Two leaders who are shedding light on mental illness in the game industry — and doing something to help — are the winners of this year’s Visionary Award and our new Up and Comer Award at the GamesBeat Summit 2020 event.
This year, our committee of seven industry judges honored John Smedley of Amazon Game Studios and Eve Crevoshay of Take This for our Visionary Award and Up and Comer Award, respectively.
Don Daglow, a game industry veteran and one of our advisers at GamesBeat Summit, presented the award to Smedley. Pete Hines, the senior vice president of global marketing and communications at Bethesda Softworks, presented the award to Crevoshay.
At the ceremony Tuesday evening, I also gave an honorable mention to Mark Chandler, the founder of The International Games Summit on Mental Health Awareness. He was instrumental in getting Smedley and Crevoshay to participate in our “Strategies for Mental Wellness in Gaming” session, which is at 2 p.m. Pacific today on our Hero Stage. (You can still make a donation to Stack Up, Girls Who Code, and Take This here).
Visionary Award: John Smedley
Smedley (the studio head at Amazon Game Studios San Diego) received our third-annual Visionary Award, which honors people in the game industry who have been a visionary (seeing ahead and doing great things) throughout their careers. That’s an apt description for Smedley’s role in creating massively multiplayer online role-playing games such as Everquest. Our prior award winners include Ted Price of Insomniac Games and Rand Miller of Cyan.
Smedley ran Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) for 15 years, and he helped grow that business into a leader in the online games space, publishing hit such as Evequest in 1999. During his tenure at SOE, Smedley worked on 12 MMOs, such as Star Wars: Galaxies, PlanetSide, Free Realms, DC Universe Online, and H1Z1.
He helped spin out SOE from Sony in 2015 to an independent investor and renamed it Daybreak Game Company. Smedley got in a dispute with hackers, and he stepped down from Daybreak in mid-2015. He went on to create a new game company, Pixelmage, and worked on a game called Hero’s Song. That company shut down in 2017. Then he moved on to become general manager of Amazon’s new studio in San Diego, where he’s working on an unannounced game.
“The winner of this year’s award has won based on work that extends over not 18 or 30 months, but more than 30 years,” Daglow said. “The winner of this year’s award has led a major division of a company for 15 years, taking teams, building them, shipping, rebuilding, maintaining — all the different phases of our industry. … You have to continue reinventing yourself and your team.”
Smedley’s 31-year career hasn’t all been rosy. He’s had his ups-and-downs, and in the past few years, he mentioned on multiple occasions that he suffers from depression. He has received treatment for it, and he encourages his employees to talk about any mental health challenges that they’re having. He said that two of his close friends had committed suicide. And he noted that anyone who thinks depression isn’t widespread in the game industry is in denial, as roughly 1-in-6 Americans is under treatment for it.
“Thanks very much, Don, I’m humbled and honored,” Smedley said. “I’m really honored, pretty shocked by this. I’m lucky because I have had the good fortune of working with some of the best people in the industry. I’ve been in the right place, [at the] right time, like a lot of us. But I’m really proud of the body of work I have gotten to do over the years. Thirty-one years in the industry, and I still love coming to work every day. But in this particular case, it’s about a 10-second commute now. I’m blessed to work at Amazon, where we get to do major ‘swing for the fences’ games. We like to think big here. That really suits me well because I like moving the industry forward and the art forward.”