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Vidgame org chief optimistic at trade show

Pirates be damned at E3

HOLLYWOOD — With a booming business as backdrop, the head of the vidgame industry’s trade group said the biggest challenge ahead lies more with straitjacketed creativity than such problems as piracy and governmental regulation.

Doug Lowenstein, prexy of the Interactive Digital Software Assn., opened the 2002 Electronic Entertainment Expo in upbeat fashion, his concerns couched in the optimism of a business that grew 14.9% last year to more than $9.4 billion in North America, with equally substantial growth forecast the next two years.

The biggest concern, Lowenstein said, will be the ability to “maintain a high level of creativity and innovation” as the industry tries to “avoid the temptation to play safe and take its audience for granted.”

Sequels and licensed properties already dominate the business, he said, and as the bucks behind projects get bigger, and companies consolidate, there will be pressure to rely on copycat projects that are more of a sure thing.

Positive on piracy

Lowenstein was more sanguine than leaders of the music and movie businesses about piracy problems, which he said were so widespread in dozens of countries that they effectively have no videogame industry. The sector has thrived despite selling games in only four regions: Japan, North America, Europe and Australia/New Zealand, while the percentage of games that are pirated approaches percentages in the high 90s in countries such as Argentina and China.

“If we can reduce piracy rates in some of these potentially lucrative markets, not to even to zero, but 70% or 50%, the additional growth the industry would experience would be massive,” Lowenstein said.

And though online and wireless gaming initiatives, particularly from the Big Three vidgame console makers, are the talk of this year’s conference, Lowenstein said skepticism is warranted, mostly because of the slow rollout nationwide of high-speed broadband connections.

Same promises of growth

“Online games hold tantalizing promise for growth,” Lowenstein said. “But you’ve heard this before. The same analysts who today talk of online games generating $1.5 billion by 2005 forecast five years ago that online games would generate $1.5 billion by 2002.”

The industry faces continued government attempts to regulate content, but Lowenstein predicted political attitudes toward gaming will ease as adults who grew up playing them assume positions of power. He even predicted that a game-savvy president will be elected within 20 years. Pressure has eased somewhat since the initial political reaction in the wake of the Columbine school shootings by two teen assailants who had long played violent vidgames.

More than 60,000 people are expected to jam the show at the Los Angeles Convention Center through Friday to try advance versions of hundreds of vidgame offerings from about 400 exhibitors.