Game development labour has been described as precarious for its workers who labour under issues of sustainable employment, gender inequality, and ‘crunch’ work. This project seeks to investigate these issues within this industry and attempt to analyze how independent studios and developers keep the lights on. Diversity issues within cultural and creative industries are well-known, detailing the systemic and organizational barriers that women and other marginalized people face. The uneven distribution of creative work across these intersecting identities has led to lower pay, greater inequality, and limitations to the freedoms of both those marginalized and those who traditionally are not. Currently, one of the main projects is to address the consequences of gender equity policies within corporate and artistic funding bodies and how these policies impact development, hiring, and promotion practices within creative and cultural industries.
Game studies researchers have struggled to access game studios and developers, partly due to the secretive and closed nature of large studios. To date, relatively little methodological innovation addresses this issue. As a larger overarching project, we look at how to better connect researchers with game developers and others who work in the industry, as well as new methods to learn about their work. For example, this includes examining ways to conduct in-depth contextual analyses of cultural intermediaries, such as co-working space hosts, events organizers, publishers, etc. The kinds of work that cultural intermediaries do can be difficult to access as their actual sites of work are highly mobile, geographically dispersed, and individualized, particularly in ‘indie’ scenes. Another methodological challenge we highlight through our work is the disconnect between how we might think games are made, and the messy realities of what team-based game development actually looks like on the ground. In response, we emphasize studio studies ethnographies as a viable tool for qualitative game studies research.
This project addresses changing dynamics of software development alongside the growing significance of community management in game development. Increasingly, platforms, such as Facebook, Grindr, and Twitter, are facing crises within their communities necessitating management and moderation of these spaces. How these platforms decide which content is moderated and who has access to them is important as they continue to structure our online spaces, as platforms of entertainment, discussion, knowledge, connection, and sharing. The management of users on platforms is typically done by community managers, labourers who act as a bridge between software developers and communities of users. Digital game development is argued as an ideal site to study these changing dynamics. As the management of these communities becomes integral to the sustainability and success of platforms, and increasingly embedded more early on in production, how does this change the work of software developers and community managers alike?
This project considers the role of live gameplay streaming in indie game production, distribution, and reception, based on interviews and platform analysis. Digital game live-streaming on Twitch.tv (along with other forms of mediated gameplay content like YouTube “Let’s Plays”) is fundamentally changing the industry and culture of digital games. Streamers and influencers vie for the social and economic rewards of celebrity; viewers consume hundreds of hours of gameplay footage a week; platforms extract massive profits; and game developers increasingly rely on streaming as a form of promotion. Some argue that streaming has come to parallel game reviews for consumers and developers, offering a “live” evaluative account of the game being streamed, which may inform purchase decisions. Certainly, streaming has helped secure the position of Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, Fortnite, Rocket League, and others as ubiquitous blockbusters, but what about smaller, lower-budget games lacking significant brand recognition and marketing budgets? By focusing on developer perceptions of and experiences with streaming, rather than streamers or viewers, we aim to question the widely-held notion that streaming is inherently beneficial for small developers facing an oversaturated market rife with “discoverability” issues.
The Indie Interfaces: GPS / MESI IP Discoverability Engine Project, is a three-year collaborative grant and initiative between Concordia and GamePlay Space which launched in early 2018. The project, which developed out of the 2017 Indie Interfaces symposium and research group, has presented an interesting opportunity to bridge the gap between academic and industry interests and discussions. The research side of the ‘Discoverability Engine’ aims to explore challenges related to visibility, attention, and sustainability that many independent game studios in Montreal face when developing and releasing a game. Working closely with the GamePlay Space team, the research involves a correlation of qualitative and quantitative onsite research in order to create comprehensive snapshots of each studio in the space, as well as the coordination of pedagogical events and initiatives aimed to help devs improve their business and marketing strategies. Data, information and analysis generated during this study will be used to help evaluate discoverability initiatives for indies as well as provide guidance and advice for future initiatives.