The Battle Royal, the name for our conference theme for GamesBeat 2013, will be under way in just 11 days. I’m proud to say we’ve lined up the best slate of speakers we’ve ever had to show us the way ahead in the tumultuous and diverse game industry.
Just this week, Japan’s SoftBank and GungHo Entertainment (the maker of Puzzle & Dragons) bought 51 percent of Helsinki-based Supercell for $1.5 billion. Supercell, who made the popular Clash of Clans, was valued at just $770 million back in March, but now it’s supposedly worth a cool $3 billion. And rumors are rife that London’s King (Candy Crush Saga) will stage an initial public offering that could be valued at $5 billion.
This isn’t a pure bubble. These companies are generating these valuations because they’ve figured out how to monetize mobile players. And once these folk start spending, they can generate millions of dollars a day. On an annual basis, that can mean that these companies could generate a billion dollars in revenue. Just a year ago, such revenues in the mobile industry were a fantasy.
A year of change
A year ago, we welcomed everyone to the Crossover Era. The console market had stalled. Traditional game companies found they had to make the leap to digital before companies like Zynga — without any physical games — pulled ahead of them.
But then we saw a big pause. Zynga faltered as mobile gaming shook up Facebook. Electronic Arts slowed its acquisition binge after it changed its CEO.
When we came up with the theme of The Battle Royal many months ago, some assumed that the home consoles were finished. Then at before the E3 video game trade show, the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 appeared, reigniting interest in next-generation consoles.
Now so much has changed. The game industry has come roaring back, and the financial activity is boiling again.
Barriers to entry across the business are coming down. Walled gardens are full of holes. Valve hopes to challenge Microsoft Windows (and even Sony and Nintendo) with the SteamOS and SteamMachines, PC gaming consoles designed for the living room, not the desktop.
Microsoft and Sony are embracing indie gamers in the hopes of blunting the inroads that mobile and social games are making into their turf. They’re also embracing cloud gaming to enhance their hardware offerings over time.
Then there’s Apple, Google, and Amazon. Their developer communities want to further disrupt the console businesses. Will they do their own “microconsoles”? Or will the likes of Ouya, GameStick, GamePop, G-Cluster, Playcast Media, and many others fulfill the destiny of new devices in the living room.
Over in South Korea, Kakao has become a kingmaker for mobile game developers thanks to the fast growth of its mobile messaging network, which has more than 100 million users. Kakao games are generating so much revenue that they’re starting to dominate the top 10 global revenue rankings of the Google Play store.
Gaming has moved on to its global stage. SoftBank hopes to take the content of Europe’s Supercell and Asia’s GungHo and make it available across its communications networks, where it has considerable distribution might. You can bet that SoftBank wants to expand beyond Asia into the West, along with generating a lot of games and entertainment on top of its newly purchased Sprint Nextel mobile network.
SoftBank’s activity is indicative of the growing might of Asia. The Corum Group said there are 30 big companies in Asia that each have more than $1 billion in cash and have shown interest in acquiring game companies by the dozen. And now that Activision Blizzard has formally spun off from Vivendi in an $8 billion-plus transaction, you can bet that it will do what it can to be a player in the global game business.
So far this year, game acquisitions have topped $4.8 billion, well above the $4 billion in value that was spent on game acquisitions all of 2012. Game investments have picked up again, though not at the same torrid pace as a couple of years ago.
Almost all of that investment has gone into mobile and online games. But just as everyone was about to write off the consoles again, Grand Theft Auto V generated $1 billion in revenue in just three days on the market.
Speakers who can explain it all
Our speakers are going represent the full spectrum of the industry. We’ll start with a demo and fireside chat from Brendan Iribe, the chief executive of Oculus Rift, the PC-based goggles that have revived interest in virtual reality. We’ll hear from Sony Online Entertainment’s John Smedley, who upended the online world with Everquest and now plans to kill off World of Warcraft with Everquest Next, a next-generation massively multiplayer online game that will feature user-generated content.
A surprise panel that we’ll reveal later will give us a flavor for the worldwide Battle Royal. Then the active investors from Europe, Asia, and the U.S. will talk about where they’re putting their money to find the next billion-dollar game. Many investors ran for the hills after the slowdown associated with Zynga’s fall. But firms such as Signia Ventures, Madison Sandhill Capital, and WestSummit Capital are moving in to fill the breach.
Two of the early digital game investors, Bing Gordon (former chief creative officer for EA who now works at the Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers VC firm) and Tim Chang (of Mayfield Fund), will talk about their hopes for the next Golden Age of gaming. And Steve Wadsworth, who built a digital empire at Disney and now rules Tapjoy, will talk about the new ways to monetize games.
We’ll capture the clash of old and new with a discussion about whether intuition or analytics can contribute more to a successful game design. We’ll also hear debates about whether consoles or free-to-play will rule. And John Riccitiello, a former CEO of EA and a new investor in games, will try to convey why consoles versus mobile is actually the wrong question.
Brock Pierce, the managing director of Clearstone Global Gaming Fund, has assembled two panels for us on the hot trends of the moment: e-sports and social casino games. These represent new twists in the role of community in making games stronger and more addictive.
Robin Hunicke, meanwhile, will open the discussion of the role of women in gaming with a fireside chat on the Feeling-Focused game and a panel discussion with high-profile women developers. Michael Gallagher, the head of the video game industry’s trade association — the Entertainment Software Association — will talk about the changing face of games and gamers. And Simon Khalaf, head of analysis firm Flurry, will read the tea leaves of analytics and tell us about how mobile games are maturing.