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Crytek interview: what's next for games development?

As the chasm between high-end PC tech and off-the-shelf consoles widens, Dave Cook asks Crytek CEO Cevat Yerli for opinion on what lies next in PlayStation and Xbox development.

The race to dominate the next generation of consoles is most certainly on, as studios start new projects for hardware we've never seen on tech we know little about. It's an exciting, unnerving time for studios.

Yet Crytek's Cevat Yerli is unflinching, a man confident in the technical ability of his company and the bespoke tools it has created. We asked for his thoughts on some of development's most pressing issues.

VG247: Crytek has always been at the forefront of gaming tech. How prepared are you for the next generation of consoles and the future leaps in PC hardware? What should developers now be doing to prepare for the shift?

Cevat Yerli: At Crytek we approach next generation consoles and technology predictions in a particular way – last year we took some of the most high-end PC set-ups that we could find and build, and defined those as the assumed specifications for the next generation. And whilst we think that was quite accurate, we cannot say today exactly what the real specs will be.

But the approach today, I would suggest, is to take, not the very best, but a high-end PC and start working on a high-end PC game. That should give you a quite accurate or quite good base for developing for the next generation.

There is, however, more than just specifications to the next generation; things that require you to think about being more online, and being more specific to what these platforms can provide you.

The press fancies E3 2013 for a reveal of the next Xbox, but would you say that we're ready? Is the underlying impatience for new hardware from studios and gamers justified in your mind?

At this stage, we can’t comment on or even speculate as to when, or if, the next generation will be announced. But we think that it’s time for the next generation and we think that it’s overdue already.

The current generations are drying out and the longer we wait for the next generation of consoles, the higher the likelihood that they could fall behind tablets in terms of being the first thing people reach for when the time comes to play games. Tablets are putting pressure on the gaming industry, and taking over in some ways, so that should be kept in mind.

Coming into the current generation, one of the industry's key watchwords was 'online'. What will be the key watchwords for the next generation and how will Crytek embrace them?

I think one of the key words for the next generation gaming will be ‘social’. My perspective of next generation gaming is that playing with friends, and playing on multiple devices and having complimentary experiences with them, will be a big part of the process.

I think, generally, people are playing shorter cycles in games, and session-based games are going to be key. I think, ultimately, the word ‘online’ will be extended to embrace ‘social’ as well.

Tools are an important asset in this increasingly competitive market, and Crytek is no stranger to developing its own frameworks and engines. Is this the best time to really be protective over what you create – if you have the means of course?

Obviously at Crytek we always have the option of building technology and choosing whether we want to license it out or not. But our philosophy for the last ten years, and in the future, is that we need to share our technology with the industry.

We will not change our position of sharing our latest and greatest technology with other developers. We think that enabling others, as well as ourselves, will enrich the gaming industry as a whole.

We recently saw the reveal of Unreal Engine 4 and Luminous Engine from Square-Enix. What is your view on these engines and how would you say they compare – at a glance – to CryEngine 3?

We have been presenting CryENGINE 3 as next-gen ready technology since GDC 2010. And we think that Unreal Engine 4 has done a good job to catch up, but nothing is there that surprised us and we still believe CryENGINE 3 remains the benchmark.

How future-proof is CryEngine 3? At what point will you consider a CryEngine 4 for example? Or is this something you need to deliberate over for many years first?

We have not clearly defined when, or if, CryENGINE 4 will be released, because the architecture of CryENGINE 3 is so forward-looking that we think of it as having been next generation ready for some years now.

We’re already able to deliver next generation graphics sufficient for game developers, and we’re going to update CryENGINE 3 constantly to improve it, but we don’t see a necessity for the next version now.

One trend that has risen to the top of the industry in recent years is free-to-play, and you are due to enter this arena with Warface. Is this a market you wanted to penetrate for some time?

We decided to develop Warface about six years ago and we created a studio to build the game. There was a steep learning curve because there is a vast difference between making a retail-based game and a free-to-play game service.

Learning about that and digesting that, and thinking what Warface could be as a truly social FPS was a major challenge over the last few years. Another challenge was that there was no home for a game like Warface.

So when it was in development we were thinking about where we could launch the game. Since there was no home we built one in the form of GFACE.

GFACE reflects the goals of a core social game and allows players to experience a next generation social platform for core games – FPSs, RPGs, or any other genre, but with the association of the social world along with it. Warface will show how that works when it launches within GFACE.

Can you share with us the current status of Warface? What areas for improvement do you see in the F2P market at large and how will Warface fill these gaps?

In the past, free-to-play has been perceived as cheap games with low production values. For us, it has always been about an opportunity to transform and change the industry status quo, and we want to develop the most user friendly business model and make no compromise on the quality either.

So, with Warface, we’ll launch what we call a AAA for free experience, which is high quality gaming for free. And we think that the learning curve to achieve that as a games service, having something that doesn’t compromise on quality but is free to play, has been quite a steep one. Also, at the same time, as I mentioned before, there’s a social aspect of it – so it not only has to be quality and free-to-play, but social as well.

To what extent will Warface support microtransactions? What needs to be done for the industry at large to reach a consensus on what constitutes good and relative value when it comes to pricing DLC?

I think our responsibility as developers, publishers and now platform creators with GFACE, is to make the necessary tools available to developers to measure and track transactions early enough through a monetization engine that will give the developer an early idea of which items are over-valued and which items are under-valued so they can achieve fair pricing.

It’s very important that the pricing is fair within each game, otherwise the community will feel the game is unfair and leave. So if you’re a developer who wants a static community, you need to offer a good pricing model that feels fair for people who want to pay and progress faster in the game.

But also, you have to have the option for gamers who don’t want to pay to be able to play for free forever. It’s key that the model of free-to-play is not “pay to win” but rather a true free-to-play.

Money you pay should be to shorten progression by faster upgrades or to buy luxury items that don’t change the gameplay. So the game should never be sold. It’s always about time – that’s the only area where there should be shortcuts.

Sony acquired Gaikai recently, opening up PS3 to cloud-based services. What sort of future does Crytek see for cloud services and is this something you may embrace in future?

We’ve been quite vocal about cloud gaming, and with GFACE we are building a social entertainment platform for gamers of next-gen core games that is social at its heart.

For a few years we’ve already been developing our cloud delivery engine – a specific version of CryENGINE that will improve the way people perceive cloud gaming, and the key factor here is to make cloud gaming ready for free-to-play.

In today’s cloud gaming model, free-to-play gaming isn’t economically viable. Our challenge is to build the technology that makes free-to-play gaming possible on cloud delivery technology.

How long will it be until consoles remove the need for physical media and focus on streaming? What needs to be done first to make this a reality?

I think true cloud gaming with a complete streaming experience will become possible once we have tripled our available bandwidths at home. By that I mean, if you can get a solid 20-40MB connection then you’re going to get a real connection of 3MB. That is not available yet in the US or the majority of Europe, so I think it’s going to take another 3-4 years.

So maybe in around 2014-2016 I believe cloud gaming can become ‘true’, but it will always be under pressure from local-based client games, since all the computation power on the client side also increases.

That’s going to be a major battle between client-based and cloud-based games. But I believe there is a market for cloud games, but that it depends vastly on the available bandwidth.

The Crytek portfolio is spreading with new studios working on new projects. How careful must you be today when considering such growth and where you go next?

We are constantly considering further growth, but growth has to be measured against the success of our internal projects. We are trying out new genres with Fibble, we have plans for next year to release two further games in new genres for Crytek.

They will all tie in to GFACE, and GFACE is also going to be very important for us, and is a platform that has already received a very warm welcome and interest from the development community, so we’re very happy about that.

If things go moderately successfully then we will indeed look into further expansion, but it’s too early to say which directions we will expand in.

Finally, what can you tell us about the status of the Timesplitters franchise?

I tested through my official blog to see how big the Timesplitters community is, and while the volume of responses was quite high, we feel it’s not high enough yet. That being said, it did indeed trigger a deeper evaluation of what we do with Timesplitters, and I can only say this for now; we might have some surprises coming soon.

Crytek's next release is Crysis 3, out on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 in February, 2013.

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