Introduction to the 2019 L.A. Games Conference
The L.A. Games Conference is an annual event where the movers and shakers in the gaming and technology industry meet to discuss topics that range from how best to monetize gaming ventures, to the different types of gaming to diversity as well as the inclusion of women in this multi-billion dollar industry.
The conference was held on May 7, 2019 at the W Hotel located in Hollywood, California. In this information-filled one day conference, you get the opportunity to be among and even network with the top-decision-makers in gaming. I attended to cover the event for allgames.com; however, if I had chosen to go on my own -- I would have been required to spend upwards to $1,000 to do so. After attending, I will add the cost would have probably been worth it.
A few years ago when I attended the L.A. Games Conference, the focus was on virtual reality, mobile gaming and ways to monetize gaming. There was even a panel of venture capitalists at the conference discussing the monetizing aspects of gaming. This year, even though virtual reality was touched upon as a discussion topic, the focus seemed to have shifted to eSports. Of course monetizing remained a topic of interest as well. Other topics discussed by various panelists included diversity and women in gaming.
Virtual Hollywood Panel Discussion
The highlight of this panel discussion was how to get into a sustainable gaming business. It really boils down to what customers want. In other words, it is not enough to just put “stuff” out there, but it must be something that locks in with the audience. A key word used in this discussion was "adoption." Audiences not only have to want what is put before them but they will also have to adopt it as well.
Of course, it’s still true that content is king. There was a lot of discussion in the area of exactly who one would want to work with on a new game. It seemed to be the consensus that “experience counts.” In other words, to ensure a game or venture is a success, it is best to obtain skilled, experienced people, or someone who has done a similar job before. This is not a quick process. For example, it is not unheard of for projects to take years before they finally come to fruition.
Not to leave the new people entering the gaming business out -- industry is interested in budding talent as well. However, during the discussion it seemed as if the agreement among the panelists was that hiring and retaining talented and experienced personnel was a win-win situation. In hiring experienced people, it was pointed out to choose risk takers as well, or those who have a plethora of failure as a means to learn from those type scenarios.
On a technical note, Virtual Reality (VR) versus Extended Reality (XR) was discussed. It was mentioned the difference between the two is social and one is not as isolated as the other.
Moving on to the business side, a problem sited was that people mesh the sale of a product and marketing together. Ted Schilowitz, Futurist from Paramount indicated these two entities should be kept separate. Additionally there needs to be a means to build new revenue. The art of storytelling is important as well in VR.
Women in Gaming
Several women on the panel discussed how they entered or were introduced to the gaming industry. Two of the five women stated they sort of “fell in to it.” There was an interesting discussion about being labeled or called a “gamer”, with several women saying that they considered themselves gamers, even though there may be a stigma surrounding this term.
All of the women did not “fall” into gaming. One of the women decision-makers on the panel stated she started as an intern at her company and moved up to management. One woman had no actual gaming experience, but spent 12 years in mobile gaming which she indicated is now her passion.
In my opinion, wise words spoken were that it is great to have women in the gaming industry, but there must be a culture of support. Additionally, the culture has to be created where women are welcome and where they feel comfortable to work. On the other side of the coin, it was pointed out that women need to have the confidence to speak up -- even if they may be the only woman at a meeting, gathering, etc. From industry's perspective, it’s important to pay attention to the mix of personnel in the gaming workplace as well.
Additionally, a sense of community is needed. One panelist stated that get-togethers do not always have to involve gaming tournaments, but other avenues can be used to bring people together -- such as movie nights, ping pong matches, etc.
Unfortunately, culture remains an issue in gaming. Even though women comprise over 50% of the population, including those who play video games, gaming continues to be male dominated and women are under-represented. However, according to one panelist -- there appears to be change on the horizon where more people including women are now in leadership positions. She said the stigma around being called a gamer is changing also.
On a positive note, the future is exciting according to LIsa Anderson , SVP, Studio Operations of Jam City. An example given was that Jam City’s landscape is changing as well as its outlook especially at senior leadership levels. Another example of things changing for the better is that the Game Developers Conference (GDC) used to be attended only by men; however it’s different now.
A question asked from the audience was with the advent of women in gaming, will there be more casual video games. The answer provided was that for regular type games, gamers need to make gaming a “safe place for women.” It was stated most women see gaming as not being a safe place. Consequently, they do not feel safe in certain gaming environments. An audience member added that globally, in some areas there is a culture push-back against women in gaming as well.
On the issue of diversity, an inquiry was made regarding how to get more people of diversity in gaming. The response was to create a safe space for women including affording them an environment to speak up. Still it seems that males are the decision-makers. It’s also important to listen to people. It was mentioned that there should be a culture of trust which holds true not only for women, but for everyone.
The same audience questioner asked a more direct question of how to get diverse people within the next 48 hours. Some suggestions mentioned were to reach out to various colleges, but it seemed as if the consensus was that there was no one right answer to this question.
Almost as an appeasement to this discussion, an audience member suggested that the same group of women panelists return next year to discuss women in gaming further under the title of “A View From The Top” -- which garnered applause from the audience.
eSports took up the bulk of the agenda at some of the meetings. There were other panel discussions on gaming; however, the largest crowd seemed to be at the eSports meetings.
Regarding monetizing, a suggestion was made to integrate the message with the product. For example, in order to get a certain skin for a video game, the consumer must purchase a new Samsung phone. This strategy worked for Samsung, since it seemed some gamers wanted the skin and was willing to get another phone as a by-product of having access to the video game skin.
Core Demographics of Gamers
Demographics of who the video game industry is trying to attract was discussed. The age group mentioned was 18 - 34 year old males.
A comparison was made between someone attending an actual sporting event at a sports arena and playing an eSports video game. Looks like the non-virtual game attendant/participant spends about $50 - $60 during the event -- while the video gamer spends only $4. The gaming industry sees this disparity as an incentive to try to come up with ways to catch up or close the gap between money made at actual sports games.
The counter to this comparison of actual sports games making more money was that video gamers sometime spend more when you consider downloadable code, and other peripheral that comes at a cost to playing video games.
This discussion led to the importance of metrics and identifying which metrics matter. There was a point made that the actual TV broadcaster may have more information as to the demographics of who is watching a sports game vice the gaming industry when it comes to knowing who is playing an eSports video game. Along with metrics of course was engagement of players to the game. The gist of the discussion was in studying the demographics, plan to stay a long time and you have to make commitments to connect to players’ communities as well.
Hollywood and Games
The connection between Hollywood and video games goes back to Atari games The difference between video games then and now was that no longer can one make a video game and let it sit on a shelf. Now there must be continuous improvements or downloadable code ( DLC) as well as added or updated content. Interesting enough, it was mentioned that the new school is now the old school -- with some millennials and others wanting to experience a time before they were born. During this discussion, the demographics mentioned was younger than those of eSports -- 15 - 34 year olds as opposed to 18 - 34 year olds for eSports.
The use of influencers was brought up during this panel discussion. An influencer, Mari “Atomic Man” Takahashi Co-Founder, SMOSH Games as well as Javon Frazier, EVP Strategy & Business Development, Studio 71 were on the panel. The representative from YouTube, Lester Chen, Head of Gaming Content Partnerships Americas stated that YouTube is 95% supported by ads; however, they want to move from this and attempt to give more money to creators.
Regarding selecting certain influencers, it was mentioned there has to be a good fit. “How do you pick someone as a good fit?” -- you may ask. The word “stalker” was widely used in this discussion and in answering this question. For example, it was stated YouTube checks the influencer’s social media accounts, takes in account how many followers he or she has, etc. to determine if the influencer is a good fit.
Takahashi, the influencer stated that there is a need to be authentic but also to have creative freedom. In response to a question of how to determine if an ad campaign is successful, her answer was when people do not know that it is an ad. In fact, the influencer stated that during one campaign, it was difficult to determine if the scenario was an ad or not. The legal person on the panel stated that it must be clear to viewers whether or not an influencer is being paid by advertisers.
A point brought up was that influencers can be “good” on the creative side, but not so “good” on the business side. However, the Studio 71 representative stated that when a company can get the right partner -- it can be a win-win situation for everyone. Advice from the influencer was to find your true fans. Bottom line was that an ad is successful when customers are satisfied.
Relative to stalking, the question was asked which is the ideal platform to use. The Youtube representative jokingly said that everyone there wanted to answer "YouTube"-- which brought a laugh from the audience. However, after more discussion it was stated that all social media platforms are good for stalking.
Another question asked was if there Is a strategy to be more successful. The answer is yes. If you can create a network effect, the game will be successful. Also in gaming, plan not only for success but for failure as well and last but not least -- do your homework.
A View from the Top - Monetizing the Next Wave of eSports
This panel discussed eSports and how to monetize the next wave of eSports. The demographics mentioned in this segment was 18 - 30 year old males. It was stated that eSports has a 380 million viewership, is growing and will present huge opportunities. The comparison between money made on real sports ($50 this time) as opposed to virtual sports $4 was mentioned.
Jeff Liboon, Co-Founder and President, ESP Gaming stated that engagement was important and you need to have a great partnership with developers.
Chris Hopper, Head of eSports for North America, Riot Games mentioned there are non-traditional eSports like Candy Crush. He added that eSports can blend in with a wider range of communities. eSports even crosses over to music according to Kent Wakeford, Co-Founder & COO, Gen. G eSports, such as the K-Pop bands. In other words, there is a cultural shift as to how people are engaging in eSports.
eSports is also branching out. One of the panelists mentioned he overhead a 14 year old boy refer to a video game as a sport -- dropping the “e”. Additionally you will see more partnerships and ownerships of baseball teams, etc. Also, full college scholarship are being offered for eSports team members.
Firechat with eLeague and Warner Bros. Entertainment
The Firechat panel consisted of Jennifer Dill and Bonn Kosling. Actually, they were interviewing each other regarding eSports partnerships. The takeaway from this discussion was that building relationships is important. The eSports space is becoming crowded, and you do not want to be just noise.
A specific video game, Mortal Kombat X was discussed as well as how eSports can improve the game. Another video game mentioned was Injustice 2 where eSports’ content will be used to appeal to a broader audience. Currently efforts are being made to help keep the game relevant, by not only identifying the best players but recognizing casual players who may not be an expert at the video game. Another aspect is to build characters around the players which can also drive the DLC.
Another aspect is to build communities in eSports by providing ways for gamers to showcase their skills as well as ways to engage the communities.
It was mentioned that there was a time synchronization between the release on Injustice 2 and the Justice League movie -- even though the panelist stated that this was not planned.
Mortal Kombat 11 which was released two weeks before the conference is one of the biggest releases for eSports. The plan is to build a pro competition followed by a contest. Aim is to find ways for more people to play the video game. Additionally, the push is to have more people play the game competitively and make it an easy game for non-pro players as well. The game will also become more like a show and focus on entertainment.
It was stated the game should create moments as well. There is also a need to add stories to the content. Additionally, the person playing the game has to have a lot of personality rather than just be someone playing a video game. An example provided was Sonic Fox who is said to be the face of eSports when the discussion top was building content around a character.
The panel discussion concluded with a statement made that eSports value communities. Each panelist stated their focuses paraphrased as follow: Bonn Kosling: (1) Best Plays (2) Amount of content and (3) Engagement and Marketers.
Jennifer Dill: (1) Competition (2) How to Innovate and (3) Show you can create -- it’s about bringing personalities to life.
There is the notion that if I tell you what I know -- coupled with what you already know -- you will probably come out ahead. Of course it is beneficial to share information; however, I think the amount of information sharing at this conference was calculated. After all, in business, we learn that businesses (for profit) must try to gain competitive advantages over other businesses. If information is shared too freely, one may lose what little competitive advantage the business may be enjoying at the moment.
With that in mind, I found the L.A. Games Conference to be informative on a micro level; however, I would be stoked to be a fly on the wall during some of the interactive networking sessions and other venues where there are opportunities to share vital information -- if they chose to do so.
Without a doubt, the L.A. Games Conference held an informative panel-driven event given by those in the industry who can truly control and steer the direction and fortitude of gaming in the present as well as the future years to come. A day at the L.A. Games Conference put on by Digital Media Wire -- was a day well spent.