EI09; The Great Debate – Part I
The Big Debate was the round-off to the conference on the first day. It was a massive success, and took in some of the biggest names from the day, pitted them against each other and saw who was left standing at the end.
Ian Livingstone played the role of Chairperson, who ruled with an iron fist and a sharp tongue, all with the best sense of humour. The acerbic kind.
Sean Dromgoole – COE of GameVision, and Kristian Segerstrale – CEO of PlayFish were speaking in support of the proposal, whilst EA’s Peter Moore and Sony UK’s Ray Maguire were against the motion.
What followed was a funny, interactive, intuitive and often tempestuous ride through the thoughts of some of the biggest names in the business. The topic?
“The Great Era of Gaming Blockbusters is Coming to an End”
Sean Dromgoole took to the stage first, and was allocated just 5 minutes to convince the (hugely sceptical) audience that he was right.
He quickly defined the Blockbuster they were about to debate the fate of as a game which costs “a balance-sheet threatening amount” to develop and incurs huge mass marketing costs to get out into stores.
Almost as quickly, Sean pointed out that – should he and Kristian win the debate – he will more than likely be out of a job, seeing as it is the likes of Sony and EA that his industry analysis role is hugely valuable to.
After the laughter had died down, he mentioned games as a form of entertainment.
The games industry has grown rapidly in the past few years, with the likes of the Wii and DS generating a whole new market which has blossomed exceedingly well. As such, he stated that big games are less important than they once were.
The numbers have changed. It is the Dr. Kawashimas and Peggles of the world that are now the most played games. TV and Publishing have seen a decline in numbers, while the games industry have built a new market in an innovative and novel way.
The internet was cited as the main reason for this. The YouTube generation were no longer interested in TV; they wanted the interactivity of the worldwide web. Stimulation comes from all corners of our environment now, not a few select sources.
He went on to say that we can no longer target games at a massive audience. We can no longer afford to sink $40m into a game which may or may not sell.
When companies do sell games, these games are niche titles. Wii Fit is targeted at fat people (laughter and some tutting), Kawashima’s Brain Training is targeted at forgetful older people (laughter).
At this point, Ian Livingstone piped up with a comment about himself needing a title to do both. Uproar ensued.
Once the audience were fully recovered, Sean went on to say that we sell games with big smiles and not big biceps in today’s market. That is simply what the market demands.
He closed by saying that the likes of Modern Warfare 2 and GTA4 are simply “old oaks” in a bustling forest, abundant with saplings.
There was a moment – a brief moment – when it seemed that everyone clicked. Everyone understood what he was saying and what he was getting at.
As Sean Dromgoole sat down again, there were some scatterings of decidedly nervous laughter among the applause.
Peter Moore then took to the stage.
“Blockbusters have been around since the dawn of silent film”, he states. Blockbusters provide mainstream legitimacy in the industry.
Games were blamed for the world’s social ills for a long period of time. The blockbusters which are taken up by a truly massive audience have created an altered perception. We are no longer weirdos sitting in darkened rooms drivelling over a few pixels. Now we are fully accepted interactive entertainment.
And how do we continue to develop this mainstream legitimacy? The likes of Call of Duty 4 and EA’s Madden series have cast many massive movies into the shade. Books and films do not garner the same sort of figures as games now frequently generate.
Some games generated in excess of $300m on launch day alone. Compare that to Transformers 2. Considered to be a massive success, but it generated just $108m in the first week in the NA territory.
The sheer scale and following of the Madden brand forced over 6,000 stores to open in the USA at midnight on Friday morning in order to feed the massive demand for the latest iteration of the game. Over 1m customers are thought to have bought the game.
Consumers love and feed on the hype and build-up to the release of a really big launch.
The proliferation of alternative delivery systems for games (Steam, SourceForge, Amazon, PSN, XBLA, etc) has fragmented gamers and they way in which they purchase. What it has categorically not done is reduce the demand for the big blockbuster games.
The biggest games are not licensed. They are original IP. This allows for creative investment in other channels such as stationary, toys, physical assets tied irrevocably to the core product.
Hardware is sold on the back of blockbuster games, which generates massive footfall for game retailers in terms of impulse purchases.
“Finally” Peter Moore stated, “without blockbusters, what would we tattoo on our arms?”
Again, the audience began applauding and cheering at the self-reference to the days of Halo 2 and GTA4 being revealed at the big press events.
So that was round one. Join us soon for Round 2 of the debate, where we hear from Ray Maguire and Kristian Segerstrale and we finally reveal who we – the audience at the conference – chose as our winners!
What are your thoughts on the subject so far?