Credit Assignment Revisited

Two years ago I published an article in the Journal presenting a survey I had carried out regarding author credits on game packaging. (Credit Assignment) I attempted to quantify the amount of author credit that we receive by measuring the size of the author’s name on the front of the package. By "size", I actually mean the height of the type in which the author’s name is printed. To make it more fair, I also measured the size of the publisher’s name. This allowed me to calculate a ratio of the author’s size to the publisher’s size. That ratio is a quick and dirty index of just how much credit we authors receive.

The ratio, averaged over ten computer games, came out to 0.75. That is, the average computer game box prints the author’s name in type that is 3/4 the size of the publisher’s name. How good is that? Well, I carried out similar measurements for books, compact disks, and videotapes, obtaining ratios of 4.0, 1.36, and 1.14 respectively. In other words, artists in those other fields receive better recognition than computer game designers. That’s not good.

So, how have things changed in the last two years? Have they gotten better or worse? Your roving reporter wandered into several software outlets in search of the answer. I went down the shelves, pulling boxes and measuring the size of the author’s name and the publisher’s name on each. I compiled a list of some three dozen different games, from all the major publishers, and the results are not heartening. The overall ratio has gone down to 0.53!

Here is the breakdown by publisher of the average ratios. Remember, a large value is good, and a small value is bad for authors:

Electronic Arts: .90
Mindscape: .79
Origin Systems: .41
Activision: .28
Broderbund: .20
Cinemaware: .16
Accolade: .04
Epyx: .00

Now, there are a number of special factors to complicate our considerations. For example, some publishers put their logo on the front of the box. Electronic Arts, for example, has a large logo, and their corporate name is printed in small type. I didn’t measure the logo, I measured the typesize. Thus, EA’s ratios are better than they deserve to be. Mindscape has a similar arrangement.

Then there’s Cinemaware. Cinemaware presents big, bold author credits. Unfortunately, Cinemaware dilutes the value of author credits by packing the credit list with lots of Cinemaware employees, including Bob and Phyllis Jacob, the owners of the company. The real authors are buried in the pile of other names.

Epyx and Accolade possess appallingly low ratios. This is because they seldom if ever include author credits on the front of their boxes. There were some author credits buried in the fine print on the back of the box, but that doesn’t count in this survey.

Several major publishers, most notably Microprose and Sierra OnLine, are not included in this survey. They rely on internally developed software, and so do not provide author credit. I thought it unfair to include them.

Need for Remedies
This may strike some readers as much ado about nothing. After all, some might reason, financial considerations must remain paramount when so many developers must struggle to make a living. Worrying about credit assignment is just glorified ego-tripping.

This is short-sighted reasoning. Look at it this way: the goodwill that a superior game creates in the minds of consumers is an asset. It is an intangible asset, but a valuable one, for it will be a major factor in the consumers’ decision to purchase future games. To whom should that asset accrue? Right now, the publishers arrogate most of that asset to themselves, and authors acquiesce to the arrogation.