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Preview: DICE 2011

AIAS president Martin Rae on the thinking behind this year's influential Vegas conference

The year is still young, but already the first couple of key games industry events are looming, with the US double header of DICE and GDC. The former of those, based in Las Vegas, has become one of the most influential stops on the industry world tour, always boasting major industry names on-stage - and this year is no different.

To explain more about the thinking behind DICE and to talk about the event as a whole, we caught up with AIAS president Martin Rae, who took over from previous incumbent Joseph Olin late last year. Joseph Olin was president of the AIAS for some years, so before we talk about DICE, give us a bit of information about yourself.
Martin Rae

I have a different background probably, than you might expect - I certainly have a lot of games industry background. I started at a development studio in the Nineties and did a lot of work on Nintendo products - and some Sony products too.

But it ranges - I ran Boss Game Studios for a number of years, in the visual effects industry, but a lot of my background is business focused, with an entertainment bent. So opposed to coming in with a creative background, I think what I can bring to the Academy - with Joseph having built really great foundations and moving off to other things - is a clean look at things to see how we can grow the Academy. How can we keep moving forwards, and how will we involve the newer part of the industry in an inclusive role?

I think that's a big challenge for us, and one that certainly all of the core game companies are looking at; and one that's going to be a big focus of ours. Interactive entertainment has tonnes of new platforms, many new demographics are playing games, and a lot of people that haven't been exposed necessarily to gameplay in the past... they're our constituents.

So going forward, recognising where we come from and who our core constituents are, I think there are some ways that we can expand the reach of the Academy and the reach of the conference. "Inclusive" probably isn't the right word, because it's not that we haven't been inclusive, but to pull more people in that view interactive entertainment as a big part of their lives, and their downtime.

That's a focus going forward, and you'll see some of that at DICE this year. That's a challenge for the Academy, but also for the industry as a whole - but flipping it around, it's a big opportunity too, with new potential audiences and new ways to connect to those audiences.
Martin Rae

If you look at my biography, I'm a bit of a serial entrepreneur. When Joseph decided to do some new things, and I looked at this opportunity... One, it looked like an incredible organisation and two, because of the changing industry, it presented an opportunity to grow and expand.

That really touched the entrepreneur gene in me - and that's where I get my juice. It was a very interesting and exciting opportunity to take on. DICE has established itself in the top five of industry events globally - tell us a bit about this year's line-up.
Martin Rae

Well, as you might have read, our keynote was announced this week [a panel session featuring Mike Morhaime, Mark Cerny, Bruce Shelley, Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk] along with the rest of our speakers - and I have to say I'm very excited. We've never done this format before in a keynote presentation. The cast is magnificent. With some of the very best game makers of all time, the conversation should be provocative and memorable.

The mindshare on the stage alone is worth a ticket to the conference, and I'm anticipating that there'll be lots of great discussion on where our interactive medium is headed - a question on every attendee's mind as they speculate where they need to go next.

And we're very pleased with the overall speaker line-up - as you can see, on the Friday we're establishing a day that celebrates independent games, including the Indie Game Challenge. And also, people from the past that were really indie gamers, that grew up through the business and can speak to changes in the industry.

In the past, maybe Fridays have been a day when people catch their breath and then maybe move on, this is going to be targeted around small footprint, social, new trends in the business that I think will be extraordinarily interesting. If you've seen the line-up of the Indie Game finalists, there are some incredible games in there.

I'm also very much looking forward to the Q&A discussion with our Pioneer Award recipient Bill Budge. He's one of the true indie developers from the early years of videogames, and I think his comments following [Lifetime Achievement award recipient] Bing [Gordon] and on the day of the Indie Game Challenge will articulate a fascinating look the state of independent development from the present to the future. One of the most exciting things about the games industry is that, no matter what happens on the business side, creativity finds new ways to spring up and flourish anew.
Martin Rae

Yes - and what I like about it is that back in the Eighties and early Nineties there would be a couple of guys in a garage, or basement, or wherever - and they'd come up with something that was unique, interesting and very fun to play. And they didn't need enormous budgets.

I think with new platforms and opportunities, real raw creativity is getting rewarded right now. That's a fascinating place for the industry to be.