Apologies for the absence, March moves faster than I could believe possible.
We know artists have a particular style, from Picasso's abstraction to Andy Warhol's consumer commentary to Van Gogh's impressionism. We can pick out, or give a pretty good guess, who did these works almost immediately. The same applies to books, from the minimalist works of Raymond Carver to the Dickensian way of using tons of intricate characters, and movies (Tarantino, anyone?).
In gaming, who gets the style points?
Hideo Kojima is known for his really detailed, long stories and attention to plot. Will Wright makes social simulators, but can I look at the Spore and The Sims and know it was designed by the same person? How many others can we name, and how tenous are the connections between their games?
Games are not created by a single person. It's easier to reflect a certain style in your work when you are the only one doing it, but if a director of a multi-million dollar movie can do it, why can't a gaming designer, or at least, why can't more?
We may be able to point to certain studios for elements they tend to continue to emphasize in their games: Bethesda and open worlds, Bioware, moral decisions and polished and traditional RPGs, but there's no real style yet established, just reoccurring game devices.
First Question: Are gamers buying titles based on the designer responsible?
My guess is, for the most part, no. Aside from some of the bigger names I've mentioned earlier, I would argue the majority of game purchasing is determined mostly by the reviews/trailors/marketing campaigns of a particular game (assuming the game isn't a sequel).
Second Question: Do we need this?
Do we need designers we can look to for distinct styles? If you're talking about industry recognition, by all means I say yes. You want more games to start getting pointed out for their artist merits and liberties, or creativity? Designers and style need to start becoming distinct. I don't know if this will sell more games, but I think it changes the cultural view of games in a positive way. Genre-blending is getting more popular, making it harder to differentiate games in terms of categories, so distinct styles and designers could be the next way to go.
I do think we are starting to get on the verge of distinct styles, Heavy Rain seemed to open up the door for commentary on this; the story was too controlled and carefully managed (each moment) for an overarching designer to not be in the discussion. Someone brought all the pieces together and made the game he had a vision for, and this is something I see more of in the next ten years.