Superstars Wanted

Let's play a little game: Name as many famous game designers as you can, as quickly as you can. OK, time. Who'd you come up with? Sid Meier, Peter Molyneux, Will Wright, John Romero, American McGee? Furor and Tigole, if you're into those kinds of games?

Chances are, unless you pay very close attention to the game development space, there really aren't that many superstars of the game design world. Jason Jones, Bungie founder and the lead designer of "Halo 3," which has sold so many copies that movie studio heads are blaming it for flagging Autumn box office numbers, appears in very little of the press about the game, in part because he doesn't do many interviews but also because gaming is not an industry that recognizes its stars. Imagine if "Halo 3" was a movie, with a similar marketing budget and similar buzz surrounding it -- the name of its director would be splashed all over the industry and popular press. Hearing about Jones would be unavoidable.

It can be argued that this lack of stardom in the gaming industry is a more accurate recognition of what it takes to make a hit video game. The lead designer is a guiding visionary, of course, but the contributions of countless other designers, artists, writers and programmers are essential, so the press's focus on the overall product, rather than any individual's contribution, is more realistic.

But this tendency is also problematic. In the movie industry, if a project -- even one that may not be as financially successful -- comes to the attention of a superstar actor or director, that project will almost certainly be made into a movie. Because of that, Hollywood gets movies like "Transformers" and "Spider-Man 3." But it also gets movies like "Hotel Rwanda," "Million Dollar Baby," and "American Beauty" -- movies that get made not because they'll be hits at the box office, but because someone with vision thought they would make a truly great movie. The gaming industry could stand to have a little more of that.

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