Going Beyond the Fun in Games: The MIT Sloan Business in Gaming Conference

Rasmussen and EpsteinAaron Rasmussen, Co-founder and Vice President of Marketing of Mana Energy Potion and Jon Epstein, CEO of DoubleFusion discuss product placements in video games during the In-Game Advertising Panel.

MIT Sloan held its inaugural Business in Gaming Conference (BIG) on May 8, 2009. Highlighting current transformations and trends in the gaming industry, the conference featured panels covering topics like serious games, in-game advertising, digital distribution, and massively multiplayer online (MMO) business models.

The conference opened with an address by Susan Bonds, president and CEO of 42 Entertainment, who offered her perspective on how alternate reality games (ARG) have helped her company to create buzz for movies like The Dark Knight and games like Halo 3.

Pick a panel

Equally as focused on the changes happening in the world of in-game advertising, the first panel of the day discussed several bellwethers in the industry, including current standards for metrics, product placement, and static versus dynamic three-dimensional ads in the sector.

The panel on digital distribution, a unique expanding market, was very focused on opportunities made available to the consumer and designer by new digital distribution models. Discussion of successes like WiiWare's World of Goo made clear how developers are succeeding through digital distribution. John F. Rizzo, CEO of Zeebo, talked about the new console his company is launching in developing countries. Zeebo's digital download-only game distribution model is attempting to do something very new by limiting software piracy in developing countries where the problem is rampant.

The MMO panel offered insight into the differences between Asian MMO markets, which tend to be dominated by free-to-play business models, and their North American counterparts, which tend to operate on a subscription-based model. General consensus among the panel, which included industry heavyweights like Robert Ferrari, VP of publishing and business of Sanrio Digital, and Eugene Evans, senior director of marketing of Mythic Entertainment, was that both models have trade-offs and that new and more fluid models were being made available with the adoption of services like Twofish and PlaySpan.

The day's final panel was about serious games. A serious game is defined by its ability to create knowledge in its players. One such game is America's Army, a simulation game used for recruiting soldiers to the U.S. military. It has fast become one of the U.S. Army's most successful marketing tools, which makes serious games serious tools in the business world.

Also mentioned were the Burger King titles created in 2006 for the Xbox and Xbox 360. The quarter in which these titles were released saw a 40 percent increase in quarterly profits for the fast food giant which is nothing to sneeze at. Serious or not, these games are playing an important role in the way games are seen as tools available for any business's arsenal.

Closing time

Ken LevineKen Levine, cofounder, president, and creative director of 2K Boston, takes questions about the creative process of developing BioShock during the keynote event.

The conference closed with a keynote question and answer session with Ken Levine, cofounder, president, and creative director of 2K Boston. Levine — one of the minds behind the smash success BioShock — sat down with Dennis Fu, MBA '09. Fu's questions elicited some sage advice from Levine about entrepreneurship and business models in the gaming industry and provided a nice synthesis of the knowledge gained during the day. Talking about entrepreneurship and founding a development company Levine says, “You have to not have a choice.” His entrepreneurial spirit and desire for innovation was also expressed in his thoughts on current business models and determining their ability to succeed. “Any business model that is out there,” Levine says, “it is too late. The train has already left the station. It's not that there's nothing to be taken away.” Levine expressed the need to always stay innovative in this industry, even in the way you do business. He himself as a consumer admits to buying “almost all [his] PC products” from online distributor Steam. Whether talking about his personal or professional life, Levine's candor provided worthwhile advice to attendees already in or with a desire to join the gaming industry.