February 16, 2007 - Games are serious business. The rebellious youths who once made games out of their garages have grown up to become respectable businesspeople. The Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences was founded ten years ago to promote games as a valid art form and help ease the games industry into maturity. It is AIAS President Joseph Olin's hope that the gaming Academy will one day be spoken of with the same reverence as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and that games can be seen as equally worthy story devices as movies.
The AIAS is a games industry support group best known for organizing the annual DICE Summit and for hosting the Interactive Achievement Awards. This year, Gears of War walked away with eight awards in a relatively uneventful ceremony. But Olin and the Academy did not escape DICE without facing some tough questions about the exclusion of non-Academy members from the awards process.
Olin and the AIAS have faced controversy over the past two years due to the exclusion of Resident Evil 4 and Okami in the final awards votes. The Academy requires that in order to be listed as a finalist, a publisher must be an Academy member. Capcom has publicly called this nothing more than buying an award. Last year, the controversy received added fuel when the man behind AIAS Game of the Year winner God of War, David Jaffe, told the crowd at DICE, "Thank God for Capcom. We're probably going to be able to pick up some awards tonight."
"The issue of Capcom's participation in the [awards] is an election by Capcom not to be a member of the Academy," Olin told IGN. "Most of the other professional organizations [in other mediums] have membership fees and awards participation fees. Ours are minimal. End of story. They should not be a hurdle. It would be unfair to all the other publishers, all the other developers, all the independent game makers who have been Academy members for [up to] ten years... to let Capcom [be exempt]."
Though Resident Evil 4 was left off last year's ballot due to Capcom's decision not to pay the Academy's membership fees, Okami never made it to the final round of voting for this year's awards. "Capcom's titles are part of the process," Olin said, defending the Academy's awards rules. "The peer panelists, of which we have close to 400, determine which games they want to recognize. It's not like we give them a list of games they must award. Okami was considered this year... Okami did not make it as a finalist in some of the key categories this year as determined by the voters. It wasn't determined by rule. If it had been named a finalist, Capcom would [then be asked to become a member of the Academy]."
Capcom's awards gripe was overshadowed at last week's DICE Summit by ESA founder and former President Doug Lowenstein's public declaration of his pet peeves. Lowenstein's two primary complaints about the games industry regarded publishers who run from the controversy they created and the gaming media, which Lowenstein termed "immature."
"I think the important message is that we have a responsibility to stand up for our work," Olin said, acknowledging the validity of Lowenstein's frustrations at publishers who don't stand their ground. "I think anyone should be able to create the games they want to make, but if it is deemed controversial by the media and by consumers, then we owe people the ability to stand up and say 'I did it for this reason.'"
Olin also understands Lowenstein's take on the media. "I think it's time to expand on how we celebrate games and how we bring games to a larger audience," Olin said about all those media outlets that, unlike IGN, are, like, totally immature. "I think as the industry has matured, as games have matured, as game makers have matured, we'd like our media to be able to join the ride with us. I don't think that's an unfair goal."