Credit Assignment

Volume #1 Issue 2 June 1987

One of the minor issues in all of the entertainment industries is the manner in which the creator’s name is presented to the public in the work. A product creates an intangible asset: fame. The financial value of this asset lies in the tendency of customers to buy more products associated with a name that they recognize and respect. To whom should this asset accrue? Most of us would answer, "To the author, of course!" but in practice this does not work out that way. Publishers want a piece of that pie for themselves. Moreover, the greater the fame of the designer, the stronger his negotiating position. Thus, publishers have strong economic incentives to minimize the author’s credit and maximize their own. They are in an excellent position to act on these incentives. After all, the publisher controls the design of the package and the advertising. The result is that few game designers get the credit they deserve. This is not a new problem. The various entertainment industries are all partnerships between creative people and businessmen, and the same economic forces play in other entertainment industries. The other industries have the advantage of experience over our industry, and they have worked out solutions to some of these problems. Perhaps their compromises can provide a benchmark for our own industry. I thought it would be interesting to compare the behavior of computer game publishers with that of other publishers. So I sat down with a variety of products and made some measurements. I measured the size of the type in which the author’s name appears on the front cover of the product. (If the author’s name didn’t appear, I entered a value of zero.) I also measured the size of the type in which the publisher’s name appears on the front cover of the product. (Again, I entered a value of zero if no publisher’s name appeared on the cover.) I then averaged the values I measured from ten different products and divided the average author’s name size by the average publisher’s name size. The resulting ratio gives us an idea of how much recognition authors get, independent of the individual artistic considerations for each package. Generally speaking, authors would like to see this ratio very large, while publishers would like to see it very small. I did this experiment for four categories of entertainment products: books, compact disks, videotapes, and computer games. The results:

Category: Ratio
Books: 4.00
Compact Disks: 1.36
Videotapes: 1.14
Computer Games: 0.75

Now, there are a lot of special considerations to toss into this stew. For example, book publishers seldom put their names on the front cover; they make their mark on the spine of the book. This is why the value for books is so high. The compact disks I used were all classical, and I measured the size of the performer’s names, not those of the composers, even though the composer is arguably the name that people most recognize. Finally, the selection of computer games was eclectic; no two products came from the same publisher. I also excluded any products from before 1985; in the early days, publishers didn’t put the author’s name on the package at all. What conclusions can we draw from this data? I wouldn’t squeeze this small amount of data too hard, but I think that the pattern is clear: we authors of computer games do not get as much recognition as our compatriots in other entertainment fields. What can we do about it? Well, we could sit around and hope that publishers will freely bestow a greater place for our names on the packaging. Or we can start to demand it in contract negotiations. I personally hope that we can avoid specifications of this nature; I would rather see our industry informally (stochastically?) establish industry conventions that are comparable with those we see in these other industries.