Thank you to those who came to GamesBeat Summit 2018. We had 264 attendees, compared to about 200 in our first summit in 2015. And we had many thousands of people watching on our livestreams on Facebook and Twitch. It’s not quite the crowd of 28,000 people who attended the recent Game Developers Conference.
But that’s the whole point.
It was an intimate affair at The Seminary at Strawberry, perched on a hill in Mill Valley overlooking the San Francisco Bay. That was a great setting for our talks about the future of games. We had 40 CEOs, presidents, and founders among our 82 speakers. They did a great job engaging the audience. We’ve posted some stories about some of the fireside chats already, as have other press who attended. I had fun giving out our first-ever GamesBeat Visionary Award to Rand Miller, cofounder of Cyan and co-creator of Myst, Riven, and Obduction.
We’ll be posting videos of the talks on YouTube in the coming days. Our emcee Andrea Rene did a great job. I’d like to thank her, the VentureBeat staff, our Show Imaging event partner, photographer Michael O’Donnell, and others who helped us prepare for the event including Perrin Kaplan, Sibel Sunar, and Elizabeth Olson. I appreciated the support of our sponsors, who help us put on great events and do the kind of professional journalism that the game industry deserves. We appreciate you all and will begin planning for our 2019 event shortly.
Here’s my opening speech:
GamesBeat Summit: The Future of Games
When I’m feeling too good about my 22 years of game journalism and our 10 years of GamesBeat conferences and my 15,000 stories in a decade, I think of my little friend, Cuphead.
It’s a humbling talisman.
It reminds me that as much as I think this industry is about CEOs or business models or fundings, it’s really about fun. It’s about creativity, skill, and inspiring people to accomplish great feats. Cuphead helped me find one of my enormous blind spots.
At the lowest level, Cuphead was a celebration of skill, about getting your fingers in touch with a game. But it was a reminder of our predisposition to draw lines between us and them, to separate into tribes of the skilled and unskilled. It made me think about exclusive and inclusive behavior.
It’s OK to create a difficult game and to put in the time to learn how to play it. It is wonderful how a creative game can open your mind and open your thinking and get you to learn something new, like SimCity taught me many years ago how taxes really work. (If you raise taxes, everybody moves to the next city with lower taxes). Cuphead was just as important to me in a new way.
But it’s important to remember that games are for everybody, even those of us who are unskilled, or, more politely, still learning. It is stunning that some people won’t accept that unskilled play is authentic. I should not be so embarrassed for being bad at Cuphead. The only requirement for being a gamer is that you enjoy what you’re playing.
Back in 2015, I said on stage that I wouldn’t advise my daughters to go into the game business, based on the ugliness I saw around Gamergate. I was trying to inspire the industry to do better.
And it has. I may take my advice back, based on seeing you step forward to fight exclusion, whether it’s in the way you fought the immigration ban or participated in #MeToo to make the industry safer for women in the future.
Embracing all gamers makes sense. The skillful don’t need to put down people from other tribes to elevate their own subculture. The skillful should embrace the unskilled because the way we get to the next billion gamers is through inclusivity and accessibility.
We bill this as an exclusive conference. But we’re not trying to keep good people out. We made sure that this room was filled with a combination of interesting leaders and interesting and diverse people from the future. We want to widen the community of fresh or under-appreciated talent, and then connect these people with industry veterans, like Jade Raymond, Robin Hunicke, or Amy Jo Kim. These are some of the people who can inspire the next generation and bring more diverse gamers and game creators into the fold.
We’ve invited you here to listen to inspirational ideas about the future of games, and how to go about building better games and better businesses so that we can add another billion gamers. Or two.
Our theme builds on last year’s Summit on the intersection of science fiction, games, and Silicon Valley. But it also keeps us grounded in the notion that business is what will get us to the future.
Take VR. It’s very inspiring. Ready Player One painted an amazing vision for what it could be. But not many VR systems are selling now, and we need a bridge of sound business ideas to get VR to its wonderful future. Those bridges might involve AR, enterprise VR, or VR arcades.
If we zoom out a bit, we find that some investors have shifted their money into AR and esports. Looking at a micro level, I see a deal every week with esports and AR. I don’t see as many VR deals anymore.
But what is the macro view of games? I like to think GamesBeat is a unique publication because we cover things like Cuphead at the lowest level, but we also ask questions at the high level, pulling up to get some strategic zoom on the landscape.
Here we see the grand schemes of Tencent, investing billions in Supercell or Epic Games; of EA and Activision trying to outmaneuver each other; the cross-entertainment strategies of Warner Bros. and Hollywood; and surprises like Battle Royale sweeping across borders and genres.
We see not only games, which have become a $116 billion industry, but also the golden era for artificial intelligence, AR and VR, natural language interfaces, blockchain, and cryptocurrencies. We see the chess game among companies like Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Tencent. When we think of what these companies are doing, we think expansively about games, not narrowly.
We are in an era of accelerating and cascading revolutions, and it isn’t easy to see exactly which one is important to you. That gives you, the leaders of the game industry, tough choices to make when it comes to fundamental technologies, platforms, engines, marketing tech, tools, and outsourcing.
At a low level, we can write a story that teaches the difference between a polygon and a voxel. But our job here is to expose you to big ideas and inspirations from some of the smartest people in the business, and then give you the opportunity to network with them.
We moved to this location in part because it is removed from your offices. Sadly, you can’t go back to your hotel room or out for a Starbucks so easily. The crowd here is small enough where you get to know people. It’s like a weird kind of speed dating where you can swipe right or swipe left on the people who could make all the difference in the world for your business.
If you open your mind and open your thinking, you might find someone like our speaker David Reichelt, who created 40 games before he created Color Switch, which has been downloaded 250 million times. He told me that the way to be creative was to look at two different things and try to combine them, the same way that it takes two parents to create a child.
Or you might meet Ammar Zaeem, who started making games with his brothers in their teens in Pakistan. They’ve moved up the food chain and are now on their second startup related to games.
Our common thread remains the creativity that comes from looking at games of all kinds. Every now and then, we have been tempted to do a narrower event. We could have veered off into social games. Mobile. VR. Esports. Gamification. Or cryptocurrency. But I believe that the mixture of people across categories is what makes this event interesting.
You’ll find different people here: developers, publishers, CEOs, technologists, students, press, marketers, venture capitalists, and investors.
On our subtheme of science fiction, tech, and games, we are welcoming back speakers like Minority Report science adviser John Underkoffler, Niantic Labs CEO John Hanke, and sci-fi writer Eliot Peper. We can all dismiss sci-fi as the distant future. But last year, we had a session that explored self-driving cars and racing games, and this year, Nvidia announced a way to test self-driving cars by driving them billions of miles in VR.
We’ve also got a new subtheme called The Leisure Economy, which is about the people who have figured out a way to get paid to play games. I do that as a game journalist. But today, we have esports athletes, cosplayers, influencers, YouTubers, livestreamers, modders, and many other people getting paid to play. Can we create a long tail for these people who are inventing careers that didn’t exist five or ten years ago, so that more than just celebrities can cash in?
I like this theme because it takes us from economics down to the personal level, getting into the conversation about what career advice you would give to your child or someone new in the industry. Of course you should stay in school. But what is the new “plastics” word to whisper into the ear of a college graduate? Right now, 500 students are going to college on League of Legends scholarships.
When you think about it, the people with the answers are the people in this room. You aren’t just figuring out your own jobs. You are creating jobs across companies, and you are building platforms that will create whole economies of the future. This is not fantasy, as Tim Sweeney of Epic Games predicted last year that the Metaverse could be built within a few years. If you want to build the Metaverse, or the Oasis, I applaud you, because you will affect the lives of billions.
I think about where in the world the game jobs are and why. It is hard to measure, but the spread of gaming into places like Israel, Helsinki, Pakistan, and even Siberia is inspiring. Mario Valle Reyes, one of our lightning round speakers, is building a VC business so games can spread to even more places. And it’s worth noting that AI is likely to wipe out a lot of traditional jobs in the future.
We have some young people here like Sawyer Lewis, better known as Fortnite player Sir Dimetrious. We should watch how this new generation creates their own work. At some point, that work is going to transition to play, and they are going to get paid to play, and that is how it should be. Imagine that. You could create a virtual world and transform the real world of jobs, and build a real world where everyone is playing, rather than working.
I don’t want to bottle everything up in a couple of themes. Sometimes, theme or not, we just want to hear conversations about the next hot thing. So we’ve got sessions on blockchain, monetization, China, Hollywood, influencers, platforms, and more. We don’t know what exactly will take off, but the people who are talking about these subjects can help you figure it out.
I see a lot of authentic Gunters in this room. We have 40 CEOs, presidents, and founders among our 82 speakers. We have 12 women. And 19 people from minority groups. And somewhere among us, at least one person must have finished Cuphead. We are always trying to get the right people in the room. We look forward to enable deals and connections across categories.
We want you to think of GamesBeat as the neutral zone of the industry, where competitors and comrades and Klingons alike can gather and build a sense of community. Not many havens like this are left in the game business. Many companies have their own events, but GamesBeat is a place where all are welcome and we get over our tribalism. It’s a safe space for open minds and open thinking.
Maybe that idea about the Leisure Economy is a kooky one. I’ll just keep repeating it until someone comes up with a better future. I don’t want to put too much responsibility on you. We’re here to have fun too. But what you do at the GamesBeat Summit here matters. Thank you so much for coming.