Focus on new markets as ELSPA Summit gets underway
<b>Live from London:</b> The second annual ELSPA Games Summit is taking place in London, with a strong focus on the importance of broadening the appeal of the industry as early speakers discussed the key future role of online, mobile and innovative games.
The second annual ELSPA Games Summit is taking place in London, with a strong focus on the importance of broadening the appeal of the industry as early speakers discussed the key future role of online, mobile and innovative games.
The summit, which is being held in the plush surroundings of the Le Meridien hotel near London's Piccadilly Circus, has attracted delegates and speakers from across Europe, North America and the Far East - and while next-generation technology is certainly on the agenda, the real focus of most speakers so far has been on how to drive the existing generation of hardware into new markets.
Both opening keynote speeches in the morning, from Activision president Kathy Vrabeck and SCEE president David Reeves, emphasised the importance of maintaining a focus on the current generation of technology rather than leaping to the next-generation platforms too soon.
Reeves' address in particular championed SCEE's efforts at expanding the PlayStation 2 demographic with innovative and unconventional products such as Eye Toy and Singstar - with the topic of innovation through hardware being raised once again in the afternoon by Harry Holmwood, director of In2Games, who introduced the motion-sensing GameTrak peripheral and gave an in-depth exploration of the benefits and pitfalls of developing games which use both hardware and software as part of their offering.
Consumers are becoming bored of standard games, and are unable to distinguish readily between them, argued Holmwood; whereas the creation of a unique piece of hardware to control the game gives it an edge in terms of being instantly interesting to a casual shopper, and also in terms of media coverage.
Another emerging area which was explored in some depth was mobile gaming, with a panel in the late morning bringing together the gaming chiefs from all three of the UK's largest mobile operators - Alan Welsman from Orange, Tim Harrison from Vodafone and Simon Dean from O2.
Chaired by Eidos' new media and online technologies director Simon Protheroe, the panel discussed the attitudes of the major carriers to the emerging mobile games market, with all three giving a healthy prognosis. Games, the message was, are not only an emerging important business sector, but also a key way to educate consumers about new ways to use their phones.
"It's a great educator for consumers, it's also a great differentiator, and it's starting to be a significant business - it's starting to become a significant part of content revenues," said Rosman. Harrison concurred; "[Games] are a significant driver of revenues within the genre, but will never compete with the volume of revenues of SMS or even voice," he said. "They're a very powerful way of telling consumers that phones are not just for phoning people up."
Simon Protheroe took to the lectern once more in the afternoon for a discussion of emerging technologies, where he covered not only mobile games - with one of his key messages being that it's important to tailor the game and the brand to specific devices, rather than trying to shoehorn ports of existing games onto devices for which they are not suited - but also the topic of digital distribution of PC titles.
Earlier in the day, Infinium COO Kevin Bacchus had introduced the company's Phantom Gaming Service and Phantom Receiver console in a presentation where he outlined the firm's plan to provide an ancillary revenue stream for the games industry, similar to the role of Pay Per View or Satellite TV in the movie business. Protheroe developed on this concept in the context of digital distribution and games-on-demand in the PC business, with both speakers agreeing that these new distribution opportunities would exploit new markets rather than cannibalising existing consumers and retail business, and describing them as effective ways to generate new revenue from products which have passed the usual 90-day shelf life for retail boxed games.
There was more in the way of new business opportunities to be found in a talk by Gamania's William Chen, who gave a fact-packed and extremely interesting talk about the state of the massively multiplayer gaming market in the Asia-Pacific region - touching on topics as diverse as the potential future growth of the Chinese market, the importance of internet cafes as a catalyst for the growth of the online gaming market and the game design considerations which have led to successful titles in the Far East.
Chen also produced what can only be described as a ripple of jealousy in the audience - largely made up of staff from western publishers - when he played a short introductory video for Gamedia, which included clips from the popular weekly TV show, the monthly magazine and the huge "off-line" carnival style events in Beijing, Taipei, Tokyo and elsewhere - all dedicated to the firm's range of online titles. Would that the market here would support such extravagance - but Chen was upbeat on the potential for Europe, pointing out that four years ago it would have seemed impossible that the networked gaming market in Asia would grow to such an extent.
The two-day conference continues today with talks from Sony Online Entertainment VP Cindy Armstrong, Criterion VP Chris Lee and Future Network CEO Greg Ingham; while tomorrow's schedule includes keynote speeches from Microsoft's Peter Moore, Nintendo's David Gosen, Activision's Scott Dodkins and Vivendi Games' Christophe Ramboz, among many others.