Lara's Millions (1998)
- GameSpot.co.uk -
She's got millions of fans, sold millions of games and makes million's of pounds. Jane Wakefield asks why...
Lara Croft and the Spice Girls have one thing in common. Both have fed off the 'girl power' cliché and both have sustained their original success despite imitators. All Saints, The Honeyz and Bewitched may have been quick to jump on the girl band bandwagon but the Spice Girls remain the epitome of the phenomenon. So too with Lara. Though others have tried to imitate her, she remains the one girl with power in the gaming industry. She has got that something special capable of reducing the 'also ran' marketing men to tears.
When Core decided that their Tomb Raider game would benefit from having a female character Toby Gard was given free rein to create his dream woman. Luckily for Core, the gaming population agreed with Toby that having a large breasted, tight-buttock heroine was a very good idea indeed and Lara became an overnight hit, putting Core on the map and guaranteeing nice new cars for the boys who made the game.
Like any enduring image, Lara is held in a great deal of affection with fans but the reasons for her popularity are hard to assess. Core claims that she grew out of the needs of the game rather than as a deliberate marketing ploy and if it is the case that Lara was a happy accident, then it certainly hit a cord with gamers. The reasons some brands endure often remains a mystery --why, for instance, has a brown drink in a red can remained such a part of our culture for so long? On the face of it the Lara phenomenon may seem easier to explain. The majority of gamers are males in their early twenties and Lara has large breasts. Jeff Kaye, editor of CTW admits that she was "the first sexy image to come out of the games industry" But if this is all there is to it, why have the imitations -- games with sexy female characters -- failed to come close to her?
Games like Mortal Coil and Virtual Girlfriend were launched with the assumption that sex sells and yet failed to make any real impact. Eidos themselves tried to repeat the formula with Deathtrap Dungeon which featured a leather-clad babe but it failed to reap reward. Gavin White, marketing manager for Take 2 offers a possible explanation. "The danger of repeating the Lara Croft formula is that you may end up falling flat on your face" he says. His advice to other games companies is to "steer clear of Lara Croft" because the brand is just too strong to imitate. The best route for other companies is to provide a complete contrast he says. "Games are not driven by marketeers and gamers do not want to be forced into playing substitutes just because Tomb Raider was such a success."
LARA THE CASH COW?
The success of TombRaider is something no-one can dispute but how much is Lara herself worth these days? The Tomb Raider games have made total sales of between £8m and £9m worldwide and there is a whole raft of Lara products on the back of this success. Marks and Spencers has a range of Lara merchandise including socks, underwear and a mouse mat. The French car firm Seat has spent £4m on a TV campaign which stars Lara and she appears on cans of an energy drink in Germany.
Core has even launched its own range of Lara clothes. Brands as strong as Nike and Absolut Vodka have tried and failed to get hold of her. According to marketing manager David Burton "she is the closest thing this industry has to mass marketing".
The government obviously agrees with him. Tomb Raider has been chosen as one of a thousand products selected by the Design Council and the DTI to represent the very best of British design. According to Nell Cuzens, media officer at the Design Council, Lara Croft played a big part in the decision. "What is particularly innovative about Tomb Raider is that Lara Croft is the first female lead in video games" she says. Lara's "mixture of attitude and attributes" have made her a world-wide icon according to the Design Council.
LARA THE SUPERSTAR
Core, like the guardian of any superstar, is keen to limit her endorsements and appearances. "We need to be careful with what we do -- we don't want to spread Lara too thinly" says Susie Hamilton, PR manager for Core, as if Lara was a movie star who needs to be protected. This is not so far from the truth. A film starring a real-life Lara is due for release late in 1999.
For those who have copies of Tomb Raider I and II gathering dust on their shelves, there is no need to wait until the movie comes out. Tomb Raider III launched on Friday --just in time for Christmas -- and went straight in at number one in the games charts as pining gamers ran en masse to the shops to be reunited with their icon. For hardened fans, the fact that the game is technically very similar to the last one and was rushed out in what some of the industry's more cynical members would describe as an indecently quick time is of little significance. Lara has perhaps achieved a first in the games world. She is bigger than the game itself.
Evidence of this is pretty easy to find. On web sites and at promotional events, Lara takes part in interviews as if she was a real personality. The Design Council acknowledges her as the first computer character to cross into different types of media and may well put her in the millennium dome as recognition of this achievement. There are hundreds of web-sites dedicated to her and a base of female fans is growing, suggesting that there is more to Lara than flesh appeal. Jeff Kaye, editor of CTW believes she has become a role model for a generation who have grown up with "laddish culture", whether male or female. So is Lara the ultimate laddette? "That would be a pretty fair description of her" Kaye agrees.
LARA - WE LOVE YOU
Whether or not she has outgrown the game is a question for debate amongst gamers and marketing folk alike. Core has not yet decided whether a fourth Tomb Raider is in the offing, but Lara is certainly a strong enough brand to carry on with or without the game. She is due to appear on our TV screens in a series of ads this weekend. The 30 second commercial features an aspirational 25 year old gamer, pining for an unidentified female who turns out to be Lara. Running with the title "I've finished with her twice" the ad is aimed at the 15-25 age bracket and hopes to attract new fans as well as remind the old ones that Lara is back in town. Adverts on buses and radio are also part of the £1.7 million campaign. With Lara's popularity showing no signs of decline, it is debatable whether Tomb Raider needed such an "in your face" campaign, but David Burton believes it is worth it. "This is the third release and they are notoriously difficult. This is really an awareness campaign. We just want to let people know that she is back" he says with barely disguised pride.
As for the future, Eidos, the producers of the Tomb Raider series may well need Lara more than ever. The company reported first-half losses of £18,928,000 and will be counting on Tomb Raider III to pull them out of a hole. The company obviously sees personality led games as a winning formula and is due to launch a football game featuring Michael Owen next month. Even Michael Owen though cannot compete with Lara and the movers and shakers at Eidos will be hoping that their greatest asset doesn't do a Geri Halliwell and take her "attitude and attributes" elsewhere.
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