Games on Late Night Talk Shows

Eric Williams, the combat designer on God of War II just posted about games on late night talk shows. It's a subject I've been thinking about for a long time. In fact since that rumor about David Jaffe not wanting to go on a press tour because it didn't involve TV.

I don't believe the violence in games has much to do with the absence of video game plugs on late night. However, I do think there are several real factors to the problem. The complexity of presentation, the opacity of our industry, the lack of big names, and the unfamiliarity of product to the host all contribute to the barrier that keeps games off late night TV.

The presentation problem is a real issue. Bands and comedians come out and do their songs and jokes then take off. Actors come out, show a clip, sit on the couch and look pretty or exude fame. What are game developers to do? Come out and play a level? Show a clip, sit on the couch and look not so pretty and exude what? Mtn. Dew? And what clip would be shown? How could you possibly describe the depth of a game like Spore in a clip? A similar problem is seen in commercials for video games. Show the story or show the game play? If you show the story people think the game play is going to suck, but if you show the game play you don't get an emotional connection. And if the game doesn't have story is it really in the same product class as movies, TV shows and music? Or is it just a toy at that point?

Our industry is very opaque. Very few people know how games get made or by who or where. It's magic to the general public. Contrast that with the prevailing opinion on acting. Most think that acting is easy and they could do it, it's just pretending and everyone remembers pretending as a child. People can put themselves in the place of the actors very easily. Plus the actor is the person you see in the movie. That visual association causes a hugely disproportionate amount of credit for the movie to be given to the actor. That's why you see lots of actors on late night and very few directors, unless they have been actors at some point or are ultra huge like Spielberg.

We have no big names in our industry that permeate outside the industry. We are familiar with the Will Wrights, Carmacks, and Jaffes but very few outsiders know those names. If Letterman said, "Tomorrow night on the show David Jaffe." The crowd would not applaud. His name is not big enough. That is what the producers of those shows are looking for, name recognition to draw the viewers. It's a symbiotic relationship big names draw the viewers for the show and the show permits the big names to plug their crap. Standard Hollywood issue, nobody will let you in until you have star power, but you won't have star power until someone lets you in.

The bigger the name the fewer questions there are that relate to the item being promoted. A no name actor in a well known series fields 95 % of his questions on the series and 5% personal questions. Where a Robin Williams comes out, plays the clip and doesn't mention the film at all. A game developer would be 100% about the game, nobody knows this guy, why would they want to know personal stuff about him. That puts the whole interview's quality to rest on the presentation problem.

All that said, I know that some of Jon Stewart's guests are not big entertainment names. Big names are not the draw to that show, people watch that show because it is hilarious. His smaller name guests, who pen political books that 90% of America would never read, are there because it is a political show.

I doubt John Stewart plays many games. I think he would relate very poorly to a game developer in an interview. He or any other late night host would just poke fun or make broad generalization references in order appeal to the greater portion of his audience.

Uh oh, There goes some talk about games right now. As I am typing this I'm hearing it from the TV. Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on March 26th 2006. Oscar DeLahoya plugs Fight Night for XBox 360. He's presenting the box. No clips just details about the game and how he plays himself. Not an industry guy, but at least they are cracking open the presentation problem.

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