Saturday, December 08, 2007

New Blood, Old Blood

My old commander-in-chief Peter Molyneux was in the press recently making the case for new blood and new graduates in the industry, as well as advocating passion and communication skills over experience (here, via A fine sentiment, but I think he's not seeing the problem.

The problem that new blood has is simply one of obscurity. In any new field there is always the early-mover advantage for new blood, and by necessity the first-movers inevitably make it harder for follow-on groups to emerge. Look at the world of search engines, for example. In the early years there was room for Yahoo, then Google, and a few others to stamp out virgin territory. Nowadays although there are many attempts at redeveloping search semantically, with specialist focus, or whatever, nobody really expects the established players to become unseated.

This applies to people as much as it does to companies. The problem that new blood has is that Molyneux, Miyamato and about 50 other people and companies have already had the early-mover advantage and they eat up virtually all of the press inches with their comments. A late-mover like myself can express a hearty opinion on any subject but whatever my opinion I am unlikely to gain any widespread traction or awareness. It takes either acts of extremity to get noticed, or the stamp of big name legitimacy.

In strict terms, therefore, for new blood to emerge the old blood either has to make way or actually die off, and even then it's not guaranteed. While many game developers look to the movie industry and try to emulate that, the industry's behaviour is often much more closely affiliated to that of the comics industry.

In comics, even 60 years after their initial post-war explosion, it is still very hard to get past Jack Kirby and his long shadow. Comics and games share the common trait of having undying intellectual properties, unlike film or books. Tom Cruise may be huge but he will die, but Mario is immortal. As such, those IPs and their early creators influence and fame can very easily blanket out new blood long after their flesh and blood forms have kicked the bucket. To large companies like Marvel or EA, the IP is the thing and it actually serves their purposes in the long term to retain the legend of the old creator.

So if the old blood are serious about engaging with the new blood, what they need to look at is the idea of patronage. The advantage of having some celebrity is that you can use it to drive others' celebrity. Quentin Tarantino does this quite a lot by fronting movies that aren't his and giving other directors that he likes responsibility. We would not have seen some martial arts movies in the west without his influence, nor would we have heard of Eli Roth (which some say maybe we shouldn't have, but I digress).

Active patronage is something that we do not see a lot of in the games industry. It lies with Peter and a number of high profile developers to actually take action on it though. One example would be to try and do more through the likes of BAFTA, or even develop schemes of sponsorship and funding, like a startup foundation that promotes the people as well as the product or publisher relationship.

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