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What to expect at DICE this week

Annual gaming show is strong on networking and talks

Casual business meetings are the point of DICE

DICE is my favorite show in gaming’s calendar year. It’s an intimate gathering of game industry executives, developers and innovators, with a strong emphasis on networking.

For a reporter, it’s perfect. I get to buttonhole interesting people in hotel hallways. Often, they’re up for a drink and a chat, away from PR minders.

Don’t get me wrong. I like GDC and its ethos of sharing. E3 is a spectacle I’d hate to miss. There’s much to admire about PAX, most especially its spirit of mutual passion for gaming.

But DICE is my thing. I’m ready and excited to get into my car and make my annual trek to Las Vegas. I’m looking forward to this year’s speeches, workshops, roundtables, interviews and social events.

DICE usually has the best speeches in the gaming calendar. In previous years, Gabe Newell (Valve), Bobby Kotick (Activision Blizzard), Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear games) and Todd Howard (Bethesda) have taken the stage.

This year’s keynote will be given by Phil Spencer, who runs gaming for Microsoft. He’ll be speaking about the importance of diversity in game development.

Naughty Dog’s Neil Druckmann should have something interesting to say when he sits down to talk with Dan Trachtenberg, director of 10 Cloverfield Lane and the Black Mirror “Playtest” episode. Maja Moldenhauer will be talking about her work as executive producer and artist on Cuphead.

I’m looking forward to hearing from Ubisoft’s Lidwine Sauer, who’ll be talking about how the company identifies wider cultural trends to inform their creative output.

Blizzard’s Mike Morhaime is also there, heading up a panel on esports. There’s also a talk on the importance of emotion in VR, from Baobab’s Maureen Fan. Bossa Studios’ Chet Faliszek will speak on the use of AI to create great stories.

DICE will also host the annual DICE Awards, which are decided upon by members of the game industry and members of the academy. This year’s nominees are led by Horizon Zero Dawn and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Nintendo’s Genyo Takeda will be honored with a lifetime achievement award at the show.

AIAS president Meggan Scavio

I spoke to Meggan Scavio, president of the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, which organizes DICE. She’s been in the job since last summer, prior to which, she ran Game Developers Conference.

“My focus will be growing the Academy,” she said. “That might involve evolving DICE.”

I asked her if the timing of the show might change, or its location. She said that the timing is fixed, due to the annual DICE Awards which always take place at the end of the show, and which necessarily need to come in the early weeks of the year. But location is definitely up for grabs.

“I’m not beholden to Vegas,” she said. “I like going to Vegas, but is that where we belong? I don’t know.”

DICE has always held roundtables in discreet rooms, where game industry folks can discuss issues without the media in attendance (BAH!). That’s still happening, but a new format of “workshops” is being introduced, where larger groups can discuss issues, a sort of audience participation session.

This year, there will also be roundtables specifically for the media. I’m going to try to get along to one of those as I love to talk shop, but it does feel a bit like being sent to the kiddie table.

Many DICE regulars come mainly for the social scene. This year, as always, there’ll be karting, golf, a poker tournament and parties.

“It’s an intimate networking event,” said Scavio. “It’s a place for people to have conversations that they can’t have at the more crowded venues. At DICE, you get to walk down the hall and run into Shuhei [Yoshida, President of Worldwide Studios, Sony Interactive Entertainment] and have a coffee with him. We’re all in the same hotel, essentially, so we can access one another and pick each other’s brains about what’s happening in the industry right now.”

We’ll have full coverage of DICE and the DICE Awards this week, beginning Wednesday, Feb. 20. You can find out more here. DICE speeches will be livestreamed at the event’s official website.

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