By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, San Francisco
PC's remain the favourite way to play games says report
The personal computer is king in the world of games, according to a new report by the PC Gaming Alliance.
On the opening day of the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, the Alliance said the industry made about $11 billion world wide last year.
PCGA president Randy Stude said these figures underline the PC as the "Number 1 platform for gaming world wide".
"Despite Xbox LIVE and PlayStation, the online platform that remains the most accessible and robust is the PC."
According to research company IDC, there are over 1 billion personal computers world wide. The PCGA maintains that 250 million are being used for gaming.
The report also revealed that three of the biggest trends for last year were the growth of digital distribution, the rise of free games with a micro transaction model, and the increased presence of game cards at major retailers such as 7-Eleven
"The biggest story in PC games is the expansion beyond retail," said Mr Stude.
"PC games have successfully pioneered online subscription and distribution models that have resulted in a global boom that shows no signs of slowing."
In 2008, Americans spent more than $21 billion on video game hardware, software and accessories, up from $18 billion in 2007, according to market researcher NPD Group. And sales continued to rise in January and February of this year.
Thriving and hiring
Such figures come as a welcome boost for GDC as the recession casts a shadow over the event, the biggest of its kind in the world.
Even though organisers are expecting attendance to be down slightly from last year's 18,000 people, GDC event director Meggan Scavio told BBC News the economic downturn is not deterring people from coming.
Gaming is showing strong sales despite an economy heading south
"It's true that maybe some of the bigger players, publishers and studios can't send as many people as in the past but at the same time I have found that people are finding their own way to come to GDC.
"They are sharing hotel rooms, they are car pooling, they are probably sharing passes and they come for the entire week."
Ms Scavio also pointed out that even though companies like Electronic Arts, THQ, Lucas Arts and Sega have had to make jobs cuts over the last few months, it is not all doom and gloom within the industry.
"We have a career pavilion here with 50 booths. There are studios that are hiring, companies are hiring. People like Nintendo and Blizzard are still thriving and people are forming their own independent studios and are looking to take people on."
That is welcome news for Jeff Ball who is a musician and attending GDC for the first time with the aim of making contacts and getting work.
"I've just graduated and I'm trying to network and meet as many people as I can because that's how you get into the industry and coming here is thee place to do that."
Mr Ball is not alone in looking for business opportunities.
Pierre Langer of Dynamedion, Europe's biggest audio studio for video games, has attended GDC for the last five years. He told BBC News that this year he has changed his strategy for drumming up business.
"Over the last few years I just hung out and met people in a casual way. This year it's different and I am doing a lot of meetings. I have 40 meetings in the next 4 days," said Mr Langer.
"Year of opportunity"
While the conference does not really get underway until Wednesday with the opening of the Expo, many attending the first day viewed the economic health of the industry in a positive light.
"I think people are optimistic," said Marti Miernik of PR Sirens who is here promoting a game called Space Trader Wars for HermitWorks Entertainment.
GDC attendance is expected to be down this year
"I think some of the shaking out of the economy has already happened and it's time to move forward. In the last week the market turned from under 6,000 to 7,500 so things are shifting and people are looking much more positively at what's going on," said Ms Miernik who has attended GDC for the last five years running.
Meanwhile first timer Andy Park of AOS Inc said he believes the recession is actually good news for the gaming industry.
"I don't know that the climate is affecting games too much. If anything I would think the games industry maybe ought to see a little kick because of this.
"People aren't buying stuff so much but the idea of going to the movies or buying a new game which you can use again and again and again probably still holds water," Mr Park told the BBC.
Ms Scavio said that while the industry is far from recession proof, this is undoubtedly a time for people to be creative.
"I like to call this the year of opportunity but the other message this year at GDC is that this community is resilient, creative and young and will definitely find its way out of this crisis.
"Throughout the week you will see deals going on in every corner of the building and pitches being made at every turn," asserted Ms Scavio.