Tuesday, August 12, 2008


There is an interesting and- for me- thought provoking write up over at the MTV Multiplayer Blog today about should game devs get names on boxes.

Check out Mr. Totilo's latest right here! Then come on back to read the rest of my take on the whole thing...

Back when we did Twisted Metal 1, the first printing of that game had my name on the box, on the back under a small little designed by credit. I think it said- DESIGNED BY: DAVID JAFFE & SINGLETRAC...here, check it out:

Sorry it's a bit blurry...

My desire for this came directly from seeing Sierra Online do something similar with their PC adventure games. Heck, those folks got names AND their pictures on the box!!! My desire also came form the fact that I wanted to make a name for myself as a game designer and hell, at the time, Sony didn't even think about it and just said:sure. But then they changed their minds! Some of it was the complaints from the rest of the team...some of it- I assume- came from them going: 'wait, why are we helping this guy become his own brand?!? A brand that we financed but don't own? Hell no!!!'

...well that is what I assumed happened in SOMEONE'S mind. Or not...maybe it was just the team complaining :)

But in the case of Twisted, the team- rightly so- did indeed scoff and so upon second printings, my name was removed.

Now I am not saying my name should NOT have been on the box. It should have. But so should perhaps 5 other folks from Singletrac who did key design and/or creation work and really birthed that franchise. And that is not to take away from all the work the rest of the team did or all the work the publisher did. And hell, if we were a logical business and shared a handful of game engines across all games versus all of this 'let's make our own fucking engine so our graphics can be 2% better than our competition even tho most of the public could really give a rat's ass when you are talking about that level of a difference', then a few of those 5 would not be on the box either because they would be being given credit for having written an amazing engine that LOTS of games used, not just TWISTED METAL (and WARHAWK)....are we getting there with stuff like the success of UNREAL ENGINE? And with the success of Wii where it's been made clear that a vast number of gamers do not think graphics have to make your eyes bleed for a game to be worth buying? We'll see...

So two more things on the NAME ABOVE THE TITLES issue:

#1- The idea of ASKING a publisher what they think about this issue and expecting an answer that is actually balanced is absurd. Trust me, if movie studios didn't HAVE to give credit, they would not. Why would they- or why would game publishers? It's bad business. The pubs and studios put up the cash- usually- and they take the biggest risk. Why would they EVER want the success of a movie or game associated with anyone other than them? I get that. But in movies, they do it cause it's contractual and they do it because they are forced to do it or those above the line talents will go work somewhere else. And in DOING so, the above the line names become valuable brands which do benefit the studios on a movie by movie basis, but benefit the individual actors/directors for the duration of their career- no matter what studio they choose to work with.

In games, it's not the case because so far, game developers (either as teams or as individual 'stars' on a team), have yet to prove that they can bring in cash on a consistent basis. What brings in real cash in games are brand names of franchises: GTA, HALO, CALL OF DUTY. Yes, those names become brands because talented teams make amazing products BUT all one needs to do is look at the mega success of Twisted Metal 3 and Twisted Metal 4 (games that many folks did not think were as good as the originals) to see that the majority of the buying public is as fine with a 70% metacritic rated game as they are with a 95% metacritic rated title. As long as they get the core fantasy delivered and it's marketed well, they'll show up.

And so until developers- be them individual stars or the core members on the team- can really prove- on a consistent basis- that they can make hit after hit after hit IN DIFFERENT FRANCHISES (without NEEDING to attach an expensive comic or movie license to their games in order to do so), game makers have little room to negotiate. Even the guys who make CALL OF DUTY, HALO, and GTA are not in a perfect position, as amazingly genius as they are. Because All of those games- even if given to C+ level developers- can still make crazy cash for at least 2-4 more iterations before the public catches on and stops buying the series. I am almost certain that if those developers walked away because their money demands were not met, the folks who own the rights to those series would keep pumping them out- regardless of quality- and keep raking in the cash.

Maybe the problem is game makers have been assuming quality=value. But it does not. Hell, GOD OF WAR- which many folks felt was a quality game- got it's ASS KICKED ALL OVER THE PLACE in sales by the FANTASTIC FOUR movie video game (which many folks felt was not a very high quality product...and I know some of the folks who made it and they worked their asses off, but look, let's call it like it is...it was not a great game by many people's standards). But I'll tell you what, it sold like crazy cakes dude.

So the reality is, sales=value; ability to create sales=ability to negotiate. So if a developer out there is able to create consistent hit franchises, then you will see the name(s) of those folks above the titles because then they will have the leverage to demand such treatment.

Reality is, I can't think of anyone in the biz who has done that other than perhaps Miyamoto (if you look at ALL the stuff he's made). And for whatever reason, he seems content to stay at the big N and not demand his due. And you guys who like to go all hater on me and call me arrogant can talk all you want about company loyalty and that Miyamoto is a class act who would never demand such things. What-the-fuck-ever, dude. He may very well be a saint. Good on him. I got nothing but love for Miyamoto. But business is business and if you are a key player in making someone a shit ton of money over and over and over, in my book, you damn well better be getting your due (be it mega bucks or name above the title or whatever the hell you want). And Miyamoto may very well feel that he is very well compensated. I am aware there is a vast cultural difference between East and West on this subject. I have no way of knowing the details of his situation. All I am saying is, he's the only one I can think of who has been key in making mega hits in various franchises. Can you think of anyone else?

#2- Alot of the net posters commenting on this story are assuming game devs who want this treatment are ego maniacs. They then go on to say that movie stars and movie directors are ok to ask for it because that's just how it is, but game makers are assholes if they as for such treatment. To these folks I say: go fuck yourself. The movie folks negotiated for those credits and fought tooth and nail for them. They were not just given them by the movie gods or the kind folks who run the movie studios or the movie going public. So don't accuse us of being arrogant just because some of us would like to be treated with as much re$pect (be it money or credit, and preferably both) as we can get away with. Plus, granted Miyamoto and Wright are not as big of names as Spielberg. BUT THAT IS BECAUSE MIYAMOTO AND WRIGHT DON'T HAVE NAMES ABOVE PRODUCTS and they don't have ability to negotiate for the sort of press treatment and PR perks that movie folks get (which, in turn, turns them into brand names). The only way they will become mainstream is if they MAKE THEMSELVES mainstream. It is not magic, it's a calculated process. But that ain't really gonna happen unless there is a big shift in the way games are financed. I just saw some of the ex Midway guys are starting a console game co. with VC money...so maybe when the money comes from VC versus publishers, the VC will be more willing to let the game makers have their very valuable time in the sun.

Ok, gotta get back to work- talk to ya'll soon- David