Very interesting article Patrick and Miah!
Great article as usual, Patrick!
The company title isn't what makes me care, it's the individuals.
Could you imagine?:A GABE NEWELL GAME:HALF LIFEorA CHRIS AVELLONE GAME:PLANESCAPE TORMENTThat's just so wrong! What a ton of bullshit just to say "it's my company and I put my name on the game because I can do whatever I want".
Could you imagine?:
A GABE NEWELL GAME:
A CHRIS AVELLONE GAME:
That's just so wrong! What a ton of bullshit just to say "it's my company and I put my name on the game because I can do whatever I want".
I think the problem with both of those is... do you know if they were actually the lead on those projects?
Hell, I would be really interested to know who was at the helm for Half-life compared to a game like Left 4 Dead...
Were they both Gabe Newell? Was it somebody else from Valve?
Ownership of a company SHOULDN'T be what gets your name on a game, but if you're assigned as a project lead, that's where it should come into play.
I'm not saying it's necessary to place it before the title, but even if it's just in the credits, I would want to know this information.
I don't believe this discussion is being framed accurately.
"Making decisions" doesn't connote authorship. Auteur theory has been widely criticized and it's mostly understood by critics today as illegitimate.
Even so, Spielberg and Fincher would not be classically understood as auteurs. Andrew Sarris, who sort of brought auteur theory to the American scene, listed three criteria for an auteur that have to be present throughout his (the auteur's) body of work: technique, personal style, and interior meaning (this sort of meaning 'themes'; Sarris uses the phrase "elan of the soul"). Spielberg and Fincher are great filmmakers, but their films are impersonal and inconsistent.
Furthermore, Fincher has worked with the same cinematographer for Fight Club, Social Network, and Dragon Tattoo. So isn't Jeff Cronenweth authoring those films also? And w/r/t Social Network what about Sorkin? Isn't his screenplay the entire basis for what appears on screen?
I don't mean to pick apart the idea of 'Fincher as auteur' specifically. These sorts of questions can be asked of any filmmaker. Exalting directors as auteurs, i.e. as sole authors, delegitimizes the work of collaborators. Look at the way that writers are treated in Hollywood.
This guy in the article talking about "branding" himself is fucking lame. "Associating with a company is much harder to do than associating with a person"? What planet does this guy live on? We associate with companies ALL THE TIME.
I'm not saying games should never be associated with people. I just think this guy's argument that "making decisions" equates to authoring a game is asinine. Maybe he has more evidence to back up his claim to authorship, but I do not see it in this article.
I'm torn. I've always sided with Ted Price and Lorne Lanning on this issue. But sometimes, like with American McGee, it feels so unearned.
At least in this case it's just a lead credit, like "A ______ Film" in many movies, and not printed on the box before the game title. Good thing there was no box, I suppose.
Personally, I like the tact of Shigeru Miyamoto, Ken Levine and Ed Boon, who let their work precede them, then take due credit. But that's just me, and I'm sure a lot of key developers get overlooked that way.
Ultimately, I think we need a standardized billing block like on movie posters/cases.
In my humble opinion some names in games give the same kind of information that some other names in movies. I will watch all movies made by Tarantino and play all games made by Brian Fargo. And very likely, I'll love them all.
His response was more calm than I expected. There's no easy way to say, "YES, I HAVE A GIANT EGO."
Neat article, nice read; but just letting you know, I am very disappointed that you didn't open with "a PATRICK KLEPEK article".
I'm all for giving credit where credit is due, be it praise or monetary, but you're taking everything about that original statement out of context and it's complete and utter bullshit. Video games are still a business, and like all businesses, need to be in the business of making a profit. Yes, it's true, a corporation or a company isn't a person. But it consists of people. A business is built up of people, and that business and it's people deserves it's dues for the role it has to play in making video games a sustainable, profitable, and everlasting venture.As jaded as your opinions can get about companies like EA or Activision, games are in the business of making money. Your enthusiasm for the art and the majesty of designing and building video games is appreciable, but you're living in a fantasy world if you think the the business of video games only consists of employing "marketing tricks", and therefore is dumb and/or meaningless.So maybe before you go off and insult an entire swath of the workforce that takes some pride in knowing that their actions and hard work had a hand in the business of video games, you should think twice. You know. Before you say something really fucking stupid.
I'm all for giving credit where credit is due, be it praise or monetary, but you're taking everything about that original statement out of context and it's complete and utter bullshit. Video games are still a business, and like all businesses, need to be in the business of making a profit. Yes, it's true, a corporation or a company isn't a person. But it consists of people. A business is built up of people, and that business and it's people deserves it's dues for the role it has to play in making video games a sustainable, profitable, and everlasting venture.
As jaded as your opinions can get about companies like EA or Activision, games are in the business of making money. Your enthusiasm for the art and the majesty of designing and building video games is appreciable, but you're living in a fantasy world if you think the the business of video games only consists of employing "marketing tricks", and therefore is dumb and/or meaningless.
So maybe before you go off and insult an entire swath of the workforce that takes some pride in knowing that their actions and hard work had a hand in the business of video games, you should think twice. You know. Before you say something really fucking stupid.
lol, you really ran with my comment in a weird direction. I'm as pro-profit as you can get. I'm the kind of nut who is disgusted by people who are disgusted by video game business policies like on disc DLC and such. I have no problem with EA or Activision for anything they've done. And I think companies are fantastic and wonderful. My stomach turns when I hear people hoping a company like EA will go out of business.
My one problem is with the idea of assigning all credit for a game to that company instead of the specific individuals who created it. I want Paramount to make a massive profit with the new Star Trek movie, but I want the credit for the movie to go to JJ Abrams, the writers, actors, and producers. I don't want those people to be known simply as "Paramount" or "Bad Robot." I want them to be known as specific individuals. I think that's best for everyone in the movie industry and I think the games industry could be helped by similar thinking. I think this actually helps people get over their anti-business bullshit. If we all started referring to the individuals in charge of these games instead of more or less faceless companies like "EA" people would hopefully be less likely to freak out and get angry over business decisions.
The "marketing tricks" comment refers only to getting gamers to talk about companies and not specific talent. I don't know where you got the idea that I was trying to say the entire "business of video games only consists of employing 'marketing tricks.'" I was trying to explain why I think it's silly that gamers act like a studio is the same studio over a 15 year period. Often times the talent changes so dramatically that it just seems absurd to act as if it's the same people making the games over the lifetime of a company, but many people seem to act that way. That doesn't mean the studio is any worse, they could be better than ever, but they are still largely a different group and not the same people responsible for the companies previous work.
I also don't see how I really insulted anyone. If you get insulted when someone suggests that we should try and give more credit to specific individuals on a project then... well, then you be crazy, son! Go ahead and disagree, but your post reads as if you are pissed as all shit.
No point in calling people "really fucking stupid" in bold lettering on the internet either. I don't think anyone's ever proven their point or sounded sane that way.
I guess my point boils down to this: I don't know what Irrational Games means. I know who Ken Levine is. I know a bit about who Scott Sinclair is, and other people who've been influential at the studio. And I know there are many, many wonderful people who work there, but Irrational Games is a meaningless term without knowing who some of those individuals are. My respect for the names I know working there are what gives me respect for the names I don't know working there. The company title isn't what makes me care, it's the individuals. I hope the company makes a killer profit, and I think the best way to do that is to make me recognize people I trust, rather than associating the legal entity with the work, associate the individuals within that legal entity with the work.
I HOPE I MADE SOME SENSE AND DON'T SOUND LIKE A TOTAL LUNATIC TO YOU AGAIN.
companies don’t make great games - in fact companies don’t do anything at all because they only exist in a legal sense.I love this. I'm sick of the idea of a company getting the credit for a game. That just means no human being is getting any credit. Blizzard can get credit for all the Diablo games, but I'm sure very different teams were behind those games. So the idea of crediting the company so that the whole team is recognized is silly. It's just a marketing trick.A ton of people work on a movie to get it made. Especially for really big movies. But we only bother to remember a few names for each film. That's the most that can be expected. Games are no different. If we are going to credit actual human beings instead of dumb, meaningless company names we have to pick a few people at most on a project.Most creative works involve many, many people but there is one central figure we choose to recognize above all others. That's just the way of it. If someone doesn't like the idea that some of their work might get more directly credited to their boss they should get out of the field. As Don Draper said on Mad Men "That's what the money is for!"
companies don’t make great games - in fact companies don’t do anything at all because they only exist in a legal sense.
I love this. I'm sick of the idea of a company getting the credit for a game. That just means no human being is getting any credit. Blizzard can get credit for all the Diablo games, but I'm sure very different teams were behind those games. So the idea of crediting the company so that the whole team is recognized is silly. It's just a marketing trick.
A ton of people work on a movie to get it made. Especially for really big movies. But we only bother to remember a few names for each film. That's the most that can be expected. Games are no different. If we are going to credit actual human beings instead of dumb, meaningless company names we have to pick a few people at most on a project.
Most creative works involve many, many people but there is one central figure we choose to recognize above all others. That's just the way of it. If someone doesn't like the idea that some of their work might get more directly credited to their boss they should get out of the field. As Don Draper said on Mad Men "That's what the money is for!"
I don't mind someone wanting to associate their name with a product, but I don't like the general "A ______ by ______" because that implies that _____ is the only person making it. However, if I see something like "DIRECTED BY _______" then I am okay with it because it clearly says the person's role and implies that there is a team involved.
It would have been both weird and cool to see "Slaczka's Scribblenauts"
Considering that credits in Hollywood (especially the Executive Producer credit) can sometimes be purely vanity, it's interesting to read his reasoning. I'm not sure I completely agree with it, but he has a strong point all the same.
It's interesting regarding movies... The Writer's Guild actually hate that "A Film by X" credit, they call it the vanity credit and feel it diminishes the contribution of the scriptwriter.
Great article, this guys seems to know what's up and I think it all sounds very reasonable.
Really cool feature Tricky, glad you went with this subject too, I remember seeing the trailer to Hybrid and thinking "hmm...interesting" when it showed Jeremiah's name. Nice to see the reasoning behind the decision.
Good stuff. Looking forward to the other parts.
It's stuff like this at I love having tricky scoops around
I think more game should be branded in that way.
I believe it does fit with the film model of the head creative person take ownership of the project. It's his/her vision that is being made. It doesn't denegrate the rest of the people who work on the game, but gives you a creative standard for that game.
You know what to expect when you see "A Steven Speilberg Movie" on the tagline in the same way you know what to expect when you see "A game by Ken Levine". Everyone knows that it takes hundreds of people of make a movie in the same way it does to make games. Why can't we celebrate the vision behind the game.
Too often the games have no vision, made by committe. The Alan Smithee's of video games. Having that vision and control really makes a difference. Was Modern Warfare 3 the same game as the first two, even with the infinity Ward name on the box.
Clearly it wasn't and the big publishers would loath to hand auteur power to creatives and would prefer to try and fake people into thinking every game with the BiowareLogo in it was Mass Effect quality.
I was going to reply saying how branding a game with your name is kinda arrogant, but then I paused and thought about Jeremiah's comment about sticking his neck out by using his name in such a manner. I agree with @GERALTITUDE's comment about the importance of a director vs. the people who implement them. You really can't have one without the other unless you made the game entirely by yourself.
When I see that name my first thought is "micro-transactions". Which is a shame because 5th cells games are so damn charming.
@patrickklepek Great article Patrick. These types of open conversations with developers are easily my favorite features that you have done. There are so many diverse personalities and creative processes that almost anyone you could talk to will have something different to say. I'm sure there are many designers out there who would glad to participate in this series.
A strong auteur movement is exactly what video games need. Take the power away from the suits and put it in the hands of the creators.
Cool piece, Patrick (and Miah). I've thought about this branding a lot. It's really easy to point and say that so-and-so is taking all the credit, but this is reductive, and, frankly, pussyish. We're all just so afraid to hurt the feelings of all 300 people who worked on X game. Games are made by teams!
Fact is, in some of these cases (re: Sid Meyer) that person is or was the most integral piece of the puzzle. Kojima has a whole team named after him, and though his games don't have his name above, they do start with A Hideo Kojima Game. And it makes sense.
The comparison to movie directors isn't perfect, but it's fair. Basically, from what I've read and digested over the years, in some companies, one person really commandeers the vision. The question of who's more important, the designer or implementer, is pretty chicken and the egg. Without Ken Levine's ideas, BioShock wouldn't be BioShock. But without programmers, artists and audio experts, none of his ideas would have materialized.
I like Miah's opinion on this as it's a smart way to advertise a game. It can also backfire if a game with his name isn't revived well. Thanks for bringing this series back Scoops.
He seems like a reasonable dude and makes a fair argument for himself (and at the end of the day who really gives a shit), but I just find it hard to accept that putting his name on promotional material is actually doing anything in terms of generating interest
For me that's where the Steven Spielberg argument falls down - Spielberg made Jaws, and it made $470,000,000 at the box office in 1975 as arguably the first "summer blockbuster". You earn that name placement when you earn that much attention
Any chance of getting Sid back and asking his thoughts on this?
Glad to see this come back. I'm curious who the first person to make the suggestion of putting Slackza's name on the trailer was. Is it one of those situations where the whole studio felt it was obvious to do so, or did he come up with the idea himself? (not trying to criticize in anyway, just wondering how these things actually come about)
Holy shit, I never realised these guys made Lock's Quest! That was a truly fantastic game and the single best experience I've ever had on a handheld. Anyway great article (and series), and I think Jeremiah fielded the question pretty well. The fact is that many of the creative arts involve several people, but hold up one name as an easy identifier for the public and as a statement of vision. Hell, as I'm rapidly finding out, even writing a novel isn't a one man operation; there are agents, editors of various kinds, the cover artist, etc, al of whom play an integral role even if the writing itself is the author. You wouldn't see any books of quality without those people, yet there is one name front and centre. I totally agree with Jeremiah regarding taking creative control back in-house as well. Look forward to the next part
Nice, big article. I'll enjoy it tomorrow morning with my breakfast ^^
Woo. I could cry.... Also, Jeremiah wouldn't let you undercut him with that picture in an argument. He'd probably use that before you even have the chance....
and then scribble a boat over your head.
It’s only been a month since kicking off a new feature here at Giant Bomb, an ongoing letter series between myself and interesting game designers, where we talk through pretty sensitive topics.
That’s the opening paragraph I wanted to write in February, but it never happened. It turns out finding people to sit down and write at length about a topic can be pretty difficult and time consuming! But I didn’t want to force topics, and didn’t want to pick the wrong developers. I wanted to take my time, since the initial conversation I had with Mass Effect 3 designer Manveer Heir proved so much fun.
Eight months later, I can finally introduce the second part in this series, which I’ll go ahead and claim is an ongoing feature. There’s two of them now, so that counts, right? This time, I’m writing back-and-forth with 5th Cell creative director and co-founder Jeremiah Slaczka. 5th Cell is currently gearing up to release Scribblenauts Unlimited in November, the first time the studio will have a fresh game for a new hardware launch.
We aren’t talking about reviews or the role of a critic, writer, and journalist. When 5th Cell launched Hybrid on Xbox Live Arcade earlier this year, I noticed a pattern with 5th Cell releases. The games were branded as “a Jeremiah Slaczka game.” This wasn’t the first time 5th Cell had run with that tagline, and it got me thinking. Video games are, by nature, a collaborative enterprise, so what does it mean when a developer puts their name on the game? Does that impact the mindset of the rest of the company? Not many developers put their name front-and-center. Why?
These questions and others were weighed and debated during our two-part exchange, and I’m happy to bring you part one today. Part two is on Monday. I've also linked to the three-part feature on reviews from January. Enjoy!
Or should I call you Miah? Either way, I want to thank you for participating in my second letter series here at Giant Bomb. I wasn’t sure when (or if) we’d have another one. It requires a certain kind of developer open to a certain kind of conversation. It’s not something that would work if it was forced.
Then, I saw the latest trailer for the impressive-looking Hybrid, which closed with this tagline:
“A Jeremiah Slaczka Game”
That’s ballsy, bold. You’re self-publishing Hybrid, so I knew this was a deliberate choice on your part, and not a check-box on a marketing campaign. I wasn’t exactly surprised by the decision, either.
A Tim Schafer Game: Brutal Legend. A Suda 51 Trip: Shadows of the Damned. Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa. John Romero’s Daikatana. Roberta Williams' Phantasmagoria. American McGee’s Alice. Sid Meier’s … well, almost anything--take your pick. Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out? The concept of branding games with talent has gone back-and-forth for years. Electronic Arts made a huge push for its creative powerhouses in the 90s, and it’s come back in forms since. Sometimes, the names most associated with the game do not get any special presentation treatment, like (now formerly) Epic Games’ Cliff Bleszinski. You won’t find him on the box for Gears of War, even if most players know him best.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’ve been making games since 2003, right? You began making waves with Drawn to Life, as 5th Cell established itself while doing some especially inventive things with the DS. I’m willing to bet most people didn’t pay specific attention to “you” until Scribblenauts, when it was clear 5th Cell was a studio interested in doing things differently. That’s not meant to diminish anything you’d accomplished before then--you know I’m a fan of 5th Cell’s work. That said, the Scribblenauts trailer doesn’t have your name attached to it, nor does Super Scribblenauts.
It seems like something changed with Hybrid, and I’m curious what that thing is.
The traditional reaction to assigning single authorship is that games are not like other forms of media. You credit J.K. Rowling with Harry Potter because, well, she wrote the whole damn series. A big team may come together to produce the new Steven Speilberg or David Fincher film, but the reason those movies are then touted as new works from a single individual is because those mediums better lend themselves to a single person having enough of an impact on the entire process. In film, it’s called auteur theory, relating to an artist’s personal vision. You know you’re watching an Alfred Hitchcock film because Hitchcock has such a distinctive style. No one else could have made this film.
Is that the same for video games? I’m not sure, with obvious outliers like Tim Schafer. In games, studios have traditionally reaped the acclaim. People anticipate the new game from Epic Games, the creators of Gears of War, or the new universe from Bungie Studios, the makers of Halo. The people manning those studios changes all the time, though. Look at Starbreeze, a studio that became known because of The Chronicles of Riddick and The Darkness, but most of the lead creative talent left and formed another developer. Still, Starbreeze went on, made Syndicate, and people seem to dig it. It’s hard to tell where (or if) to draw the line, as games have an additional layer of authorship: the player.
Even with a filmmaker as beloved as Spielberg, when he announced plans to make Stanley Kubrick’s abandoned film, A.I., people flipped. Some never got over the idea. I wonder what would happen if another game developer had the unenviable task of making Shigeru Miyamoto’s unfinished opus.
Why is 5th Cell different? 5th Cell is also not as big as those developers, which must have an impact.
I want to hear how this decision came about, and whether I’m overthinking it. Maybe this wasn’t a big deal at 5th Cell, but to me, that’s a big deal in and of itself! You’ve been cultivating a certain kind of studio culture at 5th Cell over the years, as your company moves from a tiny thing into a much bigger force. Hybrid is the biggest step in that direction, and I’m sure there’s more to come. Saying that Hybrid is “A Jeremiah Slaczka Game” implies it’s more than just setting the tone for the project.
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the subject, Jeremiah.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to participate in this, and you can call me Miah, everyone I know does.
However, before we get into dissecting the reasoning behind whether or not someone should list their name as a brand attached to a game, we should get something out of the way first. When you see “A game by Jeremiah Slaczka”, it is not the same as “A Game Solely Made by Jeremiah Slaczka.” Yes, I drive the vision behind the title and our company, both, in the trenches working with everyone, and on a high level. But my ideas don’t mean anything without an amazingly talented team behind me. Every department at 5th Cell is full of people that are driven to succeed, are immensely passionate, extremely dedicated, very humble and just plain fun to work with.
I’m not offering this up as a platitude. These people are 5th Cell’s lifeblood. A great example is when we decided to go from 30FPS to 60FPS in Hybrid. Sure I gave the initial order, but the rest had to be done by our programmers, artists and level designers firing on all cylinders to get it there. That wasn’t me; that was them. They worked their tails off because they believe in the vision of the game and the company.
We have another team working on an unannounced game and they are just kicking ass on that, too. So much effort has been put into both of our projects because these people care.
In the same way “A Film by Steven Spielberg” isn’t saying that a movie is solely created by the Director. There’s a reason that there are Academy Awards for Set Design, Special Effects, Cinematography, Acting, Costume Design, Make-Up, Screenplay, Music and Sound among and others. Those roles were integral to making an amazing movie and they weren’t all handled by the same person. Without very talented, key people in these roles the film would never have come out as good as it did. However, the “auteur theory” that modern Hollywood subscribes to is a style in which the Director has the final decision making authority, and it’s his (or her) creative vision and voice that shines through the large scale, industrial process that is commercial film making.
A lot of game studios are run by “design by committee,” or specifically through analytics and data. There’s no single voice, or clear direction of leadership--someone at the top guiding the team and the project to fit their vision. There’s nothing wrong with that way of running a studio, but our studio has never run or been set up that way. I think this is where the potential for backlash comes from. A lot of people think there is a correct way to run a studio, or to work a project. But we’ve been successful this way, and other studios have been successful using other methods, so obviously there’s different ways to skin a cat.
Also many companies are tech driven; they build amazing engines and then make games from those engines. We, on the other hand, think of the game idea first then build the tech around it--which is much harder because we’re constantly switching tack. We went from quirky, 2D, handheld games to a 3D competitive multiplayer shooter, because that’s the game we wanted to make. It’s a testament to our technical staff and their ability to change and iterate so well. Lastly, and most obviously there’s huge potential for mismanagement and wrongful leadership when you give one person that kind of auteur authority. You have to trust that person’s ability to lead and their ability to conceptualize their vision when the title hasn’t even begun, and to understand what parts of that vision must remain unchanged and what parts will need to adapt through the project.
What works for us is to have a very clear vision and direction--and that direction since we were founded has come from me. The games we’ve made and the high level concepts we started out with have always lined up. Every studio is different, but this is what has worked for us. And just because I’m the one directing the vision doesn’t mean only my ideas get in, we always listen to ideas from anyone. If it makes the product better and fits in the schedule I’m all for it. But someone needs to be the person to weight whether or not it does gel with the vision.
Now as far as the branding of my name goes, yes, you are right. We were founded in 2003 and while Drawn to Life was our first million-selling title it was Scribblenauts that put us on the map. But, the Scribblenauts Debut Trailer did have my name on it. The trailer showed the 5th Cell logo, and then “From Creative Director Jeremiah Slaczka” followed by “And the team that brought you Drawn to Life™ and Lock’s Quest™”. By then I had led and designed a few big games and felt confident that I could begin to build a brand. Super Scribblenauts didn’t need my name because I became so associated with the franchise by then that it was just unnecessary. When we shipped Run Roo Run in 2011 is when we first used the labeling “A game by Jeremiah Slaczka.”
This decision was based on helping people associate the brand of 5th Cell with a person. Associating with a company is much harder to do than associating with a person. That’s because companies don’t make great games - in fact companies don’t do anything at all because they only exist in a legal sense. Talented people make great games. And the people we’ve hired are the talent that supports my ideas and my leadership.
When I put my name on the product, I’m not just sticking my own neck out there. I’m sticking the whole company out there. The game could be a huge flop. I’m not attaching my name to proven, successful ideas after the fact; I’m doing it before it’s a success. I believe in what we’re doing.
And to answer the last part of your question, personal branding does more than just strengthen business relationships, and get better deals for your company, it also helps to bring in some of the best talent available. When someone knows you and your work, they know who they are dealing with, are more comfortable with it, and want to be a part of it.
This isn’t for everyone, but for people who run their projects the way I do, they should brand themselves. We need power of the industry to be put back into the hands of the creative and away from the hands of the money--money that usually doesn’t even play the games they are publishing. I hope more people latch on to this idea. I just hope the people who do it, aren’t talking the talk without walking the walk, because that’s where the problems lie.