The D.I.C.E. Summit began today to interesting results. Click after the jump to find a Hollywood and video game powerhouse joining forces, and one outspoken critic of how the gaming press operates.

The D.I.C.E. Summit (standing for Design, Innovate, Communicate, Entertain; not held by the Battlefield studio) began today in Las Vegas to a pleasant announcement: newly crowned director of Star Wars Episode 7 J.J. Abrams and Valve co-founder Gabe Newell gave the opening keynote speech, stating they have establishing a creative partnership. Abrams want to collaborate on a Valve game, and Newell wants either a Half-Life or Portal film. Check the “win” box in both columns.

While compelling, the moment that caught my eye was David Cage’s rather candid speech about the state of games today. The founder of Quantic Dream, a studio famous for its quick time-driven thrill ride Heavy Rain, berated attendees with a nine-point speech about how the industry is creatively, culturally and journalistically stagnant. I could only find brief clips from Vine, Twitter’s six-second video service, so instead I’ll post this list so graciously constructed by Gamasutra.

Cage threw a multitude a points out there: how games rely on the same concepts, how authors must write a game’s story instead of a marketing team, how the industry needs to build a better relationship with Hollywood (the Abrams-Newell partnership is a start), our attitudes toward censorship, and the importance of the audience.

But it’s his opinion on the press which I found most enticing. He believes the press is twofold: a crowd full of smart analysts, who could properly discuss and predict the future of games; and “people giving scores”. The latter referring to reviewers, of course.

He continues: “I don’t think this is press. Where is the analysis? Where’s the thinking about this? Can anyone give his opinion and be respected as a critic? Being a critic is a job. It requires skills, it requires thought.”

Game reviewing is a tricky business. In the business department, you have to appease advertisers or risk losing your job. From the readership, backlash from anonymous brand-humpers is inevitable. It’s a hostile environment, and that’s why current game reviewers discourage wannabe writers from entering the field. Distressing to say the least.

Unless he is saying all reviewers are brainless, I only see one causation. Reviewers can only judge what they themselves experience from a game, the package in front of them, and nothing more or less. Any discussion outside praise or criticism of that game is purposeless and should be omitted, least in the context of a review. So this “analysis” or background thinking should occur after a published review, when both writers and regular fans have spent significant time with a release. Which in the grander scheme of things isn’t a reviewer’s job.

Videogame press is far from perfect. Publisher influence, low professional standards, and horrible pay make for a strange work environment. That’s not to say it’s not the fault of game journalists, but to accuse hard-working people of being unskilled and thoughtless when this problem is industry-wide is despicable. Journalism needs severe reform, not industry leaders besmirching the entire industry.

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  • CoffeeWithGames

    “…that’s why current game reviewers discourage wannabe writers from entering the field.”
    I think it’s more than that, I think they discourage it because of job security. They already work for basically nothing, and need to feel secure in their jobs. The last thing they want, or need, is another writer who can throw crap together that makes them look bad.

    “Unless he is saying all reviewers are brainless…”
    Based on my experience with most reviewers, this is probably true for 90% of them….just saying.

    I was glad to hear him say a few of the things he did, but knowing the ears it fell upon doesn’t give me much hope, speaking from experiences myself.

  • Matt

    I have to disagree that there is no point to discussing games outside of the package that’s being put in front of the critic.

    Games don’t exist in isolation. There are multitudes of conscious and subconscious stimulants that go into a game from the creators. Like film or literature, a game in its end product is a creative vision, and therefore understanding the themes and philosophies that went into making that game is crucial for understanding the game.

    What Gage is criticising is the idea that a game review is there to tell people whether to buy the game or not. That’s useless information. There’s YouTube and Let’s Plays or discussion forms for that, and if they games press industry wants to move away from the idea that it is “words for hire” then it needs to drop the idea that it’s a buyers guide.

    Reviews remain very relevant but only in terms of furthering the discussions about games. Criticism should be more academic and insightful. That’s what Gage wants, and I happen to agree with it. If you look at the best film, literature and performance art critics, none of them are trying to provide buyer’s advice.

    • Jeff

      My understanding of the purpose of a review is to find out if a game is good or not, meaning reviewing a product will always be in some way a buyer’s guide. I don’t see how reviews could be anything more, and with how many people based a purchase on the Metacritic rating, reviews are more important than ever. I do agree that reviews must carry an academic nature, but the idea of “game schools” or video game design courses has only seen an uptick in the last five years maybe? Most game journalists have been in the business way longer than that.

      • Matt

        There’s two different kinds of “review,” as such. There’s buying guides – and these are essentially PR work and journalists really shouldn’t be doing them, and there’s criticism, which is 1) much harder to write (and thus beyond many games journalists) and 2) more interested in analysing a game from a social, philosophical and psychological perspective – that’s the academic “review.”

        Criticism has greater value overall. It’s more engaging and insightful to read, and long after you’ve decided whether you want to buy the game or not, and in fact, long after you’ve finished playing the game, you could be referring back to the criticism; for its ideas and its theories.

        That level of “review” is sorely missing from the games industry. We’ve got billions of sites out there doing buyer’s guides, and that’s ok. There is some limited use in them. But the way I understand Gage’s comments is that he’s frustrated that there isn’t more publications out there that are writing actual criticism. Ultimately it’s the criticism that will help the games industry develop and grow.

        Regarding the education side of things – I’ve yet to see a course dedicated to studying games. There are more and more courses focused on teaching people how to make games, and that’s a good thing, but what about a course that treats games like film studies treats film? Film critics come from journalism students that major in film. Before they even finish the degree they have a deep understanding of the theory of film. But games journalists are journalism students that like playing games. There’s a world of difference in terms of knowledge base.

        It’s a good debate to be having. Thanks for your time :)

        • Jeff

          Cheers mate! Hopefully this idea catches on for the (inevitable, obviously) leagues of Holygrenade readers adamantly filtering through each comment. I don’t know, honestly, maybe I’m part of the issue. But I understand what you mean. Maybe there just isn’t enough interest from the educators out there to pursue a games study course, but in game design they do study that sort of thing. Like why Half-Life was so revolutionary when it first came out, why made Portal such a success, etc. But it’s also an issue of treasuring the classics, which currently the games industry doesn’t possess. We are so involved with the future of games that we lose sight of what we’ve been.

          I think the reason reviews are written like that is because that’s what readers expect. They want to know if the upcoming game is worthwhile, and they don’t care for why certain things were chosen to make the game better. That idea of academic game studying is still a niche market, sadly.

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