Originally created 05/17/99

Video Game makers' taste of fame



SAN RAFAEL, Calif. -- The realization of newfound power is paying off for many video game moguls of the millennium. They are frequently young, smart and rich, and some like to emulate the lives of their movie brethren with late-night parties and high-tech toys.

A recent after-hours bash at the Computer Game Developers' conference in San Jose, for example, possessed all the trappings of stereotypical Hollywood excess. The ubiquitous velvet rope. An aloof, muscular bouncer flipping through his clipboard, eyeballing the guest list. Teeming masses, desperate to get into the sweaty nightclub.

Those making their way inside were a cool clan of software developers and technical engineers who, once mocked as gear-heads, now are revered as digital deities. Among them was game developer John Romero, worshiped by "Quake" fans because he designed the top-selling series.

"Do you know who I am?" asked Romero, smiling slightly as colored disco lights danced across his black mane. "I am a god."

Egos abound in this landscape of toys and testosterone, where the people behind the games are gunning for the spotlight. Musician Tommy Tallarico, a cheeky self-promoter who writes soundtracks for software, is known for dressing up in animal-print suits and hiring strippers to disrobe at his speeches.

Yet for every Romero and Tallarico, there are hundreds of other developers shunning stardom. John Carmack, the programming genius behind the violent "Quake" series, is painfully shy. Higeru Miyamoto, creator of more than 60 Nintendo game titles that have brought the company billions in sales, is rarely recognized.

"Bold or shy, no one wants to be perceived as a dork. It turns people off," said Cliff Blezinski, 24, a designer at Epic Games. "It's one thing to be known among gamers. But if the public knows who you are, you can demand a better deal with the game publishers."

Game developers work in teams, spending long hours in darkened rooms laboring on their titles. Publishers pay an upfront fee to developers, who receive a bonus if the game sells well and the publisher recoups its initial investment.

Cash incentives to make a successful game -- say, a $25,000 bonus when a game sells more than 200,000 copies -- are common. So are lucrative film licensing and merchandising deals.

But competition is fierce, say analysts, as about only 10 percent of the games released last year made a profit.