Coffee Talk #452: DICE 2012 Thoughts and Observations
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Another DICE Summit has come and gone. As expected, it was a truly inspiring event. A conference attended by some of the most talented game developers in the world and some of the most savvy publishing executives in gaming is simply an amazing thing. It was an honor to attend, listen, learn, absorb, network, etc. This guy has been…urging me to write something deep and thoughtful. So here’s a lengthy story about several observations and occurrences from DICE 2012.
Waiting For the New Publishing Model: The programming at DICE was generally enjoyable and excellent. Fantastic talks were given by notable developers like Tim Sweeney and Tomonobu Itagaki. Enjoyable panels were conducted by industry luminaries like Ted Price, Mike Capps, and Michael Pachter. This year’s “outsiders” that were brought in to share their perspectives and how they apply to gaming were Isaac C. Gilmore (SEAL Team 7) and legendary songwriter/producer Glen Ballard. The topics and talks were mostly fun and interesting, but I was hoping to hear more about where game publishing is going.
Depending on your point of view, traditional game publishing is at a crossroads (at best) or in a crisis (at worst). Triple-A games will be fine, but publishers are going to have a hard time selling the rest. Most pundits agree that selling a boxed game for $60 is not going to work (well) for the majority of titles next generation. So what’s the alternative? How are publishers and developers going to succeed three years from now? How will videogame publishing be different five years from now? Will digital downloads and downloadable content play a much larger role? Is streaming the answer? Michael Pachter brought up the issue, but nobody else really got into it. I was hoping to hear more on the subject and disappointed that I didn’t.
After mentioning the matter to several people that I admire and respect, I received several interesting opinions on why it wasn’t being discussed. A lot of publishers are still trying to figure out what’s next and many are still formulating strategies. A handful of publishers have strategies in place, but don’t want to reveal specifics just yet. Then there are publishers that are just in oh-crap-what-the-hell-do-we-do-next mode. I’m very curious to see if alternative methods of game publishing will be a big deal at Game Developers Conference 2012.
Console/PC vs. Mobile/Social: It has been fascinating to watch the dynamics change between people in the console/PC space and the mobile/social space. When mobile and social gaming first started to blow up a few years ago, a lot of people viewed these newcomers with curiosity. The development crowd was the most welcoming. Console and PC game makers wanted to learn about how mobile and social game makers were reaching gamers in different ways. Both sides were learning and borrowing from each other. This shouldn’t have been surprising; creatives almost always feel a kinship with other creatives. At DICE 2012, the lines weren’t there; the feeling I got was that they all viewed each other as game creators. Very cool.
The publishing side has done a complete 180. Initially it was like, “Who are these interlopers that are taking away my console/PC game sales?!?” After some education and demonstrated success, traditional game publishers are now like, “Hi there successful mobile/social publisher! I’d like to buy you.” While the relationship doesn’t have the camaraderie I’ve observed on the development side, console/PC publishers seem to have a lot more respect and admiration for mobile/social game publishers. This was very much evident at DICE 2012.
The most resistance can be found among the videogame press. A lot of game journalists still feel that mobile games and social games aren’t “real” games. It’s kind of stupid and kind of annoying, but I get it. A lot of game journalists are people that are extremely passionate about console games. They grew up on NES, SNES, Genesis, Dreamcast, etc. They love the traditional console experience. Mobile and social games still feel foreign to many of them. Hopefully the attitude will change quickly. A lot of the comments I heard from game journalists on mobile and social games were just ignorant.
Activision’s Prototype Event: For whatever reason, Activision decided to hold a press event for Prototype 2 at the same time as DICE 2012. This didn’t matter for most DICE attendees, but it did take some of the press away from the conference. It’s a shame that some journalists left the incredible networking and learning opportunities at DICE to see a game that could have been shown…whenever really.
As a big fan of DICE and a supporter of the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, I thought it was disrespectful. Press events for games are a dime a dozen. It doesn’t matter when they happen. A conference like DICE is special and unique. I was surprised that Activision PR didn’t have a problem with detracting from DICE.
It looked especially bad when you consider that two of the DICE 2012 speakers were from Activision Blizzard, Blizzard executive vice president Frank Pearce is on the board of directors for the Academy, and a few Activision games were nominated for Interactive Achievement Awards. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that Pearce and Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg (both DICE 2012 speakers) had nothing to do with the event’s timing, but their minions should be criticized. Perhaps I’m overreacting, but I thought the timing of the Prototype 2 event was in poor taste.
Interactive Achievement Awards: I love this awards show. For entertainment purposes, Jay Mohr completely rocks as a host. His video-game specific humor cracks me up. It was awesome hearing him roast EA Rich Hilleman, Lord British, Itagaki, and others. Mohr was getting ripped to shreds on Twitter and some felt he wasn’t as good as in years past, but I thought he was terrific. I’m going to watch his opening monologue at least 100 times this year.
As far as prestige goes, the Interactive Achievement Awards and the Game Developers Choice Awards are hugely important to the gaming business. The IAAs are peer based and voted on by a committee featuring some of the top minds in the business. These awards are a big deal and it saddens me that most major gaming outlets don’t treat them like a big deal. I read dozens of angry rants bashing the Spike TV VGAs. The amount of space dedicated to the Interactive Achievement Awards? Sadly, it was only a fraction of the space dedicated to tired VGA-bashing articles. The only thing I can say about that is, “WTF?!?”
Lastly, watching Ed Logg receive the Pioneer Award and Tim Sweeney getting inducted into the AIAS Hall of Fame was awesome. These guys are incredible and it was brilliant being there to celebrate their accomplishments.