INTERVIEW: Ian Livingstone PART 2: On Lara Croft and Tomb Raider

Leigh Harris
INTERVIEW: Ian Livingstone PART 2: On Lara Croft and Tomb Raider

MCV continues its discussion with Eidos Life President Ian Livingstone today, turning his attention to the biggest of franchises.

The talk took place at this year's Game Tech event, where Livingstone was the keynote speaker. You can check out part one of this interview, where Livingstone talks about his latest Fighting Fantasy book Blood of the Zombies and its digital incarnation being handled by Melbourne-based Tin Man Games here.

In your talk today, you mentioned a quote from John Riccitello, where he said that games were changing from “that disk you buy to that place you go.” Do you think that trend of games transitioning from product to service is happening at a different pace in single player games like Tomb Raider over (for example) the iOS scene?

I think people still want a single player experience. The games industry is diversifying and is making new ways of delivering, new ways of playing games. One is certainly not totally at the expense of each other, and I think games as a product and as a service can live happily alongside each other for a long time to come.

A game like Tomb Raider has historically been a graphically intensive single player experience, and that’s not simply going to disappear overnight. What we’re seeing is an emergence and a growth in the digital area and a new consumer which has come along (the casual gamer, which has almost reached ascendancy), but niche gamers are still going to be here and want content delivered specifically for them.

What device will the single player activities appear on? Clearly, they’ll continue to need something with a lot of horsepower to be able to deliver that intense graphic experience, and therefore you’re talking about next generation consoles.

What happens after that? Will it be consoles embedded in Smart TVs? Who knows? As of today, a game like Tomb Raider does need the right hardware for people to enjoy the experience, rather like the difference between watching a Hollywood blockbuster in the cinema versus on YouTube. It depends on what you want to do.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light was undeniably successful. Is that sort of game size and scope something you’d look to continue?

Well, you’ve got to create a game that’s relevant to the platform on which it’s delivered, therefore the graphic-rich interactive experience of console Lara is inevitably going to be different to the experience that you’d expect on a mobile device.

The important thing is that they’re all linked by the IP and type of experience you get with that IP will depend on the device. The type of experience you want on iPhone is going to be different to the type of experience you want on a console, so you’re going to have to use different teams to create those experiences – teams who understand the platform and will deliver the brand promise of the IP. A Lara on iPhone should always be a totally different game to the Lara you see on consoles.

Does this kind of simultaneous convergence and fragmentation increase the important of brands?

Yes, I think so. In console markets now, it’s triple A or no way effectively. The rich are getting richer and that mid-tier range of games simply can’t compete. So it’s fine for a Call of Duty, FIFA etc (and hopefully Lara Croft from Square Enix), but I would be worrying if I were a mid-tier developer with an IP that’s not the best and a team that’s not the biggest and a production budget that’s not the largest either.

You simply can’t compete, so consumers are all buying the same games at the top end, but then rather than going down to the next one down the line in terms of production values, they’re saying ‘Well, I’ve played the best in class, I’m now going to play on Facebook or (more likely) on my smartphone’, so outside of those big games, they’re simply going to snack.

Do you think Sony (for example) is doing a good job of bridging that gap between snack gaming and triple A with mid-tier titles like Journey?

Yeah, Journey was a great experience and I’m sure you’re going to see more like it. The one thing we do know is that there’s no going back from digital. You either embrace digital or you’ve essentially got your head in the sand and you’re going to face extreme problems going forward. If you don’t have that digital strategy down, you’ve got to watch out.

Do you think the cries from media about a lack of innovation at the top is offset by this creative gold rush at the bottom?

You can’t blame publishers for doing sequels. I mean, they’ve invested so much money in these titles. Rather like James Bond, no one complains that this is something like the 20th James Bond film, because if their audience wants more, why not give them more?

But they do complain when he’s slated to drink a beer instead of a martini in the next film. You’re playing with fire yourselves with re-imagining Lara Croft. The montage you showed us earlier showed a progression of a very uniform character throughout the years. Why did you choose now to try and recreate such a strong gaming icon?

Lara Croft has been a gaming star since 1996. Since she’s got such a big fan following, through our research (not just an ivory tower approach to production), we realised that people wanted to know more about her, where she came from, how did she become a tomb raider etc, so that’s why we decided to do a prequel rather than a sequel.

It’s a young Lara on a boat, shipwrecked, marooned on an island – a vulnerable, bright, intelligent girl – how is she going to survive? So we’ve let people decide how she would survive on this island, which is filled with danger, how she’ll discover herself and become a tomb raider.

Thank you for your time!

 


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Tags: square enix , brand , publishing , interview , franchise , ian livingstone , event , eidos , tomb raider , lara croft , Game Tech 2012 , Game Tech

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