Cultural production and politics of the digital games industry: the case of independent game production
Guevara Villalobos, Orlando
Villalobos, Orlando Guevara
This thesis sheds light on the social relationships, work practices and identities that shape the small scale sector of independent game production. Harnessing elements of the Production of Culture and Cultural Industries/Work perspectives, it aims to clarify the specifics of independent game production and its relationship with the large-scale sector of the industry. Drawing on a multi-sided ethnography, the thesis captures gamework practices, motivations, ideas and conventions deployed in a diverse range of online and physical spaces where independent developers interact. Given the complex relationships and messiness found in the industry, the results of the thesis initially clarify general aspects, characterising both the corporate structure of the games industry and its independent sector. It then examines the cultures that inform independent work as well as emergent 'indie' praxis. After a historical review of the digital games industry, the thesis addresses how the corporate structure of the industry has created a viable game producing field, with a highly rationalised but not unproblematic process of game production. The independent sector is then analysed in relation to this material culture. The thesis discusses the technologic affordances, structural relationships, market approach and organisational forms supporting the production of independent games. It also examines the motivations, ethics and general culture informing independent developers work, as well as the emergence of independent networked scenes as social spaces where creative, organisational, technical and cultural aspects of independent game production are shaped. The analysis of empirical evidence reveals how the uneven struggle to control or access the means for game production, distribution and reproduction, in both retail and digital distribution business models, shapes the material conditions of the small scale sector game production. The thesis highlights the relationship between production, independent developers' preferences, and their identity as 'indies' as central in understanding how this novel sector of the games industry is being structured. By understanding both the structure and informal practices of independent production, this research offers novel insights in this under-researched area, insights that reveal the intricacies of processes of social change and cultural diversification within the digital games industry as a whole.