Friday 24 June 2005/... Games industry senior executives, decision makers and researchers gathered in London this week for the ELSPA International Games Summit, with the market's thought leaders taking this valuable opportunity to share their vision, their strategies and their concerns as the industry sits on the cusp of the next-generation transition.
The annual event continues to grow from strength to strength and this, its third year, was its most successful yet - with a diverse selection of speakers and sessions, each of great relevance to the rapidly evolving business of games, and an audience comprised of senior executives from across the interactive entertainment industries.
Despite a broad selection of speakers ranging from senior platform holder executives to academics, covering topics from mobile phones to massively multiplayer games, a number of key themes emerged over the course of the two day Summit - most notably, the growing need for the industry to look beyond its traditional markets, both demographic and geographic, to achieve true mass-market penetration.
The opening keynotes from Peter Moore, Corporate VP of Microsoft Xbox, and David Reeves, President of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, both stressed the need to reach out to consumers who don't currently play games through both innovative software and attractive multimedia features. Although Peter Moore concentrated on the forthcoming Xbox 360 next-generation console, while David Reeves encouraged the industry to remain focused on the current-generation platforms for the next two years, both men revealed a vision of a multimedia, connected future which is designed, as Moore reiterated, to "touch a billion consumers."
European research firm Screen Digest and North American firm Magid, who gave detailed summaries of their respective markets, also delivered the message that the industry has yet to reach its full potential. Although the state of play and the challenges in both markets are clearly different, one message rang through clearly from these research presentations - namely that games are still only reaching a small percentage of their potential audience, with true mass-market penetration still a long way off.
However, it isn't just the platform holders who are fighting to drive the games industry beyond its traditional barriers - and the Summit heard from a number of other firms who are striving to build their business in unconventional markets and appeal to customers they've been previously unable to reach.
NCSoft North America president and CEO Robert Garriott delivered a fascinating talk about his company's efforts to redefine the world's perception of online games, and discussed the company's success in becoming truly mass-market in South Korea, where one in every five households has a subscription to an NCSoft game service. I-Play chief operating officer David Gosen and Vodafone director of global content development Graeme Ferguson both addressed the mass-market potential of mobile phone gaming, albeit from very different standpoints; and Intel's manager of consumer software and solutions, Arne Peters, showed off the company's plans for bringing the PC into the living room and turning it into a media and entertainment centre that will be embraced by all, not just hardcore gamers.
Demographic expansion was cited by many speakers as being only one half of the key to long-term growth, however, and the Summit did not neglect geographic growth either - with Beijing New Synergy Consulting's Sunray Zhaohui Liu on hand to deliver a compelling address on the structure of the Chinese games market and the challenges involved in entering this enormous and rapidly maturing marketplace.
Although many of the presentations at the Summit spoke of a pressing need for the industry not to rest on its laurels and to find new avenues of growth, issues relating to the current market were also an important topic.
Issues affecting the entire industry value chain were covered by a number of high profile speakers. At the development end of the spectrum, Electronic Arts' European Studio general manager Rory Armes discussed a number of lessons for successful game design and development, while Babel Media chairman Algy Williams chaired an enlightening panel discussion on the difficulties which will emerge in testing and quality assurance for next-generation console products.
The emergence of new revenue streams for publishers and developers was covered in depth by Massive Inc VP of global business development Nicolas Perkin, who brought the audience through the entire process of realising post-launch revenues from dynamic in-game advertising, as had Peter Moore earlier, whose talk covered the Xbox Live content purchasing service which will launch with Xbox 360.
Two issues of vast importance for the UK retailers and publishers, and the industry at large, were addressed by new research unveiled at the Summit. The early results of vital studies into consumer perceptions of age ratings and of software piracy revealed a number of challenges for the industry, with consumers and parents shown to be highly aware of both issues, but largely choosing to ignore them or consider them unimportant.
Finally, the Summit wrapped up with an Industry Super Panel, where key executives from across the entire industry took a wide variety of questions from the audience, addressing topics raised over the past two days of presentations as well as a range of new topics.
Further details regarding the ELSPA Games Summit can be obtained from the ELSPA website at www.elspa.com.
In-depth reporting and analysis of the Summit can be found in the pages of industry weekly paper MCV or at industry news website www.gamesindustry.biz.