The opening keynote of this year's conference was Sharon Knight, European VP of Online. I took some notes and pics, but I was sat right next to the cameraman who kept shooting me looks as I clattered away on my keyboard right next to his mic. He didn't ask me to move, so I don't know if I was making trouble or just annoying him: anyway, it made my notes a bit staccato, and let me emphasise that Sharon doesn't sound like a robot AT ALL ... it's just the note-taking.
Her keynote was good: succinct, informative. I think EA have a very long way to go in appealing to the ladies, considering their size and power: in my personal opinion, most of their efforts to date have been light-touch and an afterthought. EA could single-handedly open up the market, but it would require a metric ton of marketing cash. I can see why they haven't done it (yet), to the degree that I wish they would: and I bet I'm frustrating a bunch of EA folk who know what's happening on the inside.
But to the keynote!
"About 4 years ago I was recruited to EA – before that I was at The Gap. The corporate cultures are somewhat similar, I’d never heard of EA before and I hadn’t played any videogames since Pong. I had a lot of homework to do.
What I read up on just amazed me. What I read about EA was even more impressive. It’s in a leading position in a very dynamic industry, with enormous growth prospects and considerable financial potential.
I interviewed against 19 people. I was hired to run a corporate finance group; despite controlling the annual budgeting process, I made a lot of friends in publishing; eventually I was invited to come over and run the publishing team in Europe.
About 8weeks ago we had out head of Euro Online leave EA. I’m doing Operations till July, but it’s an interesting time for me, doing two jobs. Today I’m going to talk broadly about where I see the industry going, particularly where it relates to women.
You all know our biz is cyclical. Transitions every 4-5 years, and there’s new tech every cycle. Each gives us the opportunity to take gaming to a higher level, and each time the audience widens. We’re just beginning to start this latest cycle, this new creative possibility, it’s going to be big and exciting, and women are going to have a much bigger opportunity than ever before to play in this industry.
The next generation has arrived. The 360 opened up a really new and different experience from what they were offering beforehand; Marketplace is a whole array of content that’s changing and growing every day.
The ps3 – a high end machine with incredibly powerful tech. It comes with a hefty price tag... I think it’ll take some time for consumers to understand fully what the value is that comes with that price tag. We have 5 launch titles and 25 more in development for the PS3. We’re betting on Sony along with Microsoft.
The breakthrough really has come with the Wii. I got one straight off the bat, and it’s really great fun, and different to my PS2. No, I don’t have a PS3 yet. The Wii is fun, and family focused. The consoles available today really differentiate the offering available... new experiences that help to broaden the market, and who can participate in games.
EA produces games for 10 different platforms, not just the consoles. Handhelds, mobile and the iPod are included. There are 2.7bn mobile users worldwide; in 2006 400m handsets were sold; 65% of Europeans have played games on their mobile. It’s an incredibly compelling platform for us to be designing games on.
A note about EA Mobile: a while ago we acquired Jamdat, EA is now the number 1 publisher of games on mobile worldwide; we’re number 2 in Europe behind gameloft. We estimate our segment share to be 15%; last holiday season 4 of the top 5 on mobile were EA games. One of the leading ones was Tetris. The Sims has experienced over 1mdownloads in 6 months. This is an area we expect to grow.
Not to forget about PC. The staple of gaming. The euro PC market is much stronger than the USA market; we’ve seen an expansion in offering from the PC that can play on laptops or games that don’t take a hi-power desktop to run. Sims Life Stories is an example of this. We need to widen the possibility for more people to participate.
Online: we and other publishers are experiencing an explosion in online game play and online community experiences. The enhanced communities look like avatars and forums and chat and save-and-share; competitions and tourneys and matchmaking and leaderboards: all of this is going to become more and more visible to gamers. You’ll see not just advertising messages and marketing, but more stuff that will increase stickiness of experience.
So where are the women?
It is business bad practice to overlook an audience this big and this compelling. Star Wars was the biggest movie of all time... until Titanic came along. The reason? Women saw Titanic in droves – and they saw it more than once. We need to be sure that we’re making content that is appealing to women. EA is the most successful developer of games for women, but we have a long way to go.
There are three trends that will address the market.
I'm talking about having content which appeals. This is not just for women, but a broader demographic in general.
Games that women are traditionally introduced to are via males. They don’t want pink games, but games that appeal. Skill and intuition games like SSX really appeal to women. Female players of both The Sims and Pogo.com love the sense of community and Pogo players are chatting during the experience. Girls may not play on consoles, but they love their PC.
(I stick my hand up and query this, in reference to this, recent research stating consoles are only 58% male. That's not much over half.. one source only though. She didn't say any stats to counter this, but I interrupted her mid-flow. Bad Alice).
This is the product we’re working with Endemol with. This will debut on Big Brother.
This is a partnership we’ve put together with MTV. This is a whole new platform to the music experience.
This is something exciting to look for in the coming months. The week before that we announced BOOGIE: it’s a karaoke dance experience exclusively for the Wii. This’ll get people off their couch and moving: fun for the family, great for parties; it’s really good fun and something I’m personally really excited about.
Once again to plug my online space, last week my team working in partnership with Microsoft marketplace, this is EA's first online title, boom boom rocket.
It’s about individual achievement... and depending on how good you are there’s a multiplier effect. Very energetic. The producer made a video where he’s blindfolded while playing, it’s on YouTube, and people think it’s a hoax but it’s not. He’s actually just that good.
Today I want to announce another new offering from EA. I want to announce that Pogo is coming to Europe. A French language version is also on the way. Pogo is a website that offers casual games and easy-to-play games, fewer war and sport and strategy games that are favoured by hardcore gamers.
Pogo in the US is one of the leading casual games sites; there are 11m users per month and it’s a strong, vibrant community. 57% are women.
Curious this, isn't it - 57% is barely over 50-50. And yet, the common belief is that casual online gamers are all older females. All due to lazy reporting, really.
There’s a strong social and community aspect to it. We launched pogo.co.uk 6 months ago and we had 3.2 m users a month spending 11 minutes on the site per visit. The majority of players are over 35 and predominantly female.
So recap: EA hasn’t cracked the code of women in games. We’re trying to broaden the offering though with pogo and boogie and rocket and virtual me…
Trend 2: casual consumption models.
If you’re like me, you’re a multitasker. This is a problem for gaming: a traditional game needs your full attention. If you take your eyes off the screen for a minute, you might get eliminated. One of the things the industry needs to do is to find more content that appeals to this type of consumer, we don’t have 2 hours to sit down and play a game. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to relax and have fun and play games, so we are looking for ways to keep consumers connected but still allow them to multitask.
We need to mix media into games. We have been successful in putting music into games; we’re also increasingly incorporating broadcast content into sports titles. We stream ESPN into our sports games in the US. Once again we’re trying to enhance the experience in order to keep up with changing tastes and the ways consumers want to play games.
Bite-sized: we’re going for shorter levels. In basketball, you can go in, do some free throws, accumulate a few points, and hop out again. You continue to advance in these small chunks of time; we have to fit these games around people and what’s going on in their lives.
We see downloadable content, content in chunks, content over time, as only increasing going forward. It’s great for encouraging trial: women might be a bit intimidated to plonk down 60 pounds if they’re not that experienced in games, so if we can give them more bite sized ways to play games, they might try more.
#3: more women are becoming game makers. Women in studios help put women in stores.
Where is that woman today who’s going to make the great hit which appeals to women gamers?
So to conclude: