Shortly after posting my recent piece on Lionhead Studios' video diaries promoting Fable 2, I received an email from Sam Van Tilburgh, community manager and in-house filmmaker at Lionhead who created those videos. He wrote to share his views on the diaries and his reaction to my post. We have since exchanged several messages, all of which have been friendly and quite useful.
I asked him if I could post our original exchange, and he agreed. So here is Sam's message followed by my reply, both unedited. I want to express my gratitude to Sam for considering the comments in my post and for responding in such a thoughtful and collegial way.
Please allow me to quickly introduce myself; Sam Van Tilburgh, working for Lionhead Studios and the one responsible for the “lubricious and self-promoting” video diaries! ;)
I just wanted to take this opportunity to share my views about these diaries, as a reaction to your blog entry on The Brainy Gamer. And elaborate on why I think they are honest, pure and simple. Ok, admittedly the quality of these videos don’t shout ‘simple’ but that’s simply because I studied film at college (my degree). You can’t expect me to create something of inferior quality… but even so (and as the sole person at the company who’s involved in making these videos) I think I am right in saying that these are honest.
None of the senior bosses here at the company have creative or editorial input, only after the video is done do they get to see the final version. Of course they worry when I show the game in its current (none-finished) state, of course they worry when I include soundbites of people saying they’re facing “major technical difficulties” while developing the game etc…. This is something you’ll never hear from the PR or marketing departments, there is no spin on any of it.
The reason why I think they are honest is that they simply show what goes on, on the development floor, without it being a slick and over-produced video by the marketing department with the sole purpose to sell the game. Don’t get me wrong, there is value in that as well but to say they’re not honest or pure is a bit unfair imho. I wanted to show what it’s like to be working on a game the scale of Fable 2, to show the other people behind the game and not focus solely on Peter Molyneux. Hopefully you can see the value in that.
Thanks for your understanding and best of luck with your blog!
I want to thank you for your message and for taking the time to help me understand your thinking on the video diaries. It's helpful to know more about your background and your process for making them. I can certainly understand why a person with a film background would put all those skills to use on a project like this one.
My post was prompted mostly by the claim on the Lionhead website that these videos "aren't overly produced marketing videos." Looking at them and considering their content and overall style, I think they're mostly indistinguishable from the kind of straight-ahead marketing we see from companies all over the map - from Nike to NBC. The fact that they aren't overly slick or full of CGI tricks simply suggests a marketing strategy in line with where many companies are going these days - a more personal, "get real" approach to promotion that purposely looks less "professional" but requires a significant amount of professional work to produce. My guess is that these videos--which are exceptionally well done, for what it's worth--required a significant amount of time and effort from you to produce.
I honestly have no problem with Lionhead hyping Fable 2 and building awareness for it in the months leading up to launch, and I tried to say that in my post. It just seemed disingenuous to me to claim that they weren't, essentially, straightforward marketing from Lionhead. I realize the "video diary" format has a more informal style--and it's refreshing to hear developers talk about problems they're working to solve--but the overwhelming message of these videos is clearly "Fable 2 will be an awesome, groundbreaking game" and nearly everyone we meet explains how or why that will be so.
In the end, to be completely honest, I am also responding to the, at times, overwhelming hype emanating from Mr. Molyneux over the years, and I'm sure these video diaries piqued that particular impression in me. He is a gifted salesman, and I truly admire his aspirations for video game design and innovation, but I personally felt a bit lured into some of his rhetoric in the past and was greatly disappointed by the rather wide gap between the promises and the reality of his games. I'm sure my response to the video diaries was contextual in this regard.
I hope I have been helpful in clarifying my point of view, as you have been, and I'm sincerely grateful for your interest in my post and your thoughtful response to it.
I would be delighted to post your message, unedited, on my blog with your permission. I think it would be a useful way to shed more light on the diaries in general and your work on them. If this appeals to you, let me know...or if you want to send me a different version to post, that's fine too. If you prefer to keep our correspondence to private email, I will understand and respect your wishes.
Again, thanks very much for your message, Sam. Best of luck to you and all your colleagues at Lionhead.