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Seamus Blackley: "I'd be terrified to be marketing games right now"

Original Xbox creator calls for experimentation during keynote at the [a]list Summit

The [a] list game marketing Summit in Beverly Hills, California brought together game marketers from some of the industry's top companies to discuss best practices for marketing games. The keynote speaker was Seamus Blackley, president of Innovative Leisure, and one of the creators of the Xbox, among many other things. He began, self-deprecatingly, by saying that as a game developer he's not really sure of what to say to marketers, but his eclectic career has helped him learn about many different things.

"I'd be terrified to be marketing games right now during the vast changes hitting the industry," said Blackley. "We're seeing a sea change in the way people see our products; something really magical is happening." Games have changed from being an outside phenomenon to being core to legitimate culture. The Toyota Prius interface is a video game, and Blackley sees it as a cultural victory. Games have become something you can find in everyday life, not something on the fringe.

"These principles of game design and interaction have become important in places we weren't expecting... like marketing," Blackley noted. "Consumers expect to be part of the game. They don't want to be communicated to, they want to be communicated with." As an example, he said that Minecraft is a tool that enables the audience to have a dialog with the creator, and that's important to its success. "People don't want to be told what's cool; they can figure that out for themselves," said Blackley.

Engaging people and making them part of the dialog can be a very important part of the business, and one that can generate a lot of revenue. "It's powerful, and new, and hard to predict. You may get it wrong, but that's almost as good as getting right, if you are flexible enough to change what you're doing," Blackley advised. "It's a time to be experimental and try a lot of things, as long as we don't forget that we're here to entertain the audience. Twice in our history the business has been killed nearly dead when we forget about entertaining the audience. We should remember that there are tremendous opportunities ahead of the industry."

"It's a time to be experimental and try a lot of things, as long as we don't forget that we're here to entertain the audience"

Seamus Blackley

He concluded by noting that "Companies like Zynga and ngmoco have created a whole new class of consumers who now feel they have permission to be gamers, and to say that they are gamers. They've also given them a huge amount of rehashed content, some of which isn't very good. This is awesome if you think you can make quality games." The challenge ahead of the game industry is to make those games, and to use equally creative marketing to bring the audience in to the experience.

You can read more about the sessions at the [a]list Summit coverage on the [a]list.

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Steve Peterson avatar
Steve Peterson: Steve Peterson has been in the game business for 30 years now as a designer (co-designer of the Champions RPG among others), a marketer (for various software companies) and a lecturer. Follow him on Twitter @20thLevel.
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