CES 2009 Report, Day 1: Ideas, Predictions and Statistics
You probably can't tell, but that is indeed an Outback Steakhouse in the bottom-right of the picture. Only in Vegas!
Hello from Sunny Las Vegas, where the air is already crackling with excitement. Or maybe it's crackling with the static electricity born from the unseasonably cold, dry desert air. Regardless, the town actually feels a little dead, given the usual scale of the Consumer Electronics Show. I've had two cab drivers and one hotel concierge tell me that the crowds this year are much smaller than in past years. I'll have to take their word for it, given that this is my first time at CES -- or in Vegas in general, for that matter (I'm already up $50 at the craps tables!).
The CES show floor opened today, but Wednesday featured some interesting panel sessions at the Game Power sub-conference, as well as the traditional pre-show keynote speech from Microsoft. I spent so much time sitting in a chair and listening to other people talk that I dubbed the entire day "Listen to People Smarter Than You Say Smart Stuff Day."
With that in mind, I figured the best way to sum up yesterday would be to simply collect some of the smartest, most interesting ideas, predictions and statistics bandied about by all the smart people that talked. Later today, there will actually be games to play, peripherals to try out and about 50 gazillion largely identical HDTVs to look at. I can't wait!
- "Games got a bad rap in the '70s and '80s because you'd be sitting alone in front of a screen. We had lots of friends; they were just through the computer. Society and technology is just now catching up to that."
--Matthew Bellows, VP Consumer Strategy, Vivox, explains how new technology is allowing videogames to mimic the social side of games that has been present for thousands of years.
- "Social networks are about scaling up, but they're also scaling down. In the past, you'd never think you could build a business case for a 10,000-user model, but [the Facebook game] Mob Wars has done it. The size of these social networks lets you build a business case on the micro-level ... allowing people to participate in the marketplace that never could before."
--David Laux, Global Executive, Games & Interactive Entertainment, IBM, on how the scale of Facebook's 100 million users somewhat paradoxically gives smaller games a chance to find their niche.
- "It's not like the old days of MTV where they'd watch videos again and again and again, because there wasn't an Xbox in those days."
--Geoff Keighley, Executive of Game Publisher Relations, Spike TV, explaining why a 24/7 network purely about gaming probably wouldn't work.
--Mark Kroese, General Manager, Entertainment & Devices Advertising Business Group, Microsoft explains why so many people spend $3 to download an episode of GameTrailersTV when they could watch it online for free.
- "Generally, looking at the history of games, expansion content doesn't sell at a good ratio to [the] original game -- around 30 percent. The thing about music games is they're not like other games ? The degree that people enjoy these games is very tied to your connection to the music [and] when you consume a lot of music, you hunger for more."
--Alex Rigopulos, Co-Founder and CEO, Harmonix, explaining why Rock Band songs routinely outsell items like horse armor.
- "I think we should get rid of the word 'casual,' because it automatically implies you're not serious. I think everyone who plays games is serious. I will play you in a game on a piece of paper and I will dominate you."
--Matt Story, Director, Play, a division of Denuo, on his hardcasual nature.
- "Well, if I play this game for five more hours, I will start to have fun."
--Don L. Daglow, President and CEO, Stormfront Studios, gives an example of a phrase you should NEVER utter when playing a casual game.
- "Can you get me Gamertag POTUS? Also, Air Force One needs an Xbox. Hint, hint."
--the fake Barack Obama sends an e-mail displayed on the screen behind Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's keynote speech.
One of the impromptu "rock bands" that formed to "open" for the Alex Rigopulos interview.
- "We're seeing a change in business models, away from the developer-driven [model] -- where the developer decides how it's sold -- to the consumer-driven [model], where the consumer determines how it's consumed. Anarchy Online is a good example of this, where the user chooses between seeing ads or paying a premium. We'll be seeing that more and more in the coming year."
--David Laux, Global Executive, Games & Interactive Entertainment, IBM, who likes to use the work "free-mium" to explain this phenomenon.
- "I'm optimistic that kids and edutainment is going to come back after The Learning Company killed it 10 years ago. ? I think the kids' market has a renaissance waiting for it."
--Jason Rubinstein, former Head of Games, Motorola predicting a potential new sequel to The Oregon Trail, perhaps?
- "Sure, there will always be a retail place, there will always be a mall; but that will be increasingly concentrated and things will be increasingly distributed differently."
--James Green, CEO, Giant Realm, predicts tough times ahead for game retailers.
- "Will game stores become more like Borders, where it's a social experience just going there, sitting, eating, drinking?"
--Matthew Bellows, VP Consumer Strategy, Vivox, suggests a new path for stores like GameStop in the world of digital downloads.
- "It would be great to actually play a fighting game or a sports game against a player on another device. 4G [phones] will ideally be able to provide that."
--Tammy Robinson, Senior Director, Sega Mobile, predicts that new mobile network technology will allow for live online gaming on cell phones in 2009.
- "Obama to the girls: 'Forget the pet, I'm getting you a DS and Nintendogs'"
--Matthew Ringel, SVP, Strategic Alliances, Live Nation, jokingly suggesting a headline he expects to see in the next few months.
This shot represents about one-hundredth of the dead-eyed tech experts streaming out of Microsoft's keynote speech.
- "17 million people are on Xbox Live"
--This statistic was apparently so important that I heard it repeated four separate times by four different people: Magid Advisors' Mike Vorhaus, and Microsoft's Shawn McMichael, Mark Kroese and Robbie Bach.
- "It takes about a man-month of effort to convert a digital song into a Rock Band track."
--Harmonix CEO and Co-Founder Alex Rigopulos details how long it takes to create four difficulty tracks for four instruments, plus animation and camera data for a single song.
- "Twenty-five to 30 percent of people who buy music also play Rock Band or Guitar Hero."
--Tony Calandra, Vice President, MTV Games quotes NPD figures that show the huge appeal of rhythm games. He also pointed out that, four years ago, that number was zero percent.
- "On Xbox Live, we've sold 60 million music downloads on Lips, Rock Band and Guitar Hero alone. And Xbox Live represents 80 percent of all song downloads on all platforms."
--Robbie Bach, President, Entertainment & Devices Division, Microsoft explains how music games have led to his being able to buy another yacht (we assume).
- "Advertising is the most profitable, fastest-growing part of Xbox Live"
--Shawn McMichael, Director of Sales and Marketing, Microsoft, on why integrating advertising was a central focus of the New Xbox Experience
- "Ninety percent of new game education happens at retail."
--David Laux, Global Executive, Games & Interactive Entertainment, IBM explains the role of brick-and-mortar retailers in the increasingly digitally distributed future. He also mentioned that this ratio used to be 97 percent...
- "An average Halo player plays 150 hours of Halo on Xbox Live. It really is the defining application of social gaming."
--Microsoft's Robbie Bach talks up his company's biggest franchise and just how much time has been wasted by its 25 million players
Harmonix CEO Alex Rigopulos looks a little sleepy in this shot, but he was actually wide awake for his interview with Billboard's Phil DeGooyer.