ed fries

ed fries

My name's Ed Fries. Looks like "fries," but it's actually pronounced "freeze." I am 50 years old. I started making games in high school, into college. On the side I was working for a game company in California. The entire videogame industry melted down in 1984 and we didn't know if it was coming back.

I got a job at a little local company called Microsoft, and I worked on Office software for 10 years. I was one of the first programmers on Excel for Windows. There were seven of us that did Excel. I worked on Excel for five years, then I got put in charge of Word, and I did Word for five years.

But on the side, I'm playing videogames. But I'm managing at work bigger and bigger teams. So after 10 years, they were ready for me to run a business. And I said, "Well, the business I want to run is the videogame business because that's what I'm passionate about." They told me I was committing career suicide and, "Why would you leave Office, one of the most important parts of the company to go work on something nobody cares about?" Those are direct quotes from vice presidents. [Laughs.]

I was going to ask.

But anyway, I took over the little game business, and we had Flight Simulator and not too much else. So we just started putting out bigger and bigger games. We had teamed up with a company called Ensemble to make Age of Empires, so that came out a few years later. And we just started to do acquisitions and grow and grow the PC gaming business, and did that.

Anyway, then some crazy guys came into my office from the DirectX team and had this idea to make this DirectXbox, which was shortened to just Xbox.

Can you believe I didn't know that?

Yeah, a lot of people don't know it. [Laughs.]

So, that was the start of the Xbox. I was in charge of making all the games that came from Microsoft for Xbox, the first-party teams, you call it. So, acquired Bungie, did Halo, brought Peter Molyneux, acquired Rare, a lot of other projects. Just did that through 2004, left in 2004 and ever since then I work as an advisor, board member to people in the videogame space. It's always hard for me, I never have a job title, so I just made a "¯_(ツ)_/¯ " face on my [GDC] badge. [Lifts badge.] Another thing you can't see on the recording.

So what do those VPs say now?

You know what the irony was, probably the most frustrating part of working on Office was that it was so central to the company that everyone had an opinion about what you should do. We would be in fights with Bill Gates about what Word should be. A lot of times we didn't agree. So, when I went to work on games it was a breath of fresh air because there weren't a whole bunch of people above me trying to tell me what to do. [Laughs.]

So I just to go out to this green field and do what I thought was right. It either would work or it wouldn't. And it worked pretty well. The reason I left was Xbox got really big and it was like being back at Office again. [Laughs.] There was all this pressure.

Even if you watch now, like, Phil Spencer's speech yesterday [at GDC] -- Phil's a great guy, he's doing a really difficult job. "Okay, now, one Windows is going to run across everything, across Xbox, across your phone, across all these other things." [Laughs.] I would not work in that environment. I just know it's incredibly political and an incredible set of strategic decisions rather than -- I just want to make cool games, right? And a cool game machine, right? I don't care about what Windows teams' goals, or the phone team's goals.

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How do you think those politics affect the games vertical?

You know, what's good is that Phil's sort of flipped it in a sense and said that games are important on every platform.

That's true, because you probably assumed that I meant just Xbox. Which I did.

[Laughs.]

Which means, yes, it is smart to flip it.

Yeah, so, in his talk yesterday he was like, "What's the highest monetizing thing on anything? On a PC, people spend more money playing games. On Windows Phone -- or any phone -- iOS, most money is raised on games. So games are super-important no matter what the platform is, so we have to take them seriously." That's a great crusade. I'm glad he's doing that.

So, but, what is your goal with this?

I just want to put it out there and make the Internet less angry about videogames.

[Laughs.] Okay, so that's sort of a mission. "Less angry."

Yeah, but that's so hard to gauge, though. How can you tell when they're less angry?

You don't have metrics?

What would be the metrics I should use?

[Laughs.]

No, seriously. What would the metrics of telling whether the Internet is less angry?

[Laughs.] I hope they get easier than that one. [Laughs.]

I don't know. Are people really angry? I don't know. Maybe I'm too insulated from it.

You think so?

Well, who are we talking about who's angry here? Are we talking about gamers? Game developers?

I think maybe there are pockets in all areas that are frustrated. But that's inherent in any industry, right?

Well, I think the industry has gone through an incredible amount of change over the last 10 years. There's been, on the high-end, the sort of relentless consolidation as budgets have gotten bigger and bigger and bigger and fewer and fewer teams can do it, and the teams have gotten bigger and bigger. So AAA now is, I mean, it's insane. If you go to visit Bungie, you'll see 600 people in a giant converted movie theater spending whatever, $300 million to make a game -- how do you even do that? How many teams in the world can do that? And those guys are some of the very best in the world and they're still -- you know, it's hard. It's really hard for them.

And then there's like, this massive gap. [Laughs.]

And everybody who was in the middle is gone. Most of them are gone. They're being pushed to both extremes. And so, the publishers can't find enough high-end developers to make games for them because they're all gone. The developers: "I just wanna make a $5-million game." "I just wanna make a $10-million game."

"Just."

[Laughs.] Which, these days is tiny.

I know!

[Laughs.] If you could get a publisher convinced to do it, they would push you up to 50. Nintendo has tried, I think, a losing battle to fight against that for two decades of, "We'll just keep our style simple. We'll keep our costs down. We'll show that what really matters is gameplay." Which, of course, is true. But it may be what really matters for playing is gameplay, but for selling games it doesn't seem to be the case. [Laughs.]

And so, you know, when you've got next-gen consoles and they want, like, "Why should I buy an Xbox One if I have a 360?" The graphics have to be better, right? And every time those graphics get better, everything gets way more expensive. And so that -- trying to stay on top of next-gen, whatever next-gen is has driven costs through the roof.

How much better can the graphics get, though?

[Laughs.] They can't! Which to me is an awesome thing. Like, we've got 30 years of chasing graphics at the expense of creativity, at the expense of innovation. And we're finally to the end of that. We're finally to the absurd end of that where budgets are unsupportable. The number of teams that can do it is unsupportable, and I'm cheering at the bonfire because what's going to come out of the fire is what's already happening, which is the whole indie movement and creativity and gameplay back to being the most important thing, which is fantastic. So I spend way more of my time these days hanging out with indie developers who are doing cool things like Don't Starve or the Spry Fox guys are up the street from me and I just see how people can -- well, you know, when I started in the game business, one guy could make a game. [Laughs.]

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But that's sorta the thing though, right? Like, Sierra or id were indie by definition because there was no industry back then. And I don't know that there's much talk or expectation that the group you're talking about can have the same trajectory.

I don't know. It's like when some guy in Sweden makes this ugly block game where you dig in the ground, I don't know. Sells it for $2.5 billion, buys the most expensive house in Hollywood, I mean. [Laughs.] How much bigger does that have to get?

Yeah, but that's certainly a huge exception. In every case.

It's absolutely the exception. It's an exception that drives thousands of other people to try to do the same thing. And those exceptions are kinda what entertainment's all about. I mean, making bets, trying things, and every once in a while something huge succeeds. There's only the appetite for so many fads at once. It's like -- people will get sick of that game eventually and then they'll want a new one, and the person who's at the right place at the right time, and it'll happen again.

So we've talked about how the hardware and software has changed over the last 30 years, briefly. Do you feel like the audience for games has changed, also, in that time?

I probably wish I was more connected to the audience. I mean, I connect to gamers through my kids. I have boys who are 10 and 12. [Laughs.] We play together a lot. I probably insulate them some from the online world.

Yeah, that's what you were saying.

Yeah, also. You know, a couple years ago -- because I'll let them play, like, Halo. Because I was involved with Halo. One night -- they're in bed, and I'm like, "I'm gonna turn on voice chat." Because I normally run with voice chat off. Just see what it's like. Big multiplayer combat situation. [Laughs.] I was blown away. I didn't realize I was so naive about it.

About what specifically?

In five minutes I heard every racial slur you can imagine, every over-the-top insult you could imagine. It was like, "Okay, turning that off again." [Laughs.] I'm not that easy to shock. It was like, "Wow." I mean. I talked to some Bungie guys about it. I was like, "Wow, I didn't know your community was like that." They're like, "Yeah, that's the way it is."

What did they say?

You know, well, I talked to some other people about it and they said that the communities are different. Different games -- some are much more respectful, some, that's just sort of the Halo community's thing. I was like, "Okay, that's interesting that they develop around these different cultures."

I spent a bunch of time with Raph Koster, who's been really involved in trying to understand the whole Gamergate thing and trying to actually explain to game developers what's happening to them and why. And he really opened my eyes to the fact that there's these different cultures and they have different sets of rules. He talked about the 4chan culture and what they respect and what they don't respect and how they behave and why when we as a game-development community do something that seems reasonable to us actually violates a rule that they have and then they respond in this really aggressive way and we don't even know why they acted that way. You know what I mean? It's like, different culture, different set of rules.

I was talking yesterday to a game developer who's a big League of Legends player. And yeah, she was talking about playing and the abuse she gets, and she's just used to it. It's like part of playing the game and it's fine. But she talked about another female player in a game that said she was gonna find her at the next League of Legends tournament and beat her up. [Laughs.] And her response was, "Okay, I'll be sitting in row 17, I have bright red hair. Let's go." And of course she never showed up.

Of course.

Because it's all just online trolling.

But does it have to be that way? Does that have to be our community? I know that Riot has tried to work on their community.

Let's take League of Legends: Five people get thrown together and they have to play well to win. And if you suck, like I do, you don't want me on your team. You're probably gonna make it known.

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Even if the medium maybe isn't changing that much, I think the audience is growing and maybe feeling like their needs aren't being met. It's also, too, the fact that we're two white men talking about this.

Absolutely.

And these are insights that we might be lacking.

I have made that point, too.

As have I several times.

[Laughs.] It's hard to avoid white men in the game business. [Laughs.]

My mom is an engineer. She grew up as a chemical engineer. I want to do a talk about her. I haven't done this yet, but I did a talk last year at DICE that was partly about my dad. So I want to do a parallel talk about my mom. But she had a career in the '60s as a chemical engineer when there were very few women engineers. She went to Boeing, which was all-male community. She got really frustrated with it and at one point she was in charge of putting some document together for the government, and out of frustration she changed every "he" and "him" in the document into "her" and "she" and submitted it to the government.

And the government rejected it and told her to use the "neutral" term "he" and "him." [Laughs.]

So she ended up, after we were in elementary school, she went back to University of Washington and got a Master's in computer science. And again, she's in an all-male world. So I want to get her to talk about that whole experience. I mean, NPR had a thing about this recently: It had this awesome graph that shows women in all sciences, and it's a line that goes up, percentage of women in that science. So, for any science you can think of -- chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, you know -- they're all lines that go up from 1960. They're not to 50 percent, but they're approaching.

Computer science does this. It peaks around 1985, and then it goes back down. It peaks around 35 percent and then it drops back down into the teens.

Thanks for doing that for the recording.

[Laughs.] It's like a bell curve. Why? Nobody knows. This NPR article, they speculate. But nobody really knows.

So, she's fascinated by this Gamergate thing. She's almost 80 years old. She sent me mail yesterday because she had heard a Brianna Wu interview on NPR and she's like, "What's going on? Keep me up to date." She wants me to keep her up to date on Gamergate. [Laughs.]

What do you tell her?

You know, there's been some good articles. I've forwarded some to her. There was a good article in The New York Times. I think they covered it a while ago.

And she said? Not to pry, just curious.

She thinks it's terrible. And she can relate to things that happened in her own career.

Do you remember a year or two ago -- well, there's this website called Letters of Note that posts letters that of great historical significance and are interesting or unusual. I remember this note from Disney to a woman I think in the '40s or the '50s. I'm sure you can already guess what this letter was from how you're nodding. Basically it was just them rejecting her to be an animator and yet -- I'm curious, like, what changed in that industry where it broadened what people from a company side is capable of. Disney is certainly a big deal in that industry, and they changed their mind about some stuff. What can games learn from that?

So this NPR article, as far as "why aren't there more women in computer science?" They have a theory. And their theory goes like this: Before 1985 it was hard to have access to a computer before you got to college. So, people would show up at college. Men and women. They pick a career. Maybe it would work out, maybe it wouldn't. But they'd all be at an equal starting place. But in the early '80s, the first personal computers started to come out, certainly it happened to me. I graduated in 1982. We had Apples and I had an Atari 800.

By the time I got to college, I had published my first videogame. I mean, I could write in Basic, Pascal, C, assembly language. And that's even more true today. I mean, my 12-year-old just did a project in Unity and so the theory is that guys are more likely to do that during those years, where girls are doing other stuff. More social stuff. And so when they get to college, the guys now -- instead of all being equal, the guys are massively ahead of the girls and then the girls get weeded out very early or have trouble catching up or just get discouraged because they realize, "Wow, these guys have been doing this for 10 years and I'm doing it now." That's an interesting theory. Could be true.

Do you feel like games these days are more creative? Less creative?

Here's the deal, right? There's fewer and fewer of these teams and projects are bigger and bigger. Because the budgets are so big they basically can't fail. Something like Destiny? Whatever, $500 million for developing and marketing combined? [Laughs.] I mean, you're betting the whole company on this one game, so they can't fail. I think that some of the very best talent in the entire industry on those teams that are left. Incredibly creative people. Incredibly talented people. They just live in an environment where they can only do so much because the game can't fail. [Laughs.]

It's not like an indie developer who's trying something new that's never been done and probably won't work -- but maybe it will and he'll find some whole new path.

I mean, but they face similar risks, those smaller teams. Maybe not as many commas in their budgets, but they also bank on it a similar way.

[Laughs.] They're similar risks in often they're betting their own money and they're living on Top Ramen or whatever and if it fails, they're gonna go get a job. That's the good news in the game business: Nobody ends up on the street because they're super-talented artists or programmers or both. They can always go get a job. They can find a job. Maybe it's not even in the game business. But every programmer can have a job today. So the downside isn't quite the same as Activision going out of business or something.

I think among those smaller teams, they don't want to "sell out" and get a "real job" if they could be making games.

I agree.

What do you think is weird about the game business?

Here's the thing I see a lot happening right now: If you went back, like, 20 years, there was this trajectory that you could see.

Games were getting more and more expensive. Consolidation. Less and less publishers. Less and less developers making less games, and that's probably a good thing.

Now it's gotten to the almost absurd extreme: super-high budget, very small set of developers. But what's happened in the last 10 years is the rise of China, digital distribution, mobile, free-to-play, different business models. Every one of those things is -- in each of those areas, it's like we've created companies that are bigger than the biggest companies. We used to think EA is big or Activision is big. Well, you should look at Tencent or you should look at what Supercell is doing on mobile, which is part of a bigger conglomeration.

For a long time the AAA world kind of poo-pooed those, "Oh, that's a little business. We're not interested." Now those little businesses became huge. But anyway, that's not my point.

My core point is the last decade has sort of trained people in the game business to think that stuff is changing really fast and everybody wants to know now what's the next change. There may not be a next change. The investors in particular, people I deal with sometimes: "What's the next thing?"

So that's what you can see happening here, if you look out. [Motions to GDC floor.] Everybody wants to do VR. Why do they want it to be VR? Because they want another thing. There was this thing, this thing, this thing, this thing. They want there to be the next thing.

I mean mobile, free-to-play is a brutal business now. Very difficult. And so, two years ago, that's where everyone wanted to be. Now? Now you can't raise money to be in that space. I mean, but, strap a thing to your face? "Oh yeah, I'm there." [Laughs.]

We haven't tried that in a while.

Yeah, there's all these problems.

You were talking about Nintendo, too, and I'd be curious to hear your take on this. I'm sure they're asking themselves, "We tried this! You want this now?"

[Laughs.] You're talking about Virtual Boy or --

Yeah. Someone lost their job over that, and it's actually the same thing: Microsoft tried to bring out the tablet before people were ready for it.

I do a whole talk where I go through the history of technology.

Timing is important.

I actually go all the way back to the 1800's, and that's what I say: "Predicting the future is easy. Predicting when is hard." [Laughs.]

To your point, maybe there won't be a change that's coming. I think that's why we're seeing so many of these companies teaming up in VR, banding together, trying to find alliances. They're trying to steady that foundation of, "We all need to push as hard as we can to get this to work."

Yeah.

But if it doesn't work, I think it'll be 50, 60 years. Maybe I'm exaggerating. It's gonna be a while before we see another try at the thing.

Oh yeah. I was just talking to a friend I've known in the game business for a couple decades the other day, who runs game development for a big Japanese mobile company. Very, very smart guy. Worked at all the companies. He's like, "I don't believe it will ever work." I was like, "Ever? Wow, you're the most pessimistic -- " He's like, "I worked on VR 20 years ago. I know it really well. I don't believe it will ever work."

I don't know it as well as him, so maybe that's why I'm not that pessimistic.

So I have the distinction of having interviewed for a position at Oculus last year. Three times over five months, for a position they ended up eliminating. But I told them I felt that VR might be able to take off, but it's not going to be games that does it.

Yeah.

I think games will come later, but I think games have to catch up to what it is capable of rather than, all due respect, "Let's just put the headset on Master Chief's perspective and set you loose."

Yeah. It's so much more and so much less.

[Laughs.]

In the sense that pretty much every game genre, everything we know about games fails in VR. So, it's like, we have to invent whole new games.

Wait. Why does it fail in VR?

Well, because you can't move, first of all. So, I'll just start there.

Well, you can't go anywhere else from there, so --

Okay, so you need to invent a game where you can't move because if you move you get sick. So, you know, that's a problem. Or, if you move, that you have to move in the physical world to match what you move in the virtual world. Which means, there's a reason with Virtual Boy that they put a little stand on it, and that's because they were terrified someone was going to strap this thing to their head and then fall down the stairs.

And so they wanted to make sure -- that little tripod on that machine, it's the only reason it's there. So, anyway, yeah, there's people doing dedicated facilities where you can walk around. That kind of thing. But in your house? You're not gonna do that.

I remember in 2010, out on this very floor out here: The Virtusphere. Do you remember that?

Yeah, you walk around in it.

It was a giant hamster ball.

I actually saw something even crazier than that at SIGGRAPH more than a decade ago: robotic floor tiles. So, imagine about a dozen or so robotic floor tiles, and you walk in any direction and they are slowly rolling you back. Then, as you get near the edge of one, one will scurry around from the back and get in front again. [Laughs.] So it was like you could constantly be walking on these little robotic tiles that are shuffling themselves under your feet and keep you in a relatively small space.

That didn't take off?

[Laughs.] Not yet!

Not yet! That's true.

[Points down the hall.] These guys are showing some really cool stuff. In health, they're doing some incredible physiotherapy stuff, but, so, people with missing limbs, people who've had strokes, using VR -- to your point earlier -- to treat people in those cases, really fantastic stuff. They want to figure out how to bring it to the game space, which is what I was just talking to them about.

But their system, and this is the problem -- one of the problems with VR: It's VR. It's AR. So it's got cameras on the front. It's got 3D-depth sensing cameras so you can see your hands. It's got a neural cap that reads your brain. You kinda need all those different pieces and probably more to actually do it right.

As soon as you put on, like, Crescent Bay or Valve's really nice headset, you really feel like you're there. And then the more real it is, the more you miss that you arms aren't there. Your hands aren't there. When something goes through your body, it feels really freaky. Because you really believe you're there, and then, how do you actually do that? And then as soon as you have your hands, what if I want to touch this? What if I want to feel it? So then you have to have haptics.

So, okay. We have to have a 3D-depth sensing camera. We have to have haptics. We have to have --

Neural cap. Headset. And sound.

Yeah. And those technologies sort of more or less exist, but to bring them all together and to sell them to a consumer at a real price? That's why I go 10 years, maybe. And people are like, "10 years?" I donno. Maybe at my age 10 years doesn't seem that long. I'm optimistic. [Laughs.]

I mean, I was saying 50. But I really do mean just 20.

[Laughs.] Yeah, I'm probably optimistic.

That's a lot of the hardware side of VR, though. How do you think people could be getting more creative from the software side of things?

I don't know. That's a good question. That's a hard question. I mean, I'm honestly really optimistic about the game business and the future of the game business. We have more gamers than we ever had before across a much broader age range. We finally won: The Supreme Court said that we're an artform, that we're protected by the same First Amendment rights as books and movies. Which, I was there for the battle for that. I was deposed in a case in Washington state, where the state government passed a law -- signed into a law by the governor that said we basically couldn't show violence in games against authority figures in games.

It was like, "Well, I'm watching Law & Order right now on TV. That's okay. I can read a book about whatever. But I can't have it in games?"

That must have been an uncomfortable experience, arguing for that in front of lots of authority figures.

The ESA came in and battled and won. We won with prejudice. They had to pay our court cost. But it just shows how much progress we've made. I guess because I've been around, I've seen the progress. It's like, "Okay, games can be art."

The Smithsonian, American Art Museum is collecting games -- I have a game in there, which is weird. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has been collecting games.

All that stuff that we imagined: that games would be bigger than movies, that they'd get bigger than music, that it would be a respected art form. It's all happening. And I love the indie rise. I think incredible ideas are going to come out of that. Incredible new things. So, I'm actually really, really optimistic. There's just -- you know, there is -- I don't know.

No, I am, too. But I have friends on the indie side of things, too. And it's tough. And they're struggling. It's true of any --

Oh, so, one of the things I should have counted when I was going through -- digital distribution and all this other stuff is the rise of game engines.

Super-important because people can make games in Unity and other technologies with very little technical experience, and that opens us up in a huge way to people who've never been able to make games before. And that -- I'm sure is gonna have an incredible, positive influence on the business because we're going to get content we never would have had before.

But does it make it hard? Absolutely. In the old days, there were only a few hundred people who knew how to do this stuff. Now, anybody, anywhere in the world can do it. A guy in Vietnam, a kid in his apartment can make a game with a little flapping bird that gets everything just right and -- he's a star.

Reluctantly.

Reluctantly.

And I love that. I think that's awesome. But does that mean life is easy for indies? No way. No. Now they're competing in a global market against teams that maybe don't even have the technical expertise, but have a really cool idea.

Do you think first-party -- could they be doing more to nurture or encourage the ability to keep making games for them on an ongoing basis? I'm just not privy to that sort of information as a writer. Like, is it just per-project for smaller teams when they come into that orbit?

Usually when they sign a publishing deal, they want to have a long-term relationship, and so usually there's terms in their contract that they'll have sequel rights and things like that. Usually the developers will have their own rights coming back. So, it's like, if you're gonna do -- so the publisher may own the intellectual property, but the developer created it. But the developer may be able to say, "If you're gonna do a sequel to the game I made, I get to be first choice of the developer to make that sequel. That kinda thing." So you get both of those sets of terms and they get negotiated about.

But there's nothing a publisher wants more than to have a long-term relationship with a great developer. Just, doesn't always work out for a million different reasons. Making games is really hard. It's a hard technical problem and it's a hard artistic problem. And there's people issues. There's everything. I think it's one of the hardest things to do because it combines technology difficulty and artistic difficulty together. I think that's why it attracts some of the most talented people in the world, because of the challenge. It's so hard.

How do you think the media for games has shifted?

Yeah, I'm only gonna rag on one part of the media.

Me?

No. Not you at all. It's not you at all. And it's not games at all. The thing that has changed the most from my perspective is, like, I could do an interview with you. And you'd put it up. And we're having an interesting conversation and I'm saying what I think are reasonable things. You maybe agree.

I do.

And it'll go up and you'll post a nice version of our conversation. Maybe you'll take out me using the word "like" 37 times. I like to work with people who like make me sound better than I really am. And I appreciate that. And it's all good, and it comes out, and it's all good.

But what will happen today that wouldn't have happened 10 years ago or 20 years ago is 37 other sites will link to this article, and they'll go through and take the most controversial thing I say, and they may not even quote it correctly. They may change the words that you wrote of my words, but they'll change them and then they'll make that as the headline and they'll have a short summary of it and they'll link to your article. And that'll get, like, 10 times as much traffic as your thing will get. Right?

That'll make you look bad, and then also make me look bad.

Right.

And it's also not true.

That's the only part. That's my only complaint about the media.

The games media?

Yeah. I like working with people like yourself. I've always been treated fairly. Almost always.

I think you're liked.

I feel like if people like you, when they go through and they edit the transcript they do it nicer than if they don't like you. [Laughs.] I try to be accessible and I try to be reasonable. But that -- none of that applies to the sort of shadow world of journalism, and it's been really weird to see respectable sites go down that route, where you see the name.

This is probably a bad example, but I'll see a Huffington Post or Time Magazine, even, sometimes or others where it seems like they're playing the same game the same game to chase traffic. And they'll do it to any story about anything. It's not about games at all. That's what I'm saying. To me it's the thing about dealing with the press that's changed so much, and I think it's turned people off because now it's risky to have a reasonable conversation with a reasonable guy who's gonna write a reasonable article about it. So. That's my only complaint.

It's a valid one.
Let's take, like Peter Molyneux. When it comes to games, it says a lot about the state of things where a writer -- someone sitting where I am to someone sitting where you are, to start an interview with, "So, do you feel you are a pathological liar?"

[Laughs.]

And I tweeted at that writer, I don't even remember his name. But I was just curious: "Did you back that game on Kickstarter?"

Yeah.

"No." He didn't. And I'm not sure what tire I was kicking at there. I don't know what cause is being championed or what that accomplishes. We know the deal with Kickstarter by now, and we know the deal with Peter by now.

I don't know that guy very well.

I don't know him at all. And I don't know Peter at all.

I know Peter pretty well, and I'll mention that in a minute. I don't know that reporter very well. Is he British? I've had experiences with the British press where they're super-frank, and I've just learned that's the way they work. I've even been on Hard Talk, or some TV show when we were launching Xbox. They were exactly the same way. They were, like, trying to go after you.

It was just, like, a different style of reporting that they use. And once you're used to it, it's okay.

Don't you think Peter would be used to it, then?

Let's get back to Peter. I'm just gonna tell a story real quick.

So, the very first time I was running the games group and I was at E3 showing our first line-up of games. It was the first line-up of games that we have. They weren't the best games. But they represented the state of the art of what we could do at that time. I was going through wave after wave of reporters every half hour. A British guy came in, and he sat through like the other reporters and took notes as I went through, was very polite. And then at the end I said, "What do you think?" He said, "I think it's shit." [Laughs.]

It was like, "Okay!" But you know, it was sort of their way -- not to generalize about all British press -- it was provocative, but I was okay with it. I kind of embraced it and we had a good conversation about it, what was good and bad, and where we were at, and how we could be better. And I was cool with that. So there's sort of an approach that different countries, different reporters use that's different.

Now, as far as Peter goes, I don't think it was one thing. I mean, Peter has a long history of getting super-excited about his game and inventing stuff on the fly, and the development team cringes because they have to go back and implement this stuff. [Laughs.] But he's amazing. He's an amazing guy. He's only ever been incredibly nice and generous to me, and I think he's honestly one of the nicest guys in the game business. That's from my experience.

I just think he loves his games and he has ideas all the time and he can't help [to] say ideas. Like, he'll be in the middle of an interview like this and a new idea will come up and will say, "We're gonna have a dog!"

I think, also, as a creative person you're always pitching ideas and testing them out. And he's nothing if not consistent.

So he'll bounce ideas off press and see how they react. And that's just Peter.

I think what happened: He had trouble with [Curiosity], he had trouble with Godus, and so that's got to be a lot of pressure on him. Then there's the thing about the kid from the cube who didn't get his thing. And it's just like, one thing after another and it felt like they were all piling on top of him.

Insert

And then that interview came in. I think if that had happened separately, like -- he's been doing this for 20 years. He's always been making up ideas and sometimes they make it into a game, and sometimes they don't. But I think it came at a time when he was feeling very weighed upon. That was my take on it.

Well, so you seem pretty optimistic about games in general. Not to ask you to answer for others, but why do you think people are seeming to lose their optimism for games? [Laughs.]
As we sit here, lording over GDC. Folks milling about looking for something to be interested in or excited about below us.

I don't know. I mean, games is hard. I guess it comes back to that. It's always been a hard business. And it's probably harder than ever. And either you're up for that or you're not.

I feel like in the past, as we've gone through this time of real change, for every bad thing there's been a good thing. New funding sources have come in from China. I know a lot of people now who are funded by China, where there wouldn't have been another option. It's great. It's been great for the business, for friends who can make the game they've been dreaming to make.

Kickstarter, crowdfunding. Another fantastic way. Valve, Steam, Early Access. Just getting a closer connection to your customers, being able to fund games directly to the customer, bypassing the publishing infrastructure? Great. These have all been super-healthy, fantastic developments. So I think things get harder, but other things are better. So, I don't know.

Weighing those two things, I'm optimistic.

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