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Bing Gordon accepted one of the video game industry’s highest honors last night: He became the latest recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, a prestigious video-game association that stages the Dice Summit in Las Vegas.
Gordon, a partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, has made smart investments in the leaders of the new video game industry, Ngmoco (acquired by Japanese mobile game firm DeNA for up to $403 million) and Zynga, which is valued at more than $5 billion. And in his first video game career, he spent more than 25 years at Electronic Arts, working with game developers to produce some of the best video games ever made. Gordon drew accolades from his colleagues and got a standing ovation.
During his acceptance speech, he rattled off a long poem from memory. The end of it caught my attention, as he said, “P.S. Thanks for the honor, now I’d better get off, because there’s an after-party with Dean Takahashi dressed as Lara Croft.”
Gordon thanked many of his colleagues for “giving me the chance to reinvent myself.” He added, “Twenty five years later, we are all an overnight success.” One of the gems from the poem: “Today our industry is experiencing reframing; but recognize this: we are all in the golden age of gaming.”
Gordon is known for his quirks. He traveled frequently to Africa and learned tribal dance. One tribal leader named his son after Gordon.
Gordon may be remembered for investing money in Zynga relatively early. One of Zynga’s games, CityVille, soared to more than 100 million in less than two months and won the award for Best Social Networking game last night. Gordon, quite naturally, is already at level 60 in CityVille, as high as you can get. Mark Pincus, chief executive of Zynga, said in a video message that Gordon plays Zynga’s games more than anybody.
During the accolades, it came out that Gordon wrote a paper on “managing convicts on a strawberry farm” to get into Stanford University. He performed drama. He’s adept at ice hockey and lacrosse. His brother is married to his wife’s sister.
Rich Hilleman, chief creative director at Electronic Arts, said that Bing’s comments often have to be translated from “Binglish.” But Hilleman, game designer Will Wright, and others said that Gordon is frequently brilliant (with one of them saying, “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” Pincus said, “The scariest thing about Bing is that he is usually right” — except for that comment about me dressing up as Lara Croft, the video game character from Tomb Raider. About 15 people came up to me after the speech and asked where my Lara Croft outfit was. Thanks, Bing. Now I can’t get that image out of my head.
The full poem is below. And check out my video interview with Gordon below from the red carpet, before last night’s awards ceremony.
The Golden Age of Gaming
Can a computer make you cry?
How many cool things can you ship before you die?
How many best friends have been made on your development teams?
Is anything better than creating a new “language of dreams”.
If it’s in the game, it’s in the game;
So what’s in your personal hall of fame?
Are you like Daisycutter, a fire-balling wizard?
Will Disneyworld ever again be as much fun as Blizzard?
Where’d that truck come from? We transformed John Madden
Into football fanatics’ equivalent of Tinkerbell plus Aladdin.
Now that Mario and Cityville have proven to be bigger than Titanic,
Which is your game of the year, what’s your golden mechanic?
We remember the 80’s, when games were geeky, uncool.
We were the high potential kids bored with teachers, and lectures and school.
We turned Dr J into a software artist, ended “Dinkety Dink Dink,”
And when the going got tough, we took the Bard out for a drink.
25 years later, we’re an overnight success;
Boys tout their COD scores to girls, and impress.
Guild management skills get you promoted to VP,
And Phorthor pays you to play his account, if you’re at UBC.
Virtual goods and freemium have become investable, magic words
We remember when Bill Budge was the only game-making non-nerd.
Pogo-type badges are imitated these days in enterprise,
Xbox Live achievements are used in online universities, Best Buys.
FIFA camera angles are adopted in televised sports,
And Gameface avatars are showing up in all sorts
Of websites. Sims relationship ratings are the new arithmetic teachers,
Gamification is on the Fortune 500’s must-have features.
We have innovated with more ethics than those damn Wall Street banks:
With Diablo skill trees, Ocarinas of Time, C&C stealth tanks,
Battlefield commanders, Kart bananas, and Hedgehog’s gold rings.
These are a few of my favorite things.
Hey, maybe Night Trap was just a little too smarmy,
And some people were offended by America’s Army.
But we are teaching productivity, how to commit to a mission,
And the high art of Tolkien has been surpassed by Cataclysm.
You have created the new literature, a Moveable Feast,
As rich as Moby Dick, more relevant than War and Peace.
You’ve made plastic cool again, with Nerf guns and guitars;
And taught a generation of speed freaks how to outrun cop cars.
We were all once young prodigies, in need of feedback and interaction,
Now we are self-taught pre-ship marketing and revenue traction.
We’ve grown up with the business, become our own mothers and fathers,
But we still share the initial dream that “We See Farther.”
Today, our mutual industry is undergoing a bit of re-framing,
But recognize this: we’re in the golden age of gaming.
It’s because of Sid Meier, Will Wright, Brian Reynolds, Mark Skaggs, Neil Young, Miyamoto, too,
That our nieces and nephews no longer have to get a “Clue.”
We have more power than Mubarak, so we shouldn’t abuse it.
Our goal is to “make software worthy of the minds that use it.”
Keep inventing cool! There are so many creative challenges still unmet.
And, as this Lifetime Achievement dude protests, “We’re not dead yet.”
Ps Thanks for the honor, now I’d better get off,
Because there’s an after-party with Dean Takahashi dressed as Lara Croft.