EA’s executive vice president and COO of Worldwide Studios, David Gardner kicked off the 4th Edinburgh Games Festival with seven visions of the future from the company’s crystal ball.
However not even his gold-plated prognostications alerted him to the interruption of an inerrant fire sensor in the historical Royal College of Physicians building, which forced the evacuation of the building for 30 minutes.
Maybe it was a divine sign that no one should assume the future of anything, either games companies, let alone games conferences. Still, returned to our seats, Gardner’s 'seven predictions' pointed to the way EA’s sees the industry shaking out in future.
1. Developers dream about girls (as gamers)
A longterm discussion point, Gardner said EA’s internal research already underlines the important of the sector. Over 70 percent of purchasers of 40 million-strong The Sims franchise are women, younger than 25. Equally, more than 70 percent of the million-strong audience for the company’s subscription casual games site, pogo.com, is made up of women over the age of 35.
The trick in both cases has been perfect execution, both in terms of gameplay and community features. This isn’t always the case however, as Gardner explained with the example of The Sims Online
, which failed to take account that players of The Sims
were getting younger and hence didn’t have access to creditcards. This combined with gameplay issues meant despite being based on such a successful franchise, it never had more than 50,000 subscribers.
But there are also structural problems to overcome before reaching women gamers. While 90 percent of teenage boys play games, only 40 percent of teenage girls do. And, of those, most lose interest around six months to a year of starting to play games. The answer, Gardner explained, wasn’t pink games, but games made by women. As he pointed out, four of EA’s 11 global studios - including Fiona Sperry, who heads up EA’s UK studio which includes Criterion - are now run by women.
But what no one argues about is the potential of the market. "If we could get it right, we could add $1 billion of sales per year," Gardner predicted: EA’s current annual turnover is around $3 billion.
2. In-game advertising is already here
In an industry in transition, Gardner said companies needed all the new revenue streams open to them. He also reckoned it was part of bringing realism into genres such as sports, which are already being sold on their realworld attributes. "The industry just has to get on with this and make sure it deals with it in a creative manner," he said.
And while such deals are already being cut - most famously with Microsoft buying Massive - Gardner said the business wouldn’t take off until in-game advertising was dynamic and linked into always-online consoles.
3. Meet the multi-tasker
The first warning sign for the industry is the rise of community creative sites such as YouTube and Flickr where users don’t concentrate as they interact with the content. For years, TV chiefs have been jealous of the way games completely immerse their audience to the exclusive of other media (especially TV). But the case of YouTube marks a return for TV, at least Internet TV, where users can multi-task as they view, comment and remix the material they consume.
EA is trying to get ahead of the curve in terms of its sport titles with seamless integration with ESPN. The first game to ship with this will be NBA Live 2007
, which will link to espn.com and enable players to pull up an always-live ticker on the bottom of their screen to show realworld scores and news.
More content will be accessible using a radio podcast update, which will offer a two minute segment of the latest news every 20 minutes. Short interviews and analysis will also be available as part of the ESPN Motion TV channel.
More details of the system, which will be rolled out throughout EA’s sport range, including FIFA (albeit with different broadcast partners in different territories), will be announced at the Leipzig games festival later this week.
4. New talent will fast-track to leadership in a much shorter learning curve
We all know that new talent is the future of the industry but Gardner said he expected the impact of newcomers, whether from Hollywood or university programs such as Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center, with which it’s working closely, to be huge.
“Valve was judging a student competition at the DigiPen Institute of Technology when it came across what we now know to be Portal
,” Gardner pointed out.
5. More legislation attacking games - sponsored by politicians who’ve never played games
The good news is the latest bill to restrict access to games (like all previous attempts) has been thrown out as being unconstitutional, but that doesn’t mean the industry shouldn’t be responsible, especially towards parents who buy a lot of games, Gardner said. He also read a chunk from Everything Bad Is Good For You, Steven Johnson’s book about the impact of popular culture on the lives we all now lead.
6. Developers will encourage user-created content as a feature
Only one example was required; the game EA is calling a ‘massively single-player game’ - Spore
. The definition comes as all players create their own creatures which can be downloaded by other players, but each individual player’s world can’t be interacted with (ie destroyed) by other players.
7. Great games almost never come from great climates
A humorous sop to the UK audience (although Edinburgh remains rain-free), Gardner said the only exception to this rule he could think of was Tiburon, the Florida team behind Madden
. Clearly he’s never been to Texas!
[Gamasutra has multiple staff at both the Edinburgh and Leipzig game development events this week, and will cover the most important sessions from both in detail.]