For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects videogame culture is that it is an industry that doesn’t thrive on celebrity endorsement. Certainly, there are video games – most notably, the recent Fable III, for example – that includes celebrity performers amongst the creative cast (in this case performing voiceovers, such as Simon Pegg and John Cleese). Such endorsement inevitably attracts media attention. But for videogames, celebrity performance is just one element in many that go together to make a game. And it doesn’t appear to be the most important one.
Once again, Fable III is instructive. Look at Fable III’s splash page: there isn’t a mention in the game outline of the celebrities who performed: it is to be found in a tab, alongside news and community tabs. A star’s appearance won’t generally sell the game: the majority of games don’t have celebrity endorsement or appearance, including some of the most successful of all time.
Dara Ó Briain makes the point in this video (I can’t embed it – sorry) when introducing 2011’s BAFTA Award nominations for videogames. The most valued game in terms of the number of nominations – the excellent Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood – is one of three games in an extremely successful franchise from the Ubisoft creative studio.
Rather than follow an actor, a fan is more likely to follow a director or even a games house or creative studio, such as Ubisoft, Lionhead (Fable III) or Rockstar, who make the Grand Theft Auto series. It feels a bit like how we sometimes follow the director of movies – the auteur – rather than the star.
One would be naive to think that celebrity doesn’t shift boxes in every industry. But the absence of an overt celebrity-driven influence on the videogame industry hasn’t affected videogame sales. We’re all familiar with the industry being one of the world’s largest, competing with cinema and television. What lovers of games look out for instead is the quality of the game – the graphics, gameplay, innovation – in a way that seems sadly old-fashioned for some popular contemporary culture.