A retrospective is an agile development term for a team meeting at the end of a development cycle where the team determines what things were done well, what things could have been better, and what things they were going to try to do better in the next cycle. It's a great way for teams to celebrate what they did correctly and identify the things that they need to improve on.
Given the state of flux that the video game industry is in right now I thought it would be an interesting idea to do several small retrospective with folks from around the industry with the end goal is to develop a holistic view of the state of the video game.
The format is fairly simple. We've asked each company the same four questions about what they did great last year, what they could have done better, and what they plan to do in the coming year. We then asked them how they thought the entire industry answered those questions. To keep things interesting we also asked a few company specific questions too.
We've got a nice variety of opinions ranging from game developers to publishers to hardware manufactures and everyone in between. This is one of the more ambitious projects we've ever done and we think you'll enjoy seeing the wide spectrum of opinions on the industry. You can see our previous retrospectives here
Today we are talking to PowerA, a peripheral company that's been cranking out some fantastic products lately (like their Batarang controller
). These questions were answers by Eric Bensussen, the President of PowerA.
Looking back at the last year what were the things that you did right? What things could you have done better?
We made some big bets with the launch of the Nintendo 3DS and Pokémon in 2011. Those paid off very well for us for the first half of the year. What we didn’t plan for was the softening of the marketplace through the summer which drove price decreases on portable hardware, which affected the second half of the year. Fortunately our controller business drove the bulk of our sales through holiday. Skylanders was a pleasant surprise for a lot of people. We knew this franchise was going to be big early in the cycle, but convincing retailers to take in accessories for it when it was still an unproven license was challenging. This year, that’s all changing, now that Skylanders products of all kinds are in such high demand.
What do you think went well for the game industry in 2011? What do you think the industry could have done better in 2011?
There were some great software launches in 2011 but there were also a ton of titles that lagged - overall, there was a 15% drop from the previous year. Many anticipated hardware sales at this point in the lifecycle would slow down, but the software wasn’t there in volume to cover the reduction in units and dollars, which was a surprise.
The market needs more innovation. Skylanders was proof the market is hungry for new ways to think about games as entertainment. We need other software publishers to join forces with accessory manufacturers like PowerA to drive innovation on how consumers connect with their devices.
Looking ahead, what are you most excited about from PowerA in 2012? What’s the one thing you’re planning on doing now that you weren’t doing in 2011?
The market is shifting but I think it’s for all the right reasons. A lot of people are talking about how mobile devices are eating into the success of the video game console and handheld business – But I think they can both live in harmony. This is an exciting time. Mobility is bringing more and more consumers into gaming just like Nintendo did with the Wii. Moms and children as young as age 1 or 2 are now spending their free time engaging with game apps. Our business at PowerA needs to evolve outside of our traditional video game space and we are working diligently on numerous technologies and products to evolve as the market does. That’s the biggest change for us in 2012. That said, we’re not just jumping in blindly or reacting to this shift. We’ve been working on our strategy for the past few years. Our video game business is very strong. We experienced double digit growth in 2011, when the market was down 15%. We accomplished this by employing the same core strategy we have been following for the last ten years.
What are you looking forward to most in 2012 from an industry standpoint? What should the industry do better in 2012?
I’m looking forward to continued software innovation for the next couple of years but I’m also looking forward to planning now for the next generation of video game hardware. Our entrance into the mobile market in 2012 will be exciting for us, but my passion remains with our core business: video games. We are planning now to leverage innovative technologies we believe will radically amplify the experience consumers have with their video game devices.
My hope is we are past the point as an industry where we think we can be complacent in our approach to the development of new products. Innovation will continue to spark interest in the hearts and minds of game consumers. They have so many options for entertainment today; the way to win is to never stop innovating.
Most gamers hold third party controllers in low regard, what has PowerA done to change that opinion? With things like the Kinect hitting the market, what do you see the future of controllers is going to be? Will we always have some kind of multi-button controller or not?
Our approach to gaming controllers was very different from what had been done prior. Most third party controllers are viewed as an inferior substitute for a "better" first party solution. Many are developed with a specific price point in mind instead of focusing on the experience it should provide during gameplay. That thinking doesn’t sit well with gamers. Our goal from the beginning was to create the best controllers in the market, period. Every gamer wants a controller that can help them compete and win. Thirty million players are online playing Call of Duty - they are playing longer game sessions than ever before and they are playing to win. I remember when we were developing our first Pro Elite controller for the PS3. We were looking at the increased cost of adding motion control and we all agreed how important that feature was. We didn’t want gamers talking about how great our controller was “except” that it didn’t have motion control like Sony’s first party controller. So it was an easy decision for PowerA to make. We’re grateful the response to our controllers has been so positive, and we want to keep making controllers that change the perception of what a third party controller can be.
Kinect is a very popular device and has brought a new audience to the Xbox 360. Xbox needed something like Kinect to break through to new audiences, which had previously only been captured by Wii. I think the long term success of that platform will be driven by content, and there are currently some great games with many more on the way. For most gamers, I believe there will always be a desire to have a controller with buttons, triggers and analog sticks in one form or another. There is a time for dancing, moving and playing sports-type games on the Wii or Kinect. That said, there is also a time when gamers want to relax and engage with their favorite game. I’m excited to see how those two technologies can come together to create an experience that offers up the best of both worlds.