The Ups and Downs of Tim Sweeney’s DICE Keynote

The Ups and Downs of Tim Sweeney’s DICE Keynote

THIS WEEK IN BUSINESS | Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney delivers mixed messages in a DICE keynote roller coaster.

Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney said some stuff this week in his DICE Summit keynote. You can read about it here, or watch the entire thing over here. Let's cover a few of the more notable quotables:

QUOTE | "If we try to identify the bad trend that's hurt the entire tech industry over the past decade, it's the advent of the customer adversarial business model." - Sweeney talks about companies like Google and Facebook offering free services but making users "pay" for them with a loss of privacy or freedom.

Right on, Tim! These companies have shirked their responsibilities to customers time and again, exploiting their personal information in ways people never agreed to, failing to secure that information to prevent others from doing the same, and generally treating society as one big experiment they can tinker with in order to maximize revenues.

QUOTE | "While loot boxes are not gambling, they play on all the mechanics of gambling except the ability to actually get money out at the end. That whole market should be separated from the mainstream game industry, ultimately, and we should adopt practices so we can really, in front of the general public and our shareholders, say we're doing our best as a business to support our customers."

Go get 'em, Tim! Finally! It's fantastic to hear one of the richest and most powerful people in gaming agree that this business practice needs to be cut out from mainstream gaming like the legislation-inviting tumor it is. Keep going!

QUOTE | "We need to separate the creative commentary from the marketing department. So we should get the marketing department out of politics."

Uh, maybe? Are you saying we shouldn't have marketing departments take games without intentional political messages and sell them as if they do? Because I guess I would agree with that? It's always annoying when an Infamous: Second Son or Watch Dogs comes along and pretends it's going to grapple with some heavy pressing politically relevant issue but then just Matrix-dodges out of any meaning and mumbles about "showing shades of gray and letting the player decide." That's always rotten. But you mentioned To Kill A Mockingbird as the kind of meaningful creative expression games should be able to do on the regular, and I don't really know how you take the politics out of marketing something with a pointedly political message.

It's OK though. It's a long keynote; there's bound to be a misstep here or there, especially when public speaking isn't really your wheelhouse. I mean, yeah, the lengthy segue into payment providers wasn't exactly compelling but… you know what, never mind, let's just move past this and hit your next point. What else have you got for us, Tim?

QUOTE | "The world is really screwed up right now. Right now, your political orientation determines which fast food chicken restaurant you go to, and that's really dumb."

Hold up, Tim. I hope you mean it was dumb for Chick-fil-A to spend all that money donating to anti-LGBTQ groups, because I really hope you're not dogging on average everyday people for "voting with their wallets" and deciding they didn't want their money going to people who refuse to recognize same-sex marriage or advocate for conversion therapy. We don't all have Fortnite-fueled bank accounts and DICE keynotes to help us influence the world around us, so we have to do what we can with what we have. And even the implication that it's "dumb" to let ethical concerns guide one's behavior is pretty appalling. The idea that there is not an ethical component to something as significant as consumption in a capitalist economy, that we shouldn't care who or what we our supporting with our business (or who we are actively hurting with it) is beyond poisonous.

QUOTE | "We as companies need to divorce ourselves from politics and say that's for individuals and we as platforms should be neutral."

Ok, I'm out. That was a wild roller coaster ride of a keynote, but this is where I get off. I will say it louder for the CEOs in the back: "THERE IS NO NEUTRAL." It just doesn't exist. I mean, this guy just spent half an hour talking about all the stuff he wants to see done in games, and then caps it off by saying game companies need to stay away from divisive topics, apparently not recognizing that the whole question of whether politics belong in games has been a flashpoint of angry debate for years?

As for what that would even look like, Sweeney suggested a separation of church and state approach, where companies have clear guidelines for what is and isn't allowed in their communities and then an impartial "judicial branch"-like division of the company responsible for deciding what goes. And I actually agree with that. But that's not neutral.

Any set of guidelines absolutely reflects the values of the people who create it. And because human behavior is infinitely complex, shaped by context, open to interpretation, and the product of humans who are infinitely creative in coming up with ways to communicate and harass each other, the only way to have guidelines that can be enforced with perfect clarity is for them to be so restrictive or so permissive as to be functionally useless. So that means someone has to decide what's OK and what's not OK, and that is -- AGAIN -- another judgment call someone makes according to their values. (Valve has tried this same value-less approach to moderation and needless to say, it was a spectacular failure.)

So companies are going to stand for things and practice politics one way or another. And I'm fine with that, because again, it's impossible for them not to. But I think it's much more harmful in the long run to pretend that they don't stand for anything, that they can bring in billions from a social phenomenon like Fortnite played by hundreds of millions of people around the world and somehow not have an impact on the world. We all have an impact on the world. Fantastically wealthy and influential people like Tim have a much larger impact than the rest of us. But the more any of us pretends that we don't have an impact -- that we can exist in and interact with the world in a purely neutral manner -- the less likely our impact will end up a positive one.

OK, let's see what other people said and did this week...

QUOTE | "Stop accepting crumbs of diversity. Stop going, 'We got one white woman. We got one kinda sorta beige woman and we don't know what she is.' ...Stop accepting those crumbs of inclusion and go, 'Hey, you said you want to be diverse. But where's your CTO? Where are your other people that are folks of color, that are safe to be openly out and queer, that are safe to be openly out and trans?'" - I Need Diverse Games' Tanya DePass calls for people to hold game companies to a higher standard when it comes to hiring people of color to significant positions.

QUOTE | "Why do we still insist on smashing our people to get to a release and then set out to make the next project even bigger and better, especially when each go-around with crunch bleeds studios of talent and damages team morale? It's madness, like punching yourself in the face and shouting, 'Again! Harder!'" - Mark Lloyd, who oversaw Rockstar Lincoln's notorious crunch culture for a dozen years, has had a change of heart about the practice and is now advocating for its end.

QUOTE | "It was a dream job... But as we grew and became more successful, things changed. We became more corporate. We were less able to make what we loved, and the teams were pushed to create games based on market research rather than our creative instincts and passions." - Mass Effect writer Drew Karpyshyn explains why he left BioWare. He recently joined Wizards of the Coast's Archetype Entertainment, a new studio built around ex-BioWare developers.

QUOTE | "Over the coming months we will be focusing on a longer-term redesign of the [Anthem] experience, specifically working to reinvent the core gameplay loop with clear goals, motivating challenges and progression with meaningful rewards - while preserving the fun of flying and fighting in a vast science-fantasy setting. And to do that properly we'll be doing something we'd like to have done more of the first time around - giving a focused team the time to test and iterate, focusing on gameplay first." - BioWare GM Casey Hudson lays out the plan to reboot Anthem about a year after the game's debut.

QUOTE | "Despite our best efforts to establish an independent development group in Gothenburg over several years, it's become clear that the breadth of talent we need to maintain a full AAA studio is just not available to us there." - EA explains why it's scrapping the Ghost Games development team in Sweden and refocusing that office to be an engineering hub to support other EA developers. As a result, the Need for Speed franchise will once again be developed by UK-based Criterion.

QUOTE | "Given what has been publicly communicated about plans for E3 2020, I just don't feel comfortable participating in the show at this time." - Geoff Keighley announces that he will not be running the Coliseum stage show he has organized for E3 the past three years. He said the announcement was prompted in part because of the ESA appearing to accidentally set its official E3 website live and then password-protecting it once people noticed.

QUOTE | "Earning back your trust and support is our top priority. That's why we rebuilt the E3 website with enhanced and layered security measures developed by an outside cybersecurity firm." - The ESA, last month, promising that it had its act together after the entire E3 2019 media list was leaked last year because it was stored in an unsecure part of the event's official site.

STAT | 1 - Number of Microsoft-published games in the PlayStation 4 best-sellers chart for January.

STAT | 0 - Number of Microsoft-published games in the Xbox One best-sellers chart for January.

QUOTE | "What's interesting in the last few years is the people in the suits, in the expensive boardrooms, are nerds now. They're gamers, and that's really cool." - John Wick Hex designer Mike Bithell says licensed games are getting better because the people in control of the licenses actually care about games.

QUOTE | "We want to dream big and look forward to all the things we can do together." - Disney senior VP for games and interactive experiences Sean Shoptaw tells attendees at the DICE Summit in Las Vegas that the company is looking for licensing partners to reimagine its stable of IP for new games, pointing to Marvel's Spider-Man and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order as examples of what they have in mind.

QUOTE | "Per their request, please be advised Activision Blizzard games will be removed from the service. While unfortunate, we hope to work together with Activision Blizzard to reenable these games and more in the future." - Nvidia GeForce community manager Cory Banks explains why games that were supported by the company's GeForce Now subscription streaming service when it launched a week ago are no longer playable, because the future of gaming is never knowing what you can or can't play, or for how long.

QUOTE | "In-game resource surfacing platform" - Sony's name for a machine learning technique it wants to patent that will look at a player's status in game and suggest DLC or in-app purchases it can buy in order to further progress in a game.

Brendan Sinclair

Managing Editor

Brendan joined GamesIndustry International in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at CBS-owned GameSpot in the US.

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