Exclusive Interview: American McGee has seen the future of gaming, and it begins in China

exclusive interview american mcgee has seen the future of gaming and it begins in china americanmcgee
Seven years ago, American McGee saw the future of the game industry.  

The future he saw was in China, so he packed up and moved to Shanghai to found Spicy Horse Games. McGee, the CEO of his company which most recently developed Alice: Madness Returns for Electronic Arts, was at the Game Developers Conference (GDC 2012) to show off three new games and discuss what he sees as the future of gaming, and why China is becoming the center of the gaming world.

The developer is one of many creatives to make the leap to mobile gaming. In this exclusive interview McGee talks about his latest games, what free-to-play titles mean to the industry, and  why the future of gaming begins in China.

exclusive interview american mcgee has seen the future of gaming and it begins in china s  alice madness returnsYou’ve been in Shanghai now for a while. Can you talk about how you’ve seen things evolve over there?

It’s seven years that I’ve been there. It’s been an incredible journey just to be witness to this revolution across every single facet of society there, whether it be finance, sexuality, gaming, entertainment, or whatever. It’s like a whole world that’s opening up not only internally for itself as a society, but also to the rest of the world. It’s been really amazing to witness.

When it comes to games, can you talk about how you have progressed from developing hardcore PC titles to games that are for the mainstream?

The funny things is, when I went to China, one of the big things was that I wanted to be closer to what was, and is, the largest free-to-play online market in the world. I thought by virtue of being in the neighborhood, it would be a lot easier for my development team to also get involved in that business. What we had though, for the last five years, was a great struggle of trying to separate ourselves from Western development and this idea that we are Western developers. It’s only been in the last year via investment funding and a group of partners who are very much believers in online and free-to-play, that we’ve been able to finally be able to break away. It also happens to coincide with the Western market, in general, now starting to make a serious move towards social online.

What games are you showing here at GDC?

exclusive interview american mcgee has seen the future of gaming and it begins in china bighead bashWe have had three games in development for the last 12 months. In this year, 2012, we’re going to release three games back-to-back. The first one is called BigHead Bash, which is an online multiplayer shooter game, but it’s presented in a 2 ½-D gameplay style. The next one is called Akaneiro: Demon Hunters, which is based on Red Riding Hood, but set in Japan. It’s a light Diablo-style dungeon-crawler, but designed for social networks and tablets. The last one that’s going to come out later this year is called Crazy Fairies, and that’s basically a replication of Worms, but in 3D. It’s turn-based and multiplayer, and it’s also being built for basically any mobile, social, online device.

How has your development evolved from games for console or for PC to these newer platforms?

The toolset is what, I think, has been the biggest boon for us as a cross-platform developer. We’re working with Unity 3D, which means that at the press of a button, we can be on any mobile device. We can be a web game in a browser, or we can be a client download game. The team has really taken advantage of this advancement in technology in the engine that we’re using. As a development organization, we’ve always had a very blended philosophy so that we can have three different projects going on at the same time, with people bouncing between each of these three projects, sometimes multiple times per day. All of this is going back to when we were doing the Grimm series, which was a first of a kind episodic PC game.

Having been part of this whole evolution we’re seeing, if you look at the game industry, where do you see things going five years from now?

exclusive interview american mcgee has seen the future of gaming and it begins in china akaneiro demon huntersOne of the reasons that I went out to China was because I could see, and I think a lot of people could see, that that was where the future was already happening. The largest game publishers in the world are, in fact, the Chinese publishers despite what Activision and EA might want to have you believe otherwise. What you can see out there is that it is all about online, micro-transaction, free-to-play, and completely connected games. Also, it’s becoming more and more about mobile devices, cell phones, and tablets.

What advantages do you have being based in Shanghai?

The reason that we’re out there is because it’s so close to the future, it’s a completely different mindset when it comes to the player mentality. I think that that’s probably the biggest challenge that the Western game development and publishing group has, is to really bring the players around to this new idea of connected free-to-play online games.

How large is your studio, Spicy Horse, today?

exclusive interview american mcgee has seen the future of gaming and it begins in china spicy horseThese days we’re around 50 people inside the studio, and that’s splitting between all the standard animation, 3D, and sound departments, and then everybody working together on these three times. Everybody is blending back and forth between the various projects at any given moment, but as our games come out and hopefully find success, then we’ll continue to grow those teams, keep them attached to those projects, and then also use outsourcing to provide the content to keep the games, themselves, fresh.

What has your fascination has been over the years with fairy tales?

I think one thing is that it’s globally and universally known. When you do a Red Riding Hood tale, it doesn’t matter whether you’re presenting that in China, Japan, the US, or Germany. People know the story. I think one of the advantages that we found is that you have built-in marketing, awareness, and understanding of the character and story types. That helps us to shorten up the period of time we have to spend getting somebody into the idea of the game, and it allows us to get into the gameplay and the meat of the thing much faster.

Gaming

Google’s Stadia is the future of gaming, and that’s bad news for our planet

Google’s upcoming Stadia cloud gaming service, and its competitors, are ready to change the way gamers play, but in doing so they may kick off a new wave of data center growth – with unfortunate consequences for the environment.
Gaming

These awesome free-to-play games might be even better than the ones you paid for

Believe it or not, free-to-play games have evolved into engaging, enjoyable experiences. Here are a few of our favorites that you can play right now, including Warframe and the perennially popular League of Legends.
Gaming

Tired of the same PS4 annual releases? Try one of these indie games instead

While big budget games rely on practical innovation, indie games dive head first into new, unexplored territories. If the quirky and unusual appeal to you, take a look at our list of the best indie games on PS4.
Gaming

The hottest Nintendo Switch games you can get right now

The Nintendo Switch's lineup started off small, but games have steadily released as the console continues through its second year. Here are the best Nintendo Switch games available now.
Gaming

Anthem Act 1 features and content delayed, including Cataclysm world event

The features and events from Act 1 in the Anthem road map are taking a backseat as the developers work on the game's direction while bluntly stating that the online shooter is a long way from being the game they want it to be.
Gaming

15 Nintendo Switch games you should play in handheld mode

The Nintendo Switch's handheld mode is more than a convenient way to play games -- it's also the preferable way for some titles. Here are 15 Nintendo Switch games you should play in handheld mode.
Product Review

Something's rotten in Days Gone, and it's not the zombies

Days Gone’s predictable story is littered with repetitive missions, shoddy stealth and gunplay, and needless survival mechanics. It’s riddled with performance issues, like janky animations and consistent framerate drops.
Gaming

These are all the games we want to see from Square Enix at E3 2019

Square Enix will once again hold its own press conference for E3 2019. These are the games we want the company to show during the event, including the long-awaited Final Fantasy VII Remake.
Gaming

Days Gone will receive free post-launch DLC starting in June

Days Gone launches this week and the developers are already setting the stage for post-launch content. Starting in June with the Survivor mode, Bend Studio will begin releasing weekly free updates that include various challenges.
Computing

These gaming monitors will transport you to another dimension

What are the best gaming monitors you can buy right now? We select five that are all priced under $900 packing premium technologies like G-SYNC and FreeSync, high resolutions, and fast refresh rates.
Gaming

Jump on your hog and use our guide to fast traveling in Days Gone

Days Gone has a large open world set in the Pacific Northwest, with the main means of travel being Deacon's motorcycle. Fast travel exists, but it's not as simple as it is in some other open world games. Here's what you need to know.
Gaming

Tips and tricks for beginners entering the postapocalypse in Days Gone

Days Gone has finally arrived on PS4 after multiple days. After more than 35 hours spent in the post-apocalyptic vision of the Pacific Northwest, we've learned a lot. Here are ten tips and tricks to help you get started.
Gaming

How to raise your trust and earn a good reputation with camps in Days Gone

Days Gone stars a drifter named Deacon St. John in the post-apocalypse. Since he's somewhat of a lone wolf, the people he comes across are leery of him. That's where the Trust system comes into play. Here's what you need to know about it.
Computing

Corsair’s Ironclaw, Glaive gaming mice are tuned for performance and comfort

Corsair is adding wireless capabilities to its Ironclaw gaming mouse this year, while the Glaive RGB Pro has been updated for maximum comfort with thoughtful ergonomics. Both mice feature accurate tracking and durable buttons.