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The logo for Gaming Convention Online.
More than 180,000 visitors are expected to attend the Leipzig convention.

Gamers get-together

July 31, 2009

The Games Convention in Leipzig, which opened on Friday, is the only convention in Europe that concentrates solely on online and mobile games. The online games market is booming, in spite of the tough economic times.

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While other parts of the world economy are shrinking in the wake of the financial crisis, one sector is booming: online gaming.

The first global online gaming conference opened in the German city of Leipzig on Friday, and runs until Sunday night.

Silvana Kuerschner, strategy director global of the games convention, says the conference aims to bring all parties involved in online gaming, from developers to end users, together, and that right now the sector is one of the world's most dynamic.

"The industry is seeing growth of 20 percent annually,” Kuerschner says.

Not bad in economic times which have seen television, film, music, DVDs, and both print online media delivering dwindling economic returns.

Price Waterhouse Coopers has forecast that turnover in the online gaming industry in Germany for 2009 will exceed 170 million euros ($2.1 million).

At the same time, the market for conventional PC-based computer games is set to stagnate.

World of warcraft collector's edition
Thirteen million people all over the world play World of Warcraft online.Image: Blizzard Entertainment

Biggest game of all time.

Probably the biggest single success of all time when it comes to online games is World of Warcraft, or 'WoW' as its devotees call it. Players enter into an imaginary world, where two super-continents, Kalimdor and Azeroth provide the playing environment.

Around 13 million players around the world opt to portray characters such as sadistic gnomes, bloodthirsty elves and other imaginary creatures. The game's creator, Blizzard Entertainment, rakes in more than a billion dollars a year.

However games like World of Warcraft only account for about 10 percent of the total population playing games online, according to BITKOM, Germany's Federal Association for information technology. By far the most popular, BITKOM says, are Sudoku puzzles and Ma Jong.

BITKOM estimates that in Germany's 14 to 29-year-old demographic, one in two people have played an online game at least once.

Silvana Kuerschner says that Germany, although by far the biggest market in Europe, is far behind Asia and North America in terms of total revenue in the online games sector.

Leipzig Exhibition Center CEO, Wolfgang Marzin, says that German gaming firms are working closely with South Korean partners.

“Korea is the primary developer and driver in the online games field,” Marzin says, “and is also responsible for the spreading popularity of the genre, as they have long been at the forefront of Internet technology”.

The conference is made up of two parts. The industry part is where scientists, business developers, media and game developers get together, but there is also the side where player communities meet up. The 'Guilds,' or 'Clans,' as they call themselves, use the convention as an opportunity to meet like-minded gamers, play the latest games on the market, as well as new versions of old faves like World of Warcraft.

A long line of gamers play on computer terminals
Adolescent males are much more likely to become games addicts.Image: picture-alliance/ dpa

Addiction.

The awareness of gaming addiction is growing, with some experts suggesting that one in five WoW players are either addicted, or in danger of becoming addicted. That's according to figures from the Criminal Research Institute of lower Saxony.

The Institute says part of the problem is because of the chance element in the game, as well as the fact that players get extra points for every hour spent in the game.

The Institute says that the problem is more widespread in young males, with three percent addicted to their online worlds.

The major indication of an online addiction is a chronic loss of touch with reality.

Psychologist Klaus Woelfling, who is also director of the Clinic for Gaming Addiction at the University of Mainz, says a problem exists when a player is no longer able to make rational decisions about the start, end or duration of games, and has uncontrollable urges to play. The signs can include a racing heart or excessive sweating when the gamer is kept away from his virtual world.

It's not just a German problem. A study in April this year by psychology professor Doctor Douglas Gentile of the University of Iowa found that one in 10 children playing video games in the US was addicted to the pastime, and skipping school to play, or lying about their habit.

Gamers on the Web forum www.gameculture.com argue that once a person's gaming starts to interfere with normal life, it's time to seek help. Others argued that the game was in fact normal life.

Dr. Richard Graham, a consultant psychiatrist at the Tavistock Centre in London, suggested thereapists could go into games and try to help addicts within their virtual worlds.

It's an idea which most gamers on the forum gave fairly short shrift.

At the Games Convention Online in Leipzig, Silvana Kuerschner says these concerns will also be up for discussion. An important part of the convention, she says, is the opportunity for dialogue between game developers, scientists and politicians. Child protection and effects of gaming on society are to be debated there over the weekend, she says.

ch/dpa/Reuters

Editor: Chuck Penfold