Doug Lowenstein: Taking Games to the Next Level

Doug Lowenstein

Doug Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), spoke for us at MIT today. Some interesting quotes (paraphrased because I can’t type fast enough):

On gamer demographics: The average age of gamers today is 30. Even if you discount casual games like solitaire, the average age is still mid-to-late 20’s.

1/3 of all gamers are women, but most of them are casual gamers. There is content with cross gender appeal (like sims, mario, etc). But we really need something more profound and fundamental — a cultural shift that tells women that games are not just for men.

DJE: How about a marketing shift? More ads including women; fewer ads including blood, sweat, and/or shrieks of rage?

On content diversity: Say what you want about Passion of the Christ, but it’s the third biggest box office moneymaker of all time. ~37M people saw the film. It revealed that there’s this huge audience that was being ignored … those who want something with an openly religious theme. What is the game industry doing to explore this and other underserved markets?

We need games that move *beyond* today’s conventions; games that keep you up at night making you wonder if you made the right choice in the game.

DJE: Planescape Torment was like that. I agonized about my decisions, then I agonized about reloading the game to experience the alternatives. ;)

On the complexity of games: Too many buttons, too many things to figure out. No one likes to die over and over. We make games so complicated that there’s an entire book publishing industry built around addressing the problem!

DJE: More reason to be excited about the Nintendo Revolution — why use a million buttons when you can communicate so intuitively with your body?

On pricing: Next-gen AAA titles will be more expensive … approximately $60 at retail. What about a game sold for $9.99 for ten hours of play? It would be a lot cheaper to make. One part of the problem is that reviewers look down their nose at shorter games, calling them “limited” or “shallow” or “simple.” My point is that we need games that are limited and simple.

DJE: This would definitely broaden the market; some people want to buy the latest games but just can’t afford them. Giving them a choice is smart. It might even help fight piracy. Episodic content is another solution.

On cultural backlash: There aren’t hordes of 12 year olds buying Grand Theft Auto. Most of the time, little Johnny got it from mom and dad (and that’s taken from federal data, not industry-sponsored research.)

However, we ignore the legitimate concerns of moms and dads at our own peril. They buy, and increasingly, play our games. We’ve all seen games that contain controversial content which is constitutionally protected, but which raises the question: was it really necessary to realize the designer’s vision in this case?

See the semi-complete text for Doug’s speech, minus anything I missed because I type too slowly.

7 responses to “Doug Lowenstein: Taking Games to the Next Level

  1. Semi-complete text

    The average age of gamers today is 30. Even if you discount casual games like solitaire, the average age is still mid-to-late 20’s. The ESA’s research shows that 66% of gamers 18-25 in age have been playing games for ten years.

    Say what you want about Passion of the Christ, but it’s the third biggest moneymaker of all time (just box office). ~37M people saw the film. It revealed that there’s this huge audience that was being ignored … those who want something with an openly religious theme. What is the game industry doing to explore this and other underserved markets?

    1/3 of all gamers are women, but most of them are casual gamers. There is content with cross gender appeal (like sims, mario, etc). But we really need something more profound and fundamental — a cultural shift that tells women that games are not just for men. The game industry isn’t doing a good job of combatting “gamer shame,” the sense among many women that it is somehow inappropriate for them to be playing games.

    We need more games that are socially and politically relevant. Why can’t we make games about politics, or global warming? Lots of movies do that, and really stimulate the intellectual side of our brains.

    Katamari Damacy sold 120k units. It won great awards but didn’t do well commercially. Keita Takahashi said that he thought games need to be “a happy part of life.” How many games actually do that? If they did, how many more people, of all ages, would play games? I think a lot. That goes towards broadening the market… in my opinion. we do need games with more emotional impact.

    Emotional impact is more than “making people cry.” The holy grail for game designers shouldn’t be doing everything that movies do. The issue isn’t “can games make you cry” (like movies), but that we need games that move *beyond* today’s conventions; games that keep you up at night making you wonder if you made the right choice in the game. We need games that you talk about at parties, the same way we do about movies. And, in fact, that’s happening more and more, but it isn’t as culturally ubiquitous as it is with movies.

    We’ve just begun to create games that really have the potential to change entertainment as we know it. We can’t let the lure of onrushing technology blind us to the essence of what makes great entertainment. Whether it’s a book, film, or game, if it’s gonna be great, it’s gotta engage you at some emotional level.

    I actually have a PSP, got the new hockey game for psp, loaded it up, and was totally intimidated. Losing three-to-nothing after a minute and a half. Too many buttons, too many things to figure out. It’s a basic principle of marketing: draw the consumer in and keep them. Too often, it’s a grueling experience in a game. No one likes to die over and over! Tell me any other industry where you have to buy a 200 page manual to learn how to win the game? We make games and they’re so complicated, there’s an entire book publishing industry built around addressing the problmem!

    Guess what: next gen games – more expensive. Top AAA titles will be closer to $60. What about a game sold for $9.99 for ten hours of play? By the way, it would be a lot cheaper to make. One part of the problem that makes this difficult for the industry is that reviewers look down their nose at shorter games, calling them “limited” or “shallow” or “simple.” My point is that we need games that are limited and simple, just like we need movies that don’t constantly tax our intellect. Creating forgettable pleasure is not necessarily a bad aspiration.

    Games have an ability to do something that you can’t really do with any other medium — create a community. The game industry has embraced online platforms; we’re the only entertainment medium that has done this. The music industry saw online as a threat to the business, and they fought it. They didn’t see it as a business opportunity.

    Games have an intrinsic advantage. Look at Korea. Online games are huge. It’s been estimated that 80% of the korean population plays online games. It is massive. Online games have great potential to build a market which, again, isn’t possible for other media.

    A huge problem for our industry is cultural resistance and fear. Leave aside that there’s all sorts of crappy books out there — see a 12 year old with a book and “oh boy, that’s so great that he’s reading!” But with games, we don’t feel the same way. Games are under attack all over the country. Hillary Clinton wants to ban the sale of games to minors. ~20 states are considering legislation to ban sale of games to minors. We are under attack. It’s true that some politicians are certifiably extreme on this issue; some are exploiting media violence concerns for political gain. Our position is that all of these proposals are unconstitutional and not justified by the science or the reality of the market. There aren’t hordes of 12 year olds buying grand theft auto — most of the time, little Johnny got it from mom and dad (and that’s federal data, not industry hype.)

    However, we ignore the legitimate concerns of mom’s and dad’s at our own peril. Disrespecting their concerns is dangerous, because they buy and, increasingly, play our games. We’ve all seen games that contain content which is constitutionally protected, but which raises the question: was it really necessary to realize the designer’s vision in this case? Is cool and visionary really always creatively necessary? Acceptance in the culture is key to legitimacy.

    I’m a Dead Head, and I grew up in the 60s, and I sit there with politicians who tell me games are terrible, and I know that they were smoking dope and listening to jeffersson’s airplane, and somehow they ended up in congress. This is classic — the older generation fears the media of the younger generation. There is some inevitability to cultural acceptability, though I hope we can accelerate it, so the guy who next has my job doesn’t get to claim all the credit.

    Controversy is fine, and I hope we have stuff that always pushes the envelope, but I don’t think it helps when the perception is that our industry is producing nothing of value. There is a wealth of things going on (serious games, games for health, etc) that will eventually create more acceptance for video games, but it’s going to take time.

  2. David – enjoyed your comments on Doug’s talk; in fact, we covered it on GamePolitics this morning.

    -Dennis McCauley
    http://www.GamePolitics.com

  3. Guess what: next gen games – more expensive. Top AAA titles will be closer to $60. What about a game sold for $9.99 for ten hours of play?

    Actually, I think the idea is that these $60 games will only provide 10 hours of entertainment each. There has definitely been a trend towards shorter games. Max Payne, for example: 12 hour play-through, almost no replay, no multiplayer. The sequel was shorter.

    Admittedly many games such as Halo, Final Fantasy, and Zelda (100 hours!) have long or infinite gameplay, but I think they’re the exception and not the rule.

  4. I think the term “bored housewife” is wrong to say. I think of it more as a person who just needs a break from all the work they are doing. Sitting down to play a casual game download is a perfect way to relieve stress.

  5. When the original Atari 2600 came out my parents played it
    as much we did, so much so mom could crush the rest of us in
    Air Sea Battle. Currently, my lady friend doesn’t play
    “arcade” type games but will spend tons of time playing
    solitaire or word womp. Nintendo may be on to something
    with their upcoming product focusing on simplicity and
    trying to bring games (back) to the masses. I still love
    the cutting edge stuff, from computer games to the PSP, but
    I have less time to play. So even for me, fun, simple games
    one can pick up fast for a short spurts of entertainment
    sounds like a great idea and even better marketing strategy.

  6. I dont thick $60 for a game is expencive we 99 here in oz

  7. I love all computer games; have owned all the consoles, handhelds and played many MMORPGS online.

    My favourite passtime though is online arcade, where I love to get high scores.

    I currently run http://www.gametax.com but am planning to rebadge it as a V3 arcade where high score can be kept. Can\’t wait to get it up and running.

    Love your blog.

    al.

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