If Lee Clow’s Chiat/Day team were to write their seminal ‘Think Different’ spot today, there’s a very good chance that it would include a bespectacled Swedish programmer called Notch Persson.
Notch didn’t discover anything. He didn’t work for the Mars program or broker peace. Notch simply wrote a game in his bedroom and sold twenty five million copies with his personal PayPal account.
Notch created Minecraft. And a few months back he sold it to Microsoft for nearly three billion dollars.
The games industry is rapidly becoming one of the biggest and most important entertainment mediums on the planet. But apart from a few titles advertised on bus sides and an ABC show that features a talking robot you’d barely know it.
In May 2012, The Avengers made a cool three hundred million dollars in its opening weekend. This massive sum of money guaranteed it another two sequels and years of Happy Meal tie-ins.
In 2014, Grand Theft Auto 5 was released. It made eight hundred million dollars in its first twenty-four hours making it the most successful entertainment launch in history. The ‘Call of Duty’ franchise routinely makes a billion dollars in its first day. That’s probably why its latest iteration features Kevin Spacey and John Malkovich.
Basically, games are making ludicrous sums of money, insane amounts of money, drug cartel money.
Basically, the kind of money Hollywood used to make before they started producing the crap they’re churning out now.
The games industry is constantly experimenting with narrative, stories and emotional resonance matched with absolute cutting edge technology. They’re walking into the future with a self-confidence we used to have.
Sure, many titles involve shooting vast numbers of people in the face with realistic modern weaponry, but even they are now starting to play with the concept of morality, cause and effect.
‘The Last of Us’ is a recent title that simply involves a lonely man, once a father, escorting an initially annoying young girl across a Cormac McCarthy post-apocalyptic wilderness. As the game progresses you start to like her constant chatter, curiosity and inane jokes. And there’s a point where you feel enormously protective of her, your character becomes the father she once had, her the daughter you tragically lost. It’s astonishingly written, designed to provoke feelings of affection, fear and parenthood – all to the haunting music of Babel’s Gustavo Santaolalla.
Games have grown up, and their Creative Directors can now be classed as true auteurs.
Advertising, like Hollywood, has been forced into a situation where it can no longer sell a gut instinct; instead, others are paid vast sums to quantify and dissect ideas, using what has come before to judge what can be today. And the ideas that break convention, challenge and provoke are discarded because there’s no historical data to support them.
We’re walking into the future backwards.
Notch Persson simply knew that what he had was very special. He protected it, crafted it and used others he respected to turn it into what must be one of the single most important gaming properties on the planet.
It’s often rumoured that the stunningly beautiful words that Chiat/Day wrote for Apple were initially written to describe their agency.
But, sadly, those crazy ones, those misfits, those rebels, those round pegs in the square holes are now far more likely to be working in a games studio than an advertising agency.
So rather than turning to Hollywood for inspiration, maybe we should look to the games industry for inspiration. Because without their gut feel, innovation and singular creative vision well, it’s game over.