The faces of the industry make it easy to forget games can be a team effort
There are few famous faces in the games industry. Many studios are too large to give everyone their own time to express their love for what they do on behalf of where they work or what they’re working on. It would send mixed messages. So bigger companies use something called ‘media training,’ which you have to go through before they will trust you with public/press outreach. This is meant to avoid giving mixed signals as a company. You’re told what you can or cannot say, and ways in which you should say certain things.
Being “media trained” comes down to learning to be a smooth operator, learning to avoid saying anything that could besmirch the company’s reputation or the public outlook on your product. I like to believe there’s a better way for company’s to represent themselves. Teams and personalities matter in game development. The right or wrong combination can make or break a project no matter how technically appropriate each person might be for the game. However, seeing only one person or one kind of person represent a whole studio can lead to thoughts of homogeneity. Is this the kind of person who creates video games? Is this who I have to be like?
Well not necessarily, but there are some problems that come along with a more open approach that many companies look to avoid. One risk of allowing multiple people to speak out about your games is that you can end up sending mixed signals in regards to what you’re all about. I can tell you firsthand that it isn’t an easy job to coordinate a single message among a large amount of people. Have you ever played the game Telephone with friends? It’s very much like that at times. For this reason game houses are put in a situation where they believe they need a face or two to represent them as a whole.
Having representatives is good for letting your fans know what your company’s culture is like and having a definite controlled message. My qualm with this though is it leaves other devs in the dark, and leads some players who aren’t as acquainted with the industry to forget that most games are built by teams or even multiple studios. There are various consequences that go along with laying all of the blame, praise, or questions on a single controlled person with an elegant, prepared response. A response in which may not include everything they wanted to say.
I’ve noticed this when working together with press-folk. Now not every writer falls prey to this, but a lot of interviews and articles attempt to refer to me as the sole creator or pushing force behind Young Horses’s game Octodad: Dadliest Catch. It’s understandable that they want to make their articles personable so readers can relate to the developer; though it’s always a bit of an uncomfortable situation.
My studio Young Horses is comprised of a quaint 8 developers. Each of them is essential in our production process and yet there are times when it’s forgotten that this is a major team effort. There ARE developers that either work alone or in even smaller teams where singling a sole creator out may be the only thing to do, but not here.
Trying to make sure everyone at the studio is represented fairly is difficult. All of my guys understand that it’s part of my gig that my name ends up in articles more often than not, but this doesn’t change that I believe they should be getting more attention than me. They’re the ones in the trenches working on the game day and night. Even though I know my work is essential in getting the word out about the game and scoping out opportunities for us it still feels as if my work is inconsequential when compared to the creative efforts they put forth. Maybe this is simply because I’ve transitioned from being a gameplay programmer to more of a business dev/community manager in the past year or two and it’s just an insecurity. Okay, it is.
This doesn’t change my thoughts on why and how studios could be better represented by a wider range of personalities. If we plan to have this industry grow into a place where newcomers feel welcome no matter their odd demeanor or ideology we ourselves need to take the first step to show them this. Some developers are more naturally in tune with being social or talking to people about their work, but I find that the skills necessary to do this mostly come from experience.
For a long time I was a shy person and had a hard time just starting up conversations with people I didn’t know or had only just met. Game development is something in which I was forced to develop that skill, and now I love to seek out people I haven’t met yet to chat about games or promote my team’s work. This is sort of an ironic part of this career as people outside of games tend to think of us all as extremely introverted or anti-social. It’s quite the opposite!
Out of all things I’ve found, something as simple as a video documentary can go a hell of a long way in giving people a sense of the team behind a title. Being privy to the inner workings of a studio make you realize what a human effort game development is. I wasn’t always aware of this side of game development.
I’m 23 now and I work on video games. It’s an insane thought to think seeing as 7 years ago I was only a participant in fandom and consumerism rather than creation. I had little to no interest in school clubs or dances. I went to a few just to try out this supposed life I was meant to be leading, but never did I feel at home in that atmosphere. I didn’t know where I might fit into things until I had seen the Halo 2 Making Of feature.
This might sound ridiculous, but even though I didn’t know them I related to the guys and gals at Bungie. (I still do.) They were extremely passionate about their work and better yet for me their thirst for creation. It opened my eyes to entire worlds not yet seen or complete. Beautiful landscapes not yet fully explored, but filled with boundless possibility. It completely changed my outlook on my life and goals. I have probably watched that documentary 25 or more times. I seek out other such documentaries for inspiration and camaraderie I don’t get many other places.
This is but one way to address the problem. I want to help provide more outlets for different developer personalities. I think one step we can all take is in making sure our writing, as I guess I’m a writer now, includes those developers that may otherwise be overlooked for not having the right title or public appeal. Yes this developer may not dress like a snazzy businessman or have opinions larger than themselves, but that does not mean they don’t have a story worth telling. Some very interesting brilliant people are among us in this industry. I say we seek them out, give them a voice. Rather than them having to shout at the top of their lungs to be heard by the few I say we spread their stories to the masses.