A recent trend [2004 – tk] in computer games is the use of celebrities to promote games. These celebrities can be either real or virtual. In the case of the virtual celebrity, we have a wide range to choose from: Mario, Sonic, Lara from Tomb Raider, Link from the Legend of Zelda RPG series, Cloud from Final Fantasy, and many more. Mario and Sonic were largely responsible for the huge success of Nintendo and Sega, respectively.
Witness the crossover into the mainstream of Lara Croft. Would the Tomb Raider series have been the cultural phenomenon that it has been without Lara Croft and her outstanding assets? If the character of Lara had been replaced with a more conventional character like Cate Archer from No One Lives Forever, would we be seeing tie-in movies, Times cover stories and advertisements for Lucozade?
The publisher of Tomb Raider, Eidos, has potential to make more money from Lara merchandising and tie-in products than they do from the sales of the games. An analogy is the record industry, where sales of music account for only around 15% of the revenue earned by a star like Madonna.
But for each successful virtual celebrity are heaps of failures. Does anyone remember Zool or Bubsy? As soon as other companies witnessed the success of Mario and Sonic, they all wanted a piece of the action. A plethora of cute but arrogant (or cutely arrogant?) characters appeared, and—fortunately—most of these went the way of the dodo.
Obviously the success of any virtual celebrity depends on the success of the game featuring that character. Cute and recognizable characters such as Mario tend to capture the hearts and minds of the young. However, the quality of the game is by no means irrelevant. Mario and Sonic are strongly defined, likeable characters, but still would not have achieved the success they did if they had not been featured in such excellent games.
ZA: Game Architecture and Design: A New Edition Andrew Rollings Dave Morris (2004)