Pirates of the Caribbean helmsman Gore Verbinski keynoted this year's DICE summit, doing his Hollywood best to inspire a packed crowd of game developers with grand visions of development utopia, all the while slamming financier Disney for limiting his involvement in Pirates of the Caribbean licensed games. The director of the Pirates trilogy told DICE attendees that "Gaming is no longer dismissible as a hobby" pointing to his own recent and "visceral" experiences with games like flOw, Bioshock, Second Life and Halo 3.
Verbinski attacked the current publisher-developer business model, affirming that "Games are not merchandise." He spoke of his own struggles with game development, saying "With the Pirates of the Caribbean games, the business model killed the potential for something really unique." He explained "I'm not hiding my disappointment, because I know the fanaticism could have driven that world. Five years ago, while adult audiences were dressing up in pirate garb to attend the cinema, I lobbied heavily for an MMOG for Pirates to no avail, because it wasn't in their business plan."
The director blamed publishers for "responding to data and basing creative decisions on existing formulas" and "reacting to a world that is already passing them by", using brown, me-too first person shooters as evidence that the medium could be in danger of becoming sterile, if not for auteur developers who would "make the suits shit themselves" with bold new concepts.
While Verbinski's opening speech was certainly inspiring, probably mostly to rank and file creators who were looking to move beyond the bald space marine stereotype, it would seem that the director of Hollywood fare like The Ring and Mousehunt has large aspirations for game developers.
He did, however, refreshingly point to individual contributors in video game and film development as key factors in realizing the artistic zenith. Game designers, like directors, he said have an obligation to test executives—"You must make execs uncomfortable, whether they know it or not, and believe me, the good ones do"—to make their work "diverge from the path."
While the director may have seemed slightly green in his vision of game development—by his own admission, he's only played a handful of games—his passion for moving the medium forward seemed genuine. He referenced last year's DICE speaker Alex Rigopulos and the team at Harmonix at one point, lauding them for having the gall to convince RedOctane to manufacture plastic guitars to meet the fantasy of standing in front of a mirror with a tennis racket to virtually rock out. "They naysayers completely missed the point," he said, praising the visionaries at Harmonix for convincing investors to make the Guitar Hero series a success.
We certainly appreciated Gore's unbridled enthusiasm. We hope that he'll return at a future date, having learned more about the medium from DICE attendees, from his own experiences and from the experiences of his children, with a better grasp of the realities of video game development. Perhaps he'll have even played some of the genre's best storytelling games and will be able to contribute more to the conversation.
Expect more details from Gore Verbinski's keynote speech and his follow-up Q&A with Newsweek's N'Gai Croal throughout the week.