RealTime IT News

Game Market Watch - The Gathering

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Game developers and game industry executives looking for answers to their own piece of the gaming puzzle are expected to turn out in droves Tuesday for Jupitermedia Corporation's inaugural Game Market Watch Conference at The Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City.

The two-day business event, which is sponsored by the parent company of this Web site, will examine all aspects of the gaming industry for businesses, game publishers, and developers who already have their feet wet, or who are looking for a slice of a burgeoning business sector.

Considered by market analysts to be a billion dollar industry just waiting to happen, the next wave of online and offline gaming is just now cresting, say many analysts, and when it comes down full force, its success could send the PC, console, and handheld industries spinning on their heels.

Jupiter Research estimates that by 2007 the gaming market will make an 18 percent leap in growth, which means an increase from 162 million users today, to 183 million users tomorrow.

In-Stat/MDR predicts that the online console market will see a 9 percent market penetration rate by the end of the same four-year period, with even higher growth rates for areas of the world that have popular use of broadband networks.

"Online gaming is a real industry, which will make real money, and has some fairly significant consequences for the companies involved," said Eric Mantion, a senior analyst for In-Stat/MDR.

Conference sessions at Game Market Watch are slated to explore the opportunities and limitations for game publishers, insight into where the industry is headed over the next five years, who the key market players are, and the future of wireless gaming and massive multiplayer gaming.

Other topics will include how game vendors and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can maximize revenue potential for paid gaming subscriptions.

Headlining the keynote roster is Mike Quigley, vice president of marketing for Redwood City, Calif.-based Electronic Arts , a publisher of interactive entertainment gaming software for PCs and entertainment systems like Sony's PlayStation, PlayStation2, Microsoft's Xbox, Nintendo's GameCube, and Game Boy Advance.

Ken Goldstein, executive vice president and managing director for Disney Online will kick off the afternoon portion of the conference with news about Disney's first-ever massively multiplayer family game titled 'ToonTown.'

Goldstein, a game industry veteran and overseer of all the creative, technical, and marketing aspects of the Disney brand online including the development of disney.com, familyfun.com, and movies.com, is also expected to announce a surprise business partnership related to future Disney gaming and content initiatives.

Calling Disney's debut in the online multiplayer game space an "extraordinary piece of technology," Goldstein said that ToonTown is not only Disney's first massively multiplayer game for families, but also the gaming industry's first-ever massively multiplayer game that is child-friendly and non-violent.

Still in its "sneak peek" phase, and with no official national launch date yet in place, ToonTown is primarily a broadband game, although very patient 56k and 36k dial-up users can also play, said Goldstein.

ToonTown is a virtual world in which kids can choose their own avatars, compete in games, make friends, and meet up with famous Disney characters like Mickey and Goofy. The object of the game is also to battle evil robots called Cogs who want to strip ToonTown of all its color and turn it into a black and white metropolis.

"We think there is a broader game market out there for more than just the people currently playing Sony's EverQuest and games like that," said Goldstein, a confessed fan of such games. "But we're not sure they are the best games for our children.

According to Goldstein, Disney was interested in entering the massively multiplayer game arena because of the ability to create community and to continuously add new content.

Disney's new game will be offered on a subscription basis after a three-day free trial period, although pricing specifics have not been finalized. The game can also be played person-to-person, although a parent must enable that feature, said Goldstein, so that strangers cannot interact with kids without their parent's permission.

In terms of the future of the online gaming industry, Goldstein says there is no sure recipe for success.

"Like all other forms of entertainment, some money will made and a lot more will be lost among people trying to be winners."

However, Goldstein is very optimistic about Disney's positioning, especially as it continues to explore wireless handset game applications and a possible move into the gaming console space, although that is far, far away in the future, said Goldstein.

Game Market Watch will conclude on April 2 with a keynote from Shane Kim, COO of Microsoft Game Studios. Kim oversees production of the Xbox and other Microsoft PC games.

In his keynote titled 'Who is Keeping Score: The Business of Games,' Kim is expected to address the core qualities needed for becoming a successful game publishing house in light of today's highly competitive gaming environment.

According to a Microsoft Game Studios' spokesperson, Kim will demo a preview of the hotly anticipated Xbox game Halo2, the sequel to Microsoft's number one Xbox game Halo, which has raked in $3 million in worldwide sales since the Xbox launched in November 2001.

Halo2, a sci-fi, first-person shooter game, can be played as a multiplayer game with an online component or as a single player game. The game will be released in spring of 2004 and is described by Microsoft as "graphically stunning."