Games are entertainment.
The games industry is an entertainment industry.

Seems almost silly to say it but its something that the industry is shy to admit. In particular we really don’t like to think as ourselves as entertainers.

We schoff and laugh at the “Rock star” game developer image, and many will be quick to note there aren’t many cute groupies hanging around game developers (at least not around this game developer, feel free to apply for the position ;-) ). But I think that in reality there is a lot of similarities between the entertainment industries and in particular how you structure things to get that illusive ‘hit’. So examining the motivation and what works in these other industry may help us see things in the games industry.

Music and Movie Industries

Movies and music both share a common bond with ’stars’. If you take a look at the credits of any film or CD there are a vast number of people working on it yet the chances are you’ve only heard of half a dozen of them. Now some will dismiss those star as having no talent and being lucky but thats just doesn’t relate to what the sales tell us.

If you want a ‘hit’ you generally need people who can give something special to the production. Somebody with ’star’ quality.

Now what that special something is, is hard to define. For an actor it might be some almost undefinable attractiveness (some like physical attractiveness can be defined quite easily but still it doesn’t explain why a particular person shines like a star, yet and an almost physically identical person doesn’t), for a movie director is how they manage to show emotion or get you heart pumping in an action scene. Similar parallels can be drawn in the music industry.

Another key result to draw from these industries is that if you can get multiple stars working together happily and will produce exponentially better results. Lennon and McCartney or De Niro and Scorsese. In fact its fairly noticeable that most really successful bands or films have at least a few people with ’star’ quality, being the only person with ’star’ quality can drag even the best people down.

We can also derive another important rule from the movies and music industry, if ’stars’ don’t get along or aren’t happy, the product usually bombs. Whilst there are exceptions where massive creative tension brings out the best generally keep your ’stars’ happy.

And what keeps ’stars’ happy? The obvious answer of sex, drugs and rock n roll whilst true isn’t in fact the only answer, many stars have all that and still aren’t happy… No a closer inspection show what makes many of these people happy is creative freedom, many actors want to direct, musician want to write there own music and control there music videos etc. Generally what makes them happy is freedom to explore that special something where they see fit.

We don’t doubt this star quality in either of the industries, and indeed there specialness is very well rewarded financially.

A fairly good example the draws on most of the observation is the music producer Timberland, he clearly has a star quality of his own and can produce good music with no other star names, but when he teams up with a star such as Missy Elliot or Justin Timberlake he dominants the charts.

The Point

This respect and identification of a special something isn’t something the games industry does yet, except for a few well known developers we don’t really have the same appreciation in the games industry. In particular we don’t seem to properly appreciate the power of that a small team of ’stars’ can bring.

So imho a key part of the development of games should be finding a team of ’stars’ who work well together and then ensuring they are happy.

Of course there a lot more than that to solve the problem, but having the guts to actually say that there are ’stars’ in the games industry, people who have a knack of developing quality games and that these are really the driving force behind sales and critical acclaim is in itself quite a bold statement.

I expect quite a few people to disagree violently and say its really about a methodical non hero based development process and that these ’stars’ often derail development. To which I will counter by saying they are possible right because currently we don’t provide the right context for them to work in and so chaos reigns… but thats a discussion for another time, this is a fairly long blog post already.