Tuesday 14 August 2007

Day 1 of the Edinburgh Interactive Conference

Well, that's day one of the Edinburgh Interactive conference. As people stream off to the free drinks, I'm sitting around trying to gather my thoughts interrupted only by another journalist interviewing the energetic Hilmar Peterssun.

The theme for the conference so far seems to be the convergence of the games industry and other media industries. Yves was brilliant and provided good insight of the direction that at least one of the industries major players. Another Ubisoft employee whose name I didn't catch who was talking in the conference on involving female gamers in the industry and it sounds like the direction that Ubisoft is taking with casual games is very much similar to Nintendos: casual games is probably wrong word. Short serious games is a better way of putting it. We'll definitely be flooded with a lot more games of the Brain Training genre. My Life Coach, My Word Coach, Horsez and so on are all Ubisoft titles moving into this space. She made the point that Ubisoft is not trying to sell to female gamers, they're trying to sell to lapsed or uninterested gamers, which contains many more females. The objections of this segment in the focus groups Ubisoft ran were centred around 'What can a computer game do for me?' and these short serious games are the way to answer that question.

I'll elabourate on the Games Actually discussion a little more. The chair seemed a little concerned about moving away from market segmentation, to a different model of viewing the gaming market, but the market segmentation stories the rest of the panel were interesting. Sevket Goezalan had a lot of good points to make but didn't necessarily make them the best way, about his experiences in setting up a gaming magazine for women (Play Vanilla). There is a hardened market of gamer girlz, at about 10% of the gaming market, who are currently served by the existing gamer related base and reacted very negatively to the women's magazine style publication that Play Vanilla is selling to. However, when he was able to get Play Vanilla in the women's magazine section, which is where it was targetted, the circulation was about 80% of what he expected, but the positive feedback from people reading it was very high. He thinks that the biggest barriers to their targets are the fact that distributors are not necessarily willing to put a gaming magazine in the right place in the store, and that women readers are more likely to pick up what they know or have been told is worth reading as opposed to see a new title, browse it and purchase it if it looks good. This suggests strongly that the market is there, it just needs to be tapped in the right way. He also said later when questioning Ian Livingstone, that he's got feedback that lots of girls would play action games (e.g. 1st or 3rd person shooters) if there were female protagonists they would choose to play. Ian was disappointing, as I also mentioned, and was clearly selling Kane & Lynch with an eye on the Hollywood cross-over. For someone who gained so much off the backs of a (virtual) female protagonist, he was strangely uninterested in trying the same again. "Some other company will have to do it" seemed to be his attitude.

Sean Dromgoole broken down the market segmentation by gender and age, and points out that female gamers are playing games through to their teens nearly as much as boys but have a much steeper drop off then men from 15 onwards. In the 24-29 segment, the same percentage of men and women play e.g. the drop catches up. In terms of market segment, he broke it down into 4 categories: Tom Boys, Girly-girls (he apologised for the name), Alternative/Independent and Girl-guides. Tom Boys are as likely as men to play competitively and like all the genres as much as men, except for violent games, where they are not interested. Apparently the girl-guide segment takes over all others as women age: concern for others, responsibility and maturity were the characteristics of this segment.

In terms of hours played, girls are quickly catching up with guys. I think we'll see that discussions around 'how can we capture the female gamer' will be non-existent in five years, and people can return to worrying about 'how to create a great game for the segment'.

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