Session - The rise of cosplay and recognition from entertainment creators
Panel - Meagan Marie, Baka Sakura
Meagan Marie is currently Crystal Dynamics' senior community manager, insane Tomb Raider fan, avid cosplayer, and brings with her a ton of experience on several aspects of the video game industry - having worked in the gaming press, game development, and now the social management aspect. She’s been actively involved in cosplay since 2005, runs a charity store selling cosplay designs, and has authored (or is currently writing) several titles focusing on women in gaming (including 20 Years of Tomb Raider). She was joined on stage by local Capetonian cosplay legend Baka Sakura, with eight years of cosplay experience and her own local store catering to the needs of other cosplayers. Between them, they had plenty to say about the growth of the industry globally, but also the challenges cosplayers still face.
As the quality and visibility of cosplay has increased over the last five years, IP holders and entertainment creators (regardless of whether they’re creating comics, games or movies) have begun to embrace the practice, supporting competitions, and bringing cosplayers into promotional events.
Unfortunately, professional cosplaying is still rarely viable as a full time job and even most famous and prolific cosplayers tend to have other jobs. Having good business sense and the ability to commercialise aspects of hobby are essential, with many cosplayers involved in creating accessories, selling design templates, prop-making, doing voice work, and hosting shows. Your cosplay may be the image of the brand but there needs to be a sustainable business model behind it.
Meagan pointed out that more and more video game companies are embedding cosplayers within their workforce - Jessica Hale at Bioware is one of the earliest examples - and this allows them to better engage with the cosplaying community and produce cosplay guides for their game characters.
From a broader societal perspective, Baka pointed out that cosplay gives many women a sense of empowerment and confidence, tapping into an aspirational need and no different from the common appeal of imitating superheroes (something most of us have done in our youth, regardless of your current feelings on cosplay). This is also not a one-way street as cosplay can feed back into game or comic design.
Russian cosplayer Anna Moleva’s cosplay appearance led to Irrational Games hiring her to redesign Elizabeth in Bioshock Infinite and using her likeness for marketing. Marvel has highlighted the work of their cosplayers by producing alternative cosplay character designs/colours for many fan-favorite heroes and villains. Cosplayers are increasingly hired for PR events - replacing the traditional “booth babes” - bringing with them both high quality and authentic costumes plus far greater knowledge of the product. CD Projekt Red have a number of community-based projects going at any given time and are constantly supporting cosplayers. Some cosplayers have even provided props for official trailers or done stunts themselves for live-action video content.
Even if there’s no direct involvement, more and more companies are supporting cosplayers and increasing their exposure. 2K and Gearbox frequently promote and share Borderlands cosplay; Guerilla Games provided massive support for Aloy cosplayers before and after the release of Horizon Zero Dawn. More and more devs are getting onto Facebook, reddit, and Discord to directly engage with the cosplay community to assist with design. It’s creates a cycle in which cosplayers provide ideas to companies, companies produce cosplay templates for fans, and so on.
Unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows - some companies have used cosplayers for promotional material but refused to pay them the same professional rates they would if they were an agency model, even though the workload and skills required are equivalent, if not greater.
Both Meagan and Baka noted that conventions have also started to recognize and support cosplayers who attend them (even if not their primary focus). More and more are providing cosplay changing areas, storage (how many outfits have pockets?!), makeup area, material repair kits. South African events now often provide a “cosplay hospital” offering those services. Baka noted that it’s a sign of respect to cosplayers; appreciating them as an essential part of the experience. She also pointed out an obvious and market-driven reason to court cosplayers - they’re consumers of multiple products: clothing, materials, prosthetics, makeup etc.
Meagan wrapped up the session by discussing some Crystal Dynamics-specific initiatives they’ve embarked on. These include official Lara cosplay guides, created using the original artwork and renders during development, and community meet-ups and professional photo sessions for Tomb Raider cosplayers (they avoid competitions that might dishearten amateur cosplayers). They’ve moved away from professional models and rather bring in local cosplayers at global events - relying on people of local ethnicity to represent Lara as an ideal, not a specific person. These cosplayers can become an official Lara Croft Cosplay Ambassador. As an example of the impact of cosplay on their products, the Rise of the Tomb Raider box art comes from a cosplayer pose with a CG Lara face; they started with the photo before moving to the final render.
Going forward, some ideas on the table are 3D model templates, which would allow cosplayers with access to a 3D printer the ability to produce authentic props and accessories, and more direct engagement with cosplayers and clothing designers during the character creation process.
In her closing remarks, Meagan noted that cosplay has grown rapidly in the last 5 years, snowballing, and is likely to get even bigger in the next 5 years. With some luck, this’ll mean cosplay as part of the South African geek culture will grow with the global trend.
Enjoys games with awesome stories and characters, along with new and interesting hardware. Dislikes day-one patches and driver updates.
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