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What do we mean by the long game? | Dice Summit Town Hall

Bynewsmagzines

Mar 10, 2023
What do we mean by the long game? | Dice Summit Town Hall

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In 22 years of attending the annual Dice Summit, I’ve witnessed extraordinary and memorable talks from the leaders of the game industry. And so this year, it was a special honor to be asked to moderate the Dice Town Hall a few weeks back in Las Vegas.

Maybe I should retire since it doesn’t really get better than this for a lowly game journalist. Our theme for the panel was about The Long Game. We had to put our heads together and think about what the audience would want to hear about, and we decided it should inspire others for the long term.

The description noted that “strategy, innovation, and teamwork help build experiences that are no longer ephemeral, growing and evolving with the player and the audience. How do we best plan for the future while making the most of the present? Together, we examine how to harness the principles and tools to create long-lasting art and entertainment, nurture positive culture and communities, and always work toward a better tomorrow while making the most of today.”

My panelists included Jane Pinckard, global portfolio director at Xbox for third-party games; Mike Ybarra, president of Blizzard Entertainment; Anna Sweet, CEO of Bad Robot Games, a division of JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot; and Careen Yap, head of strategy at the Embracer Group. We had a very good conversation about the state of gaming and where it’s going. We tried to keep it fun and inspirational, but the topics were relevant to the crowd.

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Perhaps the worst thing that happened was that I dropped my laptop in the middle of the town hall. But fortunately, it didn’t break.

Here’s an edited transcript of our talk. And you can watch it in video form as well.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rT3nNKgEW40

GamesBeat: Our theme for this town hall is “the long game.” The first thing I’d like to do is congratulate our panelists for being part of the long game already. They’ve all had long careers, and they’re going to be with us a lot longer still, providing the industry with their inspiration.

Jane Pinckard: I’m the global portfolio director for Xbox. My team looks holistically at all of our third-party content. We do curation. We do scouting. We’re always thinking about what games players want to play on our platforms.

Mike Ybarra: I’m the president of Blizzard Entertainment. It’s great to be here at DICE and see so many old friends.

Anna Sweet: I’m the CEO of Bad Robot Games, which is part of the larger Bad Robot Productions umbrella.

Careen Yap: I’m the chief strategic officer at Embracer, and I work to develop organic synergies across all our efforts at Embracer.

GamesBeat: I think our mission here it not to solve every problem there is in game development, but just to provide some hope and inspiration. We’re looking for that in this room. We’ve had a few difficult years in the world. The industry provided a lot of comfort during the pandemic. But the world still has its struggles. We have the war in Ukraine. We have disasters. We have geopolitical tensions. We have layoffs amid a weak economy. The tech industry is bearing the brunt of that weakness. Within gaming we have labor issues, remote work concerns, controversy over blockchain, and just constant change.

Why should we thinking about the theme of the long game at all? We have a lot of problems to solve today. But I take those words to mean that there’s something on the other side of this. My own favorite story to tell about gaming is seeing esports in a high school. When you see what happens in high school—everybody plays games now. The geeks play games. The jocks play games. They don’t necessarily get along. But now we have a competition where the nerds have a chance to be the best. They have some reason for common friendship around games. How would we have turned out if we went through high school without seeing bullying or being bullied? That would have changed us and changed the world. To me, that’s something gaming can do to change society.

My first question, then, is what does the long game mean to you?

Pinckard: When I think about the long game, I think for us it’s about—can we build a culture that’s able to continually embrace growth and change? That’s what it’s going to take to evolve with the changes you’re talking about. That’s really the only path I see to staying relevant and building an audience.

Ybarra: To me, I always view gaming as something that pulls people together. I think it’s an awesome medium to unite people in the spirit of play. To your point, Dean, the last two and a half or three years have been really challenging not just for the games industry, but for society in general. We’re all fortunate enough to work in this business that lets us create an escape for people from the world’s challenges. That’s an incredible opportunity, but also a big responsibility.
The panel before showed us the incredible worlds and environments that we’ve been creating in the last decades. People create lifelong friendships and epic memories through them. To me that’s incredibly powerful. That’s the long game we’re playing.

Sweet: We’re in a chaotic moment in the world at large. I think there are two paths through a moment like that. You can put your head down and just try to get through it yourself, focused on the day to day work to survive. I think we’ve all done some of that over the last two years. But there’s also an opportunity to take a step back and say, “In all this chaos, what excites me? Where might I be on the next phase of my journey?”

The Dice Summit Town Hall. Left to right: Dean Takahashi, Jane Pinckard, Mike Ybarra, Anna Sweet and Careen Yap.

I took this job in March 2020, which was a very exciting time, to put it one way. That’s how we embraced building Bad Robot Games. Amidst all this chaos and change, who do we want to be? Where do we want to work? What are the things we want to create and how do we want to create them? There can be excitement in the middle of all this disruption and chaos.

Yap: To me it’s about ensuring that we continue to support game and content creators so that they can deliver amazing experiences. This industry continues to move toward consolidation and subscription, and even streaming. That’s why it’s so important to empower these creators. Not only financially with investment, but also finding ways to help them build strategic partnerships so they can continue to grow and expand their businesses. Embracer’s decentralized model is bringing that to the industry.

GamesBeat: Anna, one thing you mentioned in your talk was culture and how that’s important for the long game. Can you go into that further?

Sweet: Games are incredibly hard to make, and the people who make them are very special. As we think about the long game and the next phase, we have to focus on the fact that it’s super awesome to work with people who are essentially magicians. They’re creating magical worlds that we all get to enjoy and inhabit and spend time in with our friends and family. That creativity and that creation only comes from working in an environment that feels safe and exciting, where there are lots of voices riffing on new and interesting ideas. When we’re thinking about the long game, the most important thing to think about is the culture we’re building to enable that creativity. For me, that’s the number one I think about day to day. Not even the specifics of the things we’re making, but how the people who make it are doing, and how we can make it an even more exciting and safer creative space.

Ybarra: To Anna’s point, culture is foundational. When you have a culture of the long game, a culture of safety, a culture of innovation and risk-taking, and not a culture of fear, you can create an environment where creativity flows. In our business, design and creativity at Blizzard—that will always be us going forward. Our ability to have that mindset across our teams, the boldness and the approach they have, requires a cultural foundation that we’re very committed to. We work on it every single day. We treat the culture as something just as important as our franchises. These are pillars of who we are and what we do going forward.

Jane Pinckard is global portfolio director at Microsoft.

GamesBeat: For culture, if you don’t have a good culture, that can lose people. When we lose talent from this industry, what is the cause, and how do we stop that? How do we retain our talent that’s already here?

Sweet: It has to be a constant, ongoing process. I don’t think there’s a single answer to that question. I can speak to how we approach it, though. When I took the job at Bad Robot Games in 2020, it was a very small company. It was eight people. There was no real playbook for remote work. I had spent a lot of time thinking about how much time I was going to be in the office, because I planned to go back and forth a lot between northern California and southern. On the fly, I had to help build this company with no idea about how to really do that.

What we’ve done is build a couple of key components from the very beginning. In the last three years we’ve gone from eight people to 55 people. Having a diverse team is our number one support strategy. We’ve built that in every layer of our recruiting, our onboarding, and how we work together as a team. We’re very proud that we’re 50 percent women and 50 percent non-white. That’s core to who we are as a company. But it’s not easy. We don’t get it right every day.

For us, it’s become this series of experiments. We literally treat these ideas as experiments. We decided to try the four-day work week. We got some feedback from the team, actually. Some members of the team wanted to spend Friday checking things off their to-do list. That was okay if they were comfortable going into the weekend. We chucked the four-day work week, then, and turned into what we now call “free Fridays,” which means you can work on Friday, but you can’t talk about it, because someone else might not be working.

It’s been this constant iteration. We don’t know the path forward. There’s no playbook for this. But every day we look at the team and say, “How is our culture right now? What’s changing? What’s working? How can we double down on this and change that? What ideas can we try in order to grow?” We’ve gotten very comfortable with trying something for three months and finding out that it totally sucks, so we should stop doing that. Then we try another experiment. That’s the most important thing. We built in that north star, where we want a diverse team and a healthy culture. Then we find our path to that actively, and we’re okay with trying and failing.

GamesBeat: I remember you saying that you never really made opportunistic hires. One reason is you’re trying to build a pipeline of people and find a more diverse set of candidates that way.

Sweet: One of our hiring rules is that we don’t make a hire until we’ve looked at a pool of candidates that’s 50 percent women and 50 percent non-white. It’s not that we don’t take referrals. We do. We have amazing people who work on our team, and they refer amazing people. But we say, “Yes, let’s bring that person through the interview loop, but while we do, let’s go out and make the effort to find a diverse pipeline.” I’d say half the time we hire a referral, and half the time we end up hiring someone we would have never met if we hadn’t put in that effort. For us that’s just a core tenet of how we hire, and we’re seeing amazing results in terms of expanding our network and finding new amazing voices to add to our team and culture.

Pinckard: In my position I’m able to visit a lot of studios around the world. We’re just trying to get back into the swing of that. One thing I’ve noticed is that healthy teams can look very different. There is no one size that fits all. As you’re thinking about building your team and your culture, Anna’s suggestion around trying what works for you is such a great one. I see teams that are 90 percent in the office. I see teams that have been distributed since before the strange times, because that’s just the way they set things up initially. Don’t feel pressured to copy another culture or see something that works for some other team. It’s going to depend on the kind of games you’re making and the kind of teams you have.

GamesBeat: Creating matches despite–

Yap: Yes. And don’t mess with their culture. Support them. Allow them to have autonomy. Don’t force them to become centralized. Allow them to do what they do best.

Dice Summit Town Hall panel.
Dice Summit Town Hall panel.

Ybarra: That’s something I’ll chime in on. There are 4,500 or so people at Blizzard right now, and Blizzard isn’t top-down. There are hundreds of subcultures within an organization of that size. One key learning I’ve had is about how you foster those different cultures. You can’t say that our culture is X or Y and everyone on a team at this scale abides by that. Teams have different strengths. They approach things differently. A lot of people think of culture as, “It’s this. We’re all this.” But I find that when you give teams flexibility to establish their own culture, like across our games – Warcraft, Diablo, Overwatch – there are incredibly different cultures that we’ve been able to foster and do a lot of listening to. It’s a balance of a lot of different things. It usually goes back to the players that they’re listening to and the business you’re operating. There’s a triangle as you make decisions going forward.

GamesBeat: There’s always the signal versus noise question. Mike, what are the most important issues or changes going on in games right now, given that there’s always some amount of chaos?

Ybarra: There’s always disruption in gaming. I actually welcome that. If you think about it, even after 30 or 35 years, we’re a pretty young business in this type of entertainment. For us, that disruption is all-consuming. We look at it all the time. You can look back at the last three years and see that there have been a lot of challenges that people and society have gone through, as well as different ways that companies have approached that. To me, when I look forward, I see incredible growth. It was just 10 years ago that gaming was serving hundreds of millions of people. Now we’re talking about billions of people engaging with gaming.

Going back to your intro about the stereotypes of people who play games, now everyone’s playing one way or another. That’s an opportunity for all of us and our teams to think about the creative approach we have for this audience, and really deliver incredible moments and memories for people together. I’m far more optimistic about where this industry is going and the impact it’s going to have on everyone, from small to large companies, compared to looking at the challenges that exist. We have to address those challenges and embrace change and be agile in our approaches, but I think the opportunities are great.

I often have to remind our teams that we make games. We put smiles on hundreds of millions of faces. There’s nothing more impactful for me or the people at Blizzard than doing that.

Yap: My personal interest is solving discoverability. If you look at the way other media are consumed, they use powerful algorithms that send you down the rabbit hole of something like TikTok. You get more and more of what you want delivered to you. How do we, now that we have these big game stores and subscription services, how do we solve the discoverability problem? Platforms look at these tools. Do they use them? Do they repurpose them? Do they build their own to make it easier to serve more content that gamers want directly to those gamers? It’s an issue for all of us, and I would love to see that solved. I would love for any player to come to us, any game, and instantly be able to try it and play it and buy it on any platform they want in any territory where they are. That, to me, would be the ideal future.

Blizzard panel at DICE.
Blizzard panel at DICE.

GamesBeat: That makes me think of a question. Do we have too many games?

Yap: Games are amazing. There are so many talented game creators and content creators out there building experiences that are very unique, that are going to appeal to someone. One thing I find the most unique about Embracer is that we have games for every gamer on every platform, from mobile all the way to board games, from hypercasual all the way to core. I don’t think there are too many games. I think there’s a challenge in reaching them.

Sweet: There are 9 billion people on the planet. To Careen’s point, it’s about reaching the players and helping people discover their next favorite game, which is really challenging.

Pinckard: I think this is also related to an issue that we’ve been thinking about a lot internally at Xbox, which is around accessibility. What I love about accessibility is that it’s such a broad and powerful term. It can have enormous impact if you’re paying attention to it. It means not just offering a color-blind option, but it also means things like a story mode for someone like me whose reflexes are maybe not as fast as they used to be, but I still want to play a game without spending hours on perfecting something. Accessibility can mean a lot of things. It also means, what are the platforms where players can play? How accessible are they? What regions can we localize for, in as many languages as we can? Things like that all fall under that umbrella. That’s part of the discoverability question, too.

Ybarra: Part of it is just the responsibility we have to ensure that our games are safe for people of all ages. Whether you think about text conversations or voice conversations they have, having the right capabilities and tools to deal with that–as an industry I think we can always do better there in order to bring more of those 9 billion people into our games. We need to create scenarios where parents and children are safe and they feel like they belong and they’re having positive impacts on their life.

Sweet: I’d go back to the point earlier about building diverse teams. One of the reasons why that’s a top strategy for us is because I think we already have a lot of those voices in the game industry. It’s not really about reaching out. We saw this before the pandemic with lots of young men playing games like Fortnite. Then during the pandemic people were stuck in their houses and suddenly discovering that games are wonderful, and now we have to make content that keeps them coming back. The way you can do that is if you have a bunch of diverse voices contributing to how games are played, the characters and the worlds and the stories they tell. It’s extremely important to building a long-term huge business if you have those voices on the team to create that content.

Pinckard: And from a platform perspective it’s about supporting those partners and those creators and making those kinds of things.

GamesBeat: If you’re a developer and you’re trying to figure out how much of a budget to put toward something like accessibility, what is the answer to that?

Ybarra: I don’t know if we think about it in terms of a budget. At Blizzard we have basically every team and our central organization thinking about the accessibility approach and design approach in our games. To me it’s a question of putting X funds to do Y. It has to be in the DNA of the team. You have to have every single person on the team thinking about, “Is the feature or component I’m making accessible to the broadest possible audience?” That’s the approach that we’ve found to be successful.

Pinckard: I would definitely tell publishers to reach out to their platforms and ask them what they can do to support accessibility. There are accessibility tags and things that they’re doing that can give them guidance on what to put in.

It's not quite a cushy life at Supercell.
Dreaming big at Supercell.

GamesBeat: Supercell recently announced that they made $1.9 billion in revenue in 2022. They made that from five games that they’ve published over the last decade or so. They also said that they killed 30 games that were in at least prototype form, in mid-development, during that time. Their CEO said the company’s ambition is to make great games that as many people as possible could play, and could be remembered forever.

Do you have any thought about that process, and that kind of approach to making great games? If you could do something that could be remembered forever, what would it be? I’m looking at Mike, because it seems very Blizzard-like to be so brutal in killing your own games like that.

Ybarra: Well, I don’t think teams should be afraid to say that they haven’t found the design for a game that they thought they could. Innovation has to be part of the DNA of gaming, or I think it will start slowing. Certainly we encourage teams to be bold. They have to do that in an environment of safety around their role in the company. They have to be comfortable. But we certainly want innovation. In some ways I agree. We’ll always have innovation in games. We’ll always be thinking about that within our franchises. What is the next thing we can do? How can we improve the games we have and think about the next games over the next 20 years?

When someone asks me what I’m trying to do at Blizzard at a foundational level, if we can bring people together to create lifelong friendships through these games, that’s incredibly powerful. It addresses a lot of design challenges when you approach making a game. But to me, Blizzard will always try to find the next big games, the next big genres that we want to be making. We’ll be smart and responsible as we approach that.

Sweet: I certainly hope that companies like Blizzard and Supercell continue to pursue that because I think we do want these amazing worlds we get to live in. Certainly, as part of Bad Robot, we have access to some of the most incredible IP that I just can’t wait to build games in. Those are worlds that millions of people love. I guess I would say that all of us have hopes for something like that. But one of my most favorite game experiences in the last year or two was playing Unpacking with a friend. It’s four hours on the couch telling ourselves hilarious stories about who was living in these rooms in these apartments. That game would never get made in a world where we were optimizing for that. But there was so much joy for me and my friend in those moments. That was so worth it.

I think it comes back to making games for lots of different kinds of gamers. We have to have space for all of those things. That’s where a lot of the love and creativity and heart in gaming live.

Jane Pinckard and Mike Ybarra at the Dice Town Hall.

GamesBeat: How do you get to something that’s remembered forever?

Ybarra: We’re fortunate enough to have some of those. If you think about 18 years of World of Warcraft and Leeroy Jenkins ending up on Jeopardy, those are memories that last forever in the game industry. I think they organically happen, though. You’re not designing for that to happen. Part of it is just the incredible community. Holly Longdale talked a lot about how over time, when you create a game, you may be making it, but the community owns it. They organically create these memories that will stay with people for a long time.

Pinckard: That’s how I think of it, too. All the work on my team is so behind the scenes. The idea that someone’s going to remember something we did in the curation process seems like that’s not really what drives us and what we do. But to your point about Unpacking, if we can select a game that changes someone’s life, then we’ve done our job. We’ve done a good job. If it changes someone’s life, whether in a big way or a small way. That’s a good thing to strive for.

GamesBeat: How do you inspire developers in that environment to optimize that way? Can you tell developers that only five out of 35 games they make are going to hit the mark? How do you make them happy in that kind of world? It seems very challenging.

Sweet: I would think part of that is being transparent, when you bring someone on board, about what your culture is. Whether that’s your culture, or whether you’re optimizing for smaller games that are more creative and experimental. Whatever your culture is, it’s very important to be transparent in your interview process about that. This is who we are. This is what we stand for. In that way, people aren’t surprised by it when they come in. That’s the worst possible outcome, right? You come into Supercell and you have no idea that’s how they make games. That would be terrible. It’s really on us as leaders to make sure that people know who we are and what it’s like to be a part of our culture.

GamesBeat: On the flip side of how things are done at Supercell, I think we’re on the verge of seeing more and more games based on the combination of user-generated content and generative AI. On Friday Roblox showed this working in several demos of a car racing game, how you could instantly change something about the car. It leads me back to that question of how many games is too many. Are we about to hit 10 times as many games thanks to user-generated content? I don’t know what is going to happen.

Sweet: I guess I would say there are positives and negatives. I think it comes down to a lot of curation. How do you sort through all these things and find not just the good things, but the things that are good to a particular gamer? That’s a challenge. One of the positives, though, is that there’s a lot of assets in accessibility to new ideas. I worked at Valve for a very long time. In a lot of ways that’s the home of UGC and modding. So much of the content is built by the community. There are so many amazing, innovative ideas that the game teams themselves maybe never would have thought of, but a community member who was passionate about it had the skills and the access to create something amazing and share it with the larger game community. It’s about balancing those two things. How do you bring in new ideas, inspire passion and love for them, and make it accessible so players can find the good stuff?

Pinckard: You just reminded me of something. One of the big games when I was a little kid was Lode Runner on the Commdore 64, which is a sign of how old I am. But it came with a level editor, which I used with my sister to challenge each other with these impossible levels where you would die immediately. But I was thinking that with user-generated content and AI-assisted content, I can see a scenario where maybe the game is the game, and that could be a super exciting and different way to incorporate these tools. Ultimately, though, to me games are art. I believe there’s always going to be a human involved in there somewhere. It’s about how we use these new tools and experiment with them, which is interesting.

GamesBeat: I’ve seen some stories come along in the last month related to UGC and generative AI. One of them is from ElectricNoir. They’re doing horror games, creating a horror platform. They let their users generate different horror games and provide generative AI to help them with fleshing out their projects and building graphics, providing that directly to users. Another one that was interesting was that a company called Auxuman is creating a game called Auxworld, where you type in a prompt and it generates a multiplayer game based on that prompt. It’s built into the next generation of LG TVs, so you can start playing a game on your TV right away.

Careen Yap is chief strategy officer at Embracer Group.

Yap: But is it fun? That’s the key. Is it fun?

GamesBeat: We’re at a point where generative AI and UGC, the combination there, is probably going to overtake blockchain in terms of the hot startups of the moment. I’m curious about the metaverse as well. Anna, you seem to be the one with the most interest in the metaverse. What do you see?

Sweet: I think the interesting thing about the metaverse right now is that if we went around and asked everyone what their idea of the metaverse is, they would all be different. I think that’s really cool. It’s this big north star that a lot of people think is coming, and the game industry is going to lead the way. That’s very exciting. The thing I’m most nervous about is that there are so many pieces that have to come together for that big dream, whatever your version of it might be, to happen. I worry that a lot of people have already decided, “This is the map for doing it. This is how you build the metaverse.” That’s maybe the fastest way to never get to the metaverse.

From my perspective, it’s going to take several generations and so much creativity. We’re all going to try a bunch of little things, fail, and then keep building on it. It’s a very long-term dream that’s very exciting. We’re going to have to enjoy the journey as opposed to just saying, “I’ve solved it. This is how we’re going to do it.” I don’t think that’s how we get there.

GamesBeat: I do believe that the game industry is going to lead the way to the metaverse. I interviewed Jason Rubin from Meta, and he explained that the metaverse is going to need all this 3D content, and the way you do that is through game engines. The people who know how to use game engines are game developers. Therefore it’s clear that game developers have the chance to lead the way to the metaverse. I don’t think they have to do it all themselves.

In March I moderated a session at Nvidia’s GTC conference. They’re backing their Omniverse program and all these GPUs for supercomputers that they hope to use for the metaverse. They’re targeting across all different industries. They expect to create a weather simulation of the entire earth, a digital twin of the earth, using all the GPUs and supercomputers of the world to work on this problem, so that they can track climate change for years to come. To do that they need meter-level accuracy in their simulation of the world. But once they’re done with that, Jensen Huang has said that once that’s done, you get the metaverse for free. The realistic earth metaverse will be complete, and you can just share it out to developers who don’t have to build it themselves.

Pinckard: Maybe it’s because I don’t really understand what the metaverse is, but I feel like I’ve been in metaverses, because I played World of Warcraft. I’ve made friends in Stormwind. I’ve done things that have real impact in my life. In some ways I feel like the metaverse has always been with us. Is that correct?

Sweet: I would agree. I think a lot of the conversation about the metaverse has been around things like who owns the doors. What avatar are we going to use? How do we sign in? Are we going to get there? Those things are important, but in the long term maybe they don’t matter so much. When I read Ready Player One, the thing that resonated with me the most in that version of the metaverse was the pure, utter joy of exploring a universe that you’ve loved your whole life. Now you’re a part of it. That’s one of the things that drew me to Bad Robot. We get to be a part of this larger content creation engine.

I mentioned earlier that we have lots of IP that we can build worlds in. But when we talked about what we were going to do with our first game, we actually made a conscious choice to say, “What if we build a world together?” What if we sat down with our amazing colleagues in film and television and our music label and our live theater program–what if we build a universe where all of us are effectively inside it to tell a story? That’s where we’re setting our game.

From my perspective, that’s a very interesting tack for the metaverse. I think the real question about the metaverse is, “What are we all going to do there?” It takes content creators and storytellers and game designers to figure that out. I think that’s actually the real question.

Anna Sweet is CEO of Bad Robot Games.

Ybarra: I think that’s right. When I look at companies today, a lot of them are starting to take advantage of the metaverse and define it. You see the demos and it’s a stick figure in a box throwing a ball against a wall. This has a long way to go before we’re actually going to be in a place. At Blizzard I’ve never been in a meeting, or even heard of a meeting, where people sit down and say the word “metaverse” and what that means. But we do sit down and talk about 3D worlds that millions of people want to be part of. If that turns into the metaverse and whatever that becomes, hooray. But the dialogue to this point, the identity and all these things that different companies are working against, to me that’s not where the energy needs to be. It needs to be around providing the consumer with something they look at and say, “I want to be part of that. That’s interesting to me.” The technology today, the things you see out there, is probably the biggest barrier to reaching that.

GamesBeat: We’re getting off on a tangent, but all this talk about building worlds makes me think of Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios. I went there, and I was also watching some streamers talking about going to that, being in that experience. They say it’s like being in a video game. It’s funny how worlds are the thing that inspire people so much. Anna, you haven’t mentioned your boss’s name yet, but how do you feel about the successes we’ve seen with games meeting Hollywood lately?

Sweet: As you’re probably aware, we work very closely with JJ Abrams. And not just him, honestly. The whole Bad Robot team has an insane number of creative storytellers. But the exciting thing about where we are now with cross-media worlds and storytelling–I think we’ve all stopped considering it marketing. It used to be the case that there was a big movie, and so you’d make a game and slap that IP on it, or the other way around. Now the things that we’re seeing that have broken through, like The Last of Us, those things are being treated as authentic, real parts of that world. That’s super exciting to me.

Games take a really long time to make. If I play a game and I love that world, now I can explore new stories and new characters on the show. As game designers we can look at that and say, “Oh heck, that character, I didn’t expect them to resonate like that. I should pull that into the next thing we work on for the game.” Over time they can start to feed into each other in a way that creates this infinitely explorable world and story. Sometimes you can be a part of it and sometimes you can watch other characters’ stories be told. That’s very exciting for gamers.

Yap: With our recent acquisitions, our recent announcements, I think that shows Embracer is in it for the long run. It’s an honor to be able to continue on the heritage of Lord of the Rings. It’s amazing to be able to continue to build on the legacy of Lara Croft. I can’t yet share with you some of the amazing vision that they have for those franchises. But I can tell you that the thing that resonates with me–the phrase “content is king” resonates the most these days compared to any other days, with the insatiable demand for content and the number of entertainment platforms. In the game industry we are in a very unique opportunity. It’s amazing to see what’s happening.

Mike Ybarra of Blizzard takes a second to sing a song during the Dice Town Hall.

GamesBeat: Embracer has done lots of deals. I’m not sure how many right now. 119 was where I lost count. But doubling down is an interesting idea in the game industry. You can’t do everything. You have to let go of something. You might as well double down on what works. To me, those two deals – the Tolkien license and Lara Croft – represent a step up for Embracer, a doubling down on something. Would you say that’s true?

Yap: I think focusing on those franchises is very important. Everyone wants to have their big triple-A experience. But at Embracer we have such a large and varied portfolio. As I said before, we reach every gamer on every platform. When you have hundreds of games in development, like we do, that target so many different genres and consumers, it helps to negate some of the standard industry risks that are out there. If one of our games maybe stumbles a bit and the release is disappointing, it’s less impactful, because we have such a broad portfolio.

So yes, I absolutely love Lord of the Rings and I love Tomb Raider. But I also love Easybrain’s mobile content and Asmodee’s board games, which have been doing very well for us. I think it’s working to have something for everyone.

GamesBeat: For the rest of you, what would you say doubling down means?

Ybarra: To us, it’s knowing you should focus and how important that is. We make incredible worlds and games. At Blizzard we’re very focused on that. That doesn’t take away from what we see in the industry. We see some amazing transmedia, taking these worlds people have created and bringing them to TV and to movies. I think we just have to be clear about what is the goal in doing that, making sure you have that focus going forward. But for us, the gaming space is just enormous. The people in this room, some of you are the next generation that are going to create these incredible connections and memories for people. That, to us, is the primary focus of what Blizzard does.

That doesn’t mean we’ll never look beyond gaming. We have some great talent that you may have heard from this morning about taking our games beyond the games themselves. But doubling down is, let’s create these amazing games that people want to spend time in and build connections with.

Pinckard: For us, on the platform side, that translates into centering player experiences and creator experiences. Constantly asking ourselves about how our players want to engage with what we can offer. What kinds of experiences are they looking for? What kinds of games do they want to play? When we find players, can we matchmake between players and creators? As long as we focus on that, double down on that, then any other strategic move we need to make is going to be suggested by that core focus. We’ll be able to do the right thing by our players and partners.

Question: There’s a lot of consolidation happening right now. Game teams are getting larger than ever. There are also more teams than ever founding new studios funded by VCs and strategics. Is there enough talent to make all the games we dream of making? How does this impact your companies?

Tell that guy not to drop his laptop.

GamesBeat: It almost feels like this is a two-month-old question. We are seeing teams start to shrink now. Projects are getting canceled. In some sense, this may be correcting itself. But is there still a talent shortage that you see?

Sweet: This moment in time is maybe a bit of a market correction. It’s a strange moment in tech. But if we’re going into the long game, taking the long view, we still do not have enough talent to tell all the stories that we want to. I go back to what we started this conversation around. In particular, we don’t have enough diverse and different voices doing that work and being that talent. If I was going to focus very long-term on one thing about our talent pipeline, I think we have a lot of work to do in getting more people, and specifically more types of people, excited about working in the game industry, so we can make all the games and tell all the stories that we want to tell.

GamesBeat: Careen, what would you suggest to students who want to make a career in games?

Yap: I see a lot of industry organizations giving out scholarships. I see a lot of schools trying to develop programs for game development. I recommend for students who are interested in studying video games and want to get into the industry look into industry organizations. There’s the U.K. Interactive Entertainment Association. There’s BAFTA. There are Women in Games Europe, and Women in Games International in the U.S. There’s the ESA Foundation. There’s the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences. They have scholars here today going through a program. All of these organizations offer memberships or scholarships or programs where you can have mentorships.

You can go with a mentorship program from Women in Games International and be paired with an industry veteran and go through classes. Women in Games International had a program called Get in the Game. They have people here today. They sent Google Scholars to Paris Games Week last year. They went through an entire week of touring the Xbox booth, touring game studios, touring the Google office. A recruiter from Microsoft talked to them about building a resume and a LinkedIn profile. They had a Stadia hiring manager talk to them about building an online social media presence and what that means. At the end of the week they were just so excited about the potential. I remember talking to one of them, and she said, “This week meant so much to me, because three years ago I went to the U.K. as a refugee. Now I’m interviewing at game studios. I think sometimes that the ideas of what I could accomplish in the industry are crazy. But after this week I know I can do it. I know that this is possible.”

I would encourage any student, anyone who’s interested in getting into the industry, to take advantage of these programs. It helps you build your network before you even start your job.

Jane Pinckard, Mike Ybarra and Anna Sweet (right).

Ybarra: I don’t think we’ll ever have enough talent to match the ambition in gaming. For us at Blizzard, we have a program where we bring people in, and they might not have all the skill set, but we commit to them to build that skill set and place them into their roles. I think all of the industry, if we have the means to be able to do that, we owe it to the industry–and, to Anna’s point, just the diversity and the opportunities people have, or don’t have, just because of where they’re at, where they’re located. That’s something we’re firmly committed to.

But there are so many games out there. The talent and the capability to build the world’s best entertainment, it takes that skill set. Our ability to help bring people in and give them that skill set and that opportunity is something that’s important to us.

Question: What do you think about the kids’ market? For the most part the game industry focuses on teen and over. The kids’ market has been ceded to Nintendo and free games on mobile devices. How do we offer more to that huge market for kids?

Pinckard: I do want to say that Paw Patrol did amazing numbers. Obviously Disney Dreamlight Valley is very kid-friendly. You can hang out with your favorite Disney characters. I played the game pretty obsessively too. But I agree. I would love to see even more experiences like that – games that can be for children, but are also rich and beautiful enough for people like me who want to explore those worlds.

To us it comes down to supporting the creators that are making those games. Making sure that they have tools. We’ll help them figure out how they want to build their games for our platform. But going back to Careen’s point about discoverability, it’s also about making sure that kids and parents have the ability to find those games.

Dice Town Hall panelists talk about talent, the metaverse, AI and the long game.

GamesBeat: One minute each. What can you say to inspire our audience on the way out?

Yap: I’d encourage everybody to get out and volunteer with the next generation of video game industry colleagues. They’re what inspires me.

Sweet: I’d go back to what we were talking about earlier, about recruiting for our team. I would say, take the opportunity to find someone you don’t already know in the game industry. This is in some ways a very small industry. We all have our relationships and our friendships that we’ve built over many years. But there’s a lot of amazing talent out there that you don’t know. I would take the opportunity whenever you can to meet them.

Ybarra: I’d say to strive for inclusive design. We talked about 9 billion people on the planet. It’s on all of us to make sure that we’re designing games that reach out to all of them and let those connections happen.

Pinckard: I’d agree with what everyone just said, and I’ll add one thing. Play a game that’s a little outside your comfort zone and your taste. Experiment and explore.

GamesBeat: I would say moderate panels with lots of smart people on it and try not to drop your laptop more than once.

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