People are a powerful promotional tool.
They can be a living and breathing avenue to push a product. It's something that consumers can relate to and something they can trust. It can potentially let them have a stronger investment in a product. But does this apply to video games? Are there modern day people personalities in this industry? The vast majority of consumers could not associate a person with a given game. For most people, video games are faceless. Is this worth investing in changing? And if games are to get this form of marketing, who are the personalities that are best to be promoted?
When you think about people in games, voice actors might come to mind. At a given gaming convention you might see a long queue of people waiting to meet Nolan North, the voice of Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series. Passionate and enthusiastic fans are very eager to meet the voices behind their favourite video game characters. A voice actor could be used as a person to promote a video game, but the nature of their work can cause difficulties.
The music video was invented to give music a visual and promotable form. It lets people see the person behind the music. With video games it'd be a bit more difficult. The visual side of a video game is the game itself. The closest analogy to a promotional music video would be a trailer for a game. But these don't show the faces of the voice actors, they show the game. Voices are not even a prominent part of most video games. All the voice acting and dialog is added to most games in the very last stages of development, resulting in voice actors having very little to do with a games content.
This isn't a solid rule, however. A good example is last years 'L.A Noir' from Rockstar Games. This game didn't just use the voices of actors, but a rig consisting 32 cameras pointed at a persons face enabled full facial features and likenesses to be put into the game with a strong resemblance. This gave players the ability to notice famous actors, like Aaron Staton from the TV series Mad Men, immediately as portraying a character in the game. However, this technology is not widely implemented in games. Quite often motion capture is used to put body movements into a game but the facial features of a character are designed by hand. This is true of the Uncharted games, with Nathan Drake having both the body performance and voice capture done with an actor but all facial features are rendered separately and without a direct human facsimile. This is a problem if you wanted to use the actors as promotional assets for a game. They would most likely not be recognisable to people who are familiar with their in game character counterparts.
Using voice actors to promote a game isn't even possible for all titles. Some of the most popular games available today don't have any actors involved. Wii Sports, Minecraft and Angry Birds are some of the most successful and innovative games in recent history, yet have no voices or actor involvement at all. For all intents and purposes, these are faceless games. They don't have any recognisable people involvement what so ever.
Besides all of this, what promotional advantages could voice actors really offer? If they were to appear on a late night talk show they wouldn't be recognisable as something relatable to a particular game. They might be able to offer insight into the story and characters, but probably wouldn't know much about how a game actually plays and its mechanics. They wouldn't have been very involved in a games overall development. For some games that have a heavy focus on story and characterisation, an actor would be ideal to be used for promotional purposes. But for some games this isn't really ideal, or in some cases not even an option.
What about the talented people that program and develop games? These people are responsible for crafting the experiences a user has in a video game. Directors and developers would be able to offer insight to all aspects of a game, from the mechanics to the art styling. But outside of a mention in the credits, these people are identifiable as being involved with a game. Another problem could be that, unlike actors, these people probably don't have a history of performing. They might not be suitable or even comfortable in an interview or other promotional scenario.
If publishers did invest in promoting developers the benefits could reach beyond just one game title. Putting a well known name on the cover of a game could represent the quality and standards of that person, allowing the promotion to extend outside of a single game or even a franchise. This level of promotion is already happening, but its not with individual people. Publishers are promoting studios.
Unlike a person, a development studio can be owned, named and branded. The name of a studio can represent ideals and standards much like the name of a person could. Promoting a studio over people also has added security – a studio, and all of its associated branding, can be owned. Outside of an impractical contract, a person cannot. Eventually there'll be the possibility that creative talent that a publisher has invested in promoting will move onto different things, possibly even end up working for a competitor. In 2010 over half of the people at Infinity Ward left the studio over a disagreement with their publisher Activision. For all of their popular Call of Duty titles the Infinity Ward logo has been prominent on the cover. Contrast this with the motion picture industry where it's peoples names that are featured, not studios. I doubt many people can name director Peter Jackson's production studio, but probably can associate him with the movies he has made. It's fortunate for Activision that they didn't invest in promoting the people at Infinity Ward, because now they're working for a direct competitor.
Some developers do manage to gain fame and promotion. Designer Tim Schafer is notable in that he is a developer that has received some personal promotion. He has appeared on late night talk shows to discuss his titles and even has his name printed on the cover of some of his most critically acclaimed games. Using Kickstarter, he was able to leverage his well known reputation to get consumers to invest in the development of a game knowing only what genre it would be. Publishers in the past have invested in promoting Tim Schafer as an individual person, yet as a result he has the ability to entirely crowd fund a game and cut out publishers all together. But even this record breaking three million dollar endeavour cannot compare to the increasingly large costs for modern triple-A game development. It would be an ideal scenario for smaller, independent game designers, but they generally don't have a well known reputation to cash in on.
So does gaming have a face? Who are the people that most video game fans recognize and relate to?
Quite possibly it's the media. These people write news, reviews and previews on a daily basis. New media like video shows and podcasts make it difficult for these people not to gain widespread recognition among readers. Often game developers are forced into non-disclosure to ensure that new information about a game follows a tight release schedule, but media personalities don't have these restrictions. This leads to a wide discrepancy – look at IGN's own video show 'Up at Noon with Greg Miller'. The host is far more widely recognisable than nearly every possible industry guest that might appear the show. Media personalities can gain such a widespread reputation that they become valuable promotional assets to outlets. When Vox Media launched its new gaming outlet, Polygon, they endeavoured to poach well known talent from other places, partly to draw readers familiar with these people to the new website. With such little promotion done to most individuals involved, it would be very unlikely that this scenario would occur with game developers. At best it might be able to be said that a game was 'From the developers of' a previous title. For these reasons it might be assumed that media outlets and not actual game developers are representing the public face of video games that most consumers see and relate to.
These people might be the modern age celebrities of the video game world.
Publishers are catching on. They realise that their consumers want to see a person representing a company, they want that personable element to give them a stronger point of relation. But they're not presenting the people you would probably expect. At an E3 press conference you might see a developer come and demonstrate a game, but its the business executives that take centre stage. Most enthusiastic fans are familiar with Jack Tretton, Peter Moore, Larry Hyrb, Don Mattrick, Satoru Iwata and Reggie Fils-Aime. These people are the public faces of the big video game companies, yet none of them have roles directly participating in video game development and design on a regular basis. Most of them are very experienced business presidents and executives and have received training in public relations and speaking.
Video games could benefit from people promotion, but providing that is an uphill battle. From voice actors to developers, there are no people involved with most games that have an immediately recognisable point of reference. Time and investment would be needed just to get consumers to associate a personality with a game. Perhaps the name of a development studio or a business executive can fill these roles with less of a risk. Right now the most recognisable personalities consumers have work for the media outlets, providing coverage and discussions of games. But the more popular that games become, the more people might wonder and try to seek out the people that made these experiences.
But for today, most games for the majority of consumers are a faceless form of entertainment, lacking the personable form of promotion that the rest of the entertainment industry so heavily relies on.