From Pixels To Pop Culture

Dean Takahashi of GamesBeat talks about Pixels to Pop Culture at the start of GamesBeat at The Game Awards.

Image Credit: GamesBeat/David Glass

Do you want to get the latest gaming industry news straight to your inbox? Sign up for our daily and weekly newsletters here.

Here’s my opening speech at GamesBeat at The Game Awards event at the Grammy Museum at LA Live on December 7.

The Game Awards is the biggest celebration of gaming that we have with more than 100 million people watching it. So we felt there was no better time to do an event that helped celebrate gaming with the GamesBeat community. 

We are here today to celebrate gaming’s rise. When I was growing up, gaming was new. For many years, it was stuck in a subculture of nerdiness. It was toxic. It was full of bullies. And there weren’t many women. It was clearly in a subculture off by itself. Fun for some.

I was on a panel not long ago with a young GenZ woman who was a creator. She said that for as long as she remembered, gaming was cool. And that’s the inspiring generational difference in perspective between an older guy like me and a young woman who sees gaming is for everybody.

While gaming started as a subculture, it is becoming mass culture with every day that passes. The average age of gamers is climbing (now at 33), and 66% of Americans play games. And while toxicity isn’t a solved problem, 88% of gamers say that gaming relieves stress. 

It’s great to see this inexorable demographic trend pushing games forward.

Yet we have layoffs in the industry that make it seem like times are really bad and unpredictable. I wouldn’t minimize that hardship, and I realize it is a difficult time for the industry and for the world. But I do want to say there is light on the road ahead. The revelation of the Grand Theft Auto VI trailer – leaked a day early – made me feel like we were turning a corner.

A beach in Vice City in the GTA VI trailer.

I don’t think we need to worry that gaming is stuck in a cycle of upturns and downturns like in the past. The demographics of the world and the interests of GenZ show that gaming’s growth is constant. And the success of shows like The Last of Us, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, and Five Nights at Freddy’s show that there is more room to grow.

It is worth pointing out, as Strauss Zelnick has said, that gaming is a better and more profitable business than movies and TV. But these shows and the incredible success of the Barbie movie show how movies can expand the number of eyeballs and raise awareness about entertainment even higher.

169 million people have seen the Mario movie, and it has lifted Nintendo’s game sales. We’re not at peak gaming, and the success of gaming and Hollywood is helping us find new audiences at a time when we need it. But as Russell Binder says, gaming is at the center of the hub and spoke ecosystem of IP. It’s not just a spoke anymore.

And despite the looming worries about AI, jobs are being created even as some are being lost. 

Creators are ignoring traditional paths into the industry and they’re crafting their own careers. We’ve seen esports stars do that for a long time, and more people are making a living as streamers. And I wrote a feature about some of the three million active creators on Roblox. 

Anne Shoemaker is head of Fullflower Studio, which makes popular Roblox games.

These are young people who are maybe 23-year-old CEOs, and they’ve got a decade of experience creating games. They’re leading teams of dozens, and they’re inspired by the prediction from Dave Baszucki, CEO of Roblox, that within the next five years we will see a Roblox game studio valued at $1 billion. 

Gaming is the biggest entertainment industry with $184.4 billion in revenue in 2022, according to Newzoo. And while the predicted 0.6% rise this year isn’t great, it’s better than shrinkage. And The Game Awards tonight will show it’s been an incredible year for great games to be launched. Once we get over this slowdown, consultants like Bain see growth returning for games and hitting 50% over the next five years.

Searching for that growth is one of the reasons we’re gathering here today, so that you can see the opportunities ahead.  This is your place to network and discuss the industry in a safe space. We’re glad to share this space too. Jon Wolheim, who is head of people and culture at the nonprofit Games for Love, is here to do more celebratory LinkedIn Live sessions after our show. 

Thank you for coming. We appreciate your support at a tough time for the media. We appreciate the community that you have helped build around GamesBeat. Our work is not easy and we sometimes encounter stories that people don’t want told. As journalists, we tell those stories and do so in as fair and balanced way that we can. Events like this, and your help as an open community, enable us to carry on that work.

Today we want to discuss gaming’s culture and to help elevate it so that it becomes all that we want it to be. I think it is time to decide just how tribal – and how inclusive – we want to be as gamers. As gaming moves to pop culture and mainstream audiences, we can shed the exclusionary elements of harassment and toxicity and put out the welcome mat for everybody. 

Pedro Pascal as Joel and Bella Ramsey as Ellie in HBO’s The Last of Us.

All gamers should be ambassadors for the world. We are quite happy to export the good things from the subculture upward to the global pop culture and leave the negative elements behind. 

Thank you to our speakers. About 39% of our speakers are from diverse backgrounds today. We’re thankful to our sponsors – Google, TikTok and Xsolla – who enabled us to invite many people including underrepresented folks in our audience today for no cost. It’s great to see the crowd here because a month ago we had very little advance signups. We want to get in the swing of more advance planning. 

As noted, our upcoming events include GamesBeat Summit in mid-May 2024 and GamesBeat Next in October 2024. And we will hold a series of dinners around the country as part of a partnership with Xsolla that was announced today. 

Thanks to all of you for coming, thanks to our advisers, and to our emcee Karla Reyes. Now let’s get on with our first session. Welcome to Pixels to Pop Culture. Thanks to those of you who attended. We’ll have more coverage of the event coming.

GamesBeat’s creed when covering the game industry is “where passion meets business.” What does this mean? We want to tell you how the news matters to you — not just as a decision-maker at a game studio, but also as a fan of games. Whether you read our articles, listen to our podcasts, or watch our videos, GamesBeat will help you learn about the industry and enjoy engaging with it. Discover our Briefings.