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Interview: LA Games Conference

There are a slew of reasons we’re excited about going to the LA Games Conference next week, but one I hadn’t even considered was the possibility of playing games with celebrities. Ned Sherman, CEO and publisher of Digital Media Wire, which organizes and runs the conference, planted this dreamy seed in my mind on Monday when he told the story of Vin Diesel wandering into the 2006 event: “That was pretty wild, totally unplanned and unanticipated. We were hosting a gamers’ tournament and this event was being done at the Pacific Design center…so it was our first LA Games Conference event, and all of a sudden he just walks into the room and says, ‘I hear you guys are playing games out here, can I play?’ and he sat down and played games for an hour or two.”

Manny ‘Master’ Rodriquez, DoA4 champ for 2006, was present at the conference and played Vin at his gamesake. “He was playing against Vin Diesel, and he was kicking Vin Diesel’s ass, but he was surprised—he actually said, ‘Wow, you’re hanging in there, you’re doing a pretty good job.’”

Hollywood celebrities, gaming celebrities, and a whole lot of industry execs get together for two days each year and talk shop, with plenty of time set aside for play.

“We don’t want to lose track that people are in this industry to have fun. We have a few cocktail parties, and a speakers’ dinner where the speakers get together with people from my company and…drink a lot and have a lot of fun.”

Once those speakers sober up, they sit on a number of panels which will cover topics such as “What does it take to make a successful game?” “Is Hollywood killing the game industry?” and “Is the console entertainment hub of the future or fighting to stay alive?”

“We try to cover topics that are relevant, timely, and have…some debate component to them, sides that could be taken. We’re also looking at the industry as a whole, thinking about the different pieces of the industry, how to involve developers and publishers, console platforms, social networks, virtual worlds…large entertainment studios, all the pieces that make up the digital entertainment community.” Digital Media Wire has experience with all of these aspects: their eight year-strong online publication reports daily on gaming, music, business, and every technological media interest you may have. They host ten conferences total throughout the year, and are looking to expand farther into the consumer event realm and will actually “be making a big announcement at the [LA Games Conference] about a group we’re going to be partnering with to do another big event that will be like the LA Games Conference…at an already existing consumer event.” A mysterious announcement which will alert us to more games, names, and convention play? Count us in.

The conference itself, which will couple with the Games & Mobile Forum (previously held separately in New York) looks compelling even before you consider firsthand announcements and celebrity appearances. Stars of the gaming world—including Chris Early of Microsoft, Geoff Keighley of Spike TV, Andy Reif of the CGS, and many more—will meet, greet, discuss, and debate a variety of topics. Mobile games are the focus of one panel, not surprising since Apple released its SDK and the opportunities for mobile gaming are continuously growing.

“It’s funny, we’ve been covering the mobile games space for quite awhile, and every year people say ‘Okay, we’re right on the cusp, mobile games are going to really take off,’ every. single. year. The fact is, mobile games haven’t really taken off, but it is an industry and it continues to creep along, and everyone’s in it now…It’s a market people cannot ignore and can only get stronger as technologies improve and more and more countries around the world increase the number of handsets out there.”

And casual games will take center stage at another discussion, as they’ve “always been at the center of this event.”

“We’ve been covering casual games for longer than they’ve been popular,” Sherman laughs. “What the Wii did for casual games—I won’t say the Wii alone, it did have a huge impact on the games market and just broadening it to places that no one really would have guessed it would go—to hear these stories about family reunions and the grandparents playing with their kids, and playing with their kids, and three or four generations of family members hanging out in the living room…”

But if casual games exist at the heart of gaming conferences, what’s happened to the hardcore player?

“I think there’s always going to be companies that are going to do extremely well with hardcore gamers…they are in a way the heart and soul of the industry, but I think it’s a good thing that we’re seeing the definition of a gamer broaden.”

Broaden is more than accurate. In its research, Sherman’s company discovered a study reporting that “over 90% of Gen Y, when asked ‘Are you a gamer?’ say ‘Yes.’ I think the definition was that they play games at least 10 hours a week.”

“That’s just staggering! No wonder now the film and television industry are having so many problems getting this generation out to the movie theater and to watch television, games are competing with other mainstream forms of entertainment…just look at the attendee list of who’s coming to our event vs. who was coming back in 2000 or 2002: we have NBC Universal and Paramount, Disney, Warner Bros…it really says a lot about how the industry has developed over the last eight or nine years. Games really are mainstream entertainment.”

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