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(photo credit: AP)
Videogames are poised to change from the obsession of a hard-core, mostly young male audience to the main source of entertainment for ages eight through 80, thanks to new software and hardware that will make it more accessible.
That was the prediction of Jesse Sutton, CEO and president of New Jersey-based Majesco Entertainment, a major publicly-traded provider of digital entertainment content and products.
Sutton, an Orthodox Jew who lives in Brooklyn's Flatbush neighborhood, told a conference in Jerusalem on Thursday that Israeli programmers and other computer professionals were "overflowing with creativity" that makes them "well positioned to succeed" in the international gaming industry.
Sutton aroused much interest among the more than 200 participants - mostly secular males aged 25 to 40 - who work at Israeli software design companies or in supportive services of marketing and promotion. During the breaks, many of them presented their products and ideas to Sutton, whose 20-year-old company sells its products, playable on Nintendo's Game Boy Advance and GameCube, Sony's PlayStation 2, Microsoft's Xbox and personal computers.
Majesco, he said, is also developing offerings for next-generation home game consoles, such as Sony's PlayStation 3, the Xbox 360, Nintendo's Wii, as well as next-generation portable handheld game devices like Nintendo's DS and Sony's PSP.
Sutton, of Syrian origin, predicted that the $250 Wii console, due to be released soon, will be a major part of the digital entertainment revolution because of its relatively low price and ability to play high-resolution games that make users feel as if they were an active part of reality presented before their eyes rather than just playing a game.
Since Majesco is a publicly traded company, Sutton told The Jerusalem Post that he cannot decide on his own not to produce or market any violent or sexually explicit games, "but I have my limits," he said, adding that sometimes he also consulted with rabbis before making decisions.
A lot is at stake, as worldwide sales of video game hardware and video game software totalled about $23 billion in 2003 and are expected to grow to over $31b. in 2009. Israeli companies, he said, were leaders in Internet security, encryption, biotech and medical devices. "There is no reason why it can't do the same in digital entertainment as well," he added.
The one-day conference was organized by the Israel branch of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) and initiated by Erel Margalit, founder and managing partner of Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP), which also owns The Lab and has established a computerized animation company nearby. IGDA, said activist Adi Ashkenazi, has 105,000 holders of free user accounts and 10,000 paying members around the world, including "16" paying members and 423 account users in Israel. The local organization's aim is to promote recognition and respect of game developers, represent its interest, promote excellence and provide the latest information in the field.
Yaron Laitenberg and Ilan Graizer of the Funtactix company said that the level of game detail, artificial intelligence and resolution is becoming so high that players will feel they're "in a movie. There will be seamless integration between cinema and games."
No longer will players be the "hard-core fringe" of men whose playing monopolizes their time. Instead, people of all ages and both sexes would play games on cellular phones (despite the limitations), consoles and handheld plug-and-play devices, and they would routinely compete with people around the world via the Internet.
"It will become a real social experience," said Grazier. "Already, game sales in the US have exceeded sales of movie tickets."
Currently one of the most sensationally popular products is the award-winning Guitar Hero, the hit rock 'n' roll guitar video game made for PlayStation 2 by the RedOctane company. To cost NIS 500 here, it comes with a custom guitar-shaped controller complete with buttons on the neck and a "strum bar" near the bridge so that players simulate the guitar-playing experience while hitting targets that seem to rush at them. It includes 30 tracks of (very noisy) licensed American rock music. Gamers pick among six rock characters and perform at concert venues that grow in size as their music "career" progresses. Participants in the conference could barely keep their hands off the "guitar" during breaks.
Ofir Leitner, CEO and founder of GamearraY, said that people around the world will increasingly play games on their cellular phones while riding in the bus or waiting for an appointment, even though producing software compatible to the wide variety of brands and within the small screens on their faces is difficult. Developers will have to ensure that games can be played with one thumb, do not need an instruction manual and that anyone can play without training or deep thinking.
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