Experts from across the games industry gathered at Osborne Clarke on the afternoon of 3 December for the 2015 Interactive Entertainment Summit. Developers, publishers, investors and representatives from industry bodies and the growing eSports market were in attendance.
As usual, the summit was chaired by Osborne Clarke partner and interactive entertainment industry specialist Paul Gardner, and was held under the Chatham House Rule to enable people to voice their opinions openly and encourage lively discussion. The afternoon did not disappoint, with key topics for the industry being actively debated by panellists and delegates alike.
State of the nation
One theme was taking stock of the state of the games market, and how to support its future growth. The industry is maturing, with the opening presentation of the day citing over 33.5 million consumers of games in the UK alone (with an approximately 50/50 gender split) and the value of the global games industry estimated to hit $113bn by 2018.
Games are increasingly being recognised as part of mainstream culture, a position reinforced by the landmark opening of the National Video Game Arcade in Nottingham this year. However, the need to ensure that the UK continues to be an attractive location for game makers is important. Supporting existing clusters of developers across the country, enthusing a new generation of game creators though initiatives, teaching coding in schools and expanding the games tax relief were all seen as things that could help achieve this, but further political support and – inevitably – funding is needed.
The mobile games market: “Indiepocalypse”?
In the apparently thriving mobile games market, the concept of an impending “indiepocalypse” was considered. Many smaller mobile developers were struggling to get their games known in light of the dominance of the market by 10 or so mobile games giants.
While an existential threat to smaller studios was considered by the panel to be something of an overstatement, the overall consensus was that creativity and originality in new games were not necessarily enough, and good marketing, business nous and expert advice are increasingly essential components for success. Examples were considered of how this could be achieved: either through including suitable expertise in development teams or through collaboration with experienced publishers and other advisors.
Virtual reality and entertainment: bubble, or next big thing?
Another focus of conversation was the recent rebirth of the virtual reality industry, with opinion divided over how successful the technology’s second coming would be. Despite the obvious improvements in the overall experience there was caution about the potential for growth in this area. Key stumbling blocks were seen as the size, price point and “wired” nature of high-end headsets, while lighter smartphone adaptor sets face a risk of being perceived as limited by their performance capabilities compared to the high-end models.
The fragmentation of the market would also impact the studios’ ability to effectively develop content for all owners of VR kit. Convergence of the markets to produce a lighter, wireless, cheap but powerful model (which of course will be what most developers of the technology will be aiming for in any event!) was seen as a possible game changer, but the general outlook for widespread adoption was less certain.
Will eSports eat the video games industry?
By contrast, the rapid growth of the profile of eSports seems beyond dispute. Major sports broadcasters covered professional online multiplayer tournament events for the first time in 2015, and viewer numbers for certain tournaments topped 27,000,000. By comparison, the last day of this year’s Ashes Test is reported to have had a TV audience of fewer than 500,000 viewers. It was commented that big brands are now taking notice, and there was some discussion from industry panellists and other delegates about the associated opportunities (such as sponsorship and merchandising) and threats (such as cheating). Also of interest was the question of what makes a good E-Sports game. Other than mass adoption and balanced mechanics, a well-considered spectator experience was considered to be essential.
Games investment and M&A: future trends?
The last panel session of the day brought together representatives from different types of investors, and that provided an opportunity for some in-depth discussion around funding models, future trends in M&A and the pros and cons of developers bringing different types of external investment and expertise on board.
The day closed with an opportunity for delegates to catch up further and network over drinks.