I had the pleasure of attending the 2017 Bit Awards in person this year and I had a blast. It ended up being a bit different compared to last year's inaugural show in many significant ways. (If you haven't yet checked out who won the show, please do pop over to the piece that covers the winners.)
A bit of background for the uninitiated: The Bit Awards is an award show that focuses on the indie game developers in the New York City, Boston, and San Francisco areas. Many of the award recipients showcased their games (and even learned their craft) through Playcrafting, the educational organization that runs the award show. This was the second year for The Bit Awards, and if you missed out on the presentation you can watch the whole thing on Playcrafting's YouTube channel:
Before the show began, a two-hour period was allotted for attendees to socialize, eat free pizza, and check out some games from the local area as well as other regions of the United States. I got to see some developers of titles I had checked out previously such as Glenn Orzepowski of It Happened In Outer Space and Abe Gellis of Awkward Date. Interestingly (and perhaps intentionally), most of the games being shown were either nominees or games that would show a trailer in-between the award announcements.
Anytime there are games available to play, I almost always find myself short on time. I was somewhat fortunate to be able to spend only a little time on some of the games on display as I was well familiar with them. What would have been ten or fifteen minutes of me checking out a game and talking with a developer ended up being a quick, short conversation asking about how the game is progressing or how well it's selling on the market. I was even able to spend some time socializing with developers and this time around, a welcome respite from my usual hellacious pace at industry events. I spent goodly chunk of the pre-show with Frank DiCola of Where Shadows Slumber, and I ending up sitting next to him during the show itself as I had made it into the auditorium right as it was beginning. I genuinely enjoy talking with developers about their craft and I could honestly do it all day. (Heck, I have done it all day at the inaugural Play NYC event earlier this year.)
This year's show was hosted by Ruffin Prentiss, the voice of Marcus Holloway in Watch Dogs 2. Mr. Prentis did a great job of hosting the show. His opening monologue was filled with a heartfelt message about all of the people who work hard to bring games to consumers around the world, something that he conceded he didn't truly understand until he saw it firsthand during his experience working on Watch Dogs 2.
We then moved on to the show itself. Last year's show was a bit of a simpler affair in terms of media production, but the 2017 Bit Awards stepped things up nicely. The audience was shown videos of the games and people that were nominated for the various categories. I was familiar with some of the titles, but I was also unaware of some of the games that were up for nomination as they had come from the San Francisco and Boston areas which are a bit out of my wheelhouse. I think the video additions were a nice touch for helping the audience understand what the games being nominated were all about.
Speaking of the audience, I was happy to see that I had a bit of a difficult time finding a seat this time around. The 2016 Bit Awards were a bit more of a humble affair in terms of its attendance - suffice to say I was spoiled for choice in selecting where exactly I would place myself for the show that year. This time around, there were very few open seats available, and I was fortunate to grab a seat next to Mr. DiCola after minimal searching. Unfortunately, I'm a rather tall person and the Tishman Auditorium at the Parsons School of Design is not well-suited to a man of my stature. I'll have to be careful to plop down in one of the forward rows early next year lest I risk having to be rescued from my chair by the fire department.
One important item of note came up during Playcrafting CEO Dan Butchko's speech in the early portion of the show - Play NYC would be back for 2018. I had a good time at the inaugural event, and I'm happy to see that New York City will host the return of a dedicated gaming convention. Mr Butchko was kind enough to tell me that that was indeed a firm commitment for the expo - the show would go on.
The 2017 Bit Awards kept pace nicely, mixing things up with announcing winners, showing trailers (world premieres in many cases) for upcoming indie games, and inviting the audience to join in social games on stage. Two elements returned from last year - a sketch that involved audience participation and a game of Quiplash. Both went well, although I feel these might have been a bit of a missed opportunity. The show has such a strong indie focus, and surely there must be worthy titles from the indie side of gaming (nevermind the hundreds of developers that pass through Playcrafting's halls) that could bring something genuinely unique to the show.
Lucie Pohl was briefly on stage to present a single award. Ms. Pohl was well in her element, playing to the audience and making a joke about Next Up Hero (a game where heroes die quite readily) where she contested that "heroes never die". Ms. Pohl radiated bubbly positivity from some mystical font within her that eludes a sullen person such as myself.
Towards the end of the show, Warren Spector came onto the stage to accept his Game Changer Honoree award. Mr. Spector opened by talking about how impressed he was with the show's creativity. After thanking his family, he moved on to talking a bit about his history in gaming and how he (and others at Origin) felt that they were going to change the world. He then proceeded to light a proverbial fire under the ass of every game developer in the room with a good portion of his acceptance speech:
"I've seen changes like you wouldn't believe. I hope that some of the games that I've worked on and some of the teams that I've worked with have had a little something to do with all the changes that we've seen. But we're not done yet. That's the critical thing everybody has to remember. Games have barely scratched the surface of what we can do and what we can be. And that's where all of you come in.Following his speech, Mr. Spector was gracious enough to present the final award of the night himself to the last winner. The show closed with a musical retrospective of some of Mr. Spector's works. I headed outside of the auditorium and spoke with Bill Gardner, director of The Deep End Games' Perception (which we reviewed earlier this year) who had the honor of receiving his award from Mr. Spector himself. Mr. Gardner was positively blown away that his game had won PC/Console Game of the Year, and I'm not quite sure he expected it. He was visibly emotional during his speech and it was clear that this is a man who's passionate about his craft.
I assume that most everyone in this room is a developer or wants to be a developer and I have some advice for you: never be satisfied with the games the way things are. Never be satisfied making 'Me Too' games or rehashes of old games with prettier pictures. Don't settle. I saw Ultima IV and games were changed forever. I saw Underworld and System Shock and nothing was ever the same. I saw Wing Commander and knew - at that moment I knew we were gonna surpass movies as a mainstream cultural force. I knew it. My teams made Deus Ex and Disney Epic Mickey and I hope maybe there was a tiny little tremor that went through the industry. That artistry and passion make a difference.
So, my advice to you is that all of you need to think of yourselves as agents of change. Indie developers, students, even teachers, are ideally suited. You're in a perfect position to bring about change. You're not beholden to monolithic publishers. You're not even limited to a set development timeline or budget. Dare I say it, you can do whatever you want. So make things you want to play. Make things you're passionate about. Don't be mired in tradition. Look at people like me and shame me because I can't see the amazing things that you can see and that you want to do. So change things. And do that, and maybe someday you'll be up here getting a game changer award. And I hope you've made a difference. I hope I've made a difference, even if it's a little one. Now go out there - and here's my call to action - go make games that will make people forget that my generation ever existed. I'm serious - games need to change, they need to grow, and you're the folks who are gonna make it happen."
I mulled around a bit more and was fortunate to see Mr. Prentiss hanging around by himself. I walked up to him and told him that he did a great job hosting the show. We ended up chatting quite cordially for a few minutes. Mr. Prentiss is as affable as they come, and after we parted he said he'd catch me at the after party and took to speaking with other fans, signing autographs, and taking pictures with attendees of the show.
The evening's snowfall had all but gone, and while it was quite cold I was happy to not have eight metric tons of blinding icy whiteness blowing in my face as we headed over to the after party at ESC Games in Manhattan. The venue itself struck me as a great place to have parties with a few dozen people, wholly appropriate for the crowd of staff and developers who would be winding down after the show. Two screens with large multiplayer games - and by multiplayer I mean well over twenty at once, if desired - ran for the entire party with people coming and going, enjoying the custom titles on display. More food and drink was available, and I availed myself of it quite readily as I had not eaten since breakfast (save for a slice of pizza before the show.)
I spent a good portion of my time talking with Mr. Gardner about his game and his experience with the show, and I even sat down a bit to chat with his mom (who had come along for the trip, and she was quite the lovely gal indeed). Mr. Prentiss was true to his word and had followed the group to the after party, once again taking time to talk with a bunch of people, take pictures, and sign autographs for anyone who asked. I came across Francisco Gonzalez (developer of Shardlight and the upcoming Lamplight City, one of the games that ran a trailer during the show) who was wearing what he described as "a wallpaper shirt" and his million-watt smile as usual. Towards the end, I had caught the positively stylish Ms. A.V. Perkins who was waylaid from accepting the award for University of Dope due to Vance Hall's co-foundr being involved in an unfortunate automobile accident. I spoke with her for a bit at the end of the night and found her to be genuinely pleasant company, a perfect ending to an evening in the city.
At the end of it all, the 2017 Bit Awards went off much better than the previous year. Everything was bigger and better, and it's the "bigger" part that might be especially concerning for Playcrafting - I can easily see the show surpassing its current theater's capacity in a year or two. Dan Butchko seems great at making things that grow; surely he was a farmer in another life. I'm very much looking forward to attending it again, and I can't wait to see what surprises Playcrafting has in store for the 2018 Bit Awards.
What did you think of the 2017 Bit Awards? Did you discover any interesting games in the mix? Let us know in the comments below!