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GDC Online: Game Developers Online Choice Awards Live Report

This evening at GDC Online in Austin, TX, Mojang’s Minecraft and Trion World’s Rift were the big winners in Game Developers Online Choice Awards, which focuses on social and online games.

The awards, held at GDC Online, are a companion to the Game Developers Choice Awards held at GDC in San Francisco every year. Tonight’s ceremony marked the second year for the Online Choice Awards.

The Show

Spiral Knights took the award for Best Online Game Design, and developer Nick Popovich said, “With me is the CEO of Three Rings, Daniel James, the person who made this possible, so I have to thank you… And I have to thank the very nimble Spiral Knights team. You are very small, but you do big things, so thanks to you!”

Best Online Visual Arts went to DC Universe Online. “In the absence of preparing a speech tonight, I decided to drink,” SOE’s Lorin Jamison joked. “But we’re thrilled!”

Rift won Best Online Technology. “We make games to entertain audiences for sure, but being appreciated by everybody else who makes games, that means a lot to us,” said Trion Worlds’ Scott Hartsman.

Next up came the Audience Award — voted on by fans. With over 170,000 online votes, the winner of the award turned out to be Wizard101. “This is incredibly gratifying,” said KingsIsle’s Josef Hall. “I never knew how could it would be to have thousands of young fans who mail in their hand drawn artwork for your game, because it means that much to them.”

“It took us a year, but I’m delighted to say we figured out how to bribe our players than the League of Legends guys,” Todd Coleman joked.

In the awards’ new category for 2011, the Online Innovation Award, the winner was Shadow Cities, the MMO for iOS. Grey Area — the Finnish developers, for which this is their first game — seemed overwhelmed by the attention when they took the stage.

Best Audio for an Online Game was awarded to Clone Wars Adventures from Sony Online Entertainment. Rodney Gates and a team member in Star Wars Clone Trooper helmet took the stage.

The trooper was revealed to be Todd Carson, the game’s senior producer. With it off, he said, “I just want to say thanks to the dev team for all their hard work, and thanks to our PR and marketing people — without you we wouldn’t have 8 million people playing our game!”

Best Community Relations went to Mojang’s Minecraft. “As someone who started playing last November and started working for them, I can tell you that they really appreciate the community,” said community manager Lydia Winters.

“I had to attend by recorded message, so I’m really happy to be here to present this award to our worthy successor,” said MMO pioneer Richard Garriott, before launching into praise EverQuest. “By the end of 1999, it passed my own product in terms of subscribers,” he admitted with obvious chagrin and admiration. “It became the product to which almost every MMO ever since has been compared.”

SOE head John Smedley took the stage to accept the award, along with a huge number of team members. “This is a lot of the original EverQuest team. A lot of these guys before they made games delivered pizzas and were working at a gardening supply store. They were out of our industry,” he said.

“We have to thank our fans for the last 13 years, it’s been awesome. We started making this game in 1996. I look at this team now and they’re entirely different looking than they were,” he joked. “It’s been a lot of pounds and a lot of hair.”

Smedley introduced Brad McQuaid, a key designer of EverQuest. “He embodies the spirit that EverQuest brought,” said Smedley.

“We had no clue what was possible, what wasn’t possible; we put in crazy hours and poured our hearts and souls into this game,” said McQuaid. He thanked the fans and all of developers — while clad in a nostalgic (and surprisingly well-preserved) 989 Studios T-shirt.

The Best Social Network game award went to Playdom’s Gardens of Time. Eric Todd, creative director came up came up to accept “his fantastic award” on behalf of Playdom and Studio 24. “This award is only in very small part mine,” he said. “It’s actually Studio 24’s — all those people who put their hard work and passion into it.”

He also praised Playdom for letting the game be developed. “It’s what happens when a good company decides to take a sound risk on a wacky idea.”

Playdom Austin’s Gordon Walton took the stage to present the Online Game Legend award to Kesmai founders John Taylor and Kelton Flinn.

“It was my good fortune to work with and learn from the recipients of the Online Game Legend award tonight,” said Walton. They taught me everything they knew about online gaming, and infected me with their passion for what was then a really new medium.”

“They are also both first rate human beings… They cared about advancing the art of putting players together in a realtime environment.”

Taylor said he was “surprised and deeply humbled by the news” of the award.

“I’m just in awe of where the industry has gone,” said Taylor. “When Kelton and I started writing games it was 32 years ago in graduate school. Many of the faculty were just dismayed we weren’t doing anything useful,” he noted. “I’ve got just one thing to say to you: neener, neener!” he joked, speaking to the head of his graduate department.

“I would just like to add one thing — when we started Kesmai, we were really there to have fun and make great games, but our legacy isn’t the games. The legacy is all of the people it brought into the online industry. So I want to give a real thank you to all of the people that worked for Kesmai. Thank you,” said Flinn.

The Best Live Game award went to Mojang’s Minecraft. Lydia Winters took the stage once again. “Thank you so much — this is awesome. I know that Markus — or Notch, I should say — and Jens worked really hard on this game. We’re really proud of it, and we’re really excited for the release that will be coming out at MineCon, for the actual game to be released.”

Rift took home the Best New Online Game award. Trion’s Scott Hartsman came up once more to express his gratitude. “In case you couldn’t tell, I’m a little shocked,” Hartsman joked, after tripping onto the stage.

“I knew that the team was probably the most amazing collection developers I had, or would ever be, lucky enough to work with. Thank you guys all very much,” he said.

The Winners

The full list of winners is as follows:

Best Online Visual Arts
DC Universe Online (Sony Online Entertainment)

Best Social Network Game
Gardens of Time (Playdom)

Best Online Game Design
Spiral Knights (Three Rings Design/Sega)

Online Innovation
Shadow Cities (Grey Area)

Best Online Technology
Rift (Trion Worlds)

Best Community Relations
Minecraft (Mojang)

Best Audio for an Online Game
Clone Wars Adventures (Sony Online Entertainment)

Best New Online Game
Rift (Trion Worlds)

Best Live Game
Minecraft (Mojang)

Audience Award
Wizard101 (KingsIsle Entertainment)

Online Game Legend
John Taylor and Kelton Flinn (creators of Island of Kesmai)

Hall of Fame
EverQuest (Sony Online Entertainment)