“I am a real American… fight for the rights of every man…”
If you happened to catch the end of any WWF Pay-Per-View from 1984 until 1993 or so, odds are extremely high that the above lyric is ingrained in your head. Also inescapable are the images of Hulk Hogan posing. Maybe he has the belt, maybe he doesn’t. He might even be holding an American flag, depending on who he just beat. But in just about every situation, the fans were getting what they desperately wanted.
But then, times changed.
Suddenly, Hulkamania wasn’t running so wild. The fans had grown tired of the same old stuff and wanted something new. And Vince McMahon, who built his company around the Hulkster, had no idea what to do. Thus began an extensive down period for the WWF that took five years to overcome.
When wrestling became profitable again in the late 1990’s, Vince McMahon wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. Instead of trying to guess what the fans wanted, he set out to deliver a product that demanded the attention of more than just the traditional wrestling audience. He wanted EVERYONE talking about his show the next day. He wanted people who would never follow wrestling to know who his biggest stars were.
And guess what? It worked. Once it worked, Vince didn’t rest on his laurels. He knew that the preferences of the public are quite fickle and, as a result, created new stars to replace those wrestlers that fell out of favor or went on to bigger and better things. Now, Vince is encouraging his stars to enter the motion picture industry, so moviegoers who don’t watch wrestling can be exposed to his talent.
That’s the key to making anything successful – crossing over into other genres. Attracting that which isn’t normally attracted. 50 Cent didn’t sell 9 million copies of “Get Rich Or Die Trying” to hip-hop fans; a large portion of that number was comprised of rock fans, pop fans, and all kinds of other fans. Just the same, The Offspring didn’t sell 8 million copies of “Smash” to punk fans. Both these artists benefited from lucky breaks and their ability to appeal to a broader audience.
Video gaming first blew up in the 1980’s because of its mass appeal. These games weren’t just for computer geeks, they were for EVERYONE. The combination of irrestistible games, affordable hardware, and a positive buzz about gaming made the original Nintendo Entertainment System the must-have gadget of the decade.
Gaming has only become bigger and better since then, in large part due to the stars created in the formative years of video games. Every time Nintendo put out a new system, it put out a killer Mario game that was guaranteed to sell units. Sonic the Hedgehog served Sega extremely well as the company’s mascot during the 1990’s, and Crash Bandicoot became synonymous with Sony’s Playstation.
But then, times changed.
Suddenly, the public soured on their cartoon heroes of the past. Sega’s Dreamcast ended up being the final console the once-dominant company would make. The GameCube found itself the third-best selling console in a market of three. And Sony… well, Sony made it into the 21st century relatively unscathed. How? By making new stars.
And guess what? It worked.
When games like Crash Team Racing weren’t doing so well, Sony always had other tricks in its bag. Jak and Daxter. Ratchet and Clank. Hot Shots Golf. Grand Theft Auto. Games you couldn’t get for other consoles. Blockbuster games that forced you to pay attention to the PS2. It DEMANDED your attention. You had to consider it, even if you saw Sony as the epitome of evil. And even if you did hate Sony, you had to tip your cap toward the empire it created.
Today, Grand Theft Auto is available for X-Box as well. The Jak series has come to an end. And the Playstation 2 is losing ground to the emerging Microsoft juggernaut, with a big-ticket star of its own in Halo. As for Nintendo, there haven’t been any new stars since Pikachu and Charizard created Pokemania in 1999. Nintendo has fallen into a very common trap that many companies have found themselves in – retooling takes precedence over reinventing.
In the modern gaming climate, sequels sell and unproven entities stay on store shelves. It’s very hard to get a new game accepted without the help of an extreme media blitz, which often only serves to hide significant misgivings in the game. This presents the industry with a problem that’s tough to solve. After all, while Rockstar is sitting pretty with the GTA franchise, even the most devout GTA fan doesn’t want to be playing “Grand Theft Auto: Bangor, Maine” in ten years.
So, how to solve this problem? Let’s look at wrestling again. Vince McMahon deserves credit for presenting the public with a new set of faces, but he didn’t create these stars on his own. The people most responsible for making people like Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock larger than life are the fans who supported them on their way up. It took millions of cheers and thousands of t-shirt sales, but eventually the non-wrestling fans were forced to take notice of these two. Once that happened, Vince was able to push them into the stratosphere of stars, thereby making the wrestling business bigger than ever.
Now, The Rock’s a movie star and Stone Cold would like to be one. Vince McMahon, having learned from the past, was ready for life without his biggest players. By the time The Rock left, the torch had been passed to Brock Lesnar. Once Brock left for the NFL, Triple H became the face of the company. Now, John Cena is being groomed for mainstream stardom, with Batista looking to follow Cena’s footsteps.
What about the big names of the gaming industry? Well, there are the usual sports staples, which don’t really count because they’re based on outside factors. After that, there are the Nintendo characters, DDR, GTA, Halo, and that’s about it. What’s going to take the place of GTA once the series runs its course? Given the lack of originality in gaming, it’s going to be tough to find the next big video game franchise.
Want proof? Take a game like Katamari Damacy. Everyone who played it loved it. Got rave reviews from everyone who reviewed it. But does a game like Katamari Damacy get the cover of Game Informer? Not if there’s an uber-hyped, yet inferior game like Fable being released in the same month.
And that’s just the problem we’re talking about. The industry would rather promote something that’s going to sell a lot of units now rather than something that’s going to sell a decent amount of units now, but a lot of units later. That’s the kind of backwards thinking that prevents an industry from growing to its potential, which is exactly what gaming doesn’t need. With the average gamer spending more on video games and consoles each year, something needs to be done, not only to keep these gamers happy, but to justify these costs to the non-gamers necessary to expand gaming’s overall market share.
Do you think Vince McMahon decided to make Steve Austin the 1996 King of the Ring because it would result in big ratings the following night on Raw? Of course not! Vince did it because he saw something in Austin that could develop into a phenomenon. Something special, something that he could rebuild the industry around. And he did just that. The video game industry, on the other hand, needs to give some potential hit games the same chance to shine. If not, get ready to pre-order “Grand Theft Auto: Bangor, Maine” for its 2015 release date.