Doug Lowenstein: Taking Games to the Next Level

Doug Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), spoke for us at MIT today. Some interesting quotes (paraphrased because I can’t type fast enough):

On gamer demographics: The average age of gamers today is 30. Even if you discount casual games like solitaire, the average age is still mid-to-late 20’s.

1/3 of all gamers are women, but most of them are casual gamers. There is content with cross gender appeal (like sims, mario, etc). But we really need something more profound and fundamental — a cultural shift that tells women that games are not just for men.

DJE: How about a marketing shift? More ads including women; fewer ads including blood, sweat, and/or shrieks of rage?

On content diversity: Say what you want about Passion of the Christ, but it’s the third biggest box office moneymaker of all time. ~37M people saw the film. It revealed that there’s this huge audience that was being ignored … those who want something with an openly religious theme. What is the game industry doing to explore this and other underserved markets?

We need games that move *beyond* today’s conventions; games that keep you up at night making you wonder if you made the right choice in the game.

DJE: Planescape Torment was like that. I agonized about my decisions, then I agonized about reloading the game to experience the alternatives. 😉

On the complexity of games: Too many buttons, too many things to figure out. No one likes to die over and over. We make games so complicated that there’s an entire book publishing industry built around addressing the problem!

DJE: More reason to be excited about the Nintendo Revolution — why use a million buttons when you can communicate so intuitively with your body?

On pricing: Next-gen AAA titles will be more expensive … approximately $60 at retail. What about a game sold for $9.99 for ten hours of play? It would be a lot cheaper to make. One part of the problem is that reviewers look down their nose at shorter games, calling them “limited” or “shallow” or “simple.” My point is that we need games that are limited and simple.

DJE: This would definitely broaden the market; some people want to buy the latest games but just can’t afford them. Giving them a choice is smart. It might even help fight piracy. Episodic content is another solution.

On cultural backlash: There aren’t hordes of 12 year olds buying Grand Theft Auto. Most of the time, little Johnny got it from mom and dad (and that’s taken from federal data, not industry-sponsored research.)

However, we ignore the legitimate concerns of moms and dads at our own peril. They buy, and increasingly, play our games. We’ve all seen games that contain controversial content which is constitutionally protected, but which raises the question: was it really necessary to realize the designer’s vision in this case?

See the semi-complete text for Doug’s speech, minus anything I missed because I type too slowly.

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