11 November, 2009

BAF 09 Day 1: The legend that is Ian Livingstone

Towards the end of an inspiring opening day at BAF 09, Ian Livingstone O.B.E takes to the stage – he’s a "legend within the British gaming industry".

Having begun his career as co-founder of Games Workshop in 1975, Livingstone is now Creative Director of Eidos, the company responsible for developing world famous gaming franchises Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Hitman. We’re in the presence of a pioneer in interactive entertainment.

Livingstone whets our appetite by regaling us with tales and images from his early career with Games Workshop, before launching in to the first lesson for this audience of budding games developers: Owning your own intellectual property allows you to control your destiny and increase the value of what you’re producing.

His secondly lesson is pithy: "the three most important things in gaming are game play, game play and game play". It does not matter how pretty or complex your game is; it must be compelling. This explains the popularity of games such as Pong (1972), Space Invaders (1978), Pac-Man (1980) and Lemmings (1991) et al.

The murmurs in the audience as each clip appears on the Pictureville cinema screen are palpable. This audience may be young, but these games are timeless classics.

Livingstone next takes us on the pictorial journey we have been waiting for – a look at Lara Croft through the years. Lara Croft is one of the most famous icons in gaming, and is certainly a lesson in how to market your character.

“Of course”, says Livingstone, “merchandising and licensing are ways of leveraging intellectual property, but Eidos wanted to maintain integrity…” before bombarding us with a barrage of Lara Croft merchandise, and even an audio clip of Lara Croft’s album (not released in this country, to the relief of some in the audience!).

There’s no avoiding that “gaming is such a huge industry which now dwarfs any other media”. We currently spend $50 billion per year on gaming, and this is expected to rise to $90 billion by 2015.

Livingstone attributes this to a constantly evolving market which now appeals to young, old, male and female, and finds itself moving into arenas such as social networking sites, mobile phones and websites. Livingstone even believes that gaming is currently the only media which vastly improves over time, while Film and Music are relatively static.

After a brief selection of trailers for new and upcoming games, it’s time for a quick Q&A.

The first audience member to raise their hand is interested in the changes that have taken place throughout the Tomb Raider games. Livingstone uses this as an example of one of the difficulties faced by developers; producing a compelling sequel. “You can’t please everybody all of the time, only most people most of the time. That’s what we’re trying to do at Eidos, to make the best games possible.”

Our next hopeful wants to know about the future of video games; Livingstone explains how we are moving from games being sold as a product to being sold as a service - World of Warcraft is one incredibly successful example - it is no longer the case that games are produced, marketed, sold and forgotten about.

Two audience members are concerned about some important issues faced by the media industry as a whole – piracy, personal intrusion and safety. Livingstone asserts that we should be tough on piracy, without which there would be no industry, and that with the saturation of gaming it is only a matter of time before a classification system (such as PEGI) comes into play for social networking and flash sites.

Finally, questioned about the development of 3D in the film industry, and whether he believes this will be matched in the gaming world, Livingstone admits he’s not too fond of gaming “with things on his nose”. However as his enlightening and entertaining talk has illustrated, we have in our midst a passionate gamer, whose career is punctuated with gaming success stories.

In his own words, “you never stop playing, you’re never too young to start and never too old to stop.”


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