Piotr Miączyński, Leszek Kostrzewski: How many Facebook friends do you have ?
- Marcin Iwiński: I don't use Facebook, because violates privacy and mixes business contacts with private contacts.
And that's bad ?
- Yes. Besides, How do you imagine this - I have a profile on Facebook, and a man I'm doing business with wants to become my "friend", and I decline because I don't want to share my private photos with him ?
He'll become offended.
- Yes. I strive to draw the line clearly. I think this is where the great success of LinkedIn, a social website for proffesional, comes. The service entered Nasdaq and is one of few social companies which gave investors return of investment.
So how many LinkedIn contacts do you have ?
- Over 1,5k.
- These relationships are built over years. Each of them means a supper, a diner, a meeting, a common venture etc. Years of hard work.
But thanks to such network of contacts we have it much easier to find people to work with, whom we take from abroad. Finding any person in my proffesion is very easy. Of course, whether this person is still interested working for us, is another story.
And whom do you have there?
- Businesspeople, game developers. Mainly from USA.
Are there any rules in this proffesion ? Is there any code of contact ?
- This business is shaped by Americans, so there's a lot of their culture.
It doesn't matter if you're from Poland or England. Everyone is evaluated based on his accomplishments. How succesful he is ?
- If you're a dude from a small European company, most people don't give a crap. But if we can last longer in this business, and above all - make very good games, people read about the company in media. Recognition and respect builds up. Anything you should do ? In this world one should persistently go for the goal.
Do you condemn piracy ?
- A very difficult question. I don't. Gosh, the line is terribly thin, because the question "So, do you condemn theft ?" will follow. People who pirate games, haven't bought them for some specific reason.
We strive to eliminate these reasons daily. And we do our best to encourage those who can afford them, to buy them.
The method is the carrot, the biggest added value. These books, maps, not the stick - intimidation and saying: "You bad pirate." A pirate is an under-served customer.
When I said a while ago in "PC Gamer", the biggest USA PC game magazine, that I estimate about 4.5 million pirated "Witcher 2", an uproar followed. Obviously, it's an estimate, it could have been 5 mln, 7 mln, or 10 mln. The point was to give an approximate number.
Question: so what ? Some people who downloaded a pirated copy, will buy "Witcher 2" for sure, because they will like the game. I don't know the percentage, and I don't know for what price. There are many forum posts along the lines: "I pirated Witcher, but I bought it when it was for $15. I think it's worth it."
But some of these people can't afford it. If we treat them positively, they will eventually buy it.
Do you believe in copy protection ?
- Our newest child is the GOG.com, a digital distribution platform for selling games all over the world. You pay and download immediately. We distribute games without DRM because of a simple reason: we don't believe any of it works.
It's some kind of industry fantasy. Please note that record companies are abandoning it - most music on iTunes has no protection.
TV and movie industry keep clinging to it. For what reason isn't an episode released world-wide ? What does a customer care that his beloved serial will debut in Poland a week later ? He doesn't want to watch it a week later, but when he feels like it. As long as it's new, fresh and nice. And he can pay for the privilege. Of course, not more than people in USA. Moreover, it should have a lower - polish - price, because we're poorer. That this model doesn't work in the long run, shows recent debate aroound HBO GO.
The service enables watching HBO serials through the internet, but only if subscribe to the station and the cable offered by HBO has a contract with HBO GO.
- Last century companies. They still think the distribution model is theaters first, then DVD, and later TV. It's no longer this way. They're doing something with it, true, but not enough. Customer expectations are different, and they're in the middle of a step, in some strange business model.
For the same reason the record industry has almost died. The traditional CD model is in terrible state. The new ones are iTunes and streaming. And they're fine.
People prefer to buy genuine things, but it must be clear and simple. The videogame industry, as far as PCs are concerned, has already arrived at that, for example our GOG.com or steampowered.com . You click, buy, and soon have a game no matter where you live. This model is already replacing retail in the USA.
And the movie industry can't deal with it yet, because there's no standard, no one has done it well.
Supposedly there's Netflix in USA, but it's only local so far. But eventually someone will do it right and turn the current distribution model upside down. And make great amount of money.
How has the industry reacted to the fact GOG.com is DRM-free ?
- When GOG was under construction, all companies were saying DRM is the standard. But we already have the most of big publishers with us. Something has changed. The world has moved on. But people have to get to grips with everything.
We're starting to distribute newer games. And companies are saying: but you have to secure new games, or they will steal them. No they won't, there are already day 1 pirated copies.
This is something the customer wants. And if some content producer tries to fight it, the brutal hand of the market will defeat him. It will put him in his place. Gamers vote with their wallets. Or don't buy the game at all and pirate, because they think the publisher is bad. It shows. This community force is immense. You need to listen to these people. If we lose our humility and start to think we're an infallible oracle, gamers can kick us in our butt just as strong as they're currently elevating us.
Are there companies, whose games are pirated more often because the gamer community doesn't like them ?
- There are no studies, however there are companies who have very unpleasant air about them, and it no doubt negatively affects their sales. Look at Twitter. If there's something nice, the news spreads instantly all over the world. And it is known that positive news spreads with more difficulty. Meanwhile something negative, someone being treating gamers unfairly, spreads with 5-10 times the force. A couple months ago Electronic Arts was the most hated company in an internet poll. Please check that they surpassed even Bank of America.
How did they earn that ?
Most importantly, they are losing the contact with gamers. A couple unpolished games, broken promises, harsh copy protection systems, forcing gamers to do things they don't necessarily want to do. This causes frustration.
What will we play on in the future ? On consoles ?
- I don't think so.
And what gaming equipment do you have ?
- I recently bought a very strong notebook, I have a portable Nintendo 3DS, but it collects the dust, I have an IPad, and of course a Mac - for work now, but I play on it more and more often.
- I don't like to play on them. I don't like controllers.
No Kinects impress you ? Move ?
- Quite the opposite.
Someone is swinging a controller, pretending it's a sword. Really nothing ?
- Really. I bought Nintendo Wii, to play "The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess". I played it, and sold it - swinging a pseudosword in front of the screen, it's not for me, I guess I'm too old ;).
The current console generation is already a bit old and PCs give much bigger possibilities. If we run a game optimized for a new PC and the same game on a console, the same PC is circa ten times stronger.
We made an XBox 360 version of "Witcher", squeezing really every drop of performance from it. We worked on it for a year - the game looks great, but it's still medium settings on a PC. The gap widens with each quarter. This is the first problem. But the smaller one.
And the bigger one ?
- The market tendencies have changed. Not long ago PCs were very uncool. Everyone wanted to buy consoles, because PCs had problems with configuration, compatibility - you know, each machine is different, and most home PCs are custom.
But suddenly it turned out that thsese PCs are still more numerous than consoles. That consoles are closed systems. A user of Playstation can't play XBox games and the other way around, because Sony and Microsoft won't permit it.
So if you want to play "Gears of War", you have to buy an XBox. From the customer point of view it's not exactly an optimal solution. It's like we had to buy Sony's TV's to watch a new "Batman".
The place where game innovation happens, where new market models pop up, is the PC. Even social games on Facebook: "Farmville", "Mafia Wars". Add to that iOS - Apple's system, and Android cell phones.
Of course, a new generation of Sony and Microsoft consoles will appear and according to industry media, probably next year. Of course they will be very nice and probably as strong as newest PCs. But the industry keeps asking the question, will the player, being able to play in a browser, on his iPad, PC, XBox 360 or PS3, go and buy a new console and will keep returning for $60 games on top of that ? Or will he play some kind of free to play on a PC and spend those $60 on a month of gaming ? It's no longer the choice: PC or console. It's about the way where people want to consume electronic entertainment and how.
- In my opinion before long we won't be talking about a platform, but only about whether the game is good or not. Whether we'll be playing it on a TV through internet streaming, console or PC, will be less important.
Samsung widely introduces play on demand service for their TVs. Recently Sony bought an internet streaming company. Of course it's under construction, sometimes it works, sometimes not quite, but the world moves in this direction.
Not every game can be ported to any platform
- Of course. Generally there's no point in porting a game from PC to an iPad. Because iPad has a distinctive interface. It also doesn't make sense to port a game from iPad to PC, because you'd have to overhaul the interface, which usually ends with some nonsense compromises.
So you don't believe in "Witcher" on iPad ?
I do. But it should be "Witcher" made for iPad from the start. Not a forced PC or console port. A new consumer has appeared, largely thanks to iPad, iPhone and Facebook: the casual gamer. I'm bored, I have a phone, I click and if the game sucks me in I will buy an extra level for 99 cents. Such client doesn't read specialistic video game websites. It's a completely different business and the effect of scale is very important. To put it simply, you have to sell hundreds of thousands or millions of these games to make a profit.
Besides, what I learned in the industry during the last 20 years, si that you really have to choose what the company should focus on. True, from geographical point of view we're interested in markets all over the world. But let us do what we know. Don't try to spread ourselves too thin.
In our company, the situation always was very many ideas, too little manpower. This has changed. I mean we still have very many ideas, but we focus in a narrow area - where we really can be the best in the world.
We learned this painful lesson in 2007-08, when we were open on very many fronts. We had a joint stock company in Hungary, in Czech Republic, a game porting company, shares in a polish game developer Metropolis Software, we co-produced the first "Witcher" for consoles in France. All this I mentioned, except the first joint stock company, ended with a spectacular fall on the face. And despite a gigantic effort. I never worked harder in my life - 15-20 hours per day, and the effect was we nearly went bankrupt.
Now we work on business development all the time, we are looking for new directions, but nothing forced. We don't have to grow at lightning speed, to immediately become the biggest in the world. We have to make very good games. And have satisfied gamers on the whole world, who want to buy them.
How much money did you lose in these failed projects ?
- Over 20 million. Of course, gradually. At first we were saying: "No, we don't cut that. Let us re-structure that." And we re-structured the 2nd, 5th time. At some point one asks a question: does what we're doing make sense ? If there's a new plan, nice people, everyone is trying hard and nothing comes out, then maybe this business (strategy) is simply nonsense ?
And you have to pull out relatively soon, close the matter. Sell it ! Whatever.
When we're about to release a new game - and it can last a year, a year and a half - everyone goes aboard. And there's always too little manpower. And if in this time key people are doing 3 other things, they spend proportionally less time for this one most important thing, which powers us. And this is precisely what we have to choose and focus on.