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Posts Tagged ‘Shigeru Miyamoto’

In case you missed it earlier this week, be sure to check out this superb Wall Street Journal article on Tomonobu Itagaki’s sudden (and fierce) departure from Tecmo. He’s best known for stylish series like Dead or Alive and the revived Ninja Gaiden, both of which cater to hardcore fans without apology. Along with Hideo Kojima and Shigeru Miyamato, Itagaki’s one of a very few big name Japanese producers still active in the industry.

The fact that a dispute over a completion bonus led to Itagaki’s decision to leave (and sue Tecmo, to boot) shows that this industry still has a lot to learn about how to treat talent, especially if video game companies want to play in the same league as movie studios and music labels. When was the last time Steven Spielberg or Jay-Z had to sue a studio to get a bonus out of them?

Itagaki produced some really groundbreaking games during his run at the helm of Tecmo’s Team Ninja, and helped move plenty of Dreamcasts for Sega, PlayStation 2’s for Sony, and Xboxes (and then 360s) for Microsoft over the years. Love them or hate them, every one of Itagaki’s games had a unique voice and visual flare that was distinctively his. Is Tecmo so stocked with talent that they can afford to just let him walk out the door? Not likely.

The WSJ article touches on how Itagaki (and other visionaries in the industry) favors working with a smaller team of 100 or so programmers and designers that “get” the vision, rather than a small army of code monkies updating last year’s game and plugging in new graphics. The fact is, we need this type of passionate, creative producer to remain committed to building new, breathtaking experiences and expanding their original IP to draw in new audiences and keep influential, hardcore gamers in love with the hobby.

We’ve (hopefully) come a long way from the EA Spouse days, the novelty of producing games will wear off in time, and the industry needs to figure out how to nurture and maintain the creative people that keep it moving forward.

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Seth Schiesel’s NY Times piece on GTAIV voice actor Michael Hollick from last week raised some interesting questions. While I don’t think anyone would argue that a game’s voice and mocap actors help the player connect better with the characters, it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison with film, or even traditional cartoon animation.

Actors in a video game are only one small part of a much larger team that builds and develops the characters. Of course, it’s industry standard for actors like Hollick to receive royalties for appearances in traditional media. But as we saw in the recent WGA writer’s strike, the old rules governing things like re-watches, syndication and cross-media viewing simply can’t apply to new media for it to remain profitable.

The fact is, if a developer like Rockstar is forced to pay a hefty residual to the actors that appear in its games, then it won’t be long before the coders, designers, producers, and even QA testers unionize and line up for “theirs.” After all, in a medium where the player is both the director and protagonist (as Stephen Johnson sharply observed), every one of these rank-and-file positions is just as critical as the next. And once publishers have to cut all those residuals checks, it becomes infinitely harder to make a profitable game. So then developers can’t take risks, and the fastest growing entertainment industry quits growing so fast… In short, what’s good for these actors could be really, really bad for the industry.

That said, Rockstar has a reputation for breaking new ground, and fostering creativity. So they (and parent company Take 2) can’t just write off the actors completely. I think Hollick actually showed the way towards a happy medium last week – he appeared on a morning radio show on DC’s WJFK FM. He mostly chatted up his experience making GTAIV, and offered an outsider’s perspective on how the magic happens.

Hollick’s appearance comes after GTAIV was established as a bona fide hit, so it’s unlikely that it caused any noticeable blip in sales. But if Hollick had hit the talk show circuit during release week, chatting up Dave and Jay and Conan, it’s possible that even more copies of GTAIV, and the boxes to play it on, would’ve flown out of retailers. After all, EVERYONE watches late night (including non-gamers), and if games continue to generate cash at a level on par with feature films and TV shows, shouldn’t our talent be expected to pitch in and market them the same way?

Like it or not, actors like Hollick are way more marketable and “TV friendly” than even a marquee producer like Will Wright or Shigeru Miyamoto. If their guilds and unions are going to push for a cut of profits from games in which they appear, then developers should insist that they serve as the face of the game.

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