A controversy erupted on Twitter a little while back, when an insult to Felicia Day and her role in gaming was published. Many people, including celebrities, stepped up to defend her role in the development and growth of the gaming industry. Detractors simply sniped about how she didn’t “actually do anything” like design or write the games. Those detractors are clearly missing the point, and if they had any success in the business world, they would realize that it takes many different people, working in different ways, for a business or industry to succeed. It isn’t just the designers and coders that matter.
Consider the success of most large technology companies: they run by a team of people. Sure, there is often a single, outsized personality that is the face of the company (Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Thomas Edison). But the most successful companies aren’t the result of a single person doing all of the “real work”. They are the result of teams of people, including “outsiders” who help you along, even though they don’t work for you directly. Few, if any, truly successful companies are the result of the efforts of a single person. It takes a team of people, with a shared vision, to make it happen. Even if, on occasion, it is just a team of 2.
I’ve had some experience in this, being involved in startups and small companies for nearly 2 decades now. One colleague I know had a business that did “okay”, but it was struggling. At the time, it was largely a one-man show. Sure, he had people around him. But they were there mainly for “the job” and not because of “the vision”. Once he was able to build a team that believed in the vision, his company started to grow and expand. It is now one of the largest in its industry in Canada.
The BIDS Trading success was also a result of a team effort and shared vision, as well as outside champions. Sure, the technology and the business model are important. Like the foundation of a house, without them, the business wouldn’t exist. But it took a shared vision of people (of whom only 2 of the 6 were hardcore technologists in the area we developed it in. The other 4 were a combination of finance, marketing, project planning and market structure, and not in any single individua)l. We also had outside help, and outside cheerleaders, helping us promote the idea and put it in front of key people who could make it happen. None of those people contributed directly to the design of the technology, the implementation or even the basic business model. But their presence was essential to the business. They were our own “Felicia Day’s”, although not nearly as a attractive :-).
So is Felicia Day important to the gaming industry? Most certainly she is. Yes, the designers and coders of the games are important. Without them, the industry wouldn’t exist. But without people like Felicia out there to bring awareness to the industry, and to make it accessible to the “average person”, it would likely be stuck as some small niche of the entertainment business. Granted, Ms. Day didn’t do it all by herself. The industry is certainly bigger than that. But to imply her role is unimportant overlooks the history of gaming (particularly when it comes to female game players), and the incredible value the industry gets from celebrities that not only endorse it, but truly believe in it because it is important to them.
For many industries, they will find they need their own Felicia Day to help with growth and expansion. They should be actively seeking out those people, not because they can use their fame and recognition to act as shills. They should do this because they need people with a broader presence who truly believe in the industry, and are active in it, to help it grow. They need to be genuine, not just popular. But having someone with a broader presence, and the ability to help your industry reach areas you couldn’t by yourself is important. It is hard to over-estimate their value. We should all be so lucky if our industries had a Felicia Day of our own.