The morning keynote at the second day of the LA Games Conference was an intimate affair with Doug Lowenstein of the Entertainment Software Association speaking optimistically of the future of the games industry.
While the games industry is important in and of itself, Lowenstein spent the morning talking about its importance as a transformational industry for America and the world.
Growth? No Problem!
Lowenstein is not worried about the growth of the industry. The next three to five years are poised for sustained and accelerated growth. Even more important to him is the fact that like earlier industries such as the automotive industry, telecommunications, and computers, the video games industry has impact beyond its industry bounds. In the future, "People will be talking about the video game industry as a transformational industry impacting Americans whether they like [games] or not."
In 2010, 75 million Americans will be between the ages of 10 and 30, meaning those that grew up with video games will outnumber baby-boomers. This generation will be in places of power in government, academia, and industry. A study from two economists commissioned by the ESA found that the impact of video games on the American economy was 18 billion dollars, a figure which does not include human resources.
The power of next generation video game technology not only serves to satisfy the hunger of game designers and developers, but also to bring that power to other places. Lowenstein noted that the Cell processor that powers the upcoming Sony PS3 console is now being used in medical imaging applications. IBM is selling the Cell processor to the Department of Energy and building a 1 Petaflop supercomputer with this game-driven technology at its core.
Broadband infrastructure and wireless networks can attribute their recent growth in the last few years to the demands made by online gamers. High speed cell phone networks are still behind in America compared to abroad, but new gaming applications are forcing 3G infrastructure and adoption rates to increase.
The 'Serious Game' Boom
The games themselves are being used in various serious initiatives, from training first responders in theoretical emergencies to educating children on diseases.
Lowenstein cited the Federation of American Scientists describing games as capable of teaching higher order skills that are essential for Americans and American employers in the global workforce in the next 20 years. "Video games are key… essential to developing a workforce that is qualified to do the jobs that American workers will do in the next few years."
He also noted that it's fine to attack individual games and the ways they push the envelope culturally or can influence people, but this is an industry that does far more beyond making games. He compared it to the automotive industry, where many people point to individual practices as questionable, but understand the importance of the industry and its place in the economy.
'Video Games' - A Misnomer?
In the short Q&A session, Lowenstein commented that digital distribution is still between 5 and 10 years away from being a significant player in the market. He also commented on the failure of the edutainment market in recent years and resultant difficulty in marketing games with more educational or serious goals.
Lowenstein wished an audience member representing National Geographic well on their efforts to move games into more of their content offerings, especially in the face of the common perception of the games industry as purely fun and games. "One of the worse things going for us is that we're called video games."