Opinion: The changing landscape of games industry conferences

SuperData’s Joost van Dreunen discusses the rapid rise and sheer number of video game events designed to educate the industry on the next big thing.

For this year’s E3 conference, I’d like to not talk about E3 for a change.

Over the course of my tenure as an industry analyst, I’ve seen more than my fair share of conferences and conventions. Conferences are a critical component of any healthy industry, because they provide an occasion for people to meet, network and learn from each other. However, over the past decade I’ve seen some changes in the industry conference landscape.

First, there are more games conferences today than ever before. This is partly due to the overall growth of gaming. This year, mobile games account for about a third of total revenues in the $104bn worldwide games market, with digital distribution adding an additional $45bn. As the industry grows and employs more people, there is a greater demand for events where we can exchange ideas and learn new things.

In just a few years, the number of games industry events has grown by about 50 per cent. This year has already seen 298 events to date, roughly the same amount for all of 2012.

Having so many options is a bit of a love/hate relationship as you find yourself increasingly forced to chose between one event or another. Senior people – the kind of decision-makers we all hope to meet at these events – especially dislike conferences because they put a tremendous amount of stress on their schedules. Whenever I meet with a close industry friend, our meetings generally take place in a hotel room where he can juggle three phones and a barrage of incoming dings, beeps and chimes from his various chat programs and email clients. He can’t afford to not go, but is uncomfortably busy on the road.

With a hectic conference schedule, it is time, not money, that is in short supply.

Second, the organisation of games industry conferences is increasingly fragmented. Gaming has become a ubiquitous form of entertainment, already evolving well beyond the traditional definition of ‘video games’. The emergence of mobile gaming, along with the more recent promise of virtual reality and eSports, all seem to require their own conferences and sub-conferences. As more major gaming companies search for cross-platform opportunity, industry events seem increasingly broken up into smaller and smaller fragments.

On the one hand this makes gaming events more specialised: you find yourself surrounded by folks that make a living in the same corner of the industry as you. On the other hand, after going to a few events on the same topic, you find yourself hanging out with the exact same group of people. It almost feels like being part of a traveling circus.

This feeling of intimacy can be pleasant at times, but in the long run it ultimately limits your opportunity.

In response, we are starting to see more company-specific conferences. Unity recently held a VR summit and it probably didn’t escape many of us that several major games publishers skipped E3 in favour of organising their own events. One advantage of this approach is that you can attract a good audience with little risk of people getting distracted by a competitor’s booth. However, I believe the main reason game companies are leaving E3 is that they want to expand their turf. It is my theory that publishers like Activision Blizzard and EA are increasingly positioning themselves as media companies. By hosting a separate event away from the ‘Big Annual North American Games Event,’ they are (quite literally) creating some distance from gaming to showcase their expansion into new forms of entertainment.

Of course, this is only a theory at this point. But it always pays to keep your eyes and ears open in a fast-moving industry like gaming. You might miss the next big thing.

Best to book another conference.

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