The Essay Question
2. ‘But what’s happening today – the mass ability to communicate with each other, without having to go through a traditional intermediary – is truly transformative.’ (Alan Rusbridger, Editor of The Guardian newspaper, ‘The splintering of the fourth estate’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/nov/19/open-collaborative-future-journalism/print .. viahttp://www.fglaysher.com/Post_Gutenberg_Publishing.html ).
How is the diminution of traditional, and often hierarchical, “authoritative” intermediaries changing the role of publishing in social life? You should choose one broad area of publishing, such as, for example, journalism or music publishing.
The diminution of large traditional intermediaries has certainly changed how publishers, developers and customers interact in the PC game publishing scene. The internet has made way for many alternative methods to publish a game over the traditional method of going through a game publishing company. However, the role that game publishing serves in the social life, to distribute and promote, remains the same.
The role of large game publishing companies for was to fund, promote and distribute games (Brand & Knight). It was very important, if not critical, for a game to be backed by a publisher and this can be seen in the history of SimCity. The initial version of the game was created in 1985, but didn’t come into the public eye until 1989 when Broderbund backed and published the game (ACMI) which gave it the boost it needed to start off the popular Sims franchise.
Today, the efforts of large game publishing companies such as Ubisoft can be seen day to day from adverts on television to official websites that serve to entice customers to buy the game. One notable recent example of a heavily promoted game from Ubisoft would be Far Cry 3 that has a collection of video clips, an official website and television adverts amongst others. Ubisoft takes its role to promote seriously, as seen from the €304, 941, 000 on marketing alone in the financial year ending on March 2013 (Ubisoft, 2013). From Far Cry 3’s official site, we can see that the publisher has control over the distribution of the game, and how that game will be distributed.
Companies such as Ubisoft, Electronic arts and Nintendo are fulfilling their role as a publisher by promoting and distributing the games that they back. In the social life, their role is to bring their products to a target market.
The diminution of traditional intermediaries such as these can be seen through the many new channels of publishing that are now available to game developers. Platforms such as Steam and Desura in addition to funding methods such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo allows game developers to publish independent from large companies. These indie developers are able to take control of how and when they distribute their games, without fear of being rejected as a risky investment (Langlotz, Rhode & Whaley, 2008) or influences from the publishing company.
Steam is a popular and well known game distribution platform used by professionals and indie developers alike. It features a Greenlight feature that allows indie game developers to publish their games, provided there’s sufficient community interest (Steam). The process involves paying a one time fee of a hundred dollars then upon approval, steam will organise price and launch with the developer (Steam). From January to May 2013, Steam has launched on average fifteen games a month (Steam, 2013).
Desura is another digital distribution platform that can be used by indie game developers to distribute their games. It comes without the fee that Steam has, and the process is much simpler than Steam’s Greenlight process. Game developers have the ability to upload materials of their game without a community approval process (Desura).
Both Steam, once the game has been approved, and Desura offer games their own pages from which game developers can post news and update their games as well as offering services to distribute digital copies of the games, fulfilling the role of distributing that game publishers originally had. These platforms can also serve as a step in the role to promote games. Steam and Desura have large communities surrounding them, and the chance to showcase game on these platforms can serve to boost exposure (Booker, 2012). This isn’t to say that developers don’t need to market and promote their own games, because they do (Grayson, 2012).
Of course, these are only two of many ways to publish and distribute games. The internet has a range of filesharing methods, and game distribution can occur through file downloads from a server. A well known indie game, Minecraft, makes use of this method and distributes copies of the game through its website.
The ability to share things easily across the internet also means that developers can promote their own games through things such as social networking sites and blogs. One example of a developer who has used this method is Wollay. He had a blog that documented the development of Cube World which is a 3d RPG game. Now he’s moved to an official site and twitter to post updates on development to an audience of about 36, 000 people (Von Funck). On top of this, the Cube World Facebook page has around 38, 000 likes (Cube World), meaning a significant number of people are aware of and following it. These platforms, Twitter and Facebook, both help the developer to promote and engage with the community that they’ve built surrounding their games. It fulfils the game publisher’s role of promoting a product and bringing it into the public eye.
Another example of an indie game that’s growing in popularity is Project Zomboid who has forums, communities on large websites (such as Reddit) and an official site. These websites help them create a community around their game which drives it forward. They rely on word of mouth to spread news of their game over traditional marketing methods such as television advertisements or ads.
Thanks to social media and its nature of creating networks, game developers can utilise them to reach a larger audience than previously possible. This means that the job of promoting can be done with tools available to everyone, and much cheaper than the tactics that large publishing companies employ though obviously through different forms and down a different route.
Due to the diminution of large publishing companies, this means that the middle man in the publishing process can be cut out and as a result developers and the fan community are able to directly communicate to each other. What this means for the fans is that they could influence how the game is developed and what features will be included in the game.
An example of this can be found if we look back to Project Zomboid which has an official forum containing a subsection dedicated to hearing suggestions from members of the community. This enables fans to also interact and hear from developers of the games, and there are collections of developer responses posted up (TheRedStranger, 2013). The forum in general provides a way for developers and fans to interact, and can act to foster good relationships between the two. This could be seen as a form of promotion in that a positive relationship is being formed with the fans which encourage them to participate in the community.
If we refer back to Wollay, we can see that his Twitter stream can also connect him to his fan community in the same way. His twitter answers questions that the community has asked about Cube World as well as just friendly interaction with fans. This can serve to strengthen the relationship between Wollay and the community, and the public nature of this medium also means that others can see the conversation, become curious, and decide to look further into what Cube World is. Wollay’s Twitter feed also becomes an important source of information for the fans, and can help drive interest for Cube World especially if the fans are able to feel part of the project as it’s being developed.
The use of Youtube and video as a medium to spread news and information has also helped indie, and commercial, developers promote their games through trailers and gameplay videos that give a glimpse into what the game is like. For developers such as Wollay who have a game in the process of development, videos that show gameplay features can serve to hype up the audience and increase interest for something that is not yet out to play. Project Zomboid also has multiple videos up showcasing and encouraging people to play. Even lesser known games such as Zafehouse: Diaries and Call of the Wild have videos to promote and reach out to more people. Used effectively, videos can garner an interest in the game, show what it’s about and how it’s played.
Another thing that is helping boost a game’s exposure are gaming websites which decide to write articles about certain games and game reviews from sites such as JayIsGames. This is true for Cube World, who has appeared a few times in DIYGamer with positive opinions. JayIsGames has also mentioned Project Zomboid in one of their articles, saying “Having purchased the game a long time ago myself, I can tell you that it’s definitely unique and shows a lot of promise, especially for fans of morbid narratives” (Dora, 2012). The good words put in by websites such as these could promote this game and encourage more people to tune in and find out what it’s about.
Minecraft certainly got a lot of mentions throughout its growth from many magazines and websites such as PC Gamer and Rock, Paper, Shotgun. During Minecraft’s early Alpha stage, it was mentioned in Rock, Paper, Shotgun with incredibly positive words (Rossignol, 2010) and again later in a series of posts called “Mine the Gap” (Smith, 2010). Around the time of announcement for the Halloween Update in 2010, Minecraft was also featured in an article on PC Gamer regarding a new feature in the update (Francis, 2010).
All these mentions and articles could have been a large factor is Minecraft’s quickly growing popularity. It also serves as promotion for the game, drawing in more and more people from the audiences of these magazines and websites. Releasing information about upcoming features could also serve to excite the players and generate more hype surrounding the game.
The success of word of mouth tactics and social media as promotion falls on the nature of the internet, which allows people to easily share and connect with other people. Perhaps in the past it was necessary and crucial for game developers to work with large publishing companies as they simply didn’t have the resources and tools to promote and distribute their works (Langlotz, Rhode & Whaley, 2008). However it’s a very different situation now, and with publishers increasingly focused on established franchises (Brand & Knight) indie developers are increasingly turning to these alternative methods of publishing their games.
In conclusion, the diminution of large game publishing companies can certainly be seen by the amount of games that are seeking alternative methods of publishing. Platforms such as Steam and Desura are two popular platforms that developers have turned to, and the rise of social media has also allowed developers to promote their games themselves. While this means a change in dynamic between developers, publishing companies and consumers, the role of game publishing in the social life, to promote and distribute games, remains unchanged. What we are seeing are new methods and channels to achieve the same goals and objectives in publishing.
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