Dungeons & Dollars

Dungeons & Dollars
Exploitation of Icons

Dana Massey | 30 Aug 2005 12:02
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This brings me to the second instance of exploitation of iconic images in gaming. Nintendo gets applause for saying "two", and people scoop up their products, often regardless of quality, simply because of the name that produced the game. Never was this trend more apparent than with the company now called "Atari." Originally Infogrames, a French company, they branded their North American face Atari after the legendary, but defunct gaming company enshrined in pop-culture. The aim? To sell more games. Quite simply, consumers take a game more seriously when it bears that logo. In recent years, I have seen Hollywood celebrities presenting awards at internationally televised events wearing the Atari company logo on their t-shirt. Would they ever do that with Infogrames? Of course not. Thus, the name change. In today's gaming culture it has become easier to simply reincarnate yourself as an old icon than to create a new one. This same mindset is what allows Mario to dance and hawk ice cream sandwiches.

With all of his new activities, it almost seems as if the good old days of Mario smashing blocks and catching stars are over. In recent years you are more likely to find Mario in Metal Gear Solid (I kid you not) than in a game similar to those that made him the icon he is. For this reason, I issue the plea to Nintendo and others holding massive video game icons captive: Be inventive - if a game cannot stand up without the presence of Mario or some other instant-buy icon, do not produce it. When I see Mario, I want to be playing a game in the spirit of Mario games, not tennis.

Using Mario in this way goes against a basic principle of marketing. While a company can make a quick buck by plastering a brand unto a different product, it harms the long-term viability of that brand. This is why the Coca-Cola Company has hundreds, if not thousands, of distinct brands that represent different market niches. It would be easy to make "Coke the Thirst Quencher," but they realize the danger of it and instead invented Powerade, while Pepsi carries Gatorade. It is the same two combatants as the cola wars, but with different iconic brands. This process allows the company to establish new icons that dominate a particular market niche. Video game companies seem to have forgotten this as they desperately slap brands across multiple genres. The result is that over time Mario, like an actor forced into a million bad movies after snagging an Oscar, will eventually become a burnt out husk of himself, no longer holding the power to sell complete wastes of disk space - or even delightful diversions - to the masses. So take this to heart, stop the exploitation and free our icons to do what they were created to do.

At the same time, I once again challenge you, the fans. We need to stop applauding the number two and take a real look at what we're buying for ourselves, or in many cases, our children. Mario's presence does not necessarily make for a good game and for too long we have fooled ourselves into believing this is so. Iconic game figures of our youth are being enslaved and exploited all over the industry in the relentless pursuit of profit. Their only salvation is if we - the consumers - stop paying and stop playing games that are not worthy of the character sent to sell them. Please, help free Mario.

Dana "Lepidus" Massey is the Lead Content Editor for MMORPG.com and former Co-Lead Game Designer for Wish.

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