Way back when Electronic Arts began as a software company for home computers in the 1980s, floppy discs were the standard storage medium. They resembled small records, so EA, in a fit of brilliance, packaged their games in gatefold albums. The goal was to present their game designers as artists, as creators in a new medium.
Since I was going to reprint my 2003 MULE review here on Videogames of the DAMNED, I thought I should show the game's terrific album cover. It's really quite impressive. The four men of Ozark Softscape - Dan Bunten, Bill Bunten, Jim Rushing, and Alan Watson - are not shown as computer nerds hunched over mysterious machines. They're portrayed as rock stars, as cool. The "electronic artist" was a pioneer in this new, futuristic medium, and they were going to get all the perks of celebrity stardom.
That sort of recognition has always been a goal - and a source of frustration - for game designers ever since the Atari era. Even in 2009, there are only a small handful of "names," and you almost never see any names on the boxes. Development teams are immensely large today, hundreds of workers for a single big-budget project. The artists have become swallowed by the machine they created.
I think the rise of digital distribution and the growing indie game scene may be a successful route for the artists. If it is still possible for a small team to create a great video game, then a future of "electonic artists" may yet become reality.
I'd like to see indie game designers pursue this dream of the designer-as-pop-star. I'd like to see what you could do with that in the iPod era. If you want games to be seen as art - low or high art, it doesn't matter - then you're going to need recognizable artists. You have to create something that isn't mere product, but something valuable, something that brings people together.
MULE brings people together, young and old, children and grandparents, casual and hardcore gamers alike. It really is the greatest multiplayer game ever made, and you can see that creative, communal spirit on the MULE album cover.