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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).
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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.”
Our committee of judges — Daglow, Price, Miller, Brenda Romero, David Hoppe, Bill Grosso, and myself — noted that Smedley’s openness and efforts to draw attention to mental health issues is especially important during the time of the coronavirus, when many people are under stress and working in self-isolation.
Inaugural Up and Comer Award: Eve Crevoshay
Crevoshay gets our first-ever Up and Comer Award, which recognizes those who are making an impact early in their careers. The winner is someone we believe has the potential to inspire the rest of the industry with future achievements. Crevoshay has done groundbreaking work in bringing attention to mental health issues among game developers.
She has worked in nonprofits for 15 years, and it was through her husband, David, that she became more aware of the game business.
Hines is the most-senior board member at Take This, said in his presentation, he was proud to present the award.
Russ Pitts, Susan Arendt, and Mark Kline started Take This in 2012 after the suicide of an industry colleague. They started with AFK rooms for the PAX gaming festival. They expanded to the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) and the Game Developers Conference. Over the years, Take This has expanded its mission and is now operating on a budget in the hundreds of thousands per year.
“We really began to change the conversation and removing the stigma around mental health issues inside of our industry,” Hines said. “[Eve] brought something we feel really strongly about at Take This, a belief that mental health issues are important and impact all of us in this industry in some way. You certainly don’t need to look any further with what’s going right now to see evidence of that all around the world right now in quarantine conditions.”
He said it’s important to adjust to this new reality, which can exacerbate where depression and anxiety, and Crevoshay has published a paper on how to manage a team under these conditions and support employees. He said she has spread the message that it is “OK not to be OK, and more importantly, to let people know that they aren’t alone in dealing with these issues.”
Hines said he agreed her work is groundbreaking and that “she deserves to be recognized for her continuous role not just for Take This, or for mental health, and the people in our industry, but for all of those things combined. She has been outstanding, and I can’t wait to see what she new ground she breaks going forward.”
Her background includes education, social services, and the arts, and her passion is the next generation of developers. Crevoshay is a member of the advisory boards for GDC (in the advocacy track) and Chandler’s TIGS.ca. She’s also a certified yoga teacher, avid gardener and cook, and gamer.
Crevoshay thanked everyone for the honor. She grew up as a “child of hippies in Vermont without television or a computer until high school, and so I came to games relatively late in my life through my husband. … It wasn’t a typical path to games, but [it was] a fun one.”
She relishes the challenge of running the nonprofit.
“I take this award as an endorsement of the importance of mental health as an issue,” Crevoshay said. “This really feels to me like an endorsement of the work of Take This and an indication that we are embracing mental health as a topic of relevance, especially now in the pandemic.”
She said mental health has a major impact on our lives, and she said we have never had such an embrace of the idea that video games can promote social good as we have now.
“And this is the opportunity, to provide our community with the support and tools necessary to maintain wellness, develop resiliency, and experience well-being while also serving the larger public with experience that enrich their lives, connect them to each other, and amplify the playfulness and delight of interactive entertainment,” Crevoshay said. “Ultimately, games that are made with humanity showcase the best of ourselves and reward players with rich and varied experiences.
“Take This addresses a range of issues including online toxicity and harassment, mental health literacy, and training for gaming studios, diversity and inclusion initiatives, mental health representation and mental health impact in games, and most importantly the general message that it is OK to not be OK. Mental health challenges are both common and pretty normal. And talking about them helps us all understand we are more alike than different, more connected than separate, and more than concerned about our shared community than not.”
In a 2019 report for Take This, Crevoshay talked about issues such as crunch. It’s related to burnout, and you can identify it by emotional exhaustion, reduced personal accomplishment, and feelings of hopelessness. The average number of employers for game developers in a five-year period is 2.2. Job instability is related to increased stress, work anxiety, and depression.
Take This has said that to reduce burnout in the industry, management should minimize determinants, maximize protective factories, and begin to change industry cultural norms around work environment and work hours.
You’ll see more of what both Smedley and Crevoshay have said on the topic in our panel on “Mental Wellness for Game Professionals” today.
At the close of our ceremony, we switched to an exclusive showing of an excerpt from Insert Coin, a documentary film by Josh Tsui of Ten Point Oh. Tsui talked about the film, which focuses on the history of Midway Games and the making of games such as the original Mortal Kombat. Tsui and Blake Harris spoke today in “Recapturing the History of Games.” We watched the Insert Coin excerpt via Zoom, Hearo.Live, and Oculus Venues.
Please join us in congratulating Smedley, Crevoshay, and Tsui in their achievements.
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