NY Games Conference 2011

On September 22, 2011 the annual NY Games Conference was held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park. The actual events were held in the auditorium and the dinning hall on the second floor. This wasn't a conference on the latest in video games such as Playstation, Xbox, or nintendo. This was more geared towards the social community of gaming like facebook games, and companies like zynga, as well as the online gaming on cell phones. This year one of the main focuses were on discovery; making these games like farmville easier to find for people. Social gaming isn't a small knit community. There are tons or games out there just waiting to be played and discovered. So of course one issue is how do you get your game or give your game the attention is may well deserve. Other topics covered were would these games eventually replace handheld devices like the psp or the nintendo ds. One of my favorite topics that I'm glad they covered was the cross branding of these games with tv shows, products, or movies. Having them work for your brand, keeping people interested in your brand, and promoting the brand. The companies that made appearance were both those that you would normally hear about like Zynga, Arkadium, Badgeville, and Gamify. The big names in gaming like Ubisoft, EA, and Sony were there as well marketing themselves, as well as joining in the panel discussions.

To start things off I attended the “Fireside Chat” with CEO of OMGPOP Dan Porter. In this chat he mainly talked about how while social gaming has the bigger audience, it still isn't that easy to break into. The problem he says goes back to discovery, being able to have that large audience see your game and play it. Especially with the long list of games you can play on facebook or myspace, it is hard to choose. “Facebook gaming has a lot more audience, but harder to break into gaming wise. Mobile gaming allows for more discoveries”. In a sense mobile gaming isn't a closed market. Sites like facebook started out open for gaming, but eventually, in order for facebook to become what it is today, they had to close the market. Meaning they had be more selective on which games they allow to be on their site. Mobile gaming allows more people or companies to put up their game and have an open market chance at being downloaded. While indie gaming is still a blossoming market, there is still room for big market games like “The Sims”. Recently EA bought out Playfish, which allowed EA to venture out more into social gaming. Their biggest move was bringing “The Sims” online through Facebook. With “The Sims” being as popular as it is on PC's and consoles, making it readily available online for free only increased its popularity. The name alone I'm sure was enough for people to start playing that game, mainly because its a game people know exactly what they are getting into before they play. Unlike with other games, you don't really have that sense of confidence in how good the game will be until you actually try it. While it may be on some social networking sites, its the cell phone that people really question if it's worth the $1.99 or $2.99 selling price.

The next panel focused on the state of the games industry. Covering topics such as: What does it take to make a successful game across platforms? What trends and developments are the most important to the future direction or the industry? What emerging gaming platforms will be the more important in the years to come? And How do you make money with new digital platforms competing with the time and pocketbooks of consumers. Joining in this discussion were: Matt Hulett Chief Gamer of Game House, Owais Farooqui SVP of Digital Publishing for Atari, Julie Shumaker SVP & GM of Media for RockYou, Sean Spector Co-Founder and SVP of business development and content of GameFly, Ormar Abdelwahed Executive Producer of Ubisoft Entertainment. This was one of the more insightful panels that really gave you an idea of where gaming may be headed in the long run. The biggest point was that a lot of gaming isn't taking place on the consoles any more. Its more about mobility. People are buying Ipads and tablet devices to replace the laptop. So besides being able to work of course, people want to be able to play as well. So giving them exclusive games for their tablet device or touch screen cell phone is the next logical step. While xbox, Playstation and Nintendo are fighting it out in the console wars, it does seem some new combatants are taking the stage. Those combatants being: Facebook, IOS, and Android. It may not replace the consoles, it does offer people options, especially those that aren't big gamers to begin with. While Nintendo has been labeled the casual gamer console because of its family friendly content, it still brings in the hardcore gamers with games like “The Legend of Zelda” Metroid Prime, Mario, and Super Smash Brothers. Tablet devices and Android phone games do cater to just about anyone. The simple mechanics of those games as well as the simplicity of the games allow anyone regardless of age or game experience to pick and enjoy for as long as they want. The drawback of that is now the game is too simple. Not enough or no story, nothing really to engage the person to make them want to play this on a regular basis. So the big question of the panel was “Can it be more complex”? Can you bring stories into these platforms without scaring the casual game? And it can be done. On Xbox live there is a game called “Castle Crashers”, that has the classic storyline of kidnapped princess and having to go on a long journey to go and rescue her. Playing the game is very simple, and it's a 3D side scroller. A game like that can be easily transitioned into the tablet or android phone. It's not as serious as a Legend of Zelda, but it still has the fun of playing a game like that. While a game can be simple, it can still have that complexity of a hardcore game while not losing its broad audience. “Technology makes it easier to cross platform”, which is true in a sense. When speaking of tablets, facebook, and cell phones, it is a lot easier to do that transition as opposed to the consoles. The better the device, the better the game will run on it regardless of manufacturer. To push that point further, SVP of Sony SCEA, Philip Rosenberg came out and announced his company's newest innovation where you can download a game from the Playstation Network and play it on your PS3, your psp, a various other devices; Bridging that gap between multiple platforms. While that idea is amazing, it still leaves you wondering how that same game will translate in terms of gameplay and control.

My favorite panel of the conference was the “Portable consoles vs. Mobile Gaming” debate. Myself personally never really saw this as a real debate, only because I never really used my cell phone for gaming. When I've been bored I've played a few games but would always worry about battery power. But when you stop to really think about: everyone, including grandma, has a smart phone; a lot of people do buy music and games for their cell phones on almost a regular basis; and and games like farmville are just as popular if not more so than a game like pokemon. So it's not that farfetched to consider them in competition with each other. On the pro side of this debate were Gene Hoffman CEO of Vindicia and Alex St. John CEO of Hi5. Their opponents: Andrew Schneider Co-founder and President of Live Gomer and Teemu Huuhtanen EVP of Sulake Corporation (Habbo). The first point of the debate was that the market for game developers was bigger on mobile than on the consoles. Getting a game onto the consoles goes through a screening process. Some are more stricter than others, but it's not every game that makes it out there. On the mobile side of things you can put your game out there without many restrictions and worry more about making the game known. Three of the biggest points that were brought up were: battery life, sales, and filters. Gene Hoffman brought the point that battery life on a cell phone can vary, especially when using the phone for anything other than making phone calls. Depending on the size of the application this can cause your battery life to be a shorter than normal. If you have the ability to plug your phone in then you're good to go, but if you're on the go(bus, train, car, airplane), you may not have a plug available to you. While there are portable chargers available, another point he brought up was being interrupted by a phone call. Depending on your popularity, work, love life, etc., a phone call will guarantee an interruption in your game play or even cause the game to freeze up. His final point which makes sense not only for gaming but in other applications as well is how well the game works on your mobile device. Certain mobile phones work better than others; get better reception, bigger screens, etc. And depending on the brand and phone plan/service provider you may experience certain issues with your game. Touch screen phones have issues such as response time, and of course actual response to the user's actions. Apps like facebook and 4square are 2 examples of apps that vary from phone to phone. On my blackberry the facebook and 4square app are kind of sluggish, but on my friends Samsung phone it works as well as if he was on his pc or laptop. With the handheld systems there is always going to be stability and reliability in terms of every game you buy for that handheld works as well for all the other handhelds, battery life is more subjective to how often you do play it as opposed to size of the game that you are playing. And of course the only interruption you have to worry about is yourself, or people wanting your attention. The next big point was how games are filtered on each market. Alex of Hi-5 brought up how the handheld market has a rating system, so you know what kind of game your child is playing or can play. Parents can easily research games for handheld systems a lot easier than for mobile games. When you think of Nintendo you think fun kids games like Mario and Legend of Zelda. With mobile gaming the child can download any game, with or without parents’ permission. By the time the parent(s) find out what kind of game their child has been playing it's already too late. A lot of stores like GameStop have their employees check for ID when a game is being purchased, or inform the parents what the game is about before the parent actually buys anything. The biggest point in favor of mobile games came from Teemu of Sulake Corp. “If handhelds don't sell, games don't sell, Whereas mobile/tablet games sell just their game”. This goes back to everyone and their grandmother having a mobile device that can play some sort of game. While handhelds are popular, not every hardcore gamer owns one. Some people just stick to their consoles, or wait a few years later to get that latest handheld that has become either obsolete or not as fancy as the latest one that's out there. With every mobile device the games are there waiting for people to just buy them. The focus isn't on the hardware, and more freedom to put out the type of game you want to put out as opposed to what's marketable on a certain handheld device. If a game is exclusive to the handheld device, it sales depend greatly on how well the device is selling. And if the game is already on the console, a lot of fans may be happy with the console version and not pay any mind to the handheld version regardless of what it does for the story of the game. Depending on well your mobile device plays certain games the price alone might make the purchase worth it compared to paying $50 and upper handheld game.

To end my day at the Conference I interviewed VP of Arkadium Neal Sinno and Adena Demonte, Director of Markting for Badgeville. 

Mr. Sinno is responsible for new business development, client implementation oversight and ongoing operational growth initiatives over at Arkadium. He established and managed strategic licensing and development partnerships with the BBC, Sony Pictures Television, Electronic Arts, Disney, ESPN and Discovery Communications.

Ms. Adena Demonte is a versatile marketing and product strategist, with a passion for building meaningful social experiences around quality content. She was the company’s third employee and has helped the team grow to 35 employees with over 80 industry-leading customers and $15M in funding. Attending a conference has been a very informative and amazing experience. Meeting industry heads in a setting outside of a con made it easier to make connections and allowed for more talk more about the future of the industry