On April 19th, the most important videogame conference you’ve never heard of was held. While the masses were preparing the descend on Boston’s PAX East later in the week, a few hundred game industry executives gathered in the W Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard to discuss exactly how the next few years in gaming will play out at Digital Media Wire’s L.A. Game Conference.
The DMW L.A. Games conference isn’t your typical gaming convention. You won’t find cosplayers or boothbabes. There are no special game reveals or console announcements. Instead you'll find a series of panel discussions by giants in the industry speaking candidly about very specific topics. This year there were eighteen panels total, with titles ranging from the broad ‘Virtual and Augmented Reality for Games and Entertainment’ to the niche ‘Finding Success in the Chinese Market’. You could listen to the VP of Walt Disney’s game division discuss the best way to manage intellectual properties in one room, or how eSports can be integrated into brand marketing in another. If all of this sounds slightly boring, well, it is at first glance. On it's surface, sitting in a room listening to people break down games and players into metrics and graphs is not as compelling as even the most mundane display at E3 or PAX.
There were no WW2 tanks or dancing animals to be found. But it quickly becomes apparent just how important these panels are. These discussions are a roadmap to how gaming will develop in the near future with no time wasted on pomp and circumstance. For example, it was made clear during the panels that as much as virtual reality is dominating the news, blogs and youtube, it’s not a big concern for major game companies. Large publishing and development houses aren’t planning on spending any significant amount of money on VR Game development. The market simply isn’t big enough and the cost of developing a AAA title could never be recovered. Instead most are happy to simply publish whichever indie titles that seem promising. So if you’re expecting a VR Call of Duty or Final Fantasy anytime soon. It’s not going to happen. It’s information like this which makes the L.A. Games Conference so fascinating. You can see the wide difference between the perception of the game industry and the reality behind it.
A few years ago eSports wasn’t even a topic on the conference agenda but this year there were two separate panels dedicated to it. It’s interesting to note that the people on stage who are be helping to shape competitive gaming weren’t full time gamers or even game developers. They were former bankers and lawyers who are now owners of their own eSport companies or franchises. eSports is a segment of gaming that is growing quickly in the number of both players and spectators and also in the amount of money it’s responsible for. As big as it is now, Bill Mooney (Skillz) expects it to grow 20x over the next decade where it will quickly begin to rival traditional sports in terms or marketshare and marketing revenue. As the audience for traditional sports ‘ages out’, or gets older, they aren’t being replaced by new fans. Instead that new audience is joining the eSports fanbase. So as Soccer, Football and Baseball are seeing their popularity shrink each year, eSports are growing tremendously. This hasn’t been missed by the owners of those traditional sports teams. Many NFL and NBA team owners are in talks to buy, or have already purchased, eSport franchises. There is a looming issue, though. Clinton Foy, from CrossCut Ventures, an investment group and owner of the ‘Immortals’ eSports team addressed the lack of maturity in the behavior of the players in a very matter of fact way. ‘It’s a shit show’ he said. Explaining that the problem lies in a player base that is filled with young kids who grew up playing online on the internet where there are no consequences to bad behaviour. And now that poor behavior has filtered into the professional side of gaming. The solution, according to Mr Foy, lies with the owners of the teams. As owners pour more money into the franchises, they will be the ones to demand that the players adhere to a higher standard to protect the team’s image. He says that as the money grows, players will be forced to ‘Level up’ in their maturity.
The panels are a large part of what makes the LA Games conference special, but no less important is the downtime between the panels. Scheduled networking breaks give attendees times to meet and discuss topics among themselves. While some attendees took test drives of VR apps in the VR lounge, I listened as a former development exec outlined how social media talent can be better utilized in game content. Even though social media has invaded all parts of life, there’s still no substitute in business for meeting and speaking to someone face to face. And that's an opportunity that the LA Games Conference excels at.
The 2016 DMW L.A. Games Conference was again a eye opening experience and a clear look into the behind the scenes machinations of the video game industry. When you’re ready to move beyond simply playing games and aspire to being a part of creating them, then there’s no better way to spend a day (and $500 for a ticket).