Creating A Market For Video Games In A Digital Age

Gaming conferences across the world should take note.

Geoff Keighley is on the right track, having announced the Summer Game Fest a week ago, hailing it as the replacement for E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) this year. It’s a four month gaming festival of sorts that purports to bring together some of the biggest names in gaming. On their website, they list everyone from Blizzard, Activision, and Square Enix to Warner Brothers, Microsoft, and Sony.

This will be an all-digital event that spans the four months leading up to Gamescom-which will be all digital now as well. Their first “event” kicked off last week with a stream from Microsoft, letting us take a first look at gameplay for the Series X, their next generation console coming in December.

They showed a smattering of gameplay videos for some of the lesser known games coming out this year as well as a few brief interviews. The headliner for this stream was the new Assassin’s Creed game from Ubisoft, set in the Viking era. The whole stream was rather modest, but the potential for this new medium of showcasing games could be monumental.

The next big thing.

With the return of in-person conferences like E3 being an unknown, it’ll be interesting to watch how creatives innovate on the traditional on-ramps that have existed for indie content breaking through into the mainstream. For years, a tried and true method of getting your indie project in front of people was to take it to a conference and almost forcibly put the book, film, board game or even video game controller into people’s hands for them to try out.

For gaming specifically, some digital alternatives have been available for awhile. Microsoft’s Game Pass subscription has allowed Microsoft a bit more leeway in deciding whether or not to take a chance on a new developer or support a perhaps unconventional game. Apple Arcade has shown some promise in elevating the quality of mobile games in its App Store, while simultaneously helping to lift the profiles of certain smaller studios that choose that route to release their games. Finally, Steam has long been a place where just about anyone can get a game added into the store if they so desired.

While welcome, these digital avenues are either too crowded for most games to stand out or still have significant hoops to jump through, and now, I worry what that will look like once this is all over. We can be sure the big companies won’t have any trouble. The Activisions, Bethesdas, Valves, and Microsofts of the world will chug along largely as they always have. The infrastructure is already there for them, conference or not. It’s the independents that will need the help and if the industry is open to it, when the dust settles, the gaming landscape could come out as a more diverse place than ever before.

The website for Summer Game Fest claims that, “ SGF will feature special playable content on Steam, Xbox and more platforms to be announced. This will range from demos/alphas/betas of upcoming games to special in-game events and free trials.” Now, we will have to wait and see what that ultimately means, but the idea of simply downloading any available beta from a list of dozens of games sounds exciting. One of the most exciting parts of going to any conference for me was traversing the dozens of rows of booths and checking out the indie games that were being developed by studios that no one had ever heard of.

A digital conference, by its nature, has several factors working in its favor. It’s far more accessible to far more people. Without the artificial barriers of expensive tickets, limited time, cost of travel, and other issues, these events could be the biggest yet and a great opportunity for indie developers. Instead of schlepping computers and people and marketing and everything else to a convention center for a shot at some eyeballs on your product over the span of a weekend, all you’re doing is uploading your game to a site that has a built-in infrastructure of bring people to you and it’s up for four months instead of a few days.

Additionally, I know I am way more likely to download and try a game while sitting in front of my console or computer, than at an in-person conference. There, I have to take a card or some marketing material, stuff it in a bag with a million other things, try not lose it, and to not forget it by the time I get home and am tired. If you ask me attending conferences and playing games in sweatpants is far more preferable.

The potential is there and Summer Game Fest is the guinea pig. Here’s hoping it goes off without a hitch.

Holds uninformed opinions exclusively.

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