Smile and Nod

Smile and Nod: What I learned at DICE

Russ Pitts | 11 Feb 2008 18:00
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But there was more to DICE than just the awards. That is to say the peer recognition didn't begin and end with winning a trophy. The whole week was like a giant back slap fest, only the good kind, where people who've worked hard stepped forward to share their stories and be recognized. That some of them walked away with shiny objects d'art for their mantelpieces only made it sweeter.

From Gore Verbinski's rousing keynote to the very last slide of the last presentation, given by Russ Crupnick, Senior Vice President of NPD Group, the people who keep track of statistics, this year's DICE was all about the power of the individual to make great things.

From Verbinski we learned that one person, albeit an extremely talented, well-connected person, can make a movie starring a slurring, effeminate pirate against the objections of studio financiers and still bring home box office gold. From the boys behind Blizzard we learned that quality is everything and that if you don't want to release a bad game, you probably shouldn't. And from Crupnick we learned that the people at home respect quality, and will revolt if their store shelves are filled with the opposite. Just as the music industry. Even the CEO of EA, the most disreputably bureaucratic game publisher in the industry joined the chorus, setting his monolithic company on a course to, in his own words, empower the people who make the games, not enslave them.

For a journalist used to hearing "more of same, more of same, more of same" blared out over the megawatt sound systems at jumbotron-enabled booths at other industry conventions, it was an eye opener. Not because the idea that artists, developers, storywriters and even coders were ultimately responsible for whether a game performs well or doesn't (for anyone who's worked in a creative field, this is not kind of news at all), but that the powers that be in the industry cared. And make no mistake, DICE may be small by some shows' standards (invitations were only sent to about 800 hand-picked invitees), but of that group, an unusually high number were CEOs, Presidents or "executive" thises or thats. By all accounts, what happens at DICE is a fair indicator of what the people who make the games are really concerned about at any given time, and this year, it was the importance of individual achievement.

There's been a lot of nostalgia floating about over the past few years about the time when the lion's share of games were developed by so-called "bedroom programmers," folks who were coders, artists, writers and marketing managers all rolled into one. A lot of our legendary developers harken from that time. In those days, a single person's vision drove an entire project, and you could easily feel their love and passion expressed in every pixel and mechanic. But since most games these days require upward of 50-100 people to produce, some as many as 300, it's easy to see how that magic could be lost.

Thing is? It's still there. A modern AAA title may be too complex for any one person to build on his own, but those of us at home on our asses can still tell the difference between a game made with heart and inspiration and those made without. Luckily for to folks who made BioShock, Call of Duty 4, Portal, Mass Effect, Phantom Hourglass, Rock Band, Assassin's Creed[/i], Crysis, Puzzle Quest, skate, Motorstorm, Super Mario Galaxy, Command & Conquer 3 and World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade, so can the Academy.

[i]Russ Pitts is Acquisitions and Production Manager for The Escapist. His blog can be found at

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