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Gamasutra Podcast Transcript: Interview with IGDA Executive Director Jason Della Rocca
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Gamasutra Podcast Transcript: Interview with IGDA Executive Director Jason Della Rocca


February 26, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next
 

Tom: So we're talking about a difference in parity between other media and games. Let's talk about recent events at the Slamdance Guerilla Games competition, regarding the dropping of Danny Ledonne's entry Super Columbine Massacre RPG by Slamdance founder Peter Baxter.

Of course the subject matter in itself is pretty emotionally charged and by its very nature controversial, but certainly this is a subject that's been explored in other media such as film, like in Michael Moore's Oscar-winning documentary Bowling for Columbine. There was also Gus Van Sant's movie Elephant, which won the Palme d'Or award at Cannes. Both of these explored the factors that may have led to the tragic events at Columbine.

Jason: Super Columbine Massacre, the uproar usually takes place just in hearing that it exists. You know, without understanding that the person who created it is from Colorado. I don't know if Danny actually went to the school, or was it sort of a neighboring school, and dealt with some of the similar issues and knew some of the people involved.

Tom: Well, whatever the reasons, the removal of the game from the competition seem to be a double standard when it comes to an open evaluation of this work by nature of the chosen media of expression. Which is, admittedly, a rather primitive 16-bit Japanese-style role playing game created, I believe, in RPG Maker.

Jason: They don't understand that it's kind of, like you say, the 16-bit SNES type of RPG, very cartoony, very primitive, very blocky and that it's like a turn-based RPG, not a first person shooter. I mean, the most important thing is that he created this game as a way for him to get his thoughts out into a game environment. This was his way to sort of explore his emotions on the issue.

So this really speaks to games as a medium of expression. Whether or not you enjoy the game or you think the game is a piece of junk, or the graphics are too blocky, you can't criticize an artist's desire to express themselves. No one would question that, as you sort of said earlier, if I was a filmmaker and decided to express that via film or if I was a writer and did that via a novel or if I was a musician and wrote a song about these horrors. Again, it comes down to the fact that it's in the medium of a game with the sort of issues that are wound up in that.

Tom: I understand that you have an active role in this year's Game Developers Choice Awards.

Jason: Yeah, I'm on what we call the Awards Advisory Committee. That committee has two roles. One is to make the selection for the special award recipients, so the awards like the Lifetime Achievement and the Community Contribution awards. And then also they serve as a final selection jury.

We have an open nomination process where thousands of developers come to the IGDA website and they submit their nominations for Game of the Year and Best Design and Best Art and Tech and all that kind of stuff, and then we have a sort of filtering and parsing process where this Advisory Committee looks over those results and picks the five finalists in each of the categories that then go out to the membership for voting for the winner.

Tom: Yeah, I voted on my picks for the Developers Choice Awards myself recently, so I just would like to ask, how does the awards process work? Is it purely democratic with a small "d" or do you exercise any oversight with regards to the judging process?

Jason: It is a mix of both. It is sort of a wisdom of crowd thing going on here, where the initial stage is a numbers game. So, if a thousand developers nominate Gears of War for Best Technology, then what the committee does is that it looks at all the nominations in the various categories. Then it looks at the top seven. There is a whole bunch of debate and discussion of the merit of these different games and what we are looking for. What is deserving. Etcetera, etcetera.

There are other things where the jury can write in games that didn't make it onto the list. Then from all of that process, the output is five games in each category that are the finalists. Then those finalists go to the members and those members vote.

So, the committee is kind of the human brain that is in between these kind of open, democratic, crowd-driven processes. In part you need that so it just doesn't become a popularity contest. And, also, we also put that in there just as a safeguard against ballot stuffing type tactics.

Tom: So, other than the satisfaction of winning the accolades of one's peers, what is the significance of winning a Developers Choice Award?

Jason: At this point, it is kind of intrinsic value. It really is the accolades and adulations and the value of receiving that recognition on a personal level. Having done really good work and getting a pat on the back for that.

There are a few elements to this in terms of why it is not yet more more meaningful in from a market, sort of business point of view. Because there is no secondary market for games, you don't really have the sales push that you would get via the Oscars. Research has shown that the nominees for winning different Oscars, like the next day, DVD sales will go through the roof. Crash, last year, is a great example. It did something like five million at the box office, but when it won the Best Movie, DVD sales went through the roof. So, there is a lot of motivation beyond the adulation from the studios that winning an Oscar has massive impact in terms of the ongoing revenue stream for a particular film. Games don't really have that, and in some cases many of the games that are going to win awards this year, may not even be on the shelf.

Potentially, a game that has been released at the beginning of 2006, you may have a hard time even finding that at retail, let alone in the bargain bin. It is not like a company is going to re-release a game because it just doesn't have the same effect. We do kind of get Game of the Year editions, and stuff like that. But, that is driven somewhat more by the magazine awards.

So, in that sense there hasn't been a lot of momentum behind industry awards like this, because of that sort of lack of knock on effect. As an individual, it is a different story. If you're the guy who won the Best Design for this year, and then you're looking for either a raise or a promotion within or sort of going to another studio or start a new studio or project, you can say "Hey, listen, have faith in me, I won a game design award from the Choice Awards." So, that should have some currency within the industry itself.

That actually points to one of the important distinctions of the Choice Awards; we have mandatory attributions. Every single award that we give out names the specific people responsible for the work and the effort. So, for the Game Design awards, we will list out specifically the Lead Designer, the Game Designer, Creative Director, etc. So, in all the press material, on the website, on the trophy, on the videos during the ceremony, the people who get up to get the trophies, and give the acceptance speeches are the actual people. Whether it is the designer, or the lead programmer or the lead artist, depending on what category they might be receiving for.

As opposed to what we've traditionally seen in all other industry awards, which is the company CEO comes to pick up trophies or the PR rep grabs the trophies and stuff. Or, the game itself is what is being recognized, not the people who are actually responsible for the game. So, that is a really important distinction. To this day, we are the only industry award that do that, which plays into the whole mission of the IGDA to advance careers and all that good stuff.

Tom: Of course, there is always going to be some of that popularity contest to the proceedings. But given the nature of the balloting, and the fact really that the winners are nominated by one's peer in the industry, there perhaps can be a little more rigor applied to the decision as to what wins and what doesn't win, particularly with regards to the Developers Choice Awards. There are other industry awards, but they are run quite differently.

Jason: Right. Also, to a large extent, we are very much craft oriented. We don't have a best XBox Shooter of the Year and the best PlayStation RPG of the Year. We're not producing a buyer's guide. We're recognizing and celebrating the various aesthetic attributes of the games. You know, the writing, the character design, game design, the audio, the technology, etc. Although we have a Best Game, we don't break down any further by genre or platform or delivery medium or anything like that. Which is totally counter to every other game awards on the planet, which are really based on Best Console and Best PC and Best RPG and Best RTS and that kind of stuff.

Tom: So, it is fairly safe to say at the Developers Choice Awards, you won't see a Sexiest Heroine category.

Jason: No, not at all. Those are all Bad Ass Villain, Biggest Gun, and whatever. That is marketing fluff.


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