Held at the Westin St. Francis hotel on San Francisco's Union Square last night, the Entertainment Software Association Foundation presented its annual charity dinner, the 8th Annual 'A Nite to Unite for Kids', which has raised more than $6.7 million in the last 7 years.
Commencing with a cocktail reception and silent auction, the night kicked into gear after dinner, when Doug Lowenstein, the President of the ESA, introduced the evening, which involved a multitude of game companies and individuals donating money (by both attending and by donating on-site) to benefit children's charities National Students Against Violence Everywhere, Pax. Inc, Web Wise Kids, and Work, Achievement, Values, and Education.
In particular, auction committee members from companies including EA, THQ, Ubisoft, SCEA, Vivendi Universal, Nintendo, Activision, Capcom, Konami, D3 Publisher, Take-Two, Atari, Microsoft and more helped arrange live charity auction items that ranged from the smaller (gift baskets) to the major (a VIP trip to the World Poker Tour finals, an exclusive party at the Nintendo World Store in New York, and even a trip to the Playboy Mansion), all receiving major bids from senior industry figures. A following donation-only bid section benefiting Save The Children's work in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina also saw enthusiastic uptake.
In addition, Lowenstein announced that a special PlayStation 2 game compilation, published by Sony and featuring Sony's ATV Offroad Fury 2
, THQ's Splashdown
, and EA's Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit 2
would debut in North American stores next month, and that the proceeds will benefit the ESA Foundation (and from there, positive programs for America's youth) - another good way for the game industry to help charitable concerns.
Following the completion of the auctions, attention turned to the presentation of the 2005 ESA Champion Award, which has previously been awarded to industry luminaries such as Will Wright, Howard Lincoln, Bing Gordon, and Isao Ogawa. This year, George Lucas is being honored for his work in video games with the ESA Champion award, and it was Star Wars actor Hayden Christensen who introduced Lucas and presented the award, also speaking warmly of Lucas' work with childrens' charities. The official program for the evening was also filled with tributes to Lucas, including a notable Nintendo tribute that included a partially silhouetted Mario holding a lightsaber, alongside the words: 'Nintendo salutes George Lucas for giving a new hope to children across America.'
Christensen introduced a montage of clips from Lucas' film and game past that included mentions of the SCUMM engine, LucasArts' many influential graphic adventures for PC including Maniac Mansion, Loom
, and The Secret of Monkey Island
, early adoption of the CD-ROM format with Star Wars: Rebel Assault
, and newer titles including Grim Fandango
and Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic
Lucas then took the stage, remarking that this was the first time that he'd personally received an award for his company's video game work, and joking that when he first entered the game industry, it was to sign a big contract with Atari in the early '80s, just before the market tanked. He then went on to note the LucasArts alumni in the audience, including Double Fine's Tim Schafer, before discussing some of his work creating educational game software and thanking the Foundation for the award.
Following this, Tonight Show host Jay Leno appeared to scattershot a little of his quickfire humor to finish off the evening, which was co-chaired by Kathy Vrabeck of Activision, Jim Ward of LucasArts, and David Zucker of Midway, and deemed a significant success, with tickets for the dinner sold out, and a great deal of money raised for charity by the accumulated video game industry figures.