The Spike TV VGA show raises a small issue that will most likely forever be true of our industry: We have no stars.
Let me say upfront that I'm okay with this, but based on discussions with other developers, there are those who believe our industry will one day, maybe soon, have A-list stars that will be treated much like Hollywood's finest. But I just don't think so.
Back to the Spike TV VGA (Video Game Awards) show. Thankfully, I made the right call and didn't waste time watching this travesty. I've talked to dozens of developers who stated with arresting vigor that it was a horribly misguided representation of our industry and should be tucked away in a dark place, alongside nuclear waste, never to be seen again. A telling signal sent by this show was its lack of game designers, except the few who picked up their award, yet weren't allowed to speak. Instead, the show turned to Hollywood and the porn biz for star power, with the likes of David Spade and Jenna Jameson pushing developers out of the limelight. This snubbing of our industry's "celebrities" pissed-off a good many people in our industry and sparked much discussion. "Where are our stars," went the cry.
Where are they indeed.
While we have a dozen or two well known developers, the usual suspects we always hear about, none of them have true star power. And this will remain true even as our industry continues to grow.
Here's the crux of the problem: Stars get their star power, reaching true celebrity status, by getting face time in front of a large audience. Actors get this via the movie or TV screen. Musicians get this at concerts or on TV (MTV, etc.). Sports stars get this on TV and at stadiums where they play. It's only through this extended exposure that we bestow a person with star power, at which point a large segment of the population can recognize them.
Game devs will never get this sort of face time, as they, like movie directors, don't appear on the screen. Sure, a handful of movie directors are really well known and have some star power, but truly the number is few. Who can name more than six to eight living movie directors? And who can name more than one or two from the TV industry? And remember, both of these entertainment branches dwarf the game industry.
And then we have the book industry, which absolutely crushes the annual revenues of the movie, TV and music industries. Yet, due to limited exposure in front of the population, very few true stars exist (Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Tom Clancy, and Jackie Collins and a few handful more), and most you wouldn't recognize even if you bumped into them on the street. And think about this: The book industry has been around longer than any of the other big entertainment branches, yet they do not have a big-time nationally televised awards show? Yet they would if they had star power like the movie, TV or music industries.
My entire point is that people do not become celebrities without being seen. And it saddens me to think that every time we try to force an awards show upon the mass public that we'll need to hijack Hollywood's B-list to provide a ratings crutch.
Like most authors and directors, game designers will remain mostly anonymous, able to walk into game stores without mobbing, and unable to convince a restaurant host to get a table bypassing the three-week long reservation list. If a paparazzo ever snaps a picture of a game developer, you can bet the house that the developer was merely an unwitting bystander in the background gawking at Julia Roberts walking out of Gucci on Beverly Blvd.
Now then, there's one last counter-argument I want to head off at the pass. Many counter my view by suggesting that game characters will become our industry's stars. But has this happened in any other industry with fictional character? Not really. And it won't happen within our industry. You can't gossip about fictional characters, invite them on Leno, feature them in People magazine, grill them on Larry King Live, or have water cooler talk about their sordid break-up with another famous character. Video game charactrers will not become our industry's stars.
The only way for the game industry to have celebrities is to include actors in our games, and that's a convincing reason to hope we NEVER have them!