Where Are Our Celebrities?

I’ve always looked on with envy at the movie studios who can wheel out actors to promote their latest release” Capcom’s head of UK marketing Stuart Turner told trade weekly MCV (issue 567, December 11 2009). “Our talent are the programmers, artists, producers and other members of the development team, who can talk about their games at depth, but don’t have the appeal of an actor”.

What Turner means by that last statement of course, is that members of a development team don’t have appeal for members of the public in general. People with a passion for gaming are often very interested in what these people have to say, particularly if it’s something about an as – yet unreleased game. People with only a casual interest in gaming however couldn’t care less what the developers have to say. They don’t know or care who they are.

Not to put too fine a point on it, this is largely the fault of the publishers. Whatever format(s) you own, take a quick look at the front of the game cases. The publisher’s logo is nice and prominent, right? On the spine too, in many cases; the two sides of a game case that consumers will see first in a shop. Name of the game in big letters, publisher logo in slightly smaller letters… what’s missing?

The developer logo.

Oh yes, there are exceptions, but look carefully and you’ll see that this is almost always only the case with big name sequels – where it’s important to stress that the developer who made the multimillion selling original is on board again (eg. Uncharted 2 or Modern Warfare 2). Ordinarily you’re only supposed to be aware that you’re buying a Sega game, or a Nintendo game, or an EA game, etc etc. If you want to know the studio that made it before you start playing, you’ll have to look carefully through the back of the case or in the manual.

This doesn’t have the desired effect on the publisher’s reputation. With so many developers under their wing each company will, with such a tactic, ensure that the very best games they publish are associated with their company name – as well as the very worst ones. At best, they are seen as a publisher that can sometimes put a very good game on the shelves (just like all the others).

Tim Schafer: the only individual to have his name on a game cover in the last ten years. Or more...

Consider the record breaking Modern Warfare 2, one of the few games to advertise the developer on the front of the case. Why did it sell so much better than World at War? There are several factors at play, including the gargantuan advertising push, and the fact that it has nothing at all to do with World War II. Surely one of the most important reasons however is that dedicated gamers knew – and Activision reminded everybody at every opportunity – that Modern Warfare 2 was being developed by Infinity Ward. Equally important perhaps was that it wasn’t being developed by Treyarch, who unfortunately for them have developed a reputation for producing Call of Duty games greatly inferior to those of Infinity Ward.

Well known game studios are rare, well known individual developers rarer still. If you’re reading this then you’ll recognise most if not all of the following names: Shigeru Miyamoto, David Braben, David Jaffe, Ian Livingstone, Peter Molyneux, Hideki Kamiya, David Cage, Gabe Newell, Dan Houser. What does this prove, apart from the fact that developers called David seem to have a disproportionately high chance of getting noticed?

I missed some names off that list of well known individuals but not, in all honesty, that many; especially when you consider how many actors, actresses, singers and musicians you could recognise without even trying. The point is though that gaming does have its own celebrities… but only within the tight knit circle of hardcore gamers. Could this ever change? Would it be possible for the games industry to produce international celebrities, recognised by people regardless of whether or not they’re interested in the relevant products?

If things stay the way they are now, the answer is a big fat ‘no’. If publishers are willing to make certain changes to the way they market games, the answer is a nervous and uncertain ‘maybe’. It sounds unlikely, doesn’t it? Especially as the industry has already been around for decades without producing a single such superstar. But I reiterate: changes are needed.

First and foremost it’s important to push developers, even if only the company as a whole, to the forefront. When was the last time you bought a book without the name of the author on the cover? A CD without the name of the artist on the cover? Stick the developer’s logo on the front of the game case as standard. It won’t hurt.

You know who he is. Do your family?

For the biggest games, there’s no need to settle for standard ads. Publishers need to push for interviews and features on TV and radio. Yes, this will for the most part put further strain on the advertising budget – but it would pay off in the long run. Not only would it mean increased exposure for the relevant title, but it would mean increased exposure for the interviewees – who would be representatives of the developer, not the publisher. Present the same developer to the public in this way regularly, and familiarity (and a small amount of celebrity) will soon follow.

This leads neatly to a good example of how publishers, always desperate to emulate the movie industry, ignore the good ideas and copy the bad or inappropriate ones. It’s surprisingly rare to see something along the lines of ‘from the makers of’ on game packaging or in adverts, whereas it’s impossible to get away from such declarations whenever a new movie is released. Once a developer (an individual or a company) has begun to enter the public consciousness, such advertising tag lines will be more effective than ever, and should be encouraged.

The above tactic would of course have maximum impact when combined with a well recognised developer. However, it would almost certainly prove effective to some degree even if the audience have little or no knowledge of the company or their previous games. It’s a confusing (yet difficult to contest) axiom that the intelligence and rationality of an individual seems to be inversely proportionate to the size of the crowd they’re in. In this respect, peer pressure can mean an audience scattered across the country can be classed as a ‘crowd’.

Tell a group of people they should have heard of someone or something popular with enough confidence, and most of those that haven’t will feel that they should have. Some of those will even pretend that they have. Immediately follow this with information on a new product associated with that someone or something, and almost everybody will be paying close attention. Those familiar with the subject will already be interested, and most of the others will be eager to keep up – to fit in.

It’s no more than a dream to imagine that the games industry can produce celebrities that are seemingly omnipresent, on TV, radio, and in cheap gossip magazines every single week. It can never match Hollywood in that respect, especially as personal appearance is not integral to a developer’s job. It’s perfectly reasonable to say, however, that it would be possible to have globally recognised companies and/or individuals within ten years – if publishers are prepared to relinquish most of the credit for their games to the developers.

Could we one day see such premieres given in depth coverage on mainstream TV?

It’s not going to happen, is it? Especially when you consider the fact that developers sometimes change publishers.

Nonetheless it’s theoretically possible, and there’s always a small chance. It would benefit everybody within the industry due to the inevitable increased revenue and, in the long run, reduced marketing costs when non – gaming celebrities would no longer be required. The beginning of celebrity wouldn’t even take that long to get started. Ignoring shows such as Big Brother and Britain/America’s Got Talent (which I will do quite happily) which feature people the audience can more easily relate to, the public in general have a constant hunger for new celebrities; they lap up anything presented to them. How many times has a band previously unknown to the charts exploded across the media, seemingly from nowhere? Films such as Harry Potter and Twilight have made instant celebrities out of previously unknown actors. Indeed, the books that the Harry Potter films are based on made J.K. Rowling an international star. Yes, there are considerations irrelevant to videogames to take into account, but the fact remains that people can and do attain almost instant celebrity.

Perhaps we’ll never know how close to or far off the mark I am in presuming that the industry could manufacture its own celebrities in this way. What I know for certain, is that I’d like to see publishers at least try. Such celebrities would also make it much harder for far – right propaganda machines such as the Daily Mail and Fox News to lazily yet effectively declare the evil of our hobby. In fact, these theoretical celebrities would provide the industry with an effective voice to argue against such irrational outbursts. So come on, just one brave publisher give it a try. If all else fails, give Max Clifford a call…

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

5 comments

  1. Oni-Samurai /

    “Tim Schafer: the only individual to have his name on a game cover in the last ten years. Or more…”

    Erm..no.

    American Mcgee’s Alice.
    Hideo Kojima has his name attached to Z.O.E. and the Metal Gear Solid games.

    But your point is well taken.

  2. Also, Sid Meier. But good article anyway.

  3. Luke K /

    I stand corrected, and stuff my face with humble pie.

    All I can say in my defence, is the main reason I never thought of Sid Meier or American McGee is the fact that I gave up on PC gaming many years ago. Fortunately that was just a picture caption, and not a point integral to the entire article.

    Nonetheless thank you for pointing out my mistake, and for doing so politely.

  4. half_empty80 /

    There’s also Microprose’s Grand Prix games, which had Geoff Crammond’s name attached to them. I wonder what the first game was to feature the creator’s name? I thought Archer Maclean’s games were quite old, but a quick check shows the snooker one “only” came out in 1991.

  5. Robert L. /

    I honestly do think that you’re going to see more and more developers getting credit for their work in the coming years, as publishers become less integral to the distribution of games. Peer-to-peer sharing is (in my oh-so-humble opinion) going to shut down a lot of the current modes of distribution. We’ve seen the music and film industry take a pretty large wallop, and, of course, they’re fighting back tooth and nail. Still, I can’t help but feel that this is a good thing for creative products (and they’re still definitely products; The Dark Knight and Modern Warfare 2 both had record-number P2P downloads and sales). Developers, ideally, could deliver their product directly, or through a third party (like Steam). In this case, publishers would become more like producers. Instead of their name being written all over the box, they’ll get a shout-out when the credits roll.

    That being said, I think the idea of a “star” might diminish a bit in the coming years. Music, especially, shows this trend. More home-grown musicians are entering the limelight, in a way diminishing the idea of a major-label rock star. And I like that. People share and buy what’s good. I think we’ll see the same thing with games, though I think the emphasis is going to be on the developing company, rather than the lead developer for the most part. Of course, there will always be some stars. Minds like Houser and Molyneux’s are hard to miss.

    Good article.

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