The lights are on
John Schappert, chief operating officer at Electronic Arts used his time at DICE to talk about 20 years of technology transitions in the gaming industry. Aside from the obvious technological advances, Schappert says that one of the big changes is the number of gaming platforms and the difficulty in tracking data on such a fragmented marketplace.NPD information, one of the biggest tools that analysts and companies rely on, is largely incomplete. It doesn’t track big-box retail sales or online sales, leaving huge gaps in the data. That leads to negative (and inaccurate) headlines in mass media and the gaming press. Schappert says that the gaming industry is in the midst of a transition, and that the industry has survived them in the past. It doesn’t make it any easier, he says, but it’s something that the industry can prepare for. He then provided some suggestions and commentary.First, consumers are more educated than ever. He picked one of EA’s games to illustrate his point. The FIFA games spent too much of their focus on graphics over gameplay, and Konami took some of their market share by putting an emphasis on gameplay with its Winning 11 series. EA adjusted its strategy over time, and FIFA’s position was eventually restored. Next, company’s need to listen to consumers. With Battlefield: Bad Company 2, EA is taking on a giant in Activision’s Modern Warfare 2. They created big environments, destructible environments and lots of vehicles, based on player feedback.Schappert says good marketing can’t make a bad game any better, but good games deserve better support. He called out Mirror’s Edge and Dead Space as two examples that didn’t get a decent marketing push and also were put in a crowded release window. Mass Effect 2 and Dante’s Inferno are examples of how marketing can be successful, Schappert says, with both games having trailers broadcast during big football games, including the Super Bowl.Companies need to create long-term relationships with consumers, in the form of DLC and other online content, Schappert says. Social networking is certainly a part of EA’s future, with the recent acquisition of Playfish, but Schappert says that he sees indications that those kinds of games are right on the edge of a bubble. He expects to see more consolidation within that space in the near future.As appealing as online and DLC is, Schappert says it’s too soon to abandon retail releases. He doesn’t see physical formats being abandoned in the short, medium or even long term. Retail releases are a gateway to DLC, he reminded the audience.Finally, he said not to let cynics get you down. There are arguably more opportunities in the gaming space than ever, he says, with new audiences and an abundance of places to play games. While the formats might be fractured, there is room for expansion and growth in this new, evolving world.