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Panelists Point to Change in ‘Gamers’

8 Jun, 2011 By: Chris Tribbey

(L-R): Chris Swain, Patrick Mork, Richard Hilleman and Mike Breslin appear at a panel for the Electronic Entertainment Expo.

LOS ANGELES — Video game experts at a panel, held in conjunction with the Electronic Entertainment Expo, agreed June 7 that up until just the past few years, the audience for video games had been pretty constant since the 1980s.

Or as Richard Hilleman, chief creative director of Electronic Arts, put it: “It’s not just pimply-faced, 15-year-old boys anymore, at all.”

The spread of social games on sites like Facebook, and the ease of game use on mobile devices has transformed the definition of “gamer,” panelists agreed, and advertisers, marketers and publishers all need to keep that in mind going forward.

“People used to say women don’t want to play games, that when people get older they don’t want to play games,” said Chris Swain, founder of social games company Talkie and director of the University of Southern California Games Institute. “That’s not true. Everyone likes games. Social and mobile have helped prove that true.”

Swain used the example of a mother waiting 10 minutes to pick up her daughter from school. During those 10 minutes, she can play games on her smartphone, games that don’t require a five-hour commitment to finish.

“This is an entertainment business, and it’s pretty powerful,” he said.

“A kid is playing Halo, and his mom is burning a grand playing Farmville in the next room,” said Mike Breslin, VP of marketing for 3D social gaming company Glu Mobile.

Hilleman added that the hardcore gamers still are attracted to mobile games, even though the mobile platform “is not five hours of gameplay where you drink a case of Mountain Dew,” as Breslin puts it.

“My hardest of hardcore customers will still play Bejeweled,” Hilleman added. “You’ve got to be careful how you define people, especially around gaming. Mobile and casual gamers aren’t aligned with a certain piece of hardware.”

Age, gender, religion and region no longer have become boundaries to defining a “gamer,” panelists agreed, because of social media.

“Because of these new platforms, you have this proliferation of gamers all over the world,” said Patrick Mork, chief marketing officer of GetJar, which produces mobile games. “What we’re learning from mobile games is, you have different audiences. We’re looking at a whole new type of gamer.”

And giving even the most popular games away for free, worldwide, isn’t something that would get a publisher fired today.

Mork pointed to the simple yet popular Angry Birds game as an example of just how much the finances of games has changed: When a version of the game was released for Facebook, it earned 5 billion consumer impressions in its first month, all because the game was free and ad-supported.

“When social games were started, they weren’t focused on ads,” Swain said. “It was when the big audiences started coming that brands started knocking on the door.”

That doesn’t mean the big consoles — Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii — are out the door, panelists said. They just need to remember who their audience is in the first place.

“Console gaming is supposed to be ‘Put the quarter in; play the game,’” Hilleman said. “We have strayed so far off the rails with that.”

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