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Video Game Fair Spotlights European Market

The third computer Games Convention came to an end in Leipzig on Sunday with positive feedback for the future of the event itself but less than good news for the German gaming industry.

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The convention was a success but it raised questions for German firms

The third annual computer Games Convention, the biggest trade fair for interactive entertainment in Europe, came to a close in Leipzig on Sunday. Over 100,000 visitors came, saw and played cutting edge games, experienced the latest in edu- and infotainment and sampled the newest consoles and hardware from over 270 exhibitors from 13 countries while the conventions played host to no less than 68 world premieres.

The expanding popularity of the German convention was in evidence as the convention center swelled with the biggest names in the industry. Thomas Dlugaiczyk of the Games Academy, an institution for the promotion of creative electronic arts, observed the differences from the two previous years. "(The German companies) always attended conferences in the USA and Canada, now their people come to us," Dlugaiczyk told DW-WORLD.

This was in evidence as more international games developers and hardware manufacturers took the opportunity to announce new products and sales figures at the convention, as the industry prepared for the run-up to the all important, rapidly approaching Christmas period.

Big names in attendance

Game companies such as Electronic Arts, Ubisoft and Buena Vista revealed rising sales figures as well as new products while the major console companies used the convention as the tactical arena for the coming competition during the festive season.

Computerspiel mit XBox

X-Box mania in Leipzig.

Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo were all out in force in Leipzig and laying down the battle lines for the price war to come. Microsoft revealed that its X-Box console, currently selling for €199, will be reduced to €149 at the end of August in an attempt to attract pre-Christmas shoppers. Microsoft told those who gathered at its stand in the convention hall that it hoped to expand its worldwide X-Box sales from 15.5 million to 20 million through the deal.

Over at the Sony stand, the makers of Playstation struck back during their own show at the convention by following suit, dropping the Playstation 2 to the same price.

Piracy hits German industry

But despite the popularity of the convention and the entertainment genre it promotes, the figures belie a worrying downward trend in the computer game industry in Germany.

In an industry that relies much on exports, Germany is seen as a developing country in the context of the European computer game arena. In the first half of this year, German computer game sales abroad totaled €111 million, a decline of 36.9 percent on the same six month period in 2003.

There are a number of factors being attributed to this. One is piracy. Each year, the German computer game industry loses as much as €400 million through the copying of games and the online sharing of products, with as many as 54 million illegal copies per year being made and sold in Germany.

Another is user-friendliness. Tom Putzki, chairperson of G.A.M.E., the German federation of computer game developers, told DW-WORLD that one reason could be that designers try too hard in the creation of new products and that constantly trying to reinvent the wheel may push creative boundaries but actually alienate consumers.

Complexity alienates users

Computerspiel Counter-Strike

Some games take too long to learn, say developers.

Bob Bates, a game writer from the United States who attended the developer's conference at the trade fair, said that German games are too complex. "You demand too much of the consumers. It takes too long until the player understands the game." Bates said that U.S. game players give a new game a probation period of five minutes at the most. "If they haven't understood the game by then and have not enjoyed themselves, then the game is not bought."

David Reeves, President and COO of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, told those who gathered to hear his speech that there was still plenty of market growth slumbering in the German games business, stressing that a wider target group and acceptance of gaming as a mainstream entertainment product would be key factors to future success.

Finding the German target

Reeves raised the issue that despite Germany's appetite for consuming videogames, very little development actually took place within German borders. Reeves believes that just like racing games in Spain and tennis games in France, there are game genres that can hit the sweet spot in Germany. He urged industry representatives to invest in mass market-friendly themes and support development of locally relevant software within Germany.

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