D.I.C.E. Summit rallies industry elite

Day one sees Seamus Blackley, Eye-Toy creator Richard Marks, Stan Lee, Marc Ecko, and others inspire and incite at annual retreat.

LAS VEGAS--Marc Ecko, the graffiti artist-turned-fashion designer-turned-game producer, is hardly known for a subtle way with words. As the opening presenter at the 2005 D.I.C.E. Summit on Tuesday, Ecko spared no time rousing attendees with his in-your-face rant.

Telling an audience of about 350, "I'm used to being an outsider," Ecko then asked attendees to confront their distrust of his foul-mouthed ways. "Repeat after me," he implored attendees, asking them to say what he knew they were thinking: "This guy who never made a game in his life is telling me how to run my business? Well, f*** him!"

It was a shock to the system at 9am on a Tuesday. But that was the point.

Slowly, Ecko came around, encouraging game producers to rethink their approach to game making and to take some time to really understand the consumer. "It's not the game," Ecko said over and over. "It's not the game…it’s the alternate way to spend your time." Ecko claimed that "at this moment in gaming, there's never been a greater divide between producer and consumer. We're missing the boat on the consumer, the culture."

"Making games for gamers will never get you out of your dungeons," he then added, to some chuckling.

For the next 40 minutes, Ecko gave suggestions on how to reconnect with consumers who "make fun of labels like Gen X and Gen Y." Claiming that a generational shift is going on, the likes of which hasn't been seen since the '60s, Ecko suggested that attendees "not address your own needs, or the retailers' needs, but your customers'."

While there were plenty of outbursts, and heaps of M-rated language, Ecko did his best to present himself as one of the tribe. "The dominant form of culture is gaming, not fashion," Ecko said, and then proceeded to give a short checklist of what games needed to contain or address to be taken seriously by a youth culture with a want-it-now mind-set when it comes to entertainment.

Here's what will sell now in games, according to Ecko:

The first is "popstalgia," or shared nostalgia. By focusing on technology instead, Ecko said, "we're overbuilding the parts that don't matter and underbuilding the important romance around the product." To Ecko, the feeling of "your first beer, graduation night, your first joint, Run-DMC" is what's needed in games for them to connect with buyers. "If you wanted to get stoned, drunk, laid, you did it in a car, but not one for soccer moms." Hence, the popularity of Grand Theft Auto, according to Ecko.

The next theme is instant gratification. Calling the digital-media-savvy consumer of today "Kenny," just to put a name on him, Ecko said, "Kenny's clock runs different from yours and mine. He wants his s*** now. Sunday for The Sopranos? No! Right now!"

"Look at music," Ecko then said. "Do you know anybody who's making money in the music business? ... Kenny doesn’t care about your MTV videos."

"The consumer has punished this industry," he said. Turning his view to games, a similarly fluid and potentially untethered media, Ecko said the Kennys will soon want (and expect) the same freedom of choice with their games that they have with their music. "What are you going to do to block the hand when they want to bitch-slap us?"

Other themes worth acknowledging, says Ecko, are the "marketing of the apocalypse" ("take one look at the Hummer and you know what I mean") and customization ("if you give anyone the choice on anything, they'll take it)." Ecko also includes what he calls the "democratization of design." "God bless Apple," Ecko cheered. "The iPod at $499 is a luxury, but at $99, it's a necessity."

These five elements, when built into product design and marketing plans, "will define every success story" in business in the future, according to Ecko.

Overall, Ecko played the provocateur, toggling between casting games as art ("this is not a board game, this is art; this is not code, this is art") and pure commerce ("knowing how to manipulate this will help you do better").

Other engaging sessions on Tuesday were a presentation by EyeToy creator Richard Marks, who brought attendees up to date on the user interface work his division at SCEA in Foster City, California, is up to; a presentation on character design by Spider-Man creator Stan Lee; and a finance-focused session presented by Seamus "He Who Throws His Blackberry to the Ground" Blackley, an industry vet working now as an agent at Creative Arts Agency, putting together deals that bring together game guys, movie guys, entertainment impresarios, and assorted other biz-dev types who are working with both old and new funding models for game development.

Blackley's presentation focused on the importance of getting some understanding of upcoming funding models now, before the sharks from Hollywood (and further afield) start backing games in ways the game industry might not fully understand. "In our business, risk is the single issue that threatens us in our craft and in our livelihood," Blackley noted.

At its core, Blackley's presentation spoke to ways creative types and design studios can continue to have the freedom to do great design work. "Movie-style funding models are the future; new [funding] models are coming, so let's be sure to use them to make better games."

While funding tutorials aren't the usual stuff of D.I.C.E., Blackley put his sometimes-dense presentation in context. "I know this is intensely boring," he said at one point in the lecture, "but someday you will remember it, and it will be awesome."

Read our report from day two of D.I.C.E. tomorrow.

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