Accessibility and Excellence

Popularity is not a guarantee that something is either good or lowest common denominator crap, but it sure is profitable.

Pop music is heartbreaking cuz I’ll write a lovely visual poetic piece and then have to tear it apart and dumb it down. Writing for the masses is a bitch sometimes.
Bonnie McKee

Bonnie McKee’s first album was surprisingly sophisticated and had almost no commercial success. It remains one of my favorites. She then went on to write pop hits for Katy Perry and others, with sales four or more orders of magnitude higher than her own. Ms. McKee learned something that Blizzard did: accessibility drives sales.

I have enjoyed many of the songs she wrote for others. They are not going to be part of America’s cultural contribution to the generations, but bubblegum pop can be ephemerally entertaining. I have trepidations about her upcoming album the way I as a gamer was concerned about EA acquiring Pop Cap: broader exposure but a shallowing of what made the original interesting.

I am reminded of an interview with Robert Englund, who explained that Nightmare on Elm Street sequels paid for pursuing the creative projects that actually interested him. I may be mis-remembering Vanessa Carlton as saying that her one big hit was still funding her career several albums later, when she produced her best work but had fallen from popular awareness.

I don’t doubt that people have a lot of fun with Call of Duty, but it is not exactly what makes gaming intellectually interesting. Not everything is supposed to be.

Sometimes popularity and excellence align. The Beatles are a cultural contribution to the generations, and they cashed in nicely. Something like Batman: Arkham Asylum deserves a “game of the year” edition.

I am happy to see Settlers of Catan in stores next to Scattergories. I am sad that there is more money in making yet another edition of Monopoly themed around your local university or whatnot. I am happy that Munchkin has paid off for Steve Jackson Games to the extent that they can pursue dream projects, and thousands of people bought into that dream. But only thousands.

I am happiest when something excellent is sufficiently accessible to become popular without sacrificing what makes it excellent.

: Zubon

One thought on “Accessibility and Excellence

  1. flosch

    I think the most important point is those artists or companies that diversify: make stuff that brings in the dough (preferably something you don’t feel deeply dirty about), then use that money to pursue what you really want to do, or at least _also_ really want to do, but doesn’t pay. Some big film companies work that way, and it produces the films that are remembered 20 years down the road.

    I stumbled across an example just today which amazed me: Kentaro Sato is a composer who does game and film music (which I guess pays reasonably well) as well as orchestral and church music (which I guess doesn’t really pay much, if anything). I liked that one for the wide range of areas.

    I wonder whether this cross-financing is actually done in game companies? I don’t have any insight into that.

    And finally about the Beatles, to be fair, they got popular with lots of really crude stuff that would be nowhere near as well-known today if not for their later, more artistically relevant stuff.

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