This week, we discussed two academic papers on marginalised segments of the digital games industry: Kücklich’s (2005) article on modding and Phillips’s (2015) article on indie games developers. As we saw, there’s a strong argument that the modding community is being exploited, because it provides the games industry both with free marketing and brand development and with valuable intellectual property. However, it doesn’t seem to mind the fact that it’s being exploited. Kücklich argues that the modding community should argue for better terms from the gaming industry, but suggests that it won’t be able to do that while modding is conceived as play rather than work: hence the ‘playbour’ concept. We followed the discussion of Kücklich with a brief discussion of whether creating YouTube videos and updating Facebook profiles could be analysed in the same way. After all, people mostly do these things for fun and for their friends, but it’s YouTube and Facebook that benefit financially, by getting their content creation done for free. Without that content, the sites would be less attractive to consumers – and therefore also to advertisers.
Phillips’s article focuses on the question of regulation, and of why indie game developers don’t seem to want it – even though it could potentially prevent their ideas from being ripped off by other (especially larger) companies. This again relates to the relationship between play and work, and the idea that indie game developers should do what they do for fun and for the love of games, unlike people in the ‘corporate’ world, who might chase after money with the help of a lawyer. Much as Kücklich argues that modders will eventually have to organise to represent their interests as workers, Phillips argues that indie game developers will sooner or later have to face up to the need for regulation – and suggests that it would be better for them to do it sooner, so that the regulation that results is on their terms rather than somebody else’s.
I would suggest that the blurred boundary between work and play runs through most of what we think of as digital culture. So this week’s question is, ‘How much of your online activity can be considered to be “playbour”?’
Kücklich, J. (2005) ‘Precarious Playbour: Modders and the Digital Games Industry’. Fibreculture 5.
Phillips, T. (2015) ‘“Don’t Clone my Indie Game, Bro”: Informal Cultures of Videogame Regulation in the Independent Sector’, Cultural Trends, 24:2, 143- 153.