denying that hardcore console market, but there is a much bigger market of what I call non-gamers, or ordinary people."

"But if you got someone and convinced them to play a first-person shooter, after getting them to grips with the control system - which they won't understand because they've never done it before, and it's quite hard - then they see a crate, they will not know naturally what to do with the crate.

"At Relentless is use different languages, and what I mean by that is we use the language of TV. So we make a quiz game, but it's a TV show. We make a murder mystery game, but it's set out like an episodic murder mystery narrative that you might see on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

"For us, it's not about denying that hardcore console market. There is a market there, but there is a much bigger market of what I call non-gamers, or ordinary people, and they are not going to know how to play Call of Duty, but they will know how to play Quiz Climber, Buzz and Blue Toad."

Exit Sony, stage right

The Buzz! franchise launched in 2005 with Buzz! The Music Quiz on PlayStation 2, which netted two Develop awards for Relentless and Sony, for Best New Intellectual Property and Best Innovation. In the interim, Relentless has gone on to make more than ten titles - and ended its relationship with SCEE.

"The biggest change in those five years is that we've become more independent of Sony, and we're doing more multi-platform, multiple products, for both self publishing, and doing stuff for our two different people," Eades said of Relentless' growth since then.

"If you think about our audience; when we first did Buzz!, there were maybe 100 million PS2s, and we felt it was a good target audience. And at that time, PS2 was being bought as a DVD player by many people, and it was about £100 I think, so it was about the right price, and people were buying it as not a games machine, but a stealth gaming machine.

"I had a meeting with Ray Maguire from Sony, and he said, 'I've sold as many PS2s as I can to the gamers guys, I need something like this to sell be able to sell more Playstations.' And he was right, we sold a lot of Buzz branded PS2s in 2005, 2006.

"Fast forward to 2010, and our exclusivity with Sony came up for renewal, and you're looking at 35 million PS3s in the market, a disrupted games industry, completely disrupted by Nintendo Wii, and by Facebook, and by Zynga and by Popcap, iPhone. It's a completely different world.

"Also, PS3 is far more hardcore that PS2 was, and I think it's going to take them maybe another round to be aiming at our target demographic. Relentless's desire to not change what we do meant we had to change out partners."

Relentless signed up with Disney Interactive, but shortly thereafter the publisher severely scaled back its investment in games publishing. Casting around, Relentless fixed on Microsoft, which was getting ready to launch Kinect - targeting "exactly the market we make our games for," Eades said.

"Now we've got a new partnership with Microsoft, so we'll be delivering more on Kinect. To be honest, I like thinking of Kinect as a platform in it's own right, and I think that's what Microsoft are encouraging people to think of. For me, that's perfect, so we're not making games for 360 and Kinect, we're making Kinect games."

Adapating and moving on

Relentless's latest release is an iOS title in its signature genre, called Quiz Climber. Launched on Thursday, it's already performing better than forecasted. With a platform deal and independent success, Relentless has one of the brightest outlooks of any UK developer, in a period of closures and doom.

Neighbour Black Rock Studios is an example of those who've felt the headsman's axe, but Eades urged local developers to see the silver lining and grow stronger through adversity.

"Obviously it's pretty rotten for the people who've lost their jobs, and I feel pretty rotten for them and their families right now, but I truly believe that some good will come from this," he said. "There's a number of people starting up, some very talented people.

"We'll employ as many as we can, and we've gone through the same seismic shifts. We were all down the pub a couple of weeks ago, actually the day they announced the closure of the studio, or the day after.

"There were people, not quite crying into their pints, but there was some dejection and downheartedness, because they'd been through a terrible process, and I really feel for that, having been on the other side of it and looking in at it in my own company. Somewhat less severe, but I know how people feel about these things.

"Big companies don't just ping into existence."

"But there are a number of startups, as I said. I think if we keep positive, and look to new opportunities, then there'll be a number of companies that you'll be interviewing in five years time about how successful they've been out of decimation of Black Rock. Relentless Software came out of the closure of Computer Artworks, and out of 100 people, we were nine. Or 11. Or about 10, say 10; I can't remember.

"It wasn't everyone, but we grew into a bigger company. Big companies don't just ping into existence, they have to grow from smaller companies. Some will be successful, and some won't, but everyone in the Brighton games community is doing absolutely everything they can to help everyone succeed in their new companies. I hope it works for everyone."

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