Barry visits the 2007 Game Developers Conference in SF

There is much more coming from last week’s Game Developer’s Conference, held in San Francisco, but I want to give my general impressions.

The conference was held all last week, for the first time in San Francisco, having apparently outgrown its previous San Jose digs. The conference proper was held in the old North Hall of Moscone Center, and in the sparkling new West Hall.

Fortunately for the attendees from around the US and indeed around the world, the weather was nothing short of spectacular. Well OK, I heard some complaints from Phoenix and SoCal visitors about how cold it was (~ 70 degrees F), but I doubt anyone else was complaining!

Aside: Weird thing to note for attendees of future conferences here, especially during the winter rainy season – the West Hall is not connected underground to the older part of the complex, meaning you must exit outside, cross 5th Street (a major intersection!) and walk ~ 1/2 block to the entrance of the North Hall.

Logistics of travel between the buildings notwithstanding, this was a very well run show based on my experience. The staff was helpful and plentiful everywhere. when they didn’t know the answer, they had a system in place for getting it and getting it back to me. Impressive and well done!

Who was at the show?

Some quick, back-of-the-envelope demographics: I estimate that the attendees numbered at least 5,000, with the peak on the first day I attended (Wednesday), probably because that was the first day the exhibits were open. I am guessing that there were at least 1,000 folks manning the exhibits.

There was a kind of nostalgic feel for those of us old enough to remember, because the frenetic energy and attendee numbers and audacity of money spent on booth space clearly rivaled dot-com conferences held at Moscone regularly from ~ 1998-2000. Although I didn’t attend, I am suspecting the after-hours parties, of which there were many announced and probably many other less visible ones also were of the “spare no expense” variety form the earlier dot-com era.

Based on this, I have no doubt that there is a lot of investment and customer money flowing through the game space. This bodes well for the growth and robustness of the space. But the show revealed the space to be very complex for investors, and I will be covering that more in later entries.

Of the attendees, there is no doubt who the primary attendees were. I estimated 90% male, 10% female. Others I spoke to were less generous, estimating a 10:1 ratio of male to female. Still, you get the point.

Women did seem to be better represented in service provider roles: Sales and Marketing of various services, representatives of various regional Economic Development organizations, HR folks in the career booths, recruitment for educational institutions and so on.

These are valuable and high value added roles, don’t get me wrong – and those of you that I met I will be following up soon, but I was struck by the limited opportunities for women, even as many companies are chasing the “female demographic” as customers and consumers of “casual games”.

Oh yeah, let’s not forget the 2 other roles of women in any “dot com” style event: the booth babe and eye candy. They were nearly ubiquitous, frankly some of them were brought from around the world to wear ridiculous and often skimpy outfits. Many others were probably local, hired for day rates off of craigslist to entice the men. Quite possibly, 20-40% of all female attendees were booth babes and eye-candy.

I am no prude, and well, I have seen much worse at conferences down in LA, but from he point of view of creating investment value in an entire industry, is this really a good thing?

Where the demographics of the attendees, probably representative of the industry as a whole, indicate capacity problems down the road, how can we sell the other important career paths in digital media to young women and young girls when this is what they are reduced to providing already?

I think there is great potential for the games industry to serve a great role in keeping young girls interested in mathematics and other related subjects in school, but how many are going to be turned off simply because of the visibility of the booth babes and eye candy? A lot apparently.

It must be hard enough for women to navigate what appear to already be well entrenched old-boy networks both large and small. What can we do to change the ratios? This is a question I think I will try to pursue via various industry trade organizations, but for now it is appearing problematical.

Frankly, this does not speak well for the growth potential of the industry: if women represent only 10% of the attendees at such a major conference, that is a problem in the emerging (or already emerged?) industry structure, and the gender ratio represents an enormous inefficiency.

OK, some more demographics along a similar vein:

I think the overall attendees were ~ 90% white, 9% Asian, and 1% other. This also does not reflect the population in general. I wonder: Are investment opportunities are being lost because for the most part only white males are taking part? (Full disclosure: I am a white male).

OK, enough of that. the main point I want readers to take away from this post is that there is an enormous amount of energy and investment and opportunity in this space. The space is very complex though, and getting more so, and I will be addressing that in future posts.

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