Monday, August 13, 2007

Edinburgh Interactive Festival

As part of my growing interest in games (from a research point of view of course), I have decided to make the Edinburgh Interactive Festival my one and only August Fringe event this year. This conference is mostly directed towards games industry insiders, but it is quite an amazing insight into the games business, even if I feel like the odd academic in the room. I'm also attending State of Play in Singapore later in the month to continue with the gaming-heavy research plan. After the introduction we had to vote with one of those networked voting systems. According to the audience, MMOG's and virtual worlds are set to be the fastest growing game sectors next year. Anyway, here are my highlights from Day 1:

Yves Guillemot from Ubisoft. There were plenty of mentions to IP-related subjects here. There are plans in the industry to reduce creation costs by increasing content tie-ins, even by creating books, movies and games at the same time. I found this rather depressing as movie-based games tend to range from poor to mediocre. Games work better when they feature original content, not rehashed licensed characters. There was a lot of talk about user-generated content, and how Ubisoft is trying to move into it, but there was little mention of who owns that content!

Hilmar Petursson from EVE Online. This was my favourite presentation of the day, with plenty of food for thought for someone who is interested in issues beyond mere development. I've always heard good things about EVE, and it seems like the game is well thought out, with an excellent ethos. Something that came across quite strongly was that EVE is not a product, but a service. From the start they did not sell CDs because their publishing rights deal fell through. Launched in 2003, they began to think differently about online distribution and direct download models, which is how the industry operates at present. Their player base has been growing linearly, in contrast with most other MMOs, which eventually hit a maximum and then subscriptions drop. Then there was an interesting comparison of the two types of MMOs, the Themepark and the Playground. The later is big, flashy, full of crowds, all the rides are set for you and it's fun (WoW). The former is an open-ended space which allows users to explore and create at their leisure (EVE). The presentation finished with an exploration of the many social, governance, economic and regulatory implications of the game. I was delighted to hear that EVE Online now employs a full-time economist to conduct research and analyse the economical underpinnings of the game. There was a mention that there are considerable governance issues with a game that operates in a devolved laissez-faire environment. With 200,000 players, and some very large alliances and corporations, this is a game almost tailor-made to explore social organisation, emerging markets and self-regulation.

The other session I enjoyed was Games, Actually, about pulling more women into the gaming market. Out of 148 million females in the UK, France, Spain, Germany and Italy, 28 million had purchased a game. Depending on this definition, 24% to 46% of gamers are women (but I did not like their definitions). Females are now spending more on games. Girls hate violent games, and The Sims is big with females. A quote from some research conducted, "You have €60 to spend, and you could spend it on games or shoes, what are you going to do?"

There was also Edge's Game Awards, but I did not care enough about the games involved to pay a lot of attention.

Shallow comments: If I were to name this event, I would call it one of the following: The Tie Is Dead; The Ponytail Lives!; or Goths Dig Games.

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