It's certainly been a busy week for the UK Gaming Industry, with yet another major annual event to attend. This time, though, it was the annual London Games Conference.
As it happened, this was featured in the same location as the F1 presentation, so following a brief blagging opportunity I got in as one of the conference speakers (keen to keep my pass hidden, just in case). Though the vast majority of this article was written in the main screening room in London's BAFTA headquarters, it felt better to walk away and return with greater reflection on the day’s events.
Ed Vaizey, Shadow Minister for Culture
Beginning with a short introduction by Stuart Disney, the Managing Director Intent Media, we move swiftly onto the first speaker. This was Ed Vaizey – Shadow Minister for Culture – who would outline the importance of the UK gaming industry to the economy and a recognition that. to retain a competitive stake in the world market, it would require government understanding and financial support.
Internal investment in the UK is dropping, with the UK loosing its third place to Canada and France. This ,Ed feels, is due to a lack of Labour government support and investment, contributing to our loss in this sector. The culture ministry’s lack of understanding of the video games industry has been proven in their recent campaigns displaying overweight children, which is not only badly researched but also damaging to the UK industry.
The industry is also campaigning for tax breaks, wirg Ed outlining that it's something the Conservative party is actively considering, although realistically the state of the UK economy cannot support this without lobbying. The Conservatives would be willing to expand the phone networks to more tenders, getting more investors involved, taking it out the monopoly of BT and enabling great involvement from a wider range of tenders.
He finished by promising a voice for the industry at national level, reviewing focus on skills, and support in a fiscal environment to allow the UK to compete on a world stage.
Nick Parker – Parker Consulting.biz
Next up was Nick Parker of Parker Consulting.biz. Nick explains the potential of online growth, though this is all very experimental and based on their personal judgment. It's all about common sense, but digital distribution is the key area for future growth. Of course, its aspect that is not clear to retail – after all, how will it integrate into their business research?
On the whole, this section didn’t tell me anything. Though, if you read their 1995 report, you’ll see how they expected the Nintendo 64 to take over the world… So, moving on then!
1st pannel session, the new food chain:
Introduced by Andy Payne, Chairman of ELSPA
Charles Cecil: Chairman of Evlution Software, Beneath A Steel Sky,
Rich Keen: Direct to Drive,
Gain Luzio: Product Director The Hut Group,
The future of retail: how’s it going to work? This is possibly the most important question that everyone wants the UK retail industry to answer, but what will this new era provide? More choice and better quality products, but what consumers want is better pricing, so what did retail think?
Gian feels that moving into digital distribution too fast could be damaging, essentially taking the industry backwards to the more knowledgeable gamer. The consensus is that it drives more content and it does leave more room for creativity, but there's a greater chance of lower quality products.
With concerns at the amount of products that could appear on an online market places, with the unflattering potential to have to sif through 'rubbish', how will the truly great titles get their exposure? How will marketing work? A more direct relationship with the customer?
As you can see, the debate asked more questions that it answered, though common sense tells us downloadable content is the future and some retailers will be left behind.
Phil Harrison Introduces the 2nd discussion forum related to Online Gaming
Thomas Bidaux: CEO of ICO PArtners
Kristian Segeerstrale: CEO and Co-founder of Playfish
Mark feels that the future is 100% online, and it’s a lot closer than the figures Nick was suggesting earlier stated. How does the panel feel about a PC download chart? Pet society has 200 million interactions a month online, and having been released for 14 months it continues to grow, consistently engaging its audience who keep coming back.
Meanwhile, Mark (commenting on Runescape) is not personally bothered about a PC download chart, explaining the level of their success: all time active player reach, 175 million downloads, 106 million active consumers, etc. But is retail still a key base to launch your title? Not a clear response.
How do they make money for selling a free product? Again, not a clear response. Marketing is always purely word of mouth, so consumers will come if you create a quality game. But it is a challenge, keeping ahead in a competitive market, and of course remaining ahead is all down to implementation of new ideas and keeping the business flexible.
Moving from packaged producst to digital ones will be a challenging idea, but it all depends on the 'experience' being offered. The consensus seems to be that major publishers will purchase successful new companies, though the marketing is not that 'clear'. So, basically, my personal question is this: does the industry lack ideas?
What if Facebook stopped with games? Unclear, but the hope is that if a seismic shift occurs (as with MySpace to Facebook), it has to be replaced by something – flexibility will be key! In general, the paying percentage for this new generation of online titles is around 25% at the momet, but with such a large audience it's still a huge growing sector, especially as the infrastructure already in place.
Again, lots of questions but answers were not clear. If you’re going to a debate and you invest in the cost to visit, surely you expect some straight answers, right?. They weren’t forthcoming, and ultimately we were all left at the end pretty much how we started. The final word being, watch this space.
Dorian Bloc: Media Control GFK
So, now it's time for Charttrack to give their reflection on the download gaming scene. The PC sector was the core focus of this discussion, showing a consistent sales record, though it's encouraging to see the growth in console, with the DS being perhaps the shock performer by outperforming all other formats.
The key concerns have been the lack of sales for the PC market, but in reality that has moved online so, instead of a drop, it should really be seen as a 'transition'.
Or should it? Piracy on the PC market has reached a critical level, and controlling this will be key to making the format viable. This bit of the conference was, put short, 'long and boring', and was more of a sales exercise in selling charttrack to gain numbers, but without console involvement it will remain largely incomplete data on any overall market shifts.
Onto the console, Tont Mott – EDGE
Pete Edward: Director, Playstation Home, SCEE
Keith Ramsdale: VP & General Manager UK, Ireland and Nordics, EA
Again, a focus of development of the online scene, but what else online can it bring outside of the standard experience, and what is the feeling on virtual content?
The latter point is certainly not something that interests the majority of the older audience, 12 million downloads of ultimate team demonstrating to Keith the growing size of the market. Though Pete and Jerry agree that there is still flexibility within their online development worlds, both companies often creating smaller teams to work on innovative 'Rand D' projects, but within the main “mothership” things can sometimes move slowly.
Again, I was disappointed to gain so little from this. The major console manufacturers are keeping everything close to their chests, and without more openness in discussions like these , it's simply a dance around what we already know. Suffice to say I learnt nothing from this discussion.
Overall, a mixed bag of an event. The right speakers and panels were chosen, but in a competitive market nobody wants to give an edge.
So, to invest in a ticket, what are you going to learn? The only conclusion I could come to was very little. Let’s see what next year brings…