The Game Marketing Summit is where marketers go to fill up on inspiration when it comes to marketing video games to the largest audiences possible. This year’s summit was bigger and better than in years past, even though the hardcore part of the industry is in a state of turmoil, with some blockbuster winners celebrating and big losers shutting down studios.

The new vibrancy is because the organizers stepped up their efforts to draw a bigger crowd, said Tony Key, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Ubisoft and an organizer. The marketing of games has gotten more complex and there is a lot of new blood coming into the business from social, mobile and online game companies. The speakers at the event talked about all the change afoot and how digital distribution and social media are fundamentally changing game marketing.

The aim of the conference was to figure out the sometimes-shrinking video game industry from the inside out by marketing to the mass market. David “Shingy” Shing (pictured right), the “digital prophet” at AOL, showed off 125 slides that laid out the landscape for having conversations with, rather than talking down to consumers in the age of social media.

“Fifty-seven percent of us would rather talk to someone digitally than in person,” Shing said. “When the hell did that happen?”

He said that the average American engages with 30 brands in a month, which have content distributed across all kinds of channels such as YouTube. That creates a huge number of touch points for consumers. Shing said that engagement and attention are the “new currency” for marketers to pay attention to. The rise of user-generated content sometimes means that brands have to take the risky position of embracing content where users make fun of the brand, Shing said. Interest graphs, such as those promoted by Pinterest, are becoming more influential than social graphs, Shing said.

“We’ve moved away from the information age and into the social age,” he said. “It’s not about the number of people you have in your network, it’s about the number of people who are affecting change.”

Shing thinks that game companies need to think about how to get physical goods or physical rewards into the hands of gamers, not just digital rewards.

Kristian Segerstrale (picture at top), executive vice president of digital at Electronic Arts, predicted that digital goods will change the way that developers create and manage their games. Segerstrale, who co-founded the EA-purchased company Playfish social game startup, firmly believes that the game business is moving from retail to online experiences and purchases.

“The game industry isn’t alone in this transformation we are seeing,” he said. “Music and movies have also made the digital switch. We’re clearly going from boxed products to digital services. We’re going from upfront business models to games where the upfront cost is smaller and smaller.”

With the shift, you can reach a much wider audience with free-to-play games. But then you have to pay attention to the “funnel,” Segerstrale said, where you figure out which of your free players are engaged and which of those engaged players will actually pay money. Simply picking up a game is no longer tied to the act of monetization.

He argued that digital is making the market into a much more global market; by 2015, he said, the U.S. will only be 16.8 percent of the market. One interesting data point is that EA’s Fifa World Cup Soccer game was a huge hit on the mobile social network for Gree in Japan.

Segerstrale said that marketing is going “in-game,” where all sorts of promotions are built into the game that enable the player to spend more money. That means that games must have great internal communications systems that allow publishers to target the customers better and allow the players to better express what they want. Now you have to think of the interface inside the game as valuable real estate. The whole company, including developers, has to get involved in this process, he said.

“With this shift, our relationship with the consumer becomes more important than our relationship with the retailers,” Segerstrale said.

Russell Arons, senior vice president of worldwide marketing at Warner Bros. Interactive, said it was tough to lift Batman from the dustbin of lousy video game characters and bring the superhero back with the newest Batman games. The success of Batman: Arkham Asylum in 2009 was a surprise that revived the whole series for a broader number of users. With the sequel, Batman: Arkham City, the company had to reach the much broader audience that had embraced games such as Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed.

That meant Batman had to look different. Warner Bros. commissioned marketing firm Trailer Park to create an ad campaign that moved away from the invincible superhero and depicted Batman as more human, a weathered, tired, and bloody character who appealed to adults. It worked, as Batman: Arkham City was one of last year’s biggest hits.

The highlight of the event was watching some of the funny game trailers (we’ll provide links to them and upload videos later), such as the Vet and the Noob commercial advertising Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, the little “Guitar Baby!” ad where a baby plays Rocksmith (pictured below), and Sony’s video game ad “Michael.” More somber but incredibly moving was the trailer about the family pursued by zombies in Dead Island.

Activision’s Call of Duty XP event, staged with Ncompass International, won the award for the most effective buzz marketing promotion, as the conversations measured on the web about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 were dramatically higher in the wake of the event.

One of this year’s big winners at the evening dinner — the 2012 PromaxBDA Game Marketing Awards hosted by the stars of Comedy Central’s Workaholics TV show (pictured above) — was Bethesda Softworks, which was lauded for its authentic, true-to-the-game marketing of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which shipped more than 10 million copies in its first month. Skyrim could have been dismissed as a nerdy fantasy role-playing game, but instead its marketing emphasized its movie-like visuals and heroic dragon-fighting combat scenes. That give it a huge mass market bump, and it earned Bethesda the award for the 2012 Game Marketing Team of the Year. AKQA, which worked for Bethesda, was the top agency of the year.

One of the winners was student Aaron Evans (pictured right), who won the student competition by putting together a compelling trailer for Assassin’s Creed III, based on video and audio assets from the game’s creator, Ubisoft.

GamesBeat 2012 is VentureBeat’s fourth annual conference on disruption in the video game market. This year we’re calling on speakers from the hottest mobile, social, PC, and console companies to debate new ways to stay on pace with changing consumer tastes and platforms. Join 500+ execs, investors, analysts, entrepreneurs, and press as we explore the gaming industry’s latest trends and newest monetization opportunities. The event takes place July 10-11 in San Francisco, and you can get your early-bird tickets here.