Gamer of the Year

And the winner is... Douglas Lowenstein, departing President of the Entertainment Software Association

Our No. 1 choice for Game Industry Person of the Year goes to the Entertainment Software Association President Douglas Lowenstein. Ironically, we had decided to give this award to the ESA chief before the rumors about his departure even began swirling, but now that we know he's officially resigning it really doesn't impact our choice in the slightest.

If anything, his leaving the ESA might even reinforce our decision. After all, was there any bigger industry news story in 2006 than the drastic downsizing of E3 and now the departure of the man behind it all?

Whether the pressure and criticism following the cancellation of the old E3 just wore Lowenstein out, or if he could no longer take the grind of constantly fighting against bill after bill that tries to restrict the sale of video games at retail, no one really knows except Doug himself. Publicly he maintains that his decision to leave the ESA has more to do with his own life at this stage (55 years old) and the excitement of trying out a new opportunity.

Speaking to Brian Crecente of Kotaku, which first broke the news of Lowenstein's departure, he said, "Part of this decision was about looking ahead. I was extremely content and perfectly happy to live out my days as the president of the ESA, but you also have to look at the reality of where you are going to be a few years down the road. When you turn 60 your life doesn't end but professionally the opportunities kind of change. I've had other opportunities to leave in the past, but I've never taken it. The chance to start something new and build it and create it, which is what we had here, is an incredibly exciting opportunity."

You may have liked him or hated him, but you certainly cannot deny the impact he's had on the video game industry. Going back to 1994 when the ESA was known as the Interactive Digital Software Association, Lowenstein has been looking after the interests of the video game industry and the companies that fuel its growth. During his twelve years at the helm, the industry in the U.S. has grown more than threefold, from $3 billion in revenues to more than $10 billion. And if the sales forecasts based on the monthly NPD data are correct, then 2006 may be the biggest yet with annual totals around $12 billion or more.

Does all the credit for this go to Doug? Surely it does not, but without the right man to "steer the ship" the industry would not be in the position it is in today. Think about how much the video game sector has grown since 1994, and not just financially. It's become a mainstream force to be reckoned with, rivaling movies, television and the Internet. Video games are now thoroughly embedded in U.S. culture.

Doug has not only watched it all unfold, but he's guided it and become a "cheerleader" for it to the best of his ability. He's made countless speeches at industry events, worked with Capitol Hill and politicians to promote a better understanding of video games, battled unconstitutional legislation, and taken actions to counter piracy.

In fact, when we interviewed Lowenstein back in October, he actually singled out piracy as one of the biggest challenges for the industry. "... to me when I think about what's important to the industry I try to look long-term at what are the most significant obstacles to the growth of the industry, and to me that's piracy and intellectual property related issues," he said. "This industry, as others in entertainment, is completely dependent on strong global copyright laws and effective enforcement regimes. We have grown into a nearly $30 billion global business without having access to dozens of potentially lucrative markets, and so if one is sort of thinking in terms of what are the things that really matter in terms of the industry's ability to continue to grow, I would say the single most significant issue is opening up new markets for the industry's products."

We also applaud Doug for answering our tough questions regarding E3 in that interview. And while it's too early to judge whether or not Doug and the ESA made the right decision regarding E3's future, it had become clear that something needed to be done about the industry's biggest annual event. E3 had become so large that it was attracting not only everyone in the industry, but people who were even tangentially related to the industry. The end result was an atmosphere that was no longer as productive as it once had been, and the value of the event was in decline for the exhibitors. Ultimately, E3 had become more about the spectacle of E3 itself than the industry activities taking place within the event.

Is the new E3 Media and Business Summit the answer? Time will tell, but the plan laid out by Lowenstein and the ESA is starting to make more sense. Conduct an intimate, industry focused GDC-like event on the one hand, and complement that with a more glamorous consumer oriented IDG event, backed by the ESA and run by E3's former director Mary Dolaher. In fact, IDG will also manage the new E3 Summit.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.