“From the Makers of”

Should we care about that title and who can usefully claim it?

Some argue that Sturgeon’s Revelation applies within creators’ works, not between creators. That is, if someone wrote one really good book, odds are that s/he will still only write one really good book; authors who are good authors rather than people who wrote a good book would be the 10% of Sturgeon’s 10%. And indeed, we see many successful things that lead to disappointing follow-ups. But most of us seem to apply the heuristic that the creators of something we like will probably create other things we like. Arkham Asylum was good, Arkham City was great.

But then there was Arkham Origins, which took some good from Arkham City and mixed in manure. “Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.” Well, we blame that on having a different development team. But if you played Diablo II, there is a good chance you played Diablo III, which is a sequel from the same company but with an almost (?) complete turnover of key staff. Torchlight II might have had a better claim to being the sequel to Diablo II.

Let’s assume you place some weight on “from the makers of”; I cannot imagine all those movie trailers would use the phrase if no one did. Who should you care about? It was a running joke a few years back that developers were hiring janitors from Blizzard and slapping “from the makers of World of Warcraft!” on their homepages. Every company has turnover, and I don’t know if the people left are the ones who made the good parts of the game or the bad ones. I don’t know if the big name at the top really is a visionary leader or just happened to have the good luck of having a team member with a great idea. Recognizing great ideas is a skill, but once you’re successful, it’s easy to start thinking all your ideas are great ideas.

Some names I’ll trust, like Sid Meier. Development companies and series are increasingly losing my trust because [insert your favorite hated sequel here]. In our MMO world, you have the disconnect between the original developers and live team, such that the game you bought and the game two years later can be rather surprisingly different for the same game on the same engine.

Even if I were to never pre-order a title again and rely on reviews

6 thoughts on ““From the Makers of””

  1. I’ve never found a generic “from the makers of” to be useful, nor an influence on my purchases. Such a general statement only raises my Cynicism Eyebrow. Specific names, specific roles, specific contributions – those I pay attention to.

  2. Depends what you’re reading for. If you read as I do, primarily for theme and prose style, then if you find an author you enjoy the chances are extremely good that you will find most of his or her books there or thereabouts as good as one another. Works for music, too, when the primary attraction you have is for the songwriting.

    I’d say the more collaborative an artform is, the less likely you are to be able to judge by the CV of the creators. Movies are a good example. Even if you cleave to the auteur theory, which I do, by and large, there’s clearly a much wider variation between the individual works of most directors than there is between the works of most authors. Games would come very much lower down the scale of consistency than that.

  3. And of course for movies, we have “from the producer of…” So the actors are different, the scriptwriter is different and the director is different. But the guy who sorts out the money stuff is the same as that film you liked last year. Which would probably be significant if I was reading the accounts instead of watching the end product…

    1. Production companies can be more relevant than you might think, just like game development studios. Walt Disney did not draw the characters, write the music, etc. but his decisions in terms of hiring, organizational culture, and which projects to promote were very important. We refer to a Disney movie or a Bioware game, expecting that culture to have carried through, or at least for them to be able to identify good people and ideas.

  4. I think it used to be a more valuable heuristic in the past (10+ years ago). I really have no idea what the game developer career looked like in terms of stability back then, but I get the sense that these days more and more development teams are comprised of a tiny core and fleshed out by short-term contractors who rarely get to work on sequels or similar projects within that company.

    Back in the N64 days I came to realise that Rare, the developers of Goldeneye, were stringing together gem after diamond after gold. I was happy to buy almost anything if it had “from the makers of Goldeneye” slapped on the box. But a few years later I saw Perfect Dark Zero advertised for the Xbox 360, and decided to check out the reviews and some gameplay footage, only to be extremely disappointed as I saw none of the polish I expected from Rare. I later learned that a large part of the development team that had produced Goldeneye and Perfect Dark had moved on, and a game for the PS2, Timesplitters, which I’d only played (and loved) because my friend bought it, was done by that group of ex-Rare devs. I remember thinking when I found that out, “ooooh, no *wonder* I found it as enjoyable as Goldeneye/PD!”

    These days, there are only 4 names that I’d give the same influence to as I did Rare back then: Sid Meier, Telltale Games, Double Fine, and Valve (games, not other products).

Comments are closed.