Rockstars from Aerosmith to Beyonce are more than the faces on the covers of their albums. In college, I used to create CD covers for local recording artists, so I can tell you first-hand that even though there was only one name on the front, there were many names on the inside jacket, just as there are many names in game credits. So how exactly are game developers like superstar musicians? The analogy fits in nearly every single way.
If you're looking to be a rockstar developer, you need a crew to back you up. Justin Bieber had Usher to help raise him to star status. On top of that, the Biebs is a solo artist, so he needs a nameless band to follow him around to play background music for his dulcet pipes. Gabe Newell is very similar to Justin Bieber in that he has Valve to play his background music. Would Gabe be a superstar without Valve? Maybe, just as Bieber might be a superstar without Usher.
Rockstar drama in the industry affects games and music alike. Richard Garriott is famous around these parts for essentially starting the MMO genre with Ultima Online. He sits as one of the greats in the industry overall for the Ultima series. It's disappointing when someone the industry admires says something like, "I think most game designers really just suck." It could ruin plans for any game that might be in development or maybe have a Kickstarter program. In this case, it didn't; Garriott's Shroud of the Avatar surpassed its one million dollar goal. And on the music industry side, Three Days Grace hasn't seen a reduction in ticket sales by splitting with frontman Adam Gontier and dealing with the drama that came from that. Well, until everyone hears Matt Walst sing Riot -- eep! But in both cases, there is a cloud of disappointment hovering over future projects.
Rockstars drive sales
Would we buy a Valve game if Gabe Newell stopped endorsing the company? I can't say that I would. I know that Stone Temple Pilots is essentially the same band it's always been, but without Scott Weiland, I can't say that Better Man will have the same flavor it had before.
Sometimes, it's not the individuals in the band or studio but the whole studio itself that is the rockstar. Take Bungie, for instance. The Halo series wasn't the same when Bungie ended its connection to Microsoft. And I would personally argue that Knights of the Old Republic was 10 times better than Knights of the Old Republic II. Both were published by LucasArts, but BioWare made the first and Obsidian made the second.
Whether we like it or not, star power affects our gaming purchases. A brand name on a game title will help sell the game to the public. Of course, we can only speculate, but how much money would Double Fine have made for its Kickstarter project if Tim Schafer hadn't spearheaded the campaign? As far as I'm concerned, Tim Schafer's endorsement not only made money for Double Fine but also turned Kickstarter into a legitimate way for gaming companies to crowdfund capital. If that's not rockstar power, I don't know what is.
Becoming a rockstar
For fun, I looked up how to become a rockstar, and WikiHow gave me the answers. Surprisingly, it is very similar to how to become a rockstar in gaming. The 16 steps can be whittled down to three steps: practise, accept critique, and publicize. In reality, that's how you can become a gaming rockstar, too. Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes of Super Meatboy fame did just that, and for those aspiring gaming rockstars, it was documented in the film Indie Game.
Interestingly, independent gaming development is following in the footsteps of independent rockers. Revered musicians like Michael Stipe and Kurt Cobain, both of whom helped reshape the music industry, started as independent musicians. Creative independence allowed these musicians to create what they wanted, how they wanted, and when they wanted. We see similar creativity in independent gaming development. DayZ is a perfect example of this. Independent developers created a game that would never have been produced by a mainstream developer because people believe no one would ever want permanent character death in an online game. Yet these gaming rockstars proved that was absolutely not true.
In the end, maybe both Shawn and I are right. There have to be stand-out figures in the gaming industry to keep things moving in a clear direction. We have to have developers we admire to help us achieve greatness in the industry. But we also must keep in mind that these rockstars are only human, and it takes a whole industry of people to make great games.
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