Germany Video Games Fair Opens Amid Image Problems
By Georgina Prodhan
LEIPZIG, Germany (Reuters) - Europe's biggest computer games fair opened its doors to the public on Thursday, with its German hosts expecting more visitors than ever but still fighting an image problem in the country.
As they prepared to welcome at least 110,000 video games enthusiasts in the German city of Leipzig, exhibitors scratched their heads as to why they were still unable to crack the gaming market in Europe's biggest but slowest-growing economy.
"We have some way to catch up, to put it mildly," the fair's director, Josef Rahman, told a news conference. "It's a very important industry and we shouldn't leave it all to our American, Japanese and English friends."
Organizers said Germans had spent 466 million euros on video games last year, 15 percent more than in the previous year but still a tiny proportion of the estimated $25 billion spent globally on games software and hardware each year.
Germany, with a population of more than 80 million, lags far behind not only the United States and Japan but also smaller European neighbors Britain and France in terms of the proportion of households that have games consoles.
Gerhard Florin, European manager of the world's biggest games software publisher, Electronic Arts (ERTS.O: Quote, Profile, Research), said a battle still had to be fought against the perception that computer games made young people stupid.
"I'm often asked when I'm abroad, in connection with our industry: 'What is wrong with the Germans?"' he said in a keynote speech at the fair's opening.
Florin said plain ignorance about the industry was often to blame, and called for a public education campaign, warning that Germany could otherwise find itself in a cultural backwater.
"Germany was definitely a cultural leader in the age of pictures and books in the 19th century -- but already in the 20th century of films, TV or music this wasn't true any more."
"Germany shouldn't allow itself another century of cultural silence," he said, adding that the computer-games industry was already bigger than the film industry and was set to overtake videos, too.
"IT'S NOT BAD TO READ BOOKS"
The Games Convention's Organizers are trying to ensure not only that the German market opens up but also that the German economy will benefit. Currently, there is no major games software or hardware company in the country.
By contrast, Canada -- a nation which has less than half of Germany's population -- has the world's biggest video-games studio in Vancouver, and the hit Grand Theft Auto games were developed in Scotland.
Alongside the Leipzig games fair, Organizers are trying to foster a games-creation hothouse with a three-day developer conference, which this year attracted more than 450 participants from 14 countries.
"Our developers don't have the access to the international market that they should, given that we are a major industrial nation," said fair director Rahmen.
The fair's Organizers have enlisted the Federal Association for Interactive Entertainment Software and the Children's Charity of Germany to help with campaigning.
Parents can visit a special family-themed, education-oriented section of the fair and adults accompanying children pay a reduced daily entry fee of 7 euros, compared with the full price of 10 euros.
Dirk Hoeschen, spokesman for the Children's Charity, blamed a lack of computer awareness from an early age, saying that German schoolchildren used computers far less than their counterparts in other European countries.
"It's impossible to understand why computers aren't used in kindergartens," he said, blaming a too-high regard for the book over other media.
Electronic Arts' Florin was diplomatic. "It's not bad to read books but it's just as good to play games."