Sunday, May 23, 2004

Jason Rubin Can't Get No 'Spect

This article on Gamasutra inspired me to write a short piece on why game developers are doomed to remain in the shadows. But maybe insyn developers are not.

Jason Rubin's interview here is, in a nutshell, all about why the games industry's developers have none of the exposure of the industry's publicity unless they bodily go out and get it via agents, and about how he thinks that those developers should get namechecked respect. Game directors in particular, he thinks, and also some of the key staff, should be credited more fully, just like in the movie industry. The games industry, as he noted, is in the same as the movie industry was in the 50s, and as such it is riven by corporate contracts that bind talent in such a way as to keep their name away from the serious limelight, and keep the product up there first.

I sympathise with Jason, I really do, but I believe that he's chasing after something that will bear no fruit. And the big reason that I think that is that there is one huge difference between the games industry and the movie industry, and that is that the IP of the movie industry are humans, who therefore have negotiating power (in the form of actors) whereas in the game industry, the IP are characters and brands that have nothing to say.

When the actors' liberation from the studio system happened in the 50s, it was fully 20 years before directors began to receive the same sort of credit in the public eye, and that was because the audience for film had matured to a point that it cared about such things as who was the author of the piece. But even with that in place, most named directors are still anonymous in the public eye, to say nothing of the script writers, editors, directors of photography, and dozens of other people whose names appears in the credits, but who are still 100% anonymous, and often subject to equally poor conditions that their games industry counterparts deal with.

But they get paid more.
What they get paid, though, is absolutely nothing to do with their celebrity status, and everything to do with their heavily unionised status. A film editor commands a large salary on each project, because those are his union-negotiated rates. A scriptwriter is entitled to certain minimum union-defined wages that leave him quite comfortable. Directors do likewise. It has little or nothing to do with whether they are famous, and everything to do with the fact that if they don't get paid, the unions can and do drag Hollywood to a halt.

If game developers want to get paid more, they'll have to unionise.

The game industry is also beset by the problem that their audience does not care who made what. That is the problem with working in such a young market, and publishers clearly realise it. Take away the half-dozen PR generating rockstar designers that the industry supports (Will Wright. Miyamoto etc), whose function is to get the hardcore fans wet, the greater majority public does not know NOR CARE which developer made which project. This is because they are a young public buying tailored brands.

In this respect, the game industry is a lot more like the comic industry than the film industry, and it is becoming more so all the time. The comic industry is a clear example of a medium in which the fan culture so completely dominates the business that the business itself is dependent entirely upon them, and therefore can only innovate within a small, set space. There are superhero comics, Vertigo 'mature' comics, sex comics and then the few self-published indies. Author
or artist recognition now exists after a very long fight, but still the buying public DON'T CARE who writes and draws Spider Man.

It is a vicious cycle, and the root of it is that it is profitable for such fan-driven industries to work that way. Bottom line: The reliance on fans is ultimately the problem, and that is why the game industry is doomed to repeat itself. Even the game industry journalists perpetuate this cycle while bemoaning the lack of innovation that they help create.

This is yet another reason why an insyn break must be made: To get away from the fan-obsessions and back to the creators. In time, it is my hope that there will be many famous insyn designers, making their work for an adult audience that don't get hung up on stupid loyalties to hardware formats or companies, nor fall victim so easily to advertising. And who aren't focused on re-living their youth again and again through rehashes of Metroid.

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