Spurring off my article yesterday on the history of voice acting, one thing I wanted to touch on in a more personal manner is what this could potentially mean for the future of voice acting and how it could change the face of game marketing forever. There is no doubt gaming has taken many strides in entering mainstream society. The rise of popular culture and big gaming releases have captured the attention of many (e.g. Call of Duty), so it’s no longer a huge stretch to imagine a time in the future where gaming can sit proudly next to film and music as respected forms of entertainment. One side effect of a rise in mainstream popularity is that certain people within the industry start separating themselves from the pack and become, essentially, big stars that represent the best of our industry. However, this is one of the last steps. Film took many years to craft actors that audiences felt attached to, and in some cases, the actor became bigger than the film itself. Thirty years in, and gaming has only recently had identifiable spokespersons lead the way. I’m talking about people like Hideo Kojima, Suda 51, Kevin Levine, and Cliff Bleszinski.
However, film and gaming keep converging. With more and more games getting film adaptations and your usual spout of movie tie-in titles each year, is it crazy to think that, some day in the future, having big name actors attached to your title would be as much of a feature as, say, online multiplayer or co-op? More importantly, are these same actors going to capture audiences and make us eager to see their new work in a game rather than be excited in the game itself? I want to say no because it’s not something I particularly enjoy seeing in the film business, let alone in an industry I’m more affiliated with. But in some ways, it’s already happening.
Just look at the promotion of David Cage’s latest “interactive film,” Beyond: Two Souls. At the San Diego Comic-Con that recently took place, a conference was held and a majority of it was centered on Ellen Page being there herself. Now, this isn’t necessarily out of the ordinary, especially by David Cage’s standards. However, what struck me as weird was that a bunch of screenshots were released by Quantic Dream, but not one of them was an in-game shot out of the twelve or so images. Every single screenshot was that of either Ellen Page in a mocap suit, obviously doing some work on the title, or that of David Cage talking to a fellow employee or Ellen Page.
So let me get this right. As a way to build up interest in a title, instead of showing a trailer to get people excited and reveal some gameplay elements—details that we all want to know and have a lack of information on—we get screenshots, but not one of them shows the actual game running. Oh no, we get images of an actor and director working in a mocap studio. Sorry if I’m not super excited for your upcoming title, David Cage, but frankly, marketing like that isn’t going to get the job done.
This is a trend seen in a lot of the AAA titles that have recognizable names attached to it, and it’s as much a part of the promotional campaign as having a trailer or developer commentary. After announcing a title with some screenshots and maybe a trailer, a lot of developers take it upon themselves to use the quiet time marketing-wise while crunching through the last few months of development to announce any famous actors they have in their game. It’s an easy way to garner interest especially in people not normally interested in gaming. While I understand that, it doesn’t necessarily sit well with me. It just comes off as the video game industry adopting a me, too! personality and doing its best to mimic the growth film experienced instead of growing in its own unique way.
The thing is, we only see voice actors promoted when they’ve come from outside gaming, generally from either television or the big screen, and we never hear about actual voice actors who have done plenty of work for video games being promoted at all. If our industry does keep growing and figureheads have to take the mantle and capture the interest of the public, why can’t we develop that talent in-studio, so to speak? For example, I’m a fan of Nolan North, the voice behind Nathan Drake of the Uncharted series, The Penguin from Batman: Arkham City, and Deadpool in all the games he’s had an appearance in (including the game recently announced). Now, some people can’t stand him and that’s fine, but I personally like his work. However, rarely do we hear him or any other game voice actor as a promotional tool in a video game. The exceptions are sequels, of course, and whether a voice actor is back to reprise their role. If as an industry we continue our convergence to film and continue emulating it, if we have to have big-time voice actors attached to video games, can’t we at least develop them ourselves? There are a load of talented voice actors who are miles ahead in talent in the voice acting department than your budding Hollywood actors, and they do it for the most part without getting any significant acknowledgement.
As you can tell, I don’t want to see gaming enter a future where box art simply has a close up, action-pumped picture of Will Smith in his latest post-apocalyptic adventure or Seth Green’s new take on being the pilot of a space ship. This is because I don’t generally like seeing this in film. Gaming stems from computers, coding, and drawing boards; and this is why, after thirty years, directors of games are getting attention now finally. But we’re in a losing battle. In another thirty years from now, I expect voice acting personalities to be as big of a role in video games as other features, such as online multiplayer and what have you. But if this an inevitable point video games reach, I would much prefer that we develop our own talent and budding stars rather than rely on talent from other media types. Gaming has come a long way, so why would we now try to become the second coming of film when we could have our very own personal growth as a medium that we can all be proud of?