Studios don't make games, people do


many people in the videogames industry talk about the maturing of the medium. In his fantastic Indecade / Gamecity talk "Beauty and Risk" Richard Lemarchand from Naughty Dog, famous for the "Jak & Daxter" & "Uncharted" Series of videogames showed this rather astute representation of the history of the media by Chelsea Howe, ending with the bubble, "Medium Coming of Age"

But are we there yet?

Well we're on the way, but not quite, and a few of the things I feel are holding us back are some of the conventions that other mainstream media enjoy but that seem bizzarely absent from the videogames industry.

I want to talk about a few of these conventions on this blog over the next few weeks, and the first is all about people.

I'd like to take a look at the profile and positioning of people within the film, book, music and game industry, as opposed to the profile and positioning of the product. In this case the people I'm reffering to are the creators of all of this wonderful content.

let's do a little experiment...

Name 5 authors.

Now name 5 actors.

5 musicians.

5 film directors.

5 artists....

Easy eh.

OK, so now can you name 5 videogame designers?

5 videogame developers or programmers?

5 actors from videogames?

Much harder?

The videogame industry is currently suffering from a distinct lack of personality...

...or more to the point, personalities.

I find this quite intriguing, in other burgeoning new industries, people have always stayed front and centre, authors, playwrights, artists have always been known and strongly associated with their work, how can you mention "the African Queen" without mentioning Bogart, or ET without Speilberg, the Hobbit without Tolkein, or Sunflowers without Van Gogh.

Yet we (well most of us) don't know who designed space invaders, or who created the storyline or the script for Final Fantasy VII. or who created Sonic. There are exceptions of course, if you're really into your videogames you'll make a point of finding out the people responsible and the likes of Peter Molenux, Will Wright or Sid Meier are even known to a few non gamers! but as a general rule, the people are hidden behind the product.

Yet the product is well known, Sonic, Mario, the Sims, these are household names...

So who created this disconnect, and why isn't it present in film, music, books or art?

I have some ideas on this, so let's explore it... Apologies if these aren't really well formed, but please chime in through the comments, consider these "ideas in progress"

Firstly, many books, songs and works of art are created by one person, so it's easy to attribute them to their author, in fact many books have the authors name on the front in larger type than the title of the book itself, and many songs are referred to by their artist "Have you heard Kate Bush's new song, can't remember the name, but it's amazing"

In theory it should be easy to attribute games in the same way, but seldom is a game a single person's effort. Even those created from a single person's creative vision, Johnathan Blow's epic "Braid" for example, often have many people involved, artists, musicians, etc.

Videogames are more of a joint effort, more akin to the creations of an orchestra, a rock band, or more like a film.

So in film, where many people are involved, we see certain people singled out for praise, almost always the director and the actors, with occasional reference being made to the producer and screenwriter.

Could we replicate this in videogames? well the actors in videogames are digital, and while often have real names and faces (like Nolan North) working behind the scenes in motion capture studios, it's difficult to get attached, or empathise with someone who's impossible to recognise from game to game. In animated films we have the same issue, but this is often countered by using film actors who's voices we can associate with through their film roles, maybe videogames should take a lead from this?

As for the analogy of the director, this is a difficult one, Within the development of a game the traditional role of director is broken up into multiple facets, creative directors, lead designers, developers all play a massive role making it harder to pin down to one person.

Bands get around all these issues by creating a name for the group, so we attach to the "Foo Fighters" but we still know Dave Grohl is the frontman... We have studios in the game industry, so Insomniac, Infinity Ward, Naughty Dog, and in some cases (Naughty Dog and their behind the scenes extras being a good example) we get to know a few of the names behind the studio, but maybe we need more frontmen...

But in this regard, games aren't helping themselves...

Take a look through your DVD collection and see how many times peoples names are mentioned. My collection averages at 30 names on each DVD case and in many cases the directors and lead actors names are also on the front of the case.

In my entire game collection the only game that mentioned a human being was a game called "Child of Eden" it quoted its designers name "Tetsuya Mizuguchi" every other game in my collection failed to mention the names of any of the people involved in their creation.

In fact, is this the big issue? Are people in the games industry to humble? Is the game industry less impressed with celebrity, with the Hollywood star system?

And is that such a bad thing?