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Mishler’s Manifesto

In the latest issue of Comics & Games Retailer, editor James Mishler makes an excellent point about one of the big differences between selling comics and selling games. These days, people buy comics because of the writers and artists involved with a particular book. With games, few people have any idea who the creators are.

Some comics creators have attained rock-star status. Much of this happened on the merits of their own talents, of course, but also because the comic-book companies realized that this could be a strong selling point for them. Sure, Batman books sell all right, but put names like Frank Miller and Jim Lee on a Batman book (All-Star Batman and Robin), and it sets records as the best-selling book of the new millennium.

With games, that’s impossible to pull off. Only a few noted creators have earned instant name recognition, but even then their names don’t always guarantee big sales. James argues that this has harmed the game industry. At the very least, the publishers have missed a huge opportunity.

I tend to agree with him, although I’ve seen publishers work the fame angle well. Back at Pinnacle, we used to make a huge splash at Gen Con every summer. When we released Deadlands: Hell on Earth and Brave New World, we had lines that sprawled around our island of booths and beyond. At the Brave New World launch, I signed well north of 250 copies of the core book.

At the last Wizard World Chicago, though, I sat behind Jim Lee in the DC autographs booth and watched him sign books for nearly an hour. Jim handled himself like the perfect gentleman he is as he signed stacks and stacks of stuff, posed for pictures, shook hands, and more. However, you had to have a wristband to get into line, and even then they limited the signing to an hour so that Jim could make it to other events at the show.

It stunned me. I sat there and stared, soaking in the reflected limelight. Jim’s a true talent, no doubt, but an amazing cult of personality exists around him, and every one of those fans stood on its front lines.

And, man, does it help sell books. Games too? Hard to tell, but it’s worth a shot.

Comments 14

  1. Funny how the traditional games industry doesn’t have the name recognition…but still has the egos. (Some folks at least…LIKE YOU! No, I kid.)

  2. I think the nature of games conspires to prevent author-stars. Consumers of RPGs especially can too-easily think of themselves (rightly or wrongly) as the primary creative forces behind their fun.

    On the other hand, it’s not like Monte Cook’s just scraping by.

  3. I think the nature of games conspires to prevent author-stars. Consumers of RPGs especially can too-easily think of themselves (rightly or wrongly) as the primary creative forces behind their fun.

    On the other hand, it’s not like Monte Cook’s just scraping by.

  4. Egos are always a problem in any creative endeavor, whether there’s fame involved or not. It’s the nature of the beast, Jason. Or is it the Jason-beast? I always get that confused.

    Good point, Jeff, about the nature of RPGs helping foil rock-star designers. Some core-book creators seem to be able to get around this by emphatically being there on the ground floor of a setting. Supplement writers, though, rarely get the same kind of respect.

    As James pointed out, though, it’s not just RPGs that suffer from this. Few outside the industry could name a board game designer much less a collectible card game designer.

    Perhaps it’s the difference between mechanics and stories that causes the disconnect. The two often become intertwined in games, but never to the extent that you see in a narrative tale. Hm. More food for thought.

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    Author

    Egos are always a problem in any creative endeavor, whether there’s fame involved or not. It’s the nature of the beast, Jason. Or is it the Jason-beast? I always get that confused.

    Good point, Jeff, about the nature of RPGs helping foil rock-star designers. Some core-book creators seem to be able to get around this by emphatically being there on the ground floor of a setting. Supplement writers, though, rarely get the same kind of respect.

    As James pointed out, though, it’s not just RPGs that suffer from this. Few outside the industry could name a board game designer much less a collectible card game designer.

    Perhaps it’s the difference between mechanics and stories that causes the disconnect. The two often become intertwined in games, but never to the extent that you see in a narrative tale. Hm. More food for thought.

  6. Too true, Jason, but then they have to be. If you don’t think whatever you create is better than what’s already out there, then what’s the point? Holding that belief requires at least a modicum of ego.

    Of course some of us can go overboard with that. 🙂

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    Too true, Jason, but then they have to be. If you don’t think whatever you create is better than what’s already out there, then what’s the point? Holding that belief requires at least a modicum of ego.

    Of course some of us can go overboard with that. 🙂

  8. It is interesting to me how little the “stardom” phenomenon has developed in the gaming industry, but I can see why. Gary Gygax became a name because he “created” something new. Steve Jackson because he was creating like crazy and named a company after himself. Tracy Hickman (and Laura) were the first time I can remember a name that by itself made me buy a gaming product. It started with Pharoah and continued from there. Your work, Greg Gorden’s work, and Shane Hensley’s work have all made me a frequent consumer of gaming products.

    I think one of the difficulties in the RPG world is that early on the names were “microprinted” on the covers, still true today. Add to this the fact that the major publishers are somewhat “mills” in their rapid production and when the “brand” I am buying is Wizards or Green Ronin the author is less important. Imagine if consumers bought “Del Rey” fantasy novels instead of David Gemmell. Much of the gaming industry is achieving this.

    It’s like when I was young and I first read a Michael Moorcock novel (the DAW edition). At first I bought every DAW fantasy book, but then I realized some DAW books were aweful and that those with Michael Whelan covers were good. Then I started noticing that Michael Moorcock was the author.

    Gaming, by its nature, is about the games. So people by Wizards D&D products, regardless of author. Add to this that the quality remains high with a long list of authors and “star status” becomes more difficult.

    Games are kind of where comics were in the 60s. Most people bought for the title. It wasn’t until later that people began to recognize artist names. Then artist control of the industry took over and books specialized and sales dropped. Sure Jim Lee on a book increases sales, but he increases sales in a depressed market which became “art” all the time and has IMHO become less about simple entertainment. It’s a difficult balance, the quality is much higher now, but less “broad” in appeal.

    Naturally, gaming is still in a developing stage. Which I think is the crux of the issue. TRPGs have had to deal with challenges in the marketplace at a rate faster than the development of their own industry.

  9. It is interesting to me how little the “stardom” phenomenon has developed in the gaming industry, but I can see why. Gary Gygax became a name because he “created” something new. Steve Jackson because he was creating like crazy and named a company after himself. Tracy Hickman (and Laura) were the first time I can remember a name that by itself made me buy a gaming product. It started with Pharoah and continued from there. Your work, Greg Gorden’s work, and Shane Hensley’s work have all made me a frequent consumer of gaming products.

    I think one of the difficulties in the RPG world is that early on the names were “microprinted” on the covers, still true today. Add to this the fact that the major publishers are somewhat “mills” in their rapid production and when the “brand” I am buying is Wizards or Green Ronin the author is less important. Imagine if consumers bought “Del Rey” fantasy novels instead of David Gemmell. Much of the gaming industry is achieving this.

    It’s like when I was young and I first read a Michael Moorcock novel (the DAW edition). At first I bought every DAW fantasy book, but then I realized some DAW books were aweful and that those with Michael Whelan covers were good. Then I started noticing that Michael Moorcock was the author.

    Gaming, by its nature, is about the games. So people by Wizards D&D products, regardless of author. Add to this that the quality remains high with a long list of authors and “star status” becomes more difficult.

    Games are kind of where comics were in the 60s. Most people bought for the title. It wasn’t until later that people began to recognize artist names. Then artist control of the industry took over and books specialized and sales dropped. Sure Jim Lee on a book increases sales, but he increases sales in a depressed market which became “art” all the time and has IMHO become less about simple entertainment. It’s a difficult balance, the quality is much higher now, but less “broad” in appeal.

    Naturally, gaming is still in a developing stage. Which I think is the crux of the issue. TRPGs have had to deal with challenges in the marketplace at a rate faster than the development of their own industry.

  10. All good points, Christian. I often think that game designers are in a position similar to comic-book writers in the seventies. Few people care who they are, but they love their work. That’s much of James’s argument in his article too, which is why it rang so true with me. I can only hope that the gaming industry will someday have the superstars that the comic-book industry has now.

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    Author

    All good points, Christian. I often think that game designers are in a position similar to comic-book writers in the seventies. Few people care who they are, but they love their work. That’s much of James’s argument in his article too, which is why it rang so true with me. I can only hope that the gaming industry will someday have the superstars that the comic-book industry has now.

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