We’ve kicked off GamesBeat Summit Digital, our first-ever online-only event for the game community. I kicked off the event with a speech about our theme, the impact of the coronavirus, our speakers, and what about gaming inspires us all in an opening speech.
All of gaming is adapting to the dramatic change brought about by the coronavirus, and we’re so grateful that gaming is one of our lifelines. There is no historical precedent for this moment, so we hope you can learn on the fly with us as we assemble the best minds in gaming to extract the lessons for both the near and the distant futures.
I’ve included the speech for you here. You can also view what’s happening on the stages live here. Here’s the speech.
Welcome to the dawn of a new generation.
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I sincerely hope that you are all well. Thank you so much for tuning in. I am grateful that you’re here to preserve and foster our community around the ideas of inspiring the games industry to be the best it can be.
We would not be doing this digital event if it weren’t for our speakers and sponsors. Most of those we booked for the physical event still supported us. Thank you all. We are honored to have your support.
The coronavirus is coloring every conversation about games. Before it hit, our theme was the dawn of a new generation. This situation we are in today is not what we meant by that. We are adapting.
Gaming by and large has benefited. We have had a shift in our available personal time. We can’t go out. But we are able to entertain or distract ourselves with games, and the value of that can’t be underestimated. As we are isolated in our homes, our mental wellness matters. Gaming is a lifeline. And this moment means gaming will climb up a notch in the world of art and entertainment when it comes to awareness and pervasiveness. Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, famously remarked that Fortnite was his biggest competition for users’ time.
As one of our speakers Andreea Enache said, “Everyone has hit pause except for gaming.”
Esports companies have pivoted to be entirely digital. Online gaming has surged while traditional sports is on hold. VR and AR companies are repurposing themselves to be immersive remote technologies. Google Stadia is even making its cloud gaming service available for free. Mobile games keep growing and launching. Riot’s fans are raising millions for charity. Gaming is stepping up.
Games have a chance to further eclipse all other media in terms of numbers, engagement, and overall business. Games are winning the battle for time, and they are winning over non-gamers who have nothing else to do.
This is not to say we are happy about this. We have that survivor’s guilt, of having dodged a bullet. No one wants to win a competition this way. It is not a time to be lording it over those less fortunate. The silver lining is that games are pulling us together, giving us relief from reality, and even sharing important information for us to stay safe. The fundamental advantage of games, and the fundamental mission, is creating happiness.
We have seen some rare things in this emergency, like the PlayTogetherApart campaign that game companies have created to reinforce the World Health Organization’s plea for social distancing. Bernard Kim of Zynga will talk about that effort during our event, which is a rare moment of cooperation in a very competitive industry. We have a chance for prosperity amid the ruins. Cowen & Co. said the game business held up strong in previous recessions in 2001 and 2008.
So far, so good. Nielsen said 29% of gamers in the U.S. are playing with their friends more often. Roblox is seeing huge gains as more kids play while they’re out of school. The cost of acquiring new users has suddenly dropped, as people are more willing to try out new games now as other things don’t compete for their attention. In mid-March, Verizon said gaming usage was up 75% during peak hours since the quarantines started.
Comcast said that games such as Call of Duty: Warzone pushed game downloads up 50% to 80% recently, even as overall internet traffic was up 32%. I was one of 50 million people who downloaded Warzone in a month. I’m still struggling to get my first win, but I’ve placed second twice. I am praying to the internet gods that my bandwidth holds up.
Doron Nir, CEO of StreamElements and one of our solo talk speakers, has been tracking Twitch, which grew 20% in March in hours watched compared to February. All of these gains are not just going to evaporate overnight as the world (eventually) goes back to normal. It may take a long time for that normality to return, and even then, the world will be tilted in a digital way. This is gaming’s opportunity to make permanent gains.
But gaming should earn this. We should deserve this opportunity.
Think back to ancient history, just 10 weeks ago, at the time when the risks of the coronavirus were becoming evident. Back at the Dice Summit in mid-February, Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, gave us a warning. He criticized the game industry’s “fake open systems,” which put artificial barriers in front of users. That was the last gaming event I attended, and we should remember Tim’s message.
He called out players such as Google, Facebook, and Apple. Because of the success of Fortnite and the design of Unreal, Sweeney was able to force platform owners to support cross-platform play. He called out rival stores for failing to earn their 30% takes. And more recently he has created deals for developers that allow them to keep more of the rewards for what they create.
This part of the revolution is only partly done. It is one thing to use Epic’s power to enforce better deals for itself. But it’s another thing to create a better structure and business model for the whole industry.
As our talk with Jesse Houston of Phoenix Labs will show, small developers cannot just check a box and enable crossplay. It’s a lot of hard work, driven by the idea of common benefit. We have the chance to follow through on the execution, forcing our way through a door that Epic has opened.
We may have forgotten Tim’s words among all of the changes that hit us in the last 10 weeks. The one thing I wished for at the time was the chance to quiz Tim. So we are making sure most of our speakers either have time for Q&A or can hang out in the speaker Q&A rooms. Answering and asking questions without fear is what we mean by taking part in a community.
Many of our talks have been prerecorded by necessity, but we want to make this interactive where we can. So that we can all experience some of those serendipitous exchanges that we once enjoyed at physical events. I encourage all of you to take advantage of the moments where we can talk.
We are at a moment of profound change. The game industry has an enormous opportunity to become further ingrained as the best form of entertainment, as in-person sports and movie production come to a stall.
We have learned that the world presents us with complex risks, and we have to use complex strategies to survive. This is the best time for online games. But so many startups are shutting down. So strategic investors who have big war chests will consolidate the market. And they must do this wisely, not like vultures swooping in.
How do you build your business for resilience? At VentureBeat, we’ve had a tough couple of months. We had about 10 weeks to convert our in-person event into a completely digital one.
Fortunately, we did not have to do this alone. Jason Wilson, Mike Minotti, and Jeff Grubb have been on the watchtower, keeping our game journalism strong. Our other VB writers, our speakers and sponsors and our excellent advisory board, our production company Evergreen, and our own VentureBeat business staff have held us together.
And here is why we feel our conference is more relevant than ever. In this time, historical data doesn’t tell you anything. We are all learning on the fly, we are all teaching each other in real time.
In our time of isolation, it is easy to forget about community, to fall back on survival mode. In our moments of weakness, we may all rush out to buy toilet paper. But that’s not us. That’s not all we are. That’s not the game industry. From all that I’ve seen over the decades, we’re always hungry to learn from each other and help. It is a time to step up. Speaking of help, we are glad to have groups speaking here like the IGDA, the IGDA Foundation, Stack Up, Take This, Global Game Jam, The International Game Summit on Mental Health, the United Nations, Playing for the Planet, and PlayApartTogether. I am very proud that John Smedley of Amazon, Mark Chandler of TIGS, and Eve Crevoshay of Take This are here talking about mental wellness, a new topic for our executive conference. As small as we are, we like to be a megaphone for doing good.
And this conference is all about sharing that learning and creating new connections. As we have learned with the coronavirus, if we act together, we are stronger. This battle for survival is not a zero sum game. If my neighbor gets the sickness, that doesn’t mean I can breathe a sigh of relief. If one game business fails, it does not mean that yours is more likely to survive. Global self-interest doesn’t always solve problems, like if we run away from a pandemic, we may only spread it further.
The solution is to strengthen our resilience, or our ability to bounce back after facing a huge amount of stress.
I am not going to sugarcoat our problems. We have 20 million people newly out of work in the U.S. alone, and the despair that comes from that is the headwind that gaming is fighting against. A lot of those people, even if they play, will not be spending more money. It’s scary. But remember what Frank Herbert wrote. Fear is the mind-killer.
The good fortune of the game industry is that it is going into this recession or depression from a position of strength. We are not going into one of the worst disasters of our time like the debt-ridden movie theaters or leveraged entertainment companies that are on the verge of bankruptcy. The game companies could very well emerge from this stronger. And that’s good, as we need something to create jobs and careers for the tough days ahead in this new economy.
Last year, one of the great tragedies of the world was the burning of Notre Dame. After that happened, we were able to see the great cathedral only in games such as Ubisoft’s virtual rendering of it from Assassin’s Creed Unity. But it was great to see the French people singing their songs in unison for the fallen cathedral. We saw people pledge money for reconstruction. And to see the efforts of that reconstruction from virtual reality views, as people aren’t allowed to visit that scene today. And what we learned was that the resiliency was not in the strength of the walls that kept the structure from becoming a total loss. The resiliency was in the network of human beings who will not allow Notre Dame to be just a memory.
While disaster is before us everywhere, I want to see the messages of hope, and how we are building for a brighter future.
Not every talk is about the coronavirus. Many issues remain unresolved, like climate change. For our speakers, we want to assure you that we are in a safe space. You are not required to be solemn. You have license to be brilliant. Innovative. Different. Inspiring. Amazing. Uplifting. You’ll see that many of our speakers are choosing their own virtual backgrounds to express their creativity.
I’m very proud that we can host a Women in Gaming virtual breakfast on day two, with a panel moderated by Andrea Rene of What’s Good Gaming and featuring Kellee Santiago of Niantic, Nonny de la Peña of Emblematic Group, and Elizabeth Howard of Aspyr. If Niantic had not stepped up to back this breakfast, and to back our event, we would not be here today. It’s important because as long as women occupy just 20% of the jobs in the industry, gaming’s revolution will not be complete.
Please join us in helping people see that the future is what matters — not keeping games shackled inside an old stereotype, trapped by borders that are imaginary.
And so I come around again to what we are thankful for. I am no longer going around the world. I’ve had a little chance to slow down. I am glad to be with my family, and to go jogging every day in our nearby park. I am glad my college kid is home so we can play Detroit: Become Human, and I view that as a good part of her education because a game about AI can teach us what is important about being human. And I am thankful that, in our digital form, we can now reach more people around the world who haven’t had a chance to see a GamesBeat event.
At VentureBeat and GamesBeat, we continue in our role as curators. We serve our audience. We serve our readers. We present you with thought leadership. We are real journalists. We are not fake news. We are public servants. This is the neutral zone of the industry. GamesBeat Summit is a place where you check your tribalism at the door. As journalists, we still retain our critical judgment, but we check our cynicism at the door.
What I want to believe is that, through the fog of this coronavirus, we will catch a glimpse of something. I’m not talking about which one of our speakers is really wearing pajamas. I want to believe that a revolution in gaming is happening right now. Why? Because there’s always a revolution in gaming happening. So get yourself through the day, through next month, but keep thinking about what is going to change gaming forever.
I don’t want to put too much responsibility on you. But what you do matters. Not just at the GamesBeat Summit, but in your careers in gaming, which is all about spreading fun and love, not hate and fear. One day, your kids, some of them unborn today, will ask, “What did you do during the worst crisis we’ve ever had.”
And I assure you that you will feel good when you say, “I did something that mattered.”
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