Video Gaming Industry Adapting to Internet Age
The New York Sun
February 1, 2007
By Jared Newman 
Copyright 2007 The New York Sun, One SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

In the future, video games will be shorter in length. They will be easier to comprehend, and they will appeal to a wider audience. They will lack hefty instruction manuals and lengthy tutorials. Many will be downloadable. Some will contain advertisements.

These were some of the ideas tossed around Tuesday evening at a panel discussion on the booming video game business at New York University's Stern School.

With broadband Internet becoming more accessible, everyone wanted to talk about the future of digital distribution of video games. Online gaming sites are popular as ever, and all of the new consoles - Microsoft's XBox 360, Sony 's Playstation 3, and the Nintendo Wii - offer their own online marketplaces for downloading smaller games. The panelists, who included the Vice President of Business Development for Atari, Robert Stevenson, and an interactive entertainment analyst for Bear Stearns, Edward Urban, each had their own strategies and reasons for tapping in to the online market.

"It's kind of a tricky thing for publishers, because your bread and butter is the retail business," Mr. Stevenson said. "So you want to do the digital distribution, but you don't want to bypass or avoid Wal-Mart and Best Buy because it's still a valid business." Mr. Stevenson pointed out that online sales of the game Neverwinter Nights made up 5% of total sales. Although Atari was pleased with that figure, it obviously didn't compare to sales in stores. Still, Mr. Stevenson suggested that the online would strengthen over time.

The chief executive officer of the online game company Kuma Reality Games, Keith Halper, said digital distribution is more analogous to television than to Wal-Mart. His company offers free games over the Internet, distributed in small bursts, or "episodes," and forces players to watch advertisements. "As a startup, you don't want to find yourself competing against the likes of Atari or Vivendi," he said, adding that smaller companies need to find less traditional business models.

The vice president of Sierra Online Latin America, Esteban Sosnik, said there would be a change in the way video games are made as the Internet's role increases. He said that his company's awardwinning game, Assault Heroes, wouldn't have been possible without Live Arcade, Xbox 360's downloadable game service. He also implied that micro-transactions - the purchase of add-ons or upgrades through the Internet - would become more prominent.

Panelists agreed that shorterlength video games would be popular with consumers.

"I think it's happening because of a change in demographics," the coordinator of the New York City chapter of the International Game Developers Association, which helped organize the panel, Wade Tinney, said after the discussion. There are still kids who can play for hours on end, he said, but there are also older people, like himself, who grew up on games and don't have that kind of time anymore. "And I'm the one with the credit card and the income," he said.

"I personally don't think our players have any interest in the 40-hour experience," he said.

Mr. Halper found that his customers, many of whom are new to gaming, were unsatisfied with the company's longer offerings and preferred games to last an hour or less. "There's something about the mass market coming in that makes a difference in the kind of games you create," he said.

After the panel, Mr. Stevenson said that his business model isn't going to change much, but that the games Atari distributes probably will. In his words, video games in the future will simply be more "digestible."