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Last update: May 2020

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GamesBeat Summit Digital Conference Event Roundup

As global lockdown continues, the mobile games industry has become more vibrant than ever. Between the recent surge in mobile game downloads, and the sudden accessibility of gaming conferences that have gone digital, gaming looks to be experiencing something of a renaissance. This was the driving theme behind many of the talks and panels of April 28th and 29th’s GamesBeat Summit, hosted by VentureBeat.

The two-day event had a dual itinerary of socially distanced panels and fireside chats, as well as some opportunities for socializing and networking via Zoom chat and interactive polls. We attended talks at the two different stages, and took part in discussions on the GamesBeat Slack channel as well as Wednesday’s Women in Gaming digital breakfast. Interestingly, many of the women who joined pointed to mobile games being their go-to during lockdown – because, when you’re chasing your kids around the house 24/7, you need a gaming device you can carry with you easily.

Day 1: Community Spirit and a Revolution in Gaming

The summit kicked off with opening remarks from Dean Takahashi, lead writer and tech journalist for GamesBeat. Takahashi opened with how the theme of the two-day event, “Dawn of a New Generation,” had been replaced by the new conversation around the coronavirus. In the past six weeks, games have taken on a new role in the public eye: not just media for entertainment, but tools that are crucial for maintaining mental health in a time when most of us are constrained indoors. Takahashi pointed out that mobile games downloads are up 50-80% in these times of social distancing. While other industries have been disrupted by the pandemic, new games are launching every day. He states:

“Games are winning this battle for time, and they are winning over non-gamers who have nothing else to do.”

Ultimately, he believes that games will move up in the public’s estimation as a form of art and narrative. They will move from being more of a niche media to becoming a truly widespread form of entertainment. In a spirit of optimism that would be revisited by other speakers throughout the event, Takahashi praised the community spirit of the industry:

“Games are pulling us together, giving us relief from reality.”

GamesBeat Summit and the Gaming Industry

This role for gaming as a positive force was a recurring theme for the rest of the GamesBeat Summit. In their fireside chat on the Boss State, Mike Morhaime, co-founder of Blizzard Entertainment, and Seth Schiesel of the New York Times talked about the new place gaming will have once society moves on from the crisis. Morhaime spoke about how shared experiences are key to success in gaming, and how the strength of the gaming industry lies in the shared passion of its community for games they can connect with.

Morhaime spoke to how this is a very exciting time for the gaming industry. VC investors and indie gaming developers are joining forces to bring forth a lot of innovative ideas. Luckily, the gaming industry will likely emerge from COVID-19 unscathed, as its infrastructure makes remote work doable. Most gaming communities have also been able to go online, although the fighting game community has been hit hard. (Latency issues with online gaming has ruined the experience for fighter games.) Morhaime also gave his ideas on how the new drivers of the community will be amateurs… fans of games who are hungry for new content, and those eager to play competitive esports. For example, the initiative Rally Cry is building a platform to accommodate recreational gaming competitions for non-professionals.

Championing the Video Game Industry and Culture

Stanley Pierre-Louis, CEO of Entertainment Software Association, continued to delve into this idea of a changing popular narrative around videogames, in his talk with Keisha Howard of Sugar Gamers. Video games have been considered time-wasting games for children in the past. But Pierre-Louis explored their new roles as educational and training tools.

For example, the Assassin’s Creed games are incredibly well-researched and historically accurate. So much so that many teachers have used them as supplementary materials in their classrooms. Ubisoft has even introduced a Discovery Tour mode that lets players explore the expansive in-game worlds outside of quest and combat features of the game. In lieu of physical class-time, one teacher in Quebec even had his students play Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey as part of their curriculum on Ancient Greece.

Pierre-Louis talked to how games open new avenues for people. For example, girls who play video games are 3 times as likely to go to college for STEM degrees. We will likely see a boom of people entering STEM who were inspired by the games they are currently playing. Games also teach a variety of soft skills, such as resilience, problem-solving, and reaction time.

With mainstream news reporting steadily on the gaming industry and gaming culture, it’s clear that video games are no longer a niche interest. And as games become a key element in remote learning, it becomes crucial to balance the learning and engagement factors.

GamesBeat Summit Roundtable

Attendees to the summit shared some great insights at the roundtable event. Particularly around the rise in self-publishing and hyper-casual games. It takes 1-3 months to develop a hyper-casual game, and none of them bring in above $100m in annual consumer revenue. Churn levels are high, with a 60% retention rate after the first day considered very high.

There has been a massive shift between publishers and investors around how videogames get published and scaled. In particular, there is a lot changing in the role of the game publisher.  More looking for self publishing hits … this is the great thing about hyper casual.

Growth in Games During Pandemic

Overall, the consensus was that the games industry is in a unique position for growth in the light of a global standstill. Ryan McDermott, of Resolute Partners Group, points out that user-generated content platforms, like Roblox and Minecraft, are doing especially well. However, he notes that this spike will end – largely due to the wave of joblessness caused by the pandemic.

Jon Goldman of Greycroft also sees this eventual drop-off in games revenue as cause for concern. Although the user base of games has grown in recent years –. what used to be entertainment for kids is now enjoyed by adults through into their 40s and 50s –. the large rate of unemployment is worrisome. Games, he points out, are counter-cyclical and make money during economic downturns. But the industry has not yet had to withstand unemployment of this scale. However, he does point to free-to-play (F2P) and ad-based games as lowering the price of playing, so more people can enjoy them during the upcoming recession. He also mentions the variety of different ways of making money that games can turn to. Ultimately, this makes the industry more versatile than other forms of entertainment.

What all the speakers were able to agree on is that the gaming industry is headed into uncharted territory. While there is much to be optimistic about, it’s important to take advantage of this initial boom period. Make sure you invest in your infrastructure and LiveOps moving forward. Most importantly, make sure you have a strong mobile engagement strategy with your users, fans, and wider community – the people whose passion and enthusiasm is keeping your game afloat.

Get in touch with our experts to learn how OpenBack is the platform to optimize your user engagement with push notifications and LiveOps.

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