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Gaming's head cheerleader delivers E3 keynote address

E3 2009: Entertainment Software Association president Michael Gallagher delivers unrelentingly optimistic State of the Industry address.


LOS ANGELES--Ordinarily, the Entertainment Software Association president's keynote address at the Electronic Entertainment Expo is an upbeat assessment of a cutting-edge industry's exponential growth. Given the recent economic downturn, there could have been some question about whether or not the trade group head, Michael Gallagher, would be quite so enthusiastic with this year's State of the Industry speech.

ESA president Michael Gallagher.
ESA president Michael Gallagher.

Such notions were quickly dismissed in the executive's opening remarks. Gallagher acknowledged a recent slump in the NPD Group's tally of US retail sales, but he said the gaming industry is weathering the storm better than many comparable fields. As a significant part of the economy, Gallagher said gaming is not entirely immune to the ups and downs of the marketplace but added it is poised to outperform its peers.

Gallagher pointed to a March Nielsen report that noted gamers spent 64 billion minutes playing games in December, second only to the four largest TV networks in terms of usage time. Citing the ESA's own research, Gallagher said 42 percent of US homes have a game console, and 82 percent of parents say they play games with their children because it's fun for the whole family.

It's those families that offer the most potential for gaming growth in the years ahead, Gallagher noted. Games can provide better bang for the buck, he said, in that they can be played again and again, often lasting many hours longer (and being more economical) than a night at the movies.

Gallagher also pointed to social gaming as a growing trend. He said social networking is a 21st-century business built on a close relationship between game creators and their audiences. The field is so competitive, he said, noting that the companies are in an arms race to boost their gaming communities with such features as streaming Netflix movies through Xbox Live.

The integration of games and movies was a recurring theme of Gallagher's speech, pointing to recent excursions into gaming by Steven Spielberg and Jerry Bruckheimer. It was (appropriately enough), the same old song for the music industry, as Gallagher alluded to games like The Beatles: Rock Band and Guitar Hero: Aerosmith as blurring the line between the gaming industry and the music industry.

Mobile gaming, in-game advertising, and server-based gaming were all trends that Gallagher embraced, dropping special mention of President Barack Obama's campaign ads that appeared in such games as Burnout Paradise. Some industry watchers expect in-game advertising to reach $1 billion within five years, but Gallagher said for that to happen, the industry needs support from academia and the government.

One such helper in the government is Texas Governor Rick Perry, Gallagher said. Perry, who delivered a keynote address at last year's E3, has followed up on his appearance by championing pro-industry initiatives, according to Gallagher.

Not every lawmaker is so eager to help, Gallagher said. That's where the Video Game Voters Network comes in, as Gallagher implored all in attendance to register for the group while at the show. He pointed to the governor of Utah vetoing a recent bill as demonstrable proof that the VGVN's work can stop bad legislation from winding up in tangled court cases (like the one California recently appealed to the Supreme Court). On the academics front, Gallagher rattled off a list of schools that have added new gaming courses to their catalogs and mentioned the charitable ESA Foundation's work promoting scholarships and internships for game-related fields.

In closing, Gallagher stressed that the artistic and technical advances made in the industry over the past decade--and the ones sure to come in the next decade--leave little doubt as to the bright future of gaming.

"Our best, brightest, and boldest days lie ahead," Gallagher said.

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