Gaming desperately needs celebrities

Try this, just flick through just about any (non gaming) magazine and what are they talking about? That’s right, people. We live in the age of celebrity and it is hardly suprising because people are a lot more interesting than anything else. So we live in an age where we can now lock a few fairly stupid nonentities into a house, televise it, and they become instant celebrities.

Around about 1982 I was trying to market games at Imagine and so went down the celebrity route with the company founders David Lawson and Mark Butler, obviously not losing the opportunity to allude to previous young Liverpool celebrities. This worked very, very well. We had TV stations passing one another in the stairs up to our offices. And we sold a mountain of games. So we kept it going with new angles till David and Mark pretty much got fed up/too busy. 

Then I looked round and saw Eugene Evans, who had previously worked for me as a Saturday boy at Microdigital (and who is now a Senior Director, Marketing at Electronic Arts).  Eugene was very young and earning a lot of money, also he was far better looking than David and Mark. So he bravely agreed to be the next celebrity. And again it worked, better if anything. We got him in all the main national newspapers, repeatedly. He went to 10 Downing Street to meet Margaret Thatcher. And when he passed his driving test and we bought him a Lotus it was all over the papers (we didn’t tell them when he wrote it off driving into the wall of the Moby Dick pub in West Kirby). And we sold more mountains of games.

This really, really, really worked. I cannot over emphasise this. If anyone wanted a quote about anything to do with games they game to us. So we pushed some other key staff as celebrities as well. John “Granddad” Gibson and Ian Weatherburn. This worked too. The press even wrote about me!

To give you an idea of how well this worked look at the games we were selling. Does anyone remember them today? Frankly they were pretty average and there were far better games around from other publishers. Yet we outsold them all by a country mile.

Then I did the same at Codemasters, with David and Richard Darling. And the press fell for it again. Massively. We got them featured in major articles in every sunday paper colour supplement and on to every saturday morning kids TV show. They were big news. And of course it sold us immemse mountains of games. And I could spin so much off it. For instance we brought out a version of BMX simulator which worked with four players. So I got my camera out and snapped a few shots of all four Darling brothers on a BMX bike on their front lawn. I sent this out with a press release and, voila, we had the next number one. Wicked.

Now just look at the state of celebrity in the games industry worldwide. It is truly pathetic. Where are our Tom Cruises, our Spice Girls, our Paris Hiltons? We have done a terrible job. The nearest we have is Peter Molineux (excellent article about this here), who is not exactly Kurt Cobain. It is a terrible state when all the fanboys have to rant about is the consoles themselves.

So how has this come about? Well firstly the nature of our business involves people with great technical skills sitting in front of screens for thousands of hours. These people are as far removed from pop stars as it is possible to be. Secondly the marketeers have failed. They have concentrated on product and that is not the main thing that people want to know about. People want to know about people.

So any marketeers reading this give it a try. Your victim needs to be brave and up for it. They also need to be prepared to give the time to it. Then it is suprisingly easy. Far easier than trying to market games. All you have to do is chat to them till you find a really interesting story, everyone has one. Or failing that use your imagination and make one up, it’s what the Hollywood and pop industry publicists do all the time. Then ride the roller coaster, scoring product points along the way. Use a professional publicist if you are unsure. Send your victim for media training if/when it gets serious.

You will be amazed at the uptake. The press are so hungry to write about people because they know that this is what their readers want to read. Just do it.

So would you like to be famous? Why aren’t you using celebrity in your business? Use the comments and let us know.


  1. I have spent many an hour day dreaming about being a big celebrity developer. I think the game industry tends to focus on the celebrity of the studios more so than the individuals. Everyone knows Blizzard and Rockstar and Bungie, etc and buy their games without knowing much if anything about the people that are involved. I myself pay attention to important people in games development and look forward to the next game from, say, Warren Spector (Damn I love Deus Ex) regardless of where he makes it. The average gamer is not so dedicated.
    In Japan it is common-place for developers to be celebrities with the likes of Miyamoto, Kojima and Itagaki but I think that is more due to the higher visibility and popularity of gaming in general than any concerted effort to promote them.

  2. Peter Molineux? Coming from a British standpoint, I understand why you’d mention him, but as far as gaming personalities in the Western hemisphere (thus not including Miyamoto, Kojima, etc.) go, I’d have to say that perhaps Nintendo’s Reggie is the biggest. With Nintendo’s growing popularity among the masses, I think he’s got the biggest chance of becoming one of the first publicly recognized gaming celebrities, since the media’s spotlight would naturally focus on him to explain the massive success of the Wii and of Nintendo’s new gaming strategy. Then again, perhaps I’m wrong, he acts principally as a Nintendo spokesperson – knowing his personality, I doubt he’d participate in the activities and the lifestyles thanks to which most celebrities are written about in papers and magazines. It’s hard to imagine a paparazzi taking pictures of him at the beach and speculating on his love-life.

    If that’s the kind of celebrity you intend, well, the media loves young, successful, edgy people. Businessmen and spokepersons would not go across terribly well, what you need is someone who’s got a lively character and an interesting, exciting life outside of the workplace. Perhaps Gears of War’s lead designer, Cliffy B. from Epic. He seems to have the attitude for it, and could be marketed well as a celebrity, in my opinion. Or hell, if Microsoft really wanted, they could revamp Bill Gate’s look and sell him as a little more hip with the times, but that’d take an enormous amount of work, and I doubt the big man wants to sit through the humiliation, particularly with the power he’s got.

  3. Ha Ha! You must be joking. NO! We do not need celebrities and Do NOT want celebrities. Frankly, we do not need more of the likes of Hilton, Cruz, or the Spice Girls telling us what to play. We see enough of those types.

    I’m sure you are right, and that by marketing games with celebrities and personalities developers would sell more games. However, as a gamer I see the video game industry as still in its infancy and virtually pure. We don’t the want the video game industry to be making mediocre boilerplate games, such as Hollywood is with films. Employing celebrities to market games will only result in the public buying poor games.

    I hope most gamers stand with my opinion. If I am wrong, this is a sad day in the gaming universe indeed.

  4. Ha Ha! You must be joking. YES! Xiong is right we see enough of those types everyday on TV. but your point on people wanting to know about people cannot be rejected. we are human beings serving human beings so you are right about the person bit. heed this gamer a celebrity addicted game industry might be endangered if it cannot defend its own nature by allowing subliminal morphing friendly prone take overs.

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