Entertainment Software Association (ESA) president Douglas Lowenstein offered his vision for the future of the gaming industry in a media briefing at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles this week. He called his ideas “six easy steps to world dominance,” and painted in broad strokes ideas for how the industry can widen its audience beyond just gaming enthusiasts and hardcore gamers.
Broaden the market
Creating more games with mass-market appeal is at the top of Lowenstein’s list. The penetration of video games as a form of mass entertainment remains lower than media like film and TV. Creating content with cross gender appeal and creating less expensive games are important factors to consider, he said.
Create more complete games
Lowenstein also suggested that video game publishers and developers create more games that are socially relevant. “If we can make games about terrorism, why can’t we make compelling games about politics or global warming? Why can’t there be games which force players to struggle with weighty moral and ethical issues within compelling game worlds?” he asked.
Lowenstein also criticized what he calls the “Mature-rated game track.” “Just because the market is aging doesn’t mean older players won’t play compelling Teen and Everyone-rated games,” he said.
Games need more emotional impact, said Lowenstein. “We need games with better stories, more interesting and complex characters, games that keep you up in the middle of the night wrestling with whether you made the right ethical or moral choices, games that stay with you when you’re done with them, games that make you happy when you play them, and afterwards,” he said.
Make games that are easier to play
Games should also be simpler and easily understood, said Lowenstein. Developers should strive to balance between making a game appealing to hardcore gamers and approachable to new users alike. Although the “inbred game culture” will look down its nose at such games, Lowenstein suggested that developers should also consider making shorter games that can be sold for less. He pointed to ESA research that found 60 percent of Americans and 57 percent of gamers said they would be more likely to buy more games if they were shorter and priced significantly lower.
Evolve new financing models
Lowenstein thinks that the game industry needs new sources of capital to fund game development. “As a practical matter, no one else funds game development [but publishers], he said.
With development budgets of $10 million or more, publishers are conservative in their choices for games, preferring to invest in games and development teams with proven track records rather than taking risks and thinking outside the box.
Exploit emerging platforms
The online and mobile markets remain niches, said Lowenstein, “where only a fraction of their potential has been realized. But both have the potential to power the video game industry past the film industry.”
Online gaming is huge in Korea and Chinese online gaming is the biggest growth market for all entertainment industries, he said. One report Lowenstein pointed to indicates there would be 103 million Internet users in China by the end of the year.
“The video game industry has embraced online games as a primary platform,” said Lowenstein, adding that it needs to continue to exploit this competitive advantage over the film industry.
Solidify cultural credibility
“We need to overcome cultural resistance and fear,” said Lowenstein.
“You don’t have to be a cynical politician or a cultural extremist to raise questions about video game content. There are many thoughtful, rational people who share their concerns. And we ignore them at our own peril — they are the moms and dads who buy games and increasingly, play them.”
Lowenstein warned against
legislation pending in several states
that would restrict the sales of M-rated games to minors, saying that such efforts will not pass constitutional muster.
“The very essence of art is that it has no boundaries, and the critical acclaim accorded various paintings, photographs or books attests to that,” said Lowenstein. “But I submit to you it is one thing to say a product is protected speech, which it is, or that it is rated and parents need to accept responsibility, which they do. But it is quite another thing to say we have no larger responsibility for shaping the quality and the values of the culture we live in.”
recent America Online survey
said that a majority of Americans support the legislation that Lowenstein warns against. In a question and answer session following his speech, Lowenstein offered his perspective.
“There’s a big difference between a voluntary system for restricting sales of products to minors and a mandatory system,” Lowenstein told MacCentral. Lowenstein contends that video games are a protected form of free speech. “The fundamental constitutional principles are worth fighting for,” he said.