EA: “Android is crabgrass to the connected TV industry”

Richard Hilleman, Chief Creative Officer at Electronic Arts

Richard Hilleman, Chief Creative Officer at Electronic Arts

Good luck to anyone trying to keep Android devices out of their pay-TV walled garden – it is crabgrass and they will probably fail, according to Richard Hilleman, chief creative officer at Electronic Arts, who opened the TV Connect show in London today (Tuesday 19th March).Hilleman was upbeat about the appeal of gaming services on connected devices, saying that games have helped shape every connected platform so far, and believes that connected TVs will be no different.

He was equally clear however on the limitations of current implementations of gaming on connected TVs, delivered via one of three methods – apps, streaming and in-browser.

Apps are well understood and have lots of developers but are not updated very often, according to Hilleman, while in-browser gaming are always up-to-date but suffer from low performance due to poor browsers. Streaming services meanwhile offer the best presentation values but are extremely tough on bandwidth.

According to Hilleman, the cost implications of this last delivery method can be staggeringly high – for the first incarnation of the OnLive cloud gaming service, he estimated it would have been cheaper to buy each of customer a PlayStation 3 console.

Arrival of the Androids

However, new opportunities are on the horizon with the arrival of Android-powered connected TVs from Chinese manufacturers, says Hilleman: “The Androids are coming and this is good news, we have lots of faith that they can deliver a good experience for the types of product we make”.

For all its efforts to build a bridge to connected TVs with the optimum delivery path in terms of performance and value however, a company like EA has to live with the choices of its partners and customers.

“We try to support all three paths mentioned (Web, apps, streaming), but start with streaming. One of the key factors of average platform cost per user is the number of servers deployed per user,” said the EA exec.

“I believe that there is something that sits between apps and streaming, where some of the processing work is done client side, rather than compressing the complete experience for delivery via broadband, that could prove optimal for delivering gaming on connected TVs.”

Reducing complexity with two-way controllers

Hilleman also believes that tablets could potentially revolutionise gaming on connected TVs by acting as two-way controllers (i.e. giving gamers on-screen feedback), and even revolutionise the wider connected TV experience.

As with the TV industry, controller complexity has been too high and demanded too much from users in the past: “We lose gamers when we ask for too much money, too much controller complexity, and too much time – mobile and social gaming addressed these failures and brought gamers back. We have to take the complexity problem way more seriously.”

Hilleman closed his talk by providing a sweet image of a gaming arcade created out of cardboard boxes by a boy in Los Angeles – encouraging people to seek out videos of the arcade on YouTube, he said that amazing gaming experiences can also be achieved on connected TVs without throwing money and technology at it.

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