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Levine: "We need to be on The Daily Show"

Thu 07 Jul 2011 2:12pm GMT / 10:12am EDT / 7:12am PDT
PeopleDevelopment

Irrational creative director says lack of games in mainstream media is "not their fault. It's our fault"

Irrational Games' creative director Ken Levine has urged developers seeking to expand the audience for their products to tackle the mainstream media head-on.

Levine was a guest on the Gamers With Jobs podcast ahead of the public premiere of Bioshock Infinite's E3 demo on Spike TV, and recounted his experiences conducting market research for the new project.

"We had a room full of college students, in some fraternity in some state school somewhere – this is about a year ago – and they had never heard of Bioshock. None of them. Not a single one," he said.

"I think as an alpha gamer you assume that, 'whether you've played Bioshock or not, you've heard of it, right?' These guys had never even heard of it."

Levine referred to a widely held belief in marketing that a consumer needs to be exposed to a piece of advertising three times before they really absorb it, and believes that the games industry needs to achieve that kind of public presence.

"I mean, how many times have you seen images of Transformers?" he asked. "Whether you want to or not you've probably seen it 15 or 20 times... We're making products that cost however many millions of dollars and have the potential to have a large audience, but... to get people who aren't alpha gamers there's a whole different kind of activity that you have to undertake."

Levine acknowledged that even TV-advertising and bus-advertising have only been commonplace in the marketing of videogames "for a few years", but asserted the importance of getting videogames in front of new people in a more direct way.

"That isn't just about buying ads. It's the places you can reach [new people]... We need to be on mainstream shows, we need to be on NPR, we need to be on The Daily Show, we need to be in those places talking about what we do."

"We're still ghettoized as game developers, and Spike TV is a great place in the middle, but we really need to think about how do we reach out and talk to people so you don't have a room full of college kids saying, 'I've never heard of that damn thing.'"

The Daily Show, Levine points out, will have an author whose book has sold 15,000 copies as a guest, but won't necessarily consider booking game developers like Bioware's Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk.

"You can't find a more impressive set of guys than Ray and Greg from Bioware - they're medical doctors, they're MBAs, they run this company, they're brilliant game developers, but I haven't seen them on The Daily Show."

The question, then, is why not, and Levine rejects the common assumption that the mainstream isn't interested in games.

"It's not their fault. It's our fault. As an industry we need to think of ourselves differently. We need to think of ourselves that way and present ourselves that way... We have a responsibility. People like me, like Cliff [Bleszinski], like Ray and Greg, have a responsibility to educate people who don't think of games. Like the people booking those shows."

"A lot of it is getting the guys that book those shows past their own lack of knowledge and their own discomfort about games. There's no material reason why a Tim Schaffer isn't going to be as good a guest as some guy who wrote a book that sells 15,000 copies. But there's a natural discomfort that the bookers must have, and part of our job is to get in front of those people and say, 'Hey, we're out here, we're doing cool stuff, and we want to speak to a broader audience as well.'"

18 Comments

Part of the larger issue is establishing in the general public that gaming per se is now mainstream. And with that a general consensus to not be guilty of stating that one enjoys gaming in either a minor or core gaming capacity.

The day we can establish that grandma, and the pm enjoy gaming to a greater or lesser extent, means that we slowly are able to win the culture war. In addition we should be banging the drums that games and movies are so interchangeable, they are almost one and the same

Posted:3 years ago

#1

Cori Myers CEO/Owner, Gameinatrix.com

20 1 0.1
This is all true but I'd say it's not even the developers fault. The bottom line is the all mighty dollar (or franc or whatever your monetary denomination) and PR people/agencies, tend to only want to go where they are sure they'll get the largest audience.

This means excluding several other groups of people/demographics. We're a female oriented gaming site and have been around for nearly 8 years and we will have to beg borrow and steal to get games from PR agencies. This type of thinking is so in the box, it's ridiculous. So we have no ads in "other" magazine, TV networks or anywhere other than Spike TV(the men's network). What about ads on networks like Oxygen, or Cosmo magazine or on the food network even?

I think a lot of the PR people have become complacent in their methods and it's hurting us. We DO need to step into mainstream media or at the very least try other media to get the word out.

Posted:3 years ago

#2
We could try cross platform promoting via film and tv review sites, the local tech columns in national newspapers and even radio (via the espousing of next gen technology, augmented reality and interactive media as a testbed for future tech via modern games)

Posted:3 years ago

#3

Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer

579 322 0.6
The reason why game developers do not have mainstream media coverage is because game developers are group-thinkers. When they start a new project the first thing they do is make a studio, and then hide behind the face of the studio.

Translation: They don't promote themselves as core creators.

In other entertainment industries they do.

When you think who made The Matrix, you don't think Warner Brothers. You think the Wachowski Brothers, Laurence Fishburne, Keanu Reeves.

When you think of who made Half Life 2, you think Valve. Who did the game design? Who did this or that?

People will say game dev is too collaborate. Bullshit. Films are equal to or *more* collaborative. Yet key individuals are still given the chance to promote their actual names as brands.

As long as you project to the public that game are made by faceless studios - as opposed to key individual creators - the public will not see any face.

If you want this attention, you have to start shoving those key creators up front, on the title credits. "Lead Design by..." "Produced by..." Etc.

Posted:3 years ago

#4

Brian 'Psychochild' Green MMO Developer

14 11 0.8
It's funny, because Dungeons & Dragons Online was mentioned on The Colbert Report. But, I'm guessing Levine doesn't like Cobert as much as Stewart.

Posted:3 years ago

#5

Julien Wera Marketing & PR Manager, Massive - A Ubisoft Studio

9 0 0.0
I would rather agree with him. If games are not featured more in broad public outlets, it's mainly because the games industry tends to be a small worlds quite closed on himself : gamers become game developers, they make games for other gamers and talk about it in media outlets that are edited by gamers.

And... I don't see anything wrong with that. If you do a game for gamers, like Bioshock, or World of Tanks, or League of Legends, you should talk about it where your audience wants to hear about it.

But when you do a game for the broad public, like Bejeweled, then you're targeting the broader media, which is what PopCap does very well.

Relatively to the population of the planet, very few people are able to play a 3D console FPS, and even fewer want to pay 60$ for it, whereas anybody is able to shut his brain off and go see Transformers.

Games have the audience and the media that go with them, it's quite normal.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Julien Wera on 7th July 2011 8:35pm

Posted:3 years ago

#6

Corey Fong Director of Marketing, Flashman Agency

5 0 0.0
I’m not quite sure what the exact point Levine is trying to make here. Is it the fact that he felt Bioshock’s brand awareness should’ve been higher and we as an industry need to push more into the mainstream or we as an industry need to focus more on the developers by putting them into the mainstream more by educating the mass audience.

Generally speaking, the reason why movie stars are booked on talk shows is they are promoting their movie to drive sales. It’s a function of PR and marketing. The other reason they get booked is because we as movie goers see them on screen and our brain creates these feelings of familiarity with them, even though we don’t know them at all. That causes us to tune into the talk shows, which increases ratings for those talk shows.

Games on the other hand, the consumers’ relationship is with the actual game/brand, not the developers of the game. Hence, the consumers’ interested hearing from the actual developers is an even smaller cross section of a fan of that particular brand/game, which doesn’t help ratings for a TV talk show. Which is why TV talk show producers don’t book game developer’s as guests.

I would also argue that game industry marketing already behaves in the same way as movie marketing does. We have blockbuster type hits with multimillion dollar marketing budgets like HALO and COD that penetrate into the mass consumer conciousness. And much in the same way, for every “Transformer” blockbuster movie, there are a dozen smaller movies we never hear about, let alone their movie stars or directors.

The game Marketeers and PR manager’s job in the game industry is to take each title they are assigned, evaluate the title's strengths and weaknesses, and identify the most appropriate target market that will actually buy the game, and utilize the given media outlets to reach that audience in order to drive as much buzz and sales possible within the given budget. Sometimes that involves getting interviews for the developer, sometimes it doesn’t.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Corey Fong on 7th July 2011 9:01pm

Posted:3 years ago

#7

Morgan Ramsay Bestselling Author, Celebrity Interviewer & Entrepreneur

7 4 0.6
Will Wright, Ian Bogost, and Jane McGonigal have been interviewed on The Colbert Report.

Posted:3 years ago

#8
I think Ken is trying to say, how come the average joe hasnt heard of an acclaimed game like Bioshock or Duke Nukem or team Fortress 2 and so forth. This is probably a awareness issue, and maybe its because they are not a gamer. Or if they are a gamer, how many titles will they purchase a year. 3-4? 2?

and....if so, how do we get to convert them and own all their bases?

Posted:3 years ago

#9
Bioshock is one of the best games of this generation if nit the best and I can't believe college students hadn't heard of it.
As for public awareness, I'm seeing alot more game ads in the cinema and on tv. What more can you do?

Posted:3 years ago

#10

Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer

579 322 0.6
Kurtis: What more we can do is promote individual game designers.

Posted:3 years ago

#11

Gediminas Tarasevicius Lead designer, Yummi Apps

3 0 0.0
100% sure, those same students knew what Call of Duty was all about. By the looks of it, Levine feels underestimated. So why not hire some Holywood A star for Infinitite's Elizabeth's voice, and do a promo run through the shows with A star as a speakperson for the game? At most it's a public relations issue, so if you are not happy, say it to your publisher's PR departament to fix you a Daily Show date or whatever you like. You can buy in these things.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Gediminas Tarasevicius on 8th July 2011 7:38am

Posted:3 years ago

#12

Akos Nemes Studying Game Designer, Train2Game

2 0 0.0
There is many good point about this problem but I think we didn't mentioned the very important one. While most AAA games based on violence, there is many AAA films out there where is nobody get hurt physically. In the AAA game industry, the target people is only who like adrenaline. While there is so many film out there without violence, and with rich emotional experience.
Transformers was seen by many people because there is Megan Fox and this another guy in it, and they romance, and the adrenalin + the ads on the streets and on TV.
This is a big a difference. We humans are very emotional mammals, and nobody seems to realize it in the AAA game world(ok there is some exceptions but you know what I mean). The AAA guys running a race about who can put bigger enemies in the game on a bigger scaled map in the most realistic way. You know, I don't know all the AAA action film title what is out there, and that's give me an answer why some college student don't know about Bioshock. I love Bioshock, and the Battlefield series and Killzone, but my girlfriend only watching me playing when I put the Heavy Rain on(or her favourite: Siberia). I think today's games designers must broaden they mind when they consider to write a new game, or just except the fact that they making games only for adrenalin loving gamers :D

sorry for my English grammar I'm still learning it.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Akos Nemes on 8th July 2011 8:42am

Posted:3 years ago

#13
The other thing to really appreciate is , as much as I love Bioshock and that we even went on to work on Bioshock 2 because it was so unique. The series is actually very niche, and thus appeals to a very narrow bandwidth of folks.

In comparison, (for example) Little Big Planet has a larger mass audience appeal.

I think we shouldnt try to overtly force this issue. As a gaming industry overall, I am sure PR and marketing are already doing their utmost to promote gaming. It just requires a critical inertia and pop cultural momentum, to receive sufficient energy to be truly global, mainstream, in everyones home for us a a gaming industry to be culturally perceived as mainstream, commonplace such as the Japanese attitude to gaming. An everyday cultural thing and not seen as extreme or uncommon.

Posted:3 years ago

#14

Bruno Brøsted Incident Manager

22 0 0.0
Real games need hardware so they don't matter to those that have not bought that "ticket". It's no different than say how track day events only matters to those having bought sporty cars.

Could you have a game on Daily Show sure but you won't because much of the audience would be left out. It would be no different than say Daily Show did a segment in German because they decided to interview Angela Merkel. Some people watching might get who she is but most be left out since not understanding German.

Posted:3 years ago

#15

Bill Garrison Studying Student, DigiPen Institute of Technology

69 89 1.3
A. Maybe Levine and his team need to produce content that speaks for itself, before they start criticizing the abilities of pr people and marketing teams.
B. Maybe the first step to creating "awareness" of your product, is not hiding it behind closed doors at the world's biggest gaming industry event, E3.

Posted:3 years ago

#16

Francis Elphick Game Designer, Gameloft Montreal

3 0 0.0
I watch all the Daily Shows as they come out. There is lots of content there I don't particularly associate with. Many guests I don't even finish watching all the way through. It's ok, it's variety. Today it's not a guest I wanted to see, tomorrow it is. "Something for everyone".

Ken, if he lands an interview on the Daily Show, I would watch!

Posted:3 years ago

#17

Nicholas Muise Assistant Producer, HB Studios

2 0 0.0
"The reason why game developers do not have mainstream media coverage is because game developers are group-thinkers. When they start a new project the first thing they do is make a studio, and then hide behind the face of the studio.

Translation: They don't promote themselves as core creators.

In other entertainment industries they do.

When you think who made The Matrix, you don't think Warner Brothers. You think the Wachowski Brothers, Laurence Fishburne, Keanu Reeves.

When you think of who made Half Life 2, you think Valve. Who did the game design? Who did this or that?

People will say game dev is too collaborate. Bullshit. Films are equal to or *more* collaborative. Yet key individuals are still given the chance to promote their actual names as brands.

As long as you project to the public that game are made by faceless studios - as opposed to key individual creators - the public will not see any face.

If you want this attention, you have to start shoving those key creators up front, on the title credits. "Lead Design by..." "Produced by..." Etc. "

I think this is exactly what Levine is stating here:

"We have a responsibility. People like me, like Cliff [Bleszinski], like Ray and Greg, have a responsibility to educate people who don't think of games. Like the people booking those shows."

Posted:3 years ago

#18

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