Back in 1990, The Hunt for Red October established actor Alec Baldwin as an up-and-coming star; his good looks, charm and dynamic portrayal of government agent Jack Ryan convinced many in Hollywood that Baldwin was the ever-elusive “Next Big Thing”.
But something happened on the way to Red October’s inevitable sequel, Patriot Games, in 1992. Baldwin was replaced as Ryan by Harrison Ford, even though the veteran actor was even more expensive to cast and Baldwin’s portrayal of Ryan was almost universally acclaimed.
Why? Simply put, hubris. Baldwin thought he was untouchable; on top of the world. And then he started to make bad decisions - burning bridges within his own industry as he went.
In a 1991 interview with Entertainment Weekly following the flop The Marrying Man, a film Baldwin made for Disney based on a Neil Simon screenplay, Baldwin unleashed his anger at those he saw responsible for the film’s failure, including the Disney studios: “totally evil, greedy pigs”; playwright Simon: “about as deep as a bottle cap”; and Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg: “He’s the eighth dwarf - Greedy”.
Unsurprisingly, given the influence of the people that Baldwin went out of his way to insult, his star quickly faded and while his career indeed continued, his fame has only now reached its previous level, as a co-star in NBC’s 30 Rock, almost 20 years later.
The parallels between Baldwin’s situation and the video-game world only seem tangential, but as similarities between the film and gaming industries continue to grow, with ever-expanding budgets, carefully researched release dates and bombastic opening weekends becoming the norm, it’s only a matter of time before someone of note cuts off his nose to spite his face.
Take the bitter - and patently juvenile - rivalry between 2K Sports and EA Sports in the basketball arena, for example. Over the last few years, 2K Sports has had the superior product, putting the gaming Goliath at Electronic Arts on its heels. In both sales and quality, 2K Sports has had EA Sports scrambling, constantly re-shuffling its developers, its game design, and now, even its very title - from the long-running NBA Live to NBA Elite - in a desperate effort to keep pace with 2K Sports on the last remaining sports battlefield in the gaming industry.
But 2K Sports can’t seem to resist reveling in the fact that they’re winning this battle. I attended an NBA Elite event in New York City shortly before the NBA Draft; an small get-together of media, community and NBA athletes, joined with game developers to showcase what was essentially a tech demo of the forthcoming basketball title. It could hardly be described as a “game” as that point; merely a one-on-one battle that served as an opportunity to try out the new control scheme. Taking video of the event was strictly forbidden, I was told.
Nevertheless, video footage of the demo (which was in “alpha” - or early development form) turned up online. The video itself, which was posted on YouTube by someone who thought their “scoop”, such as it was, was more important than their professionalism, is now listed as “private”. Judging a game on a alpha-build demo is completely unfair, something that I’d imagine most developers would agree with… including those at 2K Sports.
But that didn’t stop 2K Sports representative Ronnie Singh, who was responsible for some of the inter-corporate nonsense last year, from responding to this bit of, um, prose on Twitter (”LMAO this sux it cant even compete with 2k9… (Elite 11) this really bad“) thusly: “Wow that looks awful. And you were worried.”
In other words, here we go again.
For Singh, and for anyone else who speaks, types or Tweets before they think, they’d do well to remember the lessons of Alec Baldwin. In an industry where everyone works with everyone, and personnel turn over like waffles in a breakfast buffet, you never know who your next boss will be. Notable developer and basketball guru Mike Wang, for example, now works on NBA 2K11 after working on NBA Live 10 only a year ago. The next person you offend with thoughtless comments might be the next person you need to hire you.
The most effective comment, after all, is quality work, and it speaks volumes without having to say a single word. Maybe that’s worth a try this time around, but I wouldn’t count on it - not when the purpose of a “community manager” is simply to stoke the fanboy flames.
Watch where you step.