Phil Harrison Interview

Having spent more than a decade at PlayStation, as well as time at both Atari and Microsoft, Phil Harrison is one of the most travelled executives in the games industry. We sat down for a chat with him at Gamelab to learn more about his views on the medium as a whole, on his latest investment in the AR/VR space, on Brexit and more.

Audio transcription

"So after a couple of attempts we finally got to have Phil Harrison here at Gamelab.
Thank you for joining us.
It's lovely to be here and I'm sorry it took one year longer than it should have done."

"It wasn't your fault, you were hard, right?
Yes, exactly. I had a bicycle accident but thankfully I'm here now.
Feeling better now?
I am, thank you for asking."

"You had a panel today which was about the whole world is playing games, now what?
That's the question you throw to the audience. What's your answer to that?
I don't have all of the answers but my question is now we have billions of people around the world playing games and we don't really have to explain what is a computer game anymore because of the success of mobile and console platforms."

"We are at a very exciting, almost golden age of computer games and interactive entertainment.
We have the tools to make the content easily, readily available, cheaply available.
We have the distribution, we have the platforms, we have the technology to put things online.
We have all of the power at our disposal and now we should do something amazing with that power."

"We should be telling the stories that really touch our hearts and our souls in a different way.
And so that was the question that I was asking, what are we going to do with this power now that we have all of this capability?
And I made a comparison to the history of Hollywood."

"And if you go back to 1927, that was the first talkie movie, The Jazz Singer, 1927.
Then wind the clock forwards by 40 years to 1967.
Look at the movies that came out in 1967, 68 and it's 2001 A Space Odyssey, it's Cool Hand Luke, it's In The Heat Of The Night, it's Aladdin, it's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, some of the most amazing stories ever told."

"This year is roughly the 40th year of computer games.
And my question is, are we doing the same justice to our technology?
Are we doing the same justice to our players?
And I think there are some examples, but not enough."

"We were chatting about this before.
One of those examples could be inside, for example.
Do you think it's a matter of just a matter of ideas, a matter of talent being connected to this new technology we have now?
What do you think is the key for them to come up with such great titles nowadays?
I think it is always about talent."

"And I think what we as an industry have to do is find ways for non-game storytellers to come into our world and to be more open.
I'll give you an example, actually.
We talked about inside, but that obviously made by a very experienced game team."

"But a great example of a world that I really wanted to learn more about and I wanted to understand about.
And when I mentioned this on stage just now, I could hear people in the audience clapping and sort of saying, yeah, we agree, you know, it seemed to resonate with people."

"But there's another example, Joseph Farris, the guy who did Brothers.
He's a non-traditional game storyteller.
He comes from a film background.
And so I'm excited by more and more of those ideas, those collaborations."

"Now that the tools are there, how can we bring in a more diverse type of content creator, women as well as men, age diversity, ethnic diversity, geographic diversity?
Those are the things that I think are exciting."

"It's interesting that you mentioned Joseph, because, of course, he's a movie guy before.
And now he's mostly interested in interactivity between two players for the two projects."

"So that is more about gameplay than storytelling.
So perhaps we also need, other than stories, gameplay innovations and gameplay presentations to change now.
I think that's true."

"And obviously a storyteller on their own can't make a great game.
They need to be in partnership with the software developers, the designers, the engineers, the artists.
But I'm hopeful that in the same way that Netflix totally changed the model for writing television, I'm hoping that the power of online distribution and eventually VR and AR will bring a new type of storyteller into our world."

"What about investment?
I don't know if you shared some advice with the audience on, for example, studios looking for investment and the opposite, investors, where to find the talent to invest in."

"Did you share any advice with them?
I didn't get any specific questions on that today, but my advice is always to focus on the team first.
As an investor, I always look at the team before I look at the project."

"When I invested in Supercell, I invested in them because the team was great and the tools that they had meant that they would be very easily and quickly able to change the game if the first game was not a success.
I was not betting on that first game being successful."

"It's about having a great team.
It's about being in the right place at the right time and having the right technology to bring your ideas to market.
What I am a little worried about, particularly in the mobile space, is that there is so much copycat, lack of innovation."

"I find that a little bit depressing, but that's always been the way.
What about platforms?
Of course, Supercell is mobile, as you said, but you also mentioned VR.
I guess you're interested in investing in VR as well."

"I think you are.
What can you tell us about choosing platform first if you want to make business in this industry and then going for the team?
In fact, today I announced an investment in a VR startup called Dream Reality Interactive, a company based in London that is formed by some very smart former Sony team members."

"They are building a VR AR company.
The way I think of the world is that VR is going to be the appetizer and AR is going to be the main course.
I don't know how you say that, but like the tapas and the principal."

"What do you say?
I think eventually the world will be an AR world.
It will take time to get there.
I'm talking about five plus years to get there."

"But remember, the iPhone is only 10 years old today.
I'm already thinking about what is the post-mobile world.
Perhaps that team you just mentioned you're investing in is going to create that next gameplay idea."

"Because on VR we don't have an insight yet.
Do you think there is that groundbreaking, brilliant idea already happening?
I do and I see actually the production values in VR increasing at a much faster rate than I had expected."

"I think the quality of productions going into VR is very exciting.
That's also quite scary because it means that the cost of production is going up very quickly as well.
But there's always been a little bit of an arms race in the market."

"Speaking about platforms and of course with your huge PlayStation background, I have to ask you, how does it compare in your eyes the current PlayStation 2, the PlayStation we knew from the 90s and the 2000?
I think Sony has done a great job in making PlayStation 4 very popular around the world."

"What I wonder about and maybe I worry about a little bit is that both Microsoft and Sony, are they growing the market?
Are they building and investing in the content and broadening the experiences to bring in more players?
It looks to me from their public announcements at least that they are increasingly going for the same kind of hardcore gamer."

"Whereas Nintendo Switch I think has the opportunity to play to the wider audience.
So it's going to be really interesting to see how the market dynamics play out over the next three or four years in console.
How do you think the Switch is going to change the panorama for players?
Not just hardcore players having it as a second platform but also to introduce new players who are not just about mobile games."

"So I can only answer from my own experience with two boys, eight and six.
The Switch is definitely the console of choice.
In the house my eldest son plays a lot of Zelda and together they play a lot of Mario Kart."

"So I think that Switch will continue to be the number one console in our house for a period of time.
But my eldest son also plays FIFA and Forza and he is getting more and more into the advanced console games."

"But the second screen ability of Switch is surprisingly useful.
Even though we are lucky to have more than one TV in our house there are many homes that don't and I think that is going to be a really major benefit for many many people."

"That's interesting.
What about the National Film and TV School?
What are the initiatives you are involved as of now in terms of game and taking games to the broader audience?
So I joined the board of governors of the National Film and Television School four, maybe five years ago."

"And the reason I joined was that they had just established a games course as part of the film school and the television school.
And I was excited by the crossover between game development and film and TV production and all of the skills that could work across different media."

"And they are making great strides in building a fantastic school.
For me that is the future of storytelling.
If you can have a student who enters a film school and can understand how to make TV games and film, that's amazing."

"It's going to be full of Joseph Fares.
Maybe that's where the next storytellers will come from.
Closing, I want to ask you about Brexit.
How do you think it's going to impact?
We had this very same question last year."

"It was a hot topic already.
We asked David Braven and Ian Livingstone.
So how do you think it's going to impact both the current market space, the current companies and also future talents in the UK who want to enter the broad video game industry in Europe and worldwide?
So it's now one year after the vote."

"And I still can't believe that we're supposed to be leaving.
I am still sad and depressed by the reality.
And I think as it relates to games development in the UK, the biggest fear is access to talent and having free movement of smart people."

"In all of the successful studios that I have run or been involved with or invested in over the 30 years, all of the best studios have had a diverse mix of culture from different countries.
And that's what makes a great creative process."

"And if, and I do not know what will happen, but if as a result of Brexit, we make it more difficult for Europeans to come and work in the UK and for the British people to work in Europe, I think everybody loses."

"So that's the thing I am concerned about most.
Now, politically, I think that there is a lot of pressure to ensure that movement of talent from country to country will be maintained.
It might not be completely open and free, but it will have low friction."

"And I think if as a result of Brexit negotiations, we end up with the lowest possible friction of movement of talent, then that will be making the best of a bad situation.
Hopefully. Thank you very much for your time, Phil."

"Pleasure. What a very depressing question to finish on.
Let's finish it with a smile.
Anyway, nice to see you. Thank you very much."





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