When PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds released in 2017, one of the most peculiar things about it was its name. Here was this massive game from a prominent modder, with the modder's own name proudly emblazoned at the front of it. It was a ludicrous idea, but it worked: PlayerUnknown's name was instantly iconic due to being associated with the landmark game that went on to popularize a once-niche genre. People wanted to know not just about Battlegrounds, but about the man behind it too.
That same notion has extended to developers Bennett Foddy and Zach Gage, who led a talk today at the Game Developers Conference 2019 entitled "Put Your Name on Your Game, a Talk by Bennett Foddy and Zach Gage."
At the talk, Foddy and Gage discussed at length the positives of putting their own names in their games, whether in the title or the first attribution you see, similar to the start of a movie. They argue that it fights back against the depersonalization crisis in video games. When companies reign supreme, and individual people who develop games are left without due acknowledgement; their humanity, and by extension artistic integrity, is left behind.
Throwing a name at the front of a game didn't begin with games like PUBG. During the talk, Foddy recalled a long storied history of developers sliding in credit, even when it was frowned upon (like the legendary Adventure easter egg that reveals the designer's name, Warren Robinett). Richard Garriott of Ultima fame appeared in-character as Lord British and Davey Wreden narrated the adventure in The Beginner's Guide, the latter being particularly influential in Foddy's own narration in Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy. Hideo Kojima even famously put credits at the end of each mission in Metal Gear Solid 5 after Konami took his name off the cover.
"It's not always easy to control who gets credit for a game," Foddy told the gathered developers. He cited a recent example of Multibowl, a game he co-developed with AP Thomson, and Beglitched, a game AP Thomson co-developed with fellow indie developer Jenny Jiao Hsia. At a festival, both their games were only attributed to one person with Thomson's name left off, so Foddy and Jiao Hsia took it into their own hands to remedy it with sharpies on the signs. Foddy and Gage went on to cite the games press, who would misattribute games, and even customers, who would treat them not as real people even if just a lone name was behind it.
For Gage, falling into his method of "a game by Zach Gage" attribution was an "accidentally radical business decision," due to just using his name on the iOS store rather than making up a company name. It ended up working out, as his games became synonymous not with a faux-company, but with himself. In interviews and podcasts, he found himself talking about his work in relation to his influences and ideas, rather than about how the mechanics worked. Promoting a game, he learned through slapping his name at the front of his work like with Really Bad Chess "can be about transparency and honesty"—like how a lot of the interviews he did about Really Bad Chess were more about how he finds fairness, and thus chess, really overrated.
In leaning into his humanity, Gage has felt a kinship with his players now, showing that a "business" like his can be used to spread and promote values, and people respond to that. As artists often signature their own work, Gage and Foddy don't see why games can't do the same thing too. For Foddy, it's a way to send a different signal to players.
Through narrating Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy, Foddy's able to walk players through his design process, and by its end, thank them for making it so far in the incredibly tedious game. "I want," Foddy told the crowd, "to be treated by my audience like a human being."