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Developer publicity

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Kylotan

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I am very wary of comparing games to films, especially since the analogy is often used by (typically inexperienced) designers to argue that story is more important than gameplay, or used by clueless journalists to complain about the graphical quality of a computer game or the poor acting within one. But there is one key aspect of the film industry that the games industry really needs to address, and that is the way in which it publicises and promotes the creators of the work.

Genre aside, I'm going to claim that films are usually sold and promoted on two 'features': the actors, and the director. For the average person, the actor is probably the main focus point. It often tells you quite a bit about the kind of film you'd be seeing - eg. Vin Diesel or Hugh Grant... which one is most likely to be in a romantic comedy and which one is most likely to be crushing heads with his pectorals alone? And obviously people have actors they think are better or who they like more for whatever reason.

Then, arguably for the more discerning viewer, you have different directors, who again tell you a lot about the sort of film you'll be seeing, but also how you'll be seeing it, as each director has ideas about the amount of dialogue they use, the sort of cinematography they like to employ, the types of actors they will bring to a production, and more.

For the average viewer, the combination of actors and director is the most part of the movie (arguably the screenplay is a close 3rd, though the director often has a big hand in that too). Hence their prominence in advertising, and in other
promotion. You rarely go to see a film without knowing who is in it or who directed it.

Yet with games... all you tend to hear about is the publisher. How often I've heard about the new game from Eidos, EA, Infogrames, Microsoft, or some other publisher, when they don't contribute anything of significant creative worth to the process. Sometimes admittedly they actually buy up the studios in question so you can argue that they have the right to call it 'their' game. But either way, what you still have is a marginalisation of the creative workers in favour of those who hold the purse strings.

This in turn allows the industry to continue as if all that matters is intellectual property and the publishers that own it. How are we ever going to see more creativity when the people who come up with that creativity are never acknowledged? Worse still, what about when those people are sidelined and the publisher pushes the intellectual property onto someone else? How many people really think that Thief 3 played as well as Thief 1 and 2, after Eidos liquidated Looking Glass Studios and gave that property to Ion Storm Austin?

A recent example here in the UK is that of football (soccer) management simulators. The first one, to my knowledge, was a simple game by a man called Kevin Toms, called simply "Football Manager", now 24 years old. Later on came similar games like Premier Manager, and Championship Manager, the latter developed by people who went on to form the Sports Interactive company. Championship Manager and various sequels was happily published by Eidos for quite some time. Eventually the relationship seems to have broken up, but because of the perverted nature of the industry, Eidos get to keep the brand name. Hence, we have Championship Manager 2007, developed by someone else entirely. Look at the website; can you see which creative people were behind it? Keep looking - there's some small print at the bottom, light grey on dark grey, listing a developer's name after the publishers. They don't even get their own logo displayed as a reward for all their hard work. Obviously Eidos are not keen to emphasise the developers because then people may realise that it's not the same people who made the previous Championship Manager games. As for Sports Interactive, their new endeavour is the Football Manager series. At least Sega let them keep their logo on the front of the package. But of course, this 'Football Manager' has nothing to do with the original 'Football Manager', not that any but a few oldies like me would remember the original.

But can we keep going on, disregarding the unique and individual efforts of developers worldwide, treating them as if the intellectual property they devise and implement is worthless? Can we ever expect the industry to be anything but sequel and hype-led when we yield up our creations to publishers to be doled out to whichever interchangable developer best suits their bottom line? At the very least, consumers deserve to know who is actually making these games for them.

EDIT: More games I thought of where the IP has been passed on to someone else apart from Thief and Championship Manager seem to include Fallout, and The Bard's Tale. Anybody got any others? I bet there are many around.

2nd EDIT: Tomb Raider, Might and Magic, Myth...
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What I find even weirder is when publishers buy companies purely to get to use their name as branding, such as when Infogrames remade themselves as Atari. About the only good thing I can think of to come from that image rebranding is that, due to a complicated set of publisher purchases, I can claim to have once programmed for a MicroProse game [smile].

I would like to see a greater awareness of the creative people behind game production, and not just the name of the development house. I notice in quality film reviews that the reviewer usually has a good idea of what previous films not only the actors have worked on, but the director, cinematographer, composer and sometimes even people like the costume designer. But unless a game designer is a big, big name you rarely ever hear about his or her previous work, and you rarely hear anything about the programmers or artists.

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Yes... certain programmers write more robust code than others, and certain artists have certain styles... having said that, more often than not, development houses work as a largely integral team and I think you're not going to see much individual flair there. Still, why aren't the lead programmer, designer, and artist at least named? I wouldn't mind seeing credits much like those on movie posters, listing the prominent members of the development team at the bottom.

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There is something similar to the actors and directors in games.

For instance, Spore is "branded" as: "By the creator of the Sims and SimCity".
Another example, is Peter Molyneux. I rest my case.:P

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Yeah, if you're Will Wright, Peter Molyneux, or Sid Meier, you're ok! Anyone else though is pretty screwed...

Incidentally, almost all the famous designers, at least outside Japan, started out as programmers. That will probably be the subject of a future entry...

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FarCry's had a similar fate. Er...Total Annihilation I believe, aslo. Oh and Ultima. Yeah, loads of developers commit too much of their IP to THE MAN! As far as I understand Richard Gariott has the rights to the Lord British character and a few others, while EA have the rights to the Ultima brand. Ohnoes.

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