Google and the Games industry

Google is giving away free Nexus One handsets to mobile developers attending the GDC this year

Google is not a games company; Google has never shown any interest in the $75 billion (roughly) games industry. Suprising? Not really … $75 billion *for the entire industry* is smaller than some individual companies in other sectors (e.g. off the top of my head, IBM makes more revenue than that *every year*, e.g. VISA has a market cap of $70 billion, etc).

But … maybe iPhone has changed all that.

Games on iPhone weren’t initially the big fuss, but as the first year of the App Store came to a completion, it was clear that the million-selling apps were set to all be games. This was an excellent handheld gaming console.

Perceptions shifted; giants like EA who’d resolved to ignore iPhone (typically after making expensive failed investments in the Wii) did an about-turn and came onto the platform in force. Mainstream and tech-industry press came to see games as really the be-all-and-end-all of 3rd party apps on the phone – often ceasing to talk much about other apps, except as novelties.

2010 and the annual Game Developers Conference

GDC is almost upon us. This is the main event in the games-industry calendar (forget E3; this is the less glitzy, less marketing, more developers, higher value, more real one). And lo and behold in my inbox today:

# Register by the Early Bird Deadline of February 4th, 2010.
# Register to attend the GDC Mobile/Handheld Summit, the iPhone Summit, or the Independent Games Summit

# receive a device from Google and GDC during the registration process.

… the “device” is explicitly either a Google Nexus-One, or a Motorola Droid (randomly chosen).

[EDIT: from Simon Carless’s comments below, I’m completely wrong on the GDC changes last year. This post isn’t meant to be about GDC, it’s meant to be about Google, so I’ll follow-up in the comments – but don’t take the next two paragraphs as correct, they’re probably wrong.]

The marketing materials for the GDC this year have been unusually big on the discounts, with not just one but two public extensions of the discount deadlines (this is unprecedented as far as I can remember). Clearly, the recession (and the mass redundancies at games companies) has hit the GDC organizers quite hard.

(last year’s GDC had perhaps 40% fewer attendees than the year before; it felt like the quiet conference it used to be, rather than the massive conference it had become. I’m guessing the organizers are working hard to reverse that, even in the face of the economic situation)

…and yet we see a $550 phone being “given away free, guaranteed” to every developer that buys a $550 conference ticket. Wow. That’s a pretty thick, long, solid line in the sand being drawn by Google…

PS

Bizarrely – and IMHO a very very stupid move – speakers are “not allowed” to take advantage of this.

So, let me get this straight:

  1. You decide to target the international games industry, at it’s biggest annual conference
  2. You give away free, expensive, top of the range Android phones to *every* developer, but only the ones specialising in Mobile
  3. …but you ban the 500-odd people who are the pre-eminent experts and the thought leaders in this industry from participating?

It could be down to the potential for abuse – speakers can choose to declare themselves “mobile” developers while still attending all the other summits due to a quirk of how the GDC is organized.

But my guess is that there’s something annoying here about state laws and income tax or competitions and lotteries (governments can be over-protective of their monopoly on gambling income), but it strikes me as a major fail. Microsoft managed to give away $1000 HDTV’s at a previous conference independently of paid/unpaid status (IIRC), so I’m sure Google could have found a way.

(just to be clear: for the first time in about 4 years, I’m actually *not* speaking at GDC, so I’m not affected by this one way or the other. I’m just really suprised at the exclusion)

13 thoughts on “Google and the Games industry

  1. Mark Baker

    Damn, that would happen the year I am speaking at Gdc rather than attending! Oh well.
    See you there I expect!

  2. adam Post author

    Ah … I’m not going at all this year :). I’m not working for any games companies right now, so I couldn’t see the point (it was touch and go last year, and although it was fun, since they don’t give speakers *any* travel allowance – unlike in most other industries – it wasn’t worth the expense).

    There’s plenty I could usefully speak on, but I’ve done nothing new in games since last year, so why bother?

    Really, I probably won’t be at GDC again until / unless the industry grows up and starts reimbursing speakers as standard. It’s sad and pathetic that no conference in the industry pays their speakers costs, let alone pays them for their time for speaking.

    It’s possible that I may find myself at a large corporate again in the future who has the money and good enough reason to pay for me to travel to GDC, but otherwise I think not…

  3. Thomas

    This is not exactly true. The commercially driven event organisers don’t pay for expenses, but events like Nordic or Game Forum Germany, covered all my costs each time I attended.
    KGC in Seoul covered part of my cost, the one thing they didn’t pay for was my plane ticket which, considering it is volunteer-managed, I quite understood…

    Anyone making a margin on the event is not paying. The reason is obvious and doesn’t bother me that much anymore.

  4. Adam

    @Thomas

    Good point; although I wasn’t explicit, I was mainly thinking about commercial events.

    However, most of the non commercial ones are run along the same lines.

    I’ve also noticed that there are always special case exceptions, eg for keynote speakers (sometimes) and special speakers from minority attendee groups (eg westerners at Asian conferences and vice versa) – ie people who wouldn’t come at all otherwise.

    Personally, i would prefer fewer conferences, higher quality.

    But then again … With GDC being charged $40 for $5 of food in San Francisco each day (as revealed by this years “buy your own food at cost price” option) … Its clear that there’s a lot of flaws in the ecosystem of running conferences.

  5. Thomas

    I agree the conference ecosystem could do with some modifications. Speakers are not a commodity.

    But the price point on the food, you shouldn’t pick on actually. The Moscone has an exclusive caterer that all event organiser has to use as part of the use of the facility.
    Exclusive Caterer. Offer. Demand.

    GDC wasn’t making money on the food and that’s the very reason they move to the “bring your on food” policy. Otherwise, they would have stuck to the price and the margin.

    As a sidenote, the GFG was a great event with a really good selection of speakers – mainly because they invited people they wanted to hear rather than opened for submissions.

  6. Adam

    @Thomas

    Sorry if I wasn’t clear – I meant that it was clearly the suppliers who were screwing the conference-organizers. “Cost price” of $40 is outrageously high.

  7. Simonc

    One point I would like to rebut: ‘last year’s GDC had perhaps 40% fewer attendees than the year before’. This is absolutely not true – we had 17,500 in 2008 and 17,000 in 2009, and that’s legit. We also announced those numbers at the time. Can’t deny that the recession is rough on everyone, but we’re proud that people continue to attend GDC.

    Also: ‘The marketing materials for the GDC this year have been unusually big on the discounts, with not just one but two public extensions of the discount deadlines.’ I don’t recall this, and I oversee the GDC team. I actually don’t remember any date extensions at all this year. We have tried to make passes more affordable to people by making lunches optional, as mentioned above. If that’s what you mean?

    In general, I love you to bits, Adam, but you seem to just drift along crowbar-ing in facts to support the general gist of your rants, heh.

  8. adam Post author

    @Simon

    Thanks for the corrections. I should have searched for some official stats when writing the post – I’m sorry.

    However, at the same time, those figures sound very very different from the direct experiences of myself and everyone I talked to during the conference.

    I’m not disagreeing with your figures, but I wonder if we can find an explanation for the discrepancy.

    Interestingly, over the years, I’ve had CMP / TS staff quote (with absolute sincerity) wildly divergent figures for the same year. e.g. *for the same year* figures as divergent as “34,000” and “22,000”, or “24,000” and “15,000”. I believe this is due to different people counting “attendees” differently – and that everyone was correct.

    So, I wonder if the overall figure for 2009 was almost level, but the figure for the core conference was down a lot, and the figure for the expo was up a lot?

    My reference points:
    – number of people inside lecture rooms
    – number of people in primary meeting places (the W hotel, etc)
    – number of people at parties (I go to approx 10 parties each year, so a fairly broad sample)
    – named people I know who usually go to GDC but aren’t there that year
    – number of people on the expo floor

    For the past few years, I’ve gone to all 5 days of the conference.

    At first, I thought 2009 was the same as 2008, despite a lot of my colleagues claiming that it was very quiet. I looked around and realised that they were right – major meeting places that were usually stnading room only were half empty. Then we got to day 3 (when the main conference starts), and the number of attendees didn’t seem to swell much at all, unlike most years.

    The only thing that seemed as busy as normal, or more so, was the expo floor – but I haven’t spent much time on the expo floor for the past couple of years, so I’m only going by the impression I got from 20 minutes or so, and peeking in through the doors every time I walked past.

  9. adam Post author

    “I actually don’t remember any date extensions at all this year.”

    I’m afraid I’ve deleted the emails that announced this, otherwise I’d copy/paste them here.

    Off the top of my head, this year, I received:
    – November: reminders of Alumni discount end
    – December: reminders of early-bird discount end … extension of alumni discount … bonus discont code for non-alumni
    – January: extension of early-bird discount … extension of bonus discount code … and a second bonus discount code when the first one finally stopped

    Of those, most of them are “normal”, they happen every year. I do not remember the “new year’s discounts” from previous years. Im sorry if I’ve misunderstood, or misremembered.

  10. Sulka Haro

    Adam the Early Bird and Alumni dates have been consistently the same in all marketing material I’ve received, so Simon is definitely correct in stating the date haven’t changed.

    Having said that, I agree the special holiday deal ($100 off from the price through 1/23/09 to 01/08/10) _felt_ like the dates were extended.

  11. wendy

    FYI – emails recently went out to speakers saying they will indeed be getting phones as well.

    Also – I remember the same deadline extensions Adam does, but I didn’t keep any of those emails either, as I considered them annoying, desperate spam. Sorry.

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