Again, some notes but not comprehensive:
Business Summit: Follow the Leaders
Gerhard Florin, VP EA
Jay Cohen, VP UbiSoft
Russell Shanks, COO Sony Online
Jim Moloshok, SVP Yahoo!
Let’s talk about the present. What have you done in the last coupla quarters that you think was really smart?
Jay: I think UbiSoft has taken a really aggressive stance with online console gaming, particularly with xbox live. 14m machines worldwide, not even half ps2, but they took a real aggressive stance with taking broadband gaming into the living room, and we wanted to be a part of that. We took splintercell to the xbox and it’s really proven to be successful for extending your brand and improving the shelflife of the product.. also totally new gameplay mechanics and design.
Jim: Games on Demand. Consumers no longer need to go to a store to buy a game, they just download it. It’s really a CD experience, so now we’re a distributor of entertainment content. Also we’ve launched new Yahoo messenger, and community is such a huge part of games, we built it with all the hooks already in there. You can play games right in the messenger environment. It really does give up the ability to take an established base of messenger users and migrate them back into games… In the case of GOD, gaming companies are finding that this doesn’t conflict or cannibalise shrinkwrap, it gives the early adopters an advantage who then make it work for us virally. With Messenger, the games are elementary and selfbuilt.
Russell: I think we’ve grown the online space considerably by rolling out SWG and Planetside.. we’ve attracted people from consoles, and we’ve redoubled our efforts to listen and provide the best customer service we possibly can. Digital distribution models. Expansion pack purchases from home without having to go to the retail store.
The housewife playing Everquest. How did she start?
Russell: usually her Significant Other has brought the game home and started playing, and she’s shoved him off the PC and taken over. This is a wonderful thing, it reinforces the fact that just a little more care in the content means it can appeal to everyone. Also alternative distribution models are equally important, because these people aren’t typical folk to walk into those specialist retail game stores and pick up a game.
Gerhard: We’re very busy to move our market from nichey game audience to interactive entertainment play. We’re marketing and positioning our games differently.. often people think games are for males 8-18 but the average gamer is 25+ and adult and they want to be talked to in a different way. That’s our biggest European achievement. Gaming is an interactive entertainment, and online will become more serious.
Jim: In 99-2000 I was working on daytime TV. We did a lot of marketplace reseearch with women at home supposed to be watching soap operas and Oprah. These women were shifting from watching talkshows to gaming. As talkshows shifted to single topic instead of multi, it’s very hard to come in 32 mins after the hour and understand what’s happening. With games, they can get it, have a social experience, and games are an expandable time experience – they can be paused. Yahoo have more and more women beginning to play the more complicated games, the more console games and the downloadable games. They were drawn in with games like canasta (70%) women and then we migrate them.
Could you get a new audience via, say, an xbox? Can we attract women to games rather than have them hoovering around it?
Russell: Allowing those games to network is huge. One of the biggest draws to these games is the social aspect, and women gravitate towards that. We’re finding that in the large social organisation that form within the MMO games, it’s the norm that the women are the leadership of those groups.
Gerhard: Given the offering we currently have, it is very difficult to appeal to women. It’s just not made for them, we ignore this other side of the industry, the studios are dominated by men. Our one exception is the Sims, between 4-6 Sims games in the top ten because there is no competition, the head of the studios is a lady, and the company there has more female programmers than anywhere else.
If you have a radical departure from the game, you don’t build a women’s gam per se, but say a game that’s not for traditional gamers, will they come when you build it?
Jay: yeah, we’re not talking to that segment at all and we’re overlooking it. We took a chance a year ago with Bratz, and we released on Playstation. Nearly half a million units later the game was flying out of the stores. We realised ok, wait up, these girls are on average 8 years old. What’s going to happen when they’re 12, 13, 14? We need to talk to them. They’re familiar with the controllers, and controls. So we’re spending a lot of money on research on that now. I think that will be the largest and fastest growing segment in the next ten years.
Jim: There’s a huge appeal of games for women. But women are not going to go into stores to buy a game, however if you put it in the home and make it easy for them to get.. ok there’s a porn analogy here, but you make it available to them and they can sample it, it’s a great way of introducing them. You have to break the mould, change the development techniques and marketing techniques.
Russell: My wife loves games, and she’s my test case for a long time because she’d only play what I brought home, or ask for something. She wouldn’t go out and buy something.
This speaks volumes for the digital download model.
Gerhard: I disagree. The second biggest buying group is females, in the UK. Mothers, of course, they don’t play them but they will buy them. I don’t think there’s any problem about going into a shop.
Are we just putting games in the wrong spot then?
Russell: well the shops that I go to they’re all over the place. The games are in the right place. Maybe it’s the designs? Or the marketing efforts?
So you put an xbox playable disk on the cover of a women’s magazine, say. What are you doing in the future for sure around this sort of thing?
Jay: Not on the magazine. On the phone. Put it on a device that’s a natural part of their lifestyle.
Jim: Rather than on the magazine, you need word of mouth, for all audiences. I’d say you put in a segment on say, Oprah. If you have brand association with people they trust every day, then it works. The closer you can get it to them while making it their choice, and also using the social community aspect, like a friend or like Oprah, then I think you can introduce women to games if it has the right elements for them.
Russell: Well for SOE we’re trying to broaden the demographics that we attract. Marketing is not my expertise but we’re very much trying to open up the gameplay styles and genres. If we can just create a rich enough environment …
Gerhard: The joypad is a hurdle for most people. EyeToy and dancemats and microphones are really popular. If we don’t communicate properly and our marketing teams ignore the group, then we’ll never get anywhere.
Jim: It’s not just women. What about the older generation? There are a lot of people who used to play games and then they got busy and walked away.. on the floor you see a lot of the old nostalgic games coming back onto the market. Not dissimilar to the box office – remakes of shows successful 20 years ago.. brands people remember.
Gerhard: the TV broadcasters are dying. The younger generation is hungry for control, interactivity and multitasking. We – people our age - can’t handle both kids and a game, it’s too much.. but the next generation is wired so that this isn’t a problem. These kids will grow with their habit and the multitasking won’t be a problem.
Jim: Yes. Once you’re interactive you’ll always be interactive. Once you’ve TiVO’d, you can’t go back to the old way of watching television.
What genuinely surprised you?
Jim: When I went to Yahoo games, I was SHOCKED at the amount of women in there. There are the serious gamers, a lot of people who buy games, and this other island of people that was basically Proctor and Gamble heaven, on there every single day.
Russell: I travelled a lot to Asia, and wanted to investigate the online environment there. The walks of life and diversity of players was boggling. So high priority for us is expanding into those areas and culturalising the games. Making them in such a way that they’ll be well received by local territories.
Was it the Sims that got women in, or was it the marketing?
Gerhard: it was the Sims. It wasn’t the marketing. We weren’t that smart.
Any last thoughts?
Jim: I really believe that there’s a lot of interactivity that people are interested in, and as they grow up never knowing a time when there wasn’t an interactive device in the household, and as you see movies and games coming out at the same time… as you look to the future there’s gonna be a time where the interactivity between the worlds of entertainment, game and online becomes one. We’ll expand to new people who’ve been scared of games until now.
Gerhard: Our market has easily the potential to – minimally - double in the next five years. Based on youth gamers and compelling content, and games becoming emotional. Add it all together, and it shows you easily where the opportunities are.
Russell: I’m really excited about the network connected devices coming out. We have huge opportunities to expand what we think games are, and working with big Intellectual Properties and really interactive entertainment.. and I’m excited about the opportunity as players to experience new things and new social experiences.
Jay: As industry leaders in interactive entertainment I’m always surprised that we’re repeatedly asked “when are the movie companies gonna produce games?” I’m thinking, when are the games companies gonna produce movies?
[ end ]
I have a few things to say now, speaking as a female player and game-buyer (from the shops!):
1. 25 years of gaming history has sent out the marketing message that games are for boys and men. If you change that message, women will buy more games.
2. I think that it's not a lack of games that will appeal to women that's the problem - there are LOTS - it's women even knowing they exist, and that they're fun, and worth the purchase.
3. In *my* 25 years of gaming history, I have never once seen a game explicitly marketed to me, in "female media" or ordinary media like newspapers. Online, in neutral environments (say, Yahoo) a game banner ad tells me a game is available, but the message that that advert is for boys and men is still subconscious. I'll click because clearly I'm a freak, but will a non-gaming female click if that message isn't changed? Will her eye even notice the banner?
4. I want Playstation teeshirts that aren't in XXL and man-shaped.
5. Daytime TV ad slots are cheap as chips. If you advertise a game there like, say, SSX 3, and women (or men) can see how pretty it is, and fun it could be, you may find the message changing slowly. Surely this is worth an experiment. My dear previously-non-gamer flatmate is now an SSX addict after seeing it play..
6. Making games for women at home who have kids will be tricky because they are time-poor - start with the teenage females and "Sugar" magazine or Habbo Hotel, but don't discount the mothers: they'll be bored during certain hours of the day and eager for entertainment. Oh and can we all stop calling them 'they' with that curious aftertaste?
7. If the Sims was so popular with women, how come there are only 80,000 Sims subscribers? Could it be because lots of people may not even know it even exists? How many of you have even heard of Alphaville (no, not the 80s band)?
8. You may have to spend money to make money. Start changing that message that games are only for men, without expecting change overnight.
9. Buy ads on google keywords like 'global domination' or 'flirt' or 'meeting people' or 'bored' or 'EastEnders' for Sims Online and see what happens.
9. Make more survival horror games please, they're my favourite.