GDC: Write Club
GDC: Census

GDC: When Keynotes Attack

Sadly, I was unable to make it into the Satoru Iwata keynote. My previous session ran late, and by the time I got outside there was a queue that ran around three sides of the not inconsiderably large building. My overwhelming feeling was that even if I had joined the back of the line, I wouldn't have made it into the building - and there was certainly a good one hundred people left stranded at the end.

So, no free copy of Brain Age (the US release name for Brain Training) for me. Alice has a good summary of the keynote though.

After that was Wil Wright's keynote. As ever, I didn't go. No offense to Mr. Wright; if he ever decides to give up the immense resources of EA and pursue a more independent agenda, I will be thrilled to hear his talks which, by all accounts, are somewhat magical. You can read about it from Alice, of course. Unfortunately, EA is still the lowest investor in original IP of all publishers, despite being the largest publisher by turnover - although there are signs this might be changing. I will be more inclined to believe when I see evidence, however.

I also suspect Wil and I may be in opposite positions in regards to the philosophy of capitalism. I believe it is more amazing when a handful of people gather together and co-operate to make enough money to live on than when a company with 6,100 employees earns billions of dollars. I am not against large corporations - I have already noted that some things can only be achieved that way. But they have a tendency to lack egalitarian values that I cherish.

I don't know. Maybe my boycott seems petty. But I am wary of large crowds gathering to hear people speak. When I see people rallying together for anything other than humanitarian causes, my natural tendency is to take the counterpoint. Perhaps this dooms me to irrelevancy, but I think perhaps I am more comfortable being a tiny flame in the wilderness, than to be absorbed into an ocean of anonymity.

Comments

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That seems a bit of an unfair judgement; what about the decidely not-independent, company lifer, Shigeru Miyamoto? It seems OK that he is well entrenched in Nintendo's deep pockets. Clearly, that hasn't impacted his ability to create emotive games; rather, it's enhanced his ability to share them. Throwing away all the resources and opportunities afforded to (and well earned by) them, in the name of something like "indy street cred," would just be foolish, I feel.

Yes, I completely understand what you're saying, and I dare say you have a very valid point. But Nintendo's track record in terms of original IP and encouraging it's employees/companies to create new and original content is actually very good indeed.

EA apparently works to actively stiffle creative thought, as well as refusing to fund original IP as too risky. Sure, it's risky. But for a company with a turnover in the billions to not want to take risks is absurd and unjust to its teams.

The way I see it is, I'm not going to try and persuade other people to boycott EA, but I have to do *something* to asuage my contempt.

I should also have pointed out that if EA changed their policy and started, for instance, investing in original IP from a source other than Wil (which, let's be honest, is not a risk at all), that would satisfy me.

I shouldn't have made it sound like the only thing that would satisfy me would be Wil quitting EA. I know he's comfortable there, and they provide him unparalleled resources.

But EA makes *billions* of dollars. Would it hurt them to, say, offer a few million as a seed fund for small innovative games? To pay to have a few 'games as art' made? I believe it would help them - the PR benefits alone would be gargantuan! But still, they can't see beyond the margins.

Thanks for sharing your view on this! I appreciate having the chance to be taken to task on this one.

I certainly agree that EA should be diverting some of it's shareholder dividends to a more interesting low-volume sales product. I think a lesson could be taken here from Sony CE, as while they make most of their money from publishing sequels (Gran Turismo, Jak and Daxter, etc) they still spend some good money on Ueda's team, and thusly reap (innumerable) awards at the various award shows.

However, I do think that they do deserve some measure of commendation for supporting ideas like The Sims - no one else would publish Wright's masterwork; Wright got turned down multiple times before EA finally green-lit the project. EA was also behind the real-life game Majestic several years back (which folded.)

While I don't care much for EA, and I don't like their business MO, letting that prevent me from witnessing one of the, if not the game industry's most creative mind, would only be cheating myself for some grudge against a large corporation. I similarly don't care for Sony much at all (though they are a fair bit better at investing in new IP e.g. God of War), but I didn't let that stop me from seeing the Shadow of Colossus postmortem (which unfortunately prevented me from getting to stop by your presentation. :( )

I think that despite EA's poor investment in IP, they do provide an important stabilizing force for what could otherwise be a very anarchic industry. EA helps build shareholder goodwill towards the industry as a whole, and helps keep the industry afloat when sales are poor. I'd imagine EA also connects to non-gamers moreso than most other companies, with it's casual-friendly sports titles. If nothing else, I think EA is helping to (slowly) grow the audience by cultural infiltration of things like sports, movies, etc. Could they be doing more? Certainly. However, I don't want to neccessarily begrudge a company because it is successful in the narrow range of things that it does.

I like your position better than my own, but since it is emotional in origin it is hard to temper. :) Also, don't discount my discomfort in large crowds as a psychological factor discouraging me from attending Wil's talks. Last year, I would have watched the repeat reel of Wil's session - if EA hadn't blocked them from screening it.

One small clarification - EA should not necessarily be praised for publishing The Sims, since they allegedly tried to block it at every turn. Of course, this speaks exceptionally well of Maxis for keeping the faith.

I was bummed I couldn't go to the Colossus session because it was opposite my own. Every year I'm opposite something I want to see. You didn't really miss anything, because the Game Writer Group Gathering is really just like a public steering group for the SIG. One year, they will accept one of my lecture sessions... I got closer than ever this year. :)

You can find the GDC videos at www.gdctv.net - they just recently launched, however, so it (naturally) isn't ready yet. The 2005 videos are available, however, at the old site - http://www.pqhp.com/cmp/gdctv/ . Requires free registration, but has most of the interesting talks there, including Wright's and Takahashi's. Last year's presentation was pretty focused, but this year was more like "hear Wright talk about game design and astrobiology for an hour" - which is entirely fine by me :)

I respect Will's mind, and his games really have pushed innovation, but my impression of him after ballsing up to talk to him at the Sony party was that he, like Darth Vader, has taken the greatest gift of a generation and sold it to the empire. I noted one particular exchange on my blog, where I described the wonderful margins of indie publishing, 10,000 copies for 160K in royalties, but he responded, "yeah but thats not 1.2 billion."

(Stunned pause) He continued.

"Now, not 1.2 million, 1.2 billion."

It was almost as stunning as the force choke.

That said, his recent piece in Wired hits all the right ideological notes.

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