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Business of Games Summit brings renowned gaming experts to OHIO [PHOTOS]

National gaming and eSports leaders and entrepreneurs from around the country gathered in Athens to talk about the state of gaming and eSports industries and emerging digital trends during the second annual Ohio University Business of Games Summit on Feb. 22.

Helping to kick off the event was Executive Vice President and Provost Dr. Chaden Djalali; John Bowditch, director of the Game Research and Immersive Design Lab; and Paul Mass, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at OHIO.

“Over the last decade, Ohio University has established a strong innovation ecosystem in Southeastern Ohio,” EVPP Djalali said. “We’re helping inventors and regional entrepreneurs both in and beyond the University, to launch start-up companies, take new technologies to market and create jobs.” 

These are some of the event's top photos:

 

Tara Voelker speaking from the podium at the Business of Games Summit
Photo by Nick Bolin.
Tara Voelker, program manager at Mixer, a live streaming platform owned by Microsoft, talked about accessibility in gaming and how creators can and should make their games available for everyone to enjoy at the Business of Games Summit on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019.

“Most people need a framework of accessibility and disability before I can even start telling them what they need to do in their games,” Voelker said. “…There are 7.6 billion people in the world. We know that about 4 billion of those people are online, and we know about 2 billion of them are gamers. If you do the math, with one in five Americans have, that means there’s over 250 million gamers with disabilities. That is a huge number.”

 

Chris Volpe speaking near the podium at the Business of Games Summit
Photo by Alexandria Skowronski.

Opening keynote speaker Chris Volpe, founder of the Ohio Game Developer Association and executive director of GDEX, starts off the Business of Games Summit on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019.

 

John Bowditch distributing an award at the Business of Games Summit
Photographed by Alexandria Skowronski.

John Bowditch, director of the Ohio University Game Research and Immersive Design (GRID) Lab, awarded the designers of the video game, Bombfest, with the best exhibit award at the Business of Games Summit on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019.

 

A group of people onstage participating in a panel discussion
Photo by Nick Bolin.

During the "eSports in College: Is it the Wild West?" session, moderator Paul Mass (far left), told the audience that on the collegiate level, when he first got involved with this business, he was struck by the almost chaotic and uncertain paths various colleges and universities were pursuing. He added that student interest is undeniable in eSports, but one question that needs answered is how should universities treat eSports in competition and in game planning?

"Should they do nothing, should they organize clubs, intramural leagues, should they organize and sponsor a varsity team and in what department," Mass asked. "Should they organize at the conference level or should they utilize the services of outside experts like panelist Tyler (Schrodt, second from left) for advice and alternatives. It struck me as the Wild West and that’s why I named the panel."

Schrodt, founder and ECO of Electronic Gaming Federation, said he started in eSports while working in residence life at a university because he was looking for a way to get his students out of their dorm room. He said he started running video game tournaments and the response was incredible. It spread to other campuses and now he works with administrators at colleges and high schools to host eSports events.

When designing the eSports ecosystem at a school, Schrodt says he strives to follow some basic principles:

  1. Make sure it is in the best interest of the student.
  2. Make sure it has both equity and accessibility, including gender equity.
  3. Make sure it can be used as a platform for a variety of things across the campus.

"Start with competition but also use it for education, social impact, commercialization and a variety of other things," Schrodt said. "eSports becomes a universal platform because everybody in some capacity works with video games, whether they’re playing them or has a friend or family member who does." 

Jeff Kuhn (third from right), OHIO eSports Club faculty advisor, said it’s tricky to take a 200-year institution and say, ‘You have to move now.’ He said we’ve seen hundreds of schools coming online with eSports programs, and eSports facilities are almost in an arms race now.

"We’re seeing this push with huge investment sums in eSports programs," Kuhn said. "We’re seeing the sizzle and in very few instances are we seeing the steak and certainly no one is showing us the bill for the dinner. That’s where we are in this thing. We’re trying to sort this out."

He said the Bobcat eSports Club is the largest student organization in the Mid-American Conference without a varsity team at the university level.

"So we have a strong student organization that is pushing, pushing, pushing to have eSports at Ohio University," Kuhn said.

He added, "In times of financial trouble, how do we pay for an eSports program? That is one of the big questions. There is a culture gap. As gamers we need to step forward and show university administrators who have never engaged in games, what they can be. Where does the university ease up on some of its requirements and where does gaming grow up so that we can meet at that halfway point. That’s where we are and it is a Wild West environment and we’ll see where it goes."

 

A group of students playing a video game
Photo by Nick Bolin.

Students play the video game, "Light Knight," during the Business of Games Summit on Feb. 22, 2019. The game was one of many that were on display in the eSports Pavilion in Baker University Center.

 

A student helping another student put on virutal reality equipment
Photo by Alexandria Skowronski.

OHIO student Will Gray (left) sets up student Peter Vertin (right) to play his virtual reality game titled, "Atlas," in the GRID Lab open house during the Business of Games Summit on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019. Gray said he spent about four months designing the game.

 

Myra Widodo delivers a keynote address at the Business of Games Summit
Photo by Alexandria Skowronski.

To close the Business of Games Summit, Amazon Game Studio’s Myra Widodo gave insight into her career as both a publisher and developer of games at different companies during her keynote address.

“One of my favorite leadership principles at Amazon is, ‘Always be curious,’” Widodo said. “I think that even after more than a decade of working in games, there’s still so much that I have to learn and I always feel like that’s a key (quality) you should have. You should be curious. There’s new technology that becomes available all of the time.”

 

A group of people onstage participating in a panel discussion
Photo by Nick Bolin.

During the "Follow the Money: How does the investment community view games and eSports?" session, Paul Mass, moderator and director of the OHIO Center for Entrepreneurship, said 11 companies were able to raise over $100 million dollars in the gaming universe last year.

"It’s consolidated on the large end," Mass said. "The top 10 public gaming companies take in over 75 percent of public gaming revenue, so finding the right investors is important."

Panelist Tony Farwell (left), president of Farwell Capital, said about $5.8 billion was raised in the broader gaming category, but in eSports about $2.3 billion was raised with almost a $10 billion market value in venture capital.

"So venture capital is really institutional money that is invested in early stage companies, as opposed to public stock markets, etc. Higher risk profile, but more prospective payoff, but certainly a higher risk of not succeeding," Farwell said.

He gave the example of how Epic Games was on its financial deathbed until it brought about the hit game "Fortnite," which took it from perhaps not surviving to a $15 billion valuation increase for the company.

Panelist Tom Caprel (middle), owner of Hyperion Marketing, has experience in engaging with small studios who want to make a living in gaming. He said the challenge is how do you keep the business going.

"At the end of the day, what you’re doing is creating an entertainment product that is entering an already completely packed space and trying to make it available, present and something people want to consume," Caprel said. "I truly believe that games can be both products and art. There is value in both. Without recognizing the importance of the product side of it, you’re going to run into issues where you’re not able to find what you’re looking to do."

 

Kate Raney and Susan Cenci speaking into a microphone at the Business of Games Summit
Photo by Nick Bolin.

The "How to Get a Job in the Digital Games Industry" session was moderated by Kate Raney (left), lecturer in the OHIO School of Media Arts and Studies. Presenter Susan Cenci (right), associate product art director at Deep Silver Volition, told the students how to make themselves more marketable in the gaming industry.

 

Students sitting on the buoy chairs in CoLab
Photo by Alexandria Skowronski.

Students (L-R): Heidi Ha, Jake Morgan, Reilly Zink and Cody Pomeroy pose for a picture at the Co-Lab social reception after working all day at the Business of Games Summit on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019. The Co-Lab, which is located on the third floor of Alden Library, is a central hub that unites students from all backgrounds and embeds innovation and entrepreneurship into their lives.