Lewis Hamilton is to have a cameo role in the latest Call of Duty game, entitled Infinite Warfare. This is a shooting game, set in space in “the distant future” and has been developed by the Infinity Ward company for game publisher Activision. The Call of Duty video game franchise, which began in 2003, has sold more than 250 million copies since then, generating sales of more than $11 billion.
The audience of Call of Duty is 92 percent male, with 42 percent of the players between the ages of 18-24, 22 percent are in the 25-34 age bracket, with 20 percent between 13-17. This is basically the same demographic as Snapchat users, so it is clear that this is the target audience for Purple PR, the public relations agency to which Hamilton is allied. This specialises in fashion and music, which explains some of Lewis’s more ethereal activities.
It is not new for celebrities to appear in video games, notable examples being Kevin Spacey and General David Petraeus in earlier Call of Duty games, Justin Bieber in NBA 2K13, Snoop Dogg in True Crime: Streets of LA, Bruce Lee in various martial arts games and, oddly, Phil Collins in Grand Theft Auto. It is also not the first time that a racing driver has done such a thing, Danica Patrick having appeared in Sonic & All-Stars Racing in 2010.
Oddly, quite a lot of F1 people, including me (left), had their faces 3D-scanned about 10 years when Sony was keen to have real F1 people appearing in the background in its computer games. I cannot say I have ever played the game to find out if I appear…
Notwithstanding the violent theme of the game, it has to be said that Hamilton’s appearance is largely a good thing for Formula 1, because it is getting the sport’s biggest star to a new demographic, as the average F1 viewer is now 37 years of age. Whether or not those who follow Hamilton in these activities will become F1 fans is less clear, but it cannot do any harm. Whether the goal of Lewis’s activities is to build the sport, or simply to build his own brand is largely irrelevant if the two goals are served by the same activities.
Having said that, Hamilton’s recent refusal to engage at traditional press conferences has not been a very positive move, suggesting to the fans that he is petulant and does not have his feet on the ground. One can understand that some of the more creative members of the media can be extremely annoying, but it makes little sense to alienate the majority when the problem is not widespread. It is better, probably, to deal with individual cases and leave the rest alone.
It has, however, raised the question of what value the FIA press conferences have, given that some misguided person in that organisation felt it would be a good idea to televise them. This meant that working journalists on site lost one of their key working tools and no longer had anything to gain from the conferences because all questions asked and answers given were instantly sent out to the world, where the many self-appointed F1 experts on the Internet gobbled it up and regurgitated it before the journalists on site could even get back to their desks. This meant that the conferences are now largely left to those who wish to grandstand, rather than for serious exchanges of views.
This means that the whole process has been dumbed down and fewer people attend. This year has seen some of the lowest media attendances in F1 since the 1980s. One can argue that perhaps this was what was intended by the move, but having a healthy media has got to be better for a sport. The obvious thing to do would be to stop the TV coverage of press conferences and the dissemination of transcripts. This would give the professional F1 journalists a working tool once again, but this would obviously upset those who believe that journalism can be done from home, using social media, and believe that they somehow have a right to such information. It is fairly clear that one can do the job from home, but the result will never be as good as it is when the journalists have direct contact with those involved. However, it is also clear that publishers increasingly wish to save money and so do not send their own reporters to events, relying instead on copy cobbled together from the despatches of others.
In the end, it will depend on the market. If there is no demand for anything beyond rehashing from TV stations, press releases and other publications, there will eventually be no-one to provide any content beyond that. Perhaps with the reduction in the number of media in F1, there will be more chance for those present to talk to the big names, but there is also another question that needs to be addressed. If one compares the F1 drivers to stars in other racing championships and indeed other sports, they tend to hide away whenever they can, running around the paddock to avoid having to stop and connect with people. They claim they do not have time, but in truth a lot of them spend a lot of time sitting around on their own. This is one of the reasons that driver retainers are reducing (and bonus schemes increasing) because teams and sponsors are less willing to pay when it is a struggle to get positive activity from their stars. They are paid primarily because they are fast, but many could earn more if they were more helpful and not cosseted by over-protective PRs. Here are some examples of NASCAR drivers being real people and saying stuff you would never hear from an F1 driver.