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LGF Retrospective

Keith Ramsdale gives us his verdict on this year's London Games Festival

This year's London Games Festival, which took place across two weeks in October, succeeded in garnering a reasonable amount of publicity, both specialist and mainstream.

But was it a success overall? To answer that question, spoke to Keith Ramsdale, chairman of LGF and EA's VP and general manager for UK and Ireland.

How do you think this year's LGF improved on last year's event?

I think scale, support and direction. Last year was good, it was embryonic. It was small, but it was a start - it got the mayor of London interested, and it opened the door really.

This year, one of my key strategies for it was that it's media first. So it wasn't designed to be a consumer show, it's a media-facing celebration of the gaming industry, that's really what we were looking for.

That encompassed many aspects, not least the creative aspect, the talent development aspects - both what developers bring to gaming and also how we can help kids grow personally and get into the business - and then showcase.

So the difference year on year is pretty much broad industry support and really good mainstream media attention - ITV, BBC, broadsheets and red tops. I'm really pleased with that.

Does that mean it's not for gamers?

The strategy was media first, consumers second. That's not to belittle consumers, but the target here is to come out with good mainstream coverage, so that we're showcasing our industry as an entertainment experience.

That's what this is about. Most press that we get is negative if it's mainstream, and this is about turning it completely around, and showing it as the art form it truly is, and as the mainstream form of entertainment that it truly is.

There's a lot of talk about videogames being as popular as music or TV, but is that really the case?

Certainly on financial terms it is, and also on hours of engagement it is. That's a proven fact and we know that kids are turning off TVs to play games, to surf the net, to interact with other people via mobile phones and so on.

People generally are multitasking and it doesn't include TV. We know that change is happening and we can rightly say that people play games longer than they participate in any other form of entertainment. We know that more and more people are coming into videogames.

But the cause is for us to go out and show videogames as the showcase it really is, and I think that there's an interesting dynamic with the mainstream press.

We're a competitor to TV, and it's not in TV's interest to give us massive coverage. So if you look at how we're comparing ourselves, if people were able to see what Trafalgar Square looked like [during LGF] they'd be staggered.

There are very few industries that could do what we did to Trafalgar Square, and it includes music - but music is an integral part of the videogames world. So I think as a revenue business we're going to overtake music shortly, we're bigger than the box office already, one day we'll be bigger than film, however long that takes.

At the moment we talk about 150 million consumers worldwide. We think we can reach 2 billion consumers worldwide, with the way that this business is developing. So I think we can say we're up there.

And what was EA looking to get out of LGF this year?

Largely the same thing actually. We spent a reasonable amount of money putting on the [Trafalgar Square] show and we didn't do that for the good of others - we did it from a commercial aspect. We need to make every penny work, and it will.

So we were there on two fronts - firstly to support LGF, because I absolutely believe we need to positively PR ourselves as an industry much more than we ever have, and we need to be part of that.

And actually, what we did in Trafalgar Square was a marketing and PR event that stacked up in its own right regardless of LGF - but we chose to do it as part of LGF.

How do you think the business for EA has changed in the past year - there's an influx of casual formats, is that at the expense of traditional gamers?

The hardcore traditional gamer is key to our business and will remain there. We're not going to overlook them, ever. But we're seeing our real growth in new formats - not just Wii and DS, as fantastic as they are for this business, but also online.

We're learning from the Asian market just how good and important online gaming is, and we're building ourselves up to replicate that in the Western world.

Are you concerned that the PS3 isn't working out so well?

The PS3 is doing ever so well just now. If you look at FIFA 08, on its first weekend the PS3 numbers were 75 per cent of the Xbox 360 numbers, despite the 360 having a massively higher install base.

That's not that the 360 has underperformed, not for a moment. That's because the appetite for a quality game on the PS3 is there and maybe FIFA is the first game to come and show where the quality is.

To be honest we never really doubted that the PS3 was going to kick in, it was just when it was going to come. We never doubted that it would. And it's starting to happen now - I think PS3 consumers are waiting for the right game and they want to see the quality.

Of course the hardware sales increased dramatically when the price cut happened and that's absolutely part of it. Ray Maguire said himself that they were planning that, it was part of their strategy and I absolutely understand that.

But what I would say is that the software sales against a hardware install base on a good game like FIFA - the PS3 outpunches its weight in attachment to the hardware. So now the price drop has happened, the hardware is going to grow, and we're in for a great time.

Keith Ramsdale is the chairman of the London Games Festival, and EA's VP and general manager for UK and Ireland. Interview by Ellie Gibson.

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