GamingBolt.com’s very own George Reith got a chance to meet up with Neil Ashurs who is the Head of UK PR, GAME and Gamestation.
Reith touches on various points surrounding the UK retail scene, Bafta awards and whether hard copy and boxed games will eventually come to an end.
Check out the full interview below.
George Reith: What are your thoughts on the list of BAFTA nominees?
Neil Ashurt: I think, as other people have already said, it has got something for everyone. They are obviously critically acclaimed and are the biggest games of last year in terms of sales and volume but there are a couple of things that I find really interesting and I was fortunate enough to be in the room when the panel decided. I did not have a vote, we are not allowed to have any influence at all, but we provided the top 50 games of last year. It was, however, very open: ‘This is what our customers bought but if you think there is another game that should be on the list, that you loved, then say now and then the panel can decide it’. They were all asked for their game of the year, though if someone else had nominated a game the same title could not be mentioned again, thirteen people gave their favourite game; no one mentioned (Call of Duty) Black-Ops, so they then had a conversation about ‘should we include it or not’. People were arguing for Angry Birds, probably one of the most played games of last year, but actually the original Angry Birds was in 2009 so it didn’t fit into the window but Angry Birds Seasons came out last year so there was a whole discussion about whether that should be included. Dara O’Brian said “I love Limbo, I’d love it to be on the list,” so they argued that one through. So there are two or three elements to it, it’s not just Call of Duty’s here or Red Dead’s here, I think there are two or three things on there that people will be really surprised by and also have a shot.
George Reith: Do you have a particular favourite that you would like to see win?
Neil Ashurt: Yes, I have a favourite, but, as I said, because I’m not allowed to influence I’m not allowed to say! But in my own personal life I will be campaigning for one, just away from anywhere where anyone could find out it was me. I will be setting up a twitter account under a secret name and campaigning! My real challenge is just to say to everyone: Don’t just assume it’s going to be Call of Duty or Red Dead, vote for the game that you want.
George Reith: It was interesting what you were saying about Call of Duty: Black Ops not initially making the list considering it was such a commercial and critical success, though more so commercially. The gaming industry has traditionally been associated with massive profit margins and big sales; do you think gaming is becoming a more critical field?
Neil Ashurt: In the room on the night I think there was an element of that. Everyone who was in the room, first and foremost, was someone who loves to play games, so they’re talking about their passion. Critically and commercially there will always be titles that hit those heights but there will also be games that are not the biggest selling but, actually, are loved by gamers. There will also be other games that may not be critically appreciated but actually, if you ask anybody, anyone who’s got five or ten minutes will be playing it and enjoying it; Angry Birds is a very good example of this. So there is a balance. I think everybody should vote with their heart; what is their favourite game on that list? There will be people who will argue for stuff that isn’t on that list, like they did last year, but I think, looking at that list, vote for the one that is absolutely your favourite from the year.
George Reith: What do you think of this year’s list in comparison to last year’s and do you have any predictions for next year? Do you think gaming is moving forward or changing direction?
Neil Ashurt: I think last year’s and this year’s, in terms of the breadth of games, is very similar. I think the difference for me is that this year in, their conversations, the panel were talking about stuff like Limbo, arcade games and mobile games, so that’s pushing it a bit further, but the breadth of it is still probably as wide as last year’s. Where do I see it going next year? Probably pushing the elements I was just discussing further still, I mean at one point this year the panel were discussing Farmville. Next year, could there be more of those types of games put forward for consideration? Possibly, but there will still be the critical and commercial boxed product, that we’re selling, alongside it. But that’s just where the industry is going, where the forefront of gamers are going, and we’ve still got to appeal to that wide market that come into our stores and are playing online social games everywhere. There is definitely something for everyone.
George Reith: You are talking about a lot of games which would be considered ‘casual’, do you think the casual and the hardcore gamer can co-exist or do you think one will always be cutting into the other?
Neil Ashurt: Whether they will co-exist ‘harmoniously’ is a different question, but I think they absolutely will co-exist. If you go into one of our GAME stores you will have a hardcore gamer in there but you will also have a mum or a casual gamer alongside them. I bet a lot of hardcore gamers have also played Angry Birds. They may not admit it and they may not say it is their favourite game of last year but they are as interested and want to play those types of games as much as the hardcore games which are the heart and tradition of the whole industry and what we and BAFTA are celebrating here at the awards.
George Reith: Continuing with the idea of casual gaming being seen as a guilty pleasure, there are a lot of people, sadly, who still see gaming in general as one…
Neil Ashurt: I think if you look at the kind of people at the BAFTA awards, over the past couple of years we have seen people almost ‘coming out’ saying ‘I’m proud to be a gamer, I love to do this and talking about it.’ I mean, if you take Michael Underwood here, a TV presenter not known for his gaming, he’s played the majority of the games on that list; from the hardcore to the more casual. I think we just have to embrace the whole spectrum. Not everyone will want to talk to each other but I think there is clearly a wide range of people who play now.
George Reith: Gaming is certainly now becoming much more commercially and publicly viable but I was wondering what your view on the notion of ‘game as art’ is; the idea of games having artistic merit?
Neil Ashurt: Well that’s one of the things I like about what we do at BAFTA as BAFTA recognises the amount of creativity and the artistic elements that are present in video games and that they should sit alongside the best creativity and artistic elements of film or TV. It’s not just that we are ‘the poor relation’ as an industry, we are up there. In terms of money, computer games take more than film and TV, you can’t argue we are the poor relation any more. We are absolutely, commercially and artistically, on a level playing field with what used to be considered ‘the big boys’. I mean, the fact that Hollywood takes games makes them into films and then makes a game version of that shows that it’s not just about the money; there is a level of interactivity with games that you just do not get with a film. Other industries are sitting up and taking note.
George Reith: As we are talking about the future of gaming and the launch of the NGP and 3DS is nearing, I’m not sure if you’re allowed to say, but do you have a favourite? Will you be backing one system in particular?
Neil Ashurt: Ooooh (chuckles), I’ve seen the 3DS and have been lucky enough to play on it for five minutes here or ten minutes there. I love things which, whatever console, take a step forward technology wise, that’s what gets me excited. I played Kinect and Move last year and they are very, very different but they both added a new dimension to existing technology. The 3DS, that’s exactly the same. I haven’t played the NGP but when it comes out, if it does the same, I think there will be a market for it. Personally, I certainly am a gadget geek and I will have to have every single one! I don’t have a favourite as I haven’t played with them all yet, but it think it could be an exciting year.
George Reith: In contrast to the major companies it was nice to see Limbo, an indie game, on the list of nominees. As technology is advancing do you think the gap is going to close between smaller and larger developers?
Neil Ashurt: I don’t know if that gap will close as part of that gap is basically the amount of money a developer has. At the BAFTA’s though we are not just looking at the amount of money that is thrown at a product but actually: Does it look good, does it play well, and do you feel a part of the game? I think things like arcade and social games don’t just have to be fun, you can have as worthwhile an experience with an iphone game as you can with a console title. It’s about making sure that we recognise the best of the industry, not just who has the most money. That’s why I was really happy when Dara brought up Limbo, because it is a great game and it looks amazing. They don’t have the budget of the big boys but it absolutely works. Will there always be that gap? Yes, but we are recognising good games full stop. Budget is irrelevant. Do you love it as a game? Yes. Should it be on the list? Yes, and that’s what we’ll always look at.
George Reith: Taking Limbo as an example of a great downloadable game, do you think hard copy and boxed games will eventually come to an end?
Neil Ashurt: I’m not going to make a prediction as to whether they will ever come to an end because I have no idea. I think what the thing GAME, as a retailer, is looking at is ‘where are our customers?’ and ‘how can we be where our customers are at?’ We have a download service; we are room based so you can go buy titles through our room based store, we have iphone apps, sell Facebook credits, Zynga credits… Xbox live have just made a deal with us so as well as buying Microsoft points you can also buy specific codes in store for specific download content so, for example, if you haven’t got a credit card or don’t want to have your details released we have got other options. It’s not just about boxed products; it’s about making sure that we have whatever and wherever, if customers want it, we’ve got it. Proportion wise I have no idea what’s going to happen between digital and boxed. I mean, if you look at the popularity of midnight openings that tells me that people will always want a boxed product in order to do that. But proportion wise, I have no idea.
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