At MI6's blockbuster closing 'Gaming 2020' session, a panel including execs from Peter Moore through Nolan Bushnell talked about the future of gaming, with an emphasis on the "casual" gaming consumer as the future of the industry.
With Wedbush senior analyst Michael Pachter acting as moderator, Ubisoft NA President Laurent Detoc, EA Sports President Peter Moore, Atari Founder, NeoEdge Chairman, and uWink CEO Nolan Bushnell, Wild Tangent CEO Alex St. John and EA Casual Games President Kathy Vrabeck all waxed lyrical on the state of games.
The session opened with Michael Pachter introducing the panelists, including one joke at Peter Moore’s expense ("Peter was the former president of Sega where he sold the sports business to Take 2... he's now at EA where he's in the process of buying it back") before introducing the three questions about the future which were to form the structure of the session: “Who will be the consumer?” “How will they access games?” and “What kind of games will be available in 2020?”
The Future Consumer
Laurent Detoc began: "[Even now] we have a lot more playing now than we used to. We used to have gamers, hobbyists, but by making things more accessible we are looking at more people who were not gamers. Gaming in 2020 will have the same path of dragging more people into gaming by making it more accessible to them, with new platforms and accessories (the stylus, remote, and the guitar)..."
"We've been playing the same games for a long time,” Detoc continued. “It doesn't reinvent itself that much. It gets better but it's not newer, it's not revolutionary, it's evolutionary. now that you start bringing accessories into it, you have new people accessing it. The way you envision what's going to be played, you do not need the controller to play. Games will be made for people who don't want to use the controller."
Discussing this technique, he praised Nintendo, who are “obviously the king of this [expanding the consumer base]”: “Iwata said a year ago, I don't want DS in every house, I want a DS in every hand. He wants everybody to play! I think the real driver of all of this has been Nintendo."
He did however note that there are other ways in which new gamers will be created. “You can play games on Facebook today -- this is social networking but people are playing games. If they're playing that they will eventually play something else," with Alex St. John adding, “Your mother learned to play games years ago on Yahoo before Nintendo ever discovered her."
"It's an interesting question coming from my previous life in a hardware company,” said Moore. “When I think of where we'll be 12-14 years from now, the trends we're seeing in serious games, health and wellness for the aging of America, I think games have a real serious role to play in."
"We're just seeing the tip of the iceberg of what people are willing to do in front of their televisions," he continued. "By the time we get to 2020 we will be on a par with any form of entertainment that's ever existed -- probably the word 'gaming' will even start to disappear.”
Kathy Vrabeck offered her opinion: "Thinking about who's playing today, I actually think a lot about my grandmother who has a board game closet. The fact that I can show her games online or on my cell phone and she gets it, I think is fascinating in and of itself."
"In think in 2020 we will not be making games accessible for the people we think of today," she said. "My own children -- they don't even know how to look up a word in a dictionary anymore because of dictionary.com. The big prank in seventh grade tech class is to make a fake entry on Wikipedia and see how fast it gets changed back -- those people are going to be the core gamer in years to come. That's the group we need to think about."
Vrabeck also foresaw a large shift in the way in which gamers accessed games ("In 12 short years we've moved to 30% of the business being online and mobile. Is that a stretch to say it'll be 50% 12 years from now? I don't think so"), and made big claims for user generated content and customization. “User generated content is everything now,” she said. “Even on Pogo, which as everyone knows has a very large percentage of women my age and older, these women are paying good money to customize their avatars. You know these women who have an Easter flag out, and the next month spring flowers, and then a fourth of July flag. That's how they relate online too."
As president of EA Casual Games, Vrabeck set off a discussion on the increased importance of women gamers in the future. Pachter asked her, “When you do Littlest Pet Shop Online, are you thinking about what the users are going to be playing in 12 years?”
"We're not that diabolical at EA,” Vrabeck joked, “We're building something for those girls that works today.”
Detoc piped up: "It's a good point, the 8 year old girl who's playing now on DS, at some point we're going to lose her -- maybe when she's 14 and she discovers boys -- how do we keep her?"
The topic of conversation moved to Nolan Bushnell, someone who has already observed sweeping changes across his time in the industry. The panel asked: did he see the future coming?
"I knew it was going to be a big market, very very big,” Bushnell admitted, “I began to feel like we could rival the movie industry. I'm not sure I went so far as to say that we could exceed it."
Bushnell went on to describe what he saw as the future now: "Monopoly, Risk, what have you, were a bunch of people sitting around a table, drinking beer, rolling dice, having a good time, and traditional banquets with gaming, in the 10th and 12th century, always had food and drink with them."
"So the living room, I think, of 2020, will likely have some kind of interactive coffee table," he predicted. "There will probably be an internet connection. The console market is difficult because it's closed. What I want to do is create this fun environment of people playing, eyeball to eyeball, in the restaurant, having a great time, drinking beer, having burgers, having pizza."
“While other people are speculating about the future, I came from there to join you today," joked St. John. “I think there are several interesting things about the future. We sell on average 3000-5000 games a day, we make 50 percent of our revenues from that, and we make 50 percent from people playing those games completely free supported by advertising. The medium of gaming is like movies were in 1947. You went to a movie theater to consume it. Suddenly television is introduced movies are broadcastable. The medium transforms it. It didn't put the movie theaters out of business, but you don't get news from it anymore. It's about watching the movie epics."
By 2020, St. John continued, "I think you'll see the console business gone. One reason is that if there's a game which is the most profitable game in history, it's World of Warcraft
. More and more games will move to community models. The best selling other games in the console space are Rock Band, Guitar Hero
and the Wii. You're seeing a game market that is differentiated by new forms of control. The interactivity and controllers, and community, will define the game market."
The Future of Single Player
"I don't know that I agree with you,” Pachter responded, “Insofar as you all seem to agree that the future is social interaction -- collaborative, competitive gameplay. I think of entertainment as a solitary experience. I may go to the movies with my wife but we don't sit there and talk about it during the film. We consume it alone. You read a book by yourself. It strikes me that we're socialized to consume entertainment alone. I still think most video games are consumed alone. What role is there for the single player game for people who wants to get away from people for awhile?"
St. John did, candidly, agree: “The vast majority of people play games as single player and there's relatively low levels of social interaction," while Bushnell expressed a disinterest in traditional MMO titles: “Two or three years ago I had a WOW
account and I found it quite boring. My 14 year old has a WOW
account, though, and he'd play it 24/7 if you let him. When we're talking about these things it's not to the exclusion of all others. I think we're talking about shifts away from how it is today."
"Solitary gaming is not going away,” opined Detoc. “There are a lot of consumers who play games for different reasons. Those who play to escape everyone else -- I think it's still going to be a marketer's world."
Business Models Of The Future
“What you'll be doing and what the audience be doing in 2020?” asked Pachter.
"I think we have to look east for indications of where this business is going,” said Moore, referring to microtransaction business models pioneers by Asia-developed MMOs. “We're going to have to practice creative destruction quickly. With the retail/console model we're kidding ourselves.”
In the future, Moore thinks he’ll be "going to Madison Avenue in New York making sure I have the millions of ad revenue coming in that used to be coming in the cash registers. Think of FIFA 2020
-- it's a soccer game that can appeal to 5 billion people. Can I sell it to them in retail? Probably not. Can I give it to them and start doing microtransactions? Statistic updates overnight for a premium? If you want a snapshot of what it's going to look like, go to Korea, go to Taiwan."
However, the once popular thought that the TV would be the center of all entertainment was not considered viable by some on the panel. “The dominant idea of TV as the entertainment center is over,” said St. John. “The peak buying time for PCs is July because kids need them for school. Maybe some will plug into TV sets, but kids will have laptops and they are going to play anywhere they damn well like."
Questions For The Future
The panel opened up to questions from the audience, with one question challenging the audience on the fact that titles such as Brain Age
have set the tone for casual games – while “casual” books or films include The Da Vinci Code and National Treasure, many of that audience would never play Assassin’s Creed
"The challenge is for the newly casual consumer is the amount of time they're willing to spend in one sitting,” responded Vrabeck. “The time they're willing to spend to really have achievement. To date I think the game development has focused on what people can get in and play for 10 minutes because what we know is that people are playing a lot at work. Either break time, lunchtime, or right after work."
"I think there are a lot of misconceptions on what really goes on out there,” disagreed St. John. “When people play a causal game the average play length is 60 minutes. That's shocking to people sometimes. The average number of sessions someone plays a game they like is 60 before they move on."
“The important thing is this whole long tail, when you have games online,” concluded Vrabeck. “It's about an ongoing relationship with the consumer, and how to acquire them and how to do something new. Marketing will change into more of what are you doing every day with these consumers as opposed to only the three weeks before launch."