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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…


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)

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