The Cultural and Economic Impacts of Machinima

Presentation to the 13th International Colloquium on Arts, Heritage, Non-Profit and Social Marketing (Academy of Marketing Special Interest Group), 3 Sept 2014, University of Birmingham, UK (Twitter #ANPSIG)

Abstract of Presentation

The paper presented findings of this research project, focusing on the values co-created between machinimators and games developers, and the marketing strategies adopted by games developers. Machinima content co-created by games players and developers effectively generates interest in the games beyond their core target market through prosumer promotional activities. Marketing in this context is a C2C (consumer-to-consumer) process, underpinned by theories of communities of interest and e-tribes (Wenger & Snyder, 2000; Cova & Cova, 2002). Machinima practice is co-created with value increasingly determined by the consumer (Vargo & Lusch, 2008; Gronroos, 2008), wherein content is reformatted and constructed from that originally provided by games developers (Arvidsson, 2005). Whilst Payne et al (2008) argue that the role of a firm (eg., a games developer) is to provide opportunities for customers to utilize their operant resources, in Machinima this is implicit through emergent consumption practices rather than explicit within terms of product use. The value of machinima for games developers is in the increased penetration of its target market through what is essentially a promotional tool. Machinimators, however, are largely an ‘underground’ long tail of consumers whose personal values derive from creative processes and community engagement. Thus, the model of co-creation is based on mutual exploitation and convenience, where the immaterial labour provided by machinimators to games developers is central to the successful marketing of games. This paper presented exploratory research into the bases of co-creation and values derived by stakeholders.

Comments by games developers highlight direct and indirect benefits through sales and product development, captured through feedback and via community fora and promotional materials (word of mouth). This is evidenced through shares, likes and views:

“I’m sure sales are driven by people specifically buying an engine/product for the purposes of creating machinima.” (GD15, games developer)
“There’s no direct line between machinima and how income is generated. That said, machinima techniques are used in creating a number of game cinematics, which add to the overall value of the games sold… [and machinima] works produced with our games helps reach a wider audience than the initial marketing of the game – so there's a value there... there's always a chance that a machinima work will become popular and spike additional interest in our game.” (GD4, games developer)
Emphasis on prosumption and immaterial labour – the nature of the relationship in creating machinima is symbiotic and prosumers act as intelligent curators for game content, constituting immaterial labour for games developers:

“In a nutshell, this entire system revolves around marketing, and YouTube is a wonderful source of free marketing… We wouldn't be able to show our work off without machinima. Its a terrific way to show our game off and gain new support!... [YouTube] creates the sort of symbiotic relationship that benefits both the developer and the entertainer. Exposure guarantees money for both parties.” (GD16, games developer)"
“[YouTube]… that’s where the eyeballs are, that’s where people want to see things and see related videos because you can create things like playlists and you can recommend other artists, other people to go see, and so its about broad interconnectivity and we’ve just seen other channels, that’s where they are and gravitate to, and that’s where they want to watch stuff. The lowest friction if you will.” (GD21, games developer)
Games developers’ focus on a range of customer engagement strategies, albeit communication is often mediated and moderated through channels by others:
“We’ve always been first and foremost about user created content… we’ve always looked to ways we can facilitate that with the tools and in some cases, actually, many cases give creators the ability to make their own tools…” (GD21, games developer)
“… there are elements within characters that I've picked up from watching machinima that I have then taken and put into one of my products where... a character has made a political statement about Obama Care, for instance. But he's done it in a very sort of sly way, like my character's tripped over something on the road and said 'Oh my god, how much is this going to cost me?'… so I've taken satire and I have turned it into something that's a bit more tangible.” (GD10, games developer)
“… we do fill the game with little secrets and things that you have to invest quite a lot of time to unlock… [xxx machinimator] did a fantastic techno remix... its just a silly bit of nonsense but its great fun when you come across it. Once somebody found it then it was shared on YouTube and it went all over YouTube… [and goes on to comment about their modus operandi…] none of us talk to anybody outside of the studio, not officially anyway - obviously there's a bit of unofficial socialisation going on and stuff. But [we, xxx games developer] are very much just, the company exists to 'get heads down and make the game' and because we're constantly busy making the game, that's what we do. Our only outreach is through very traditional PR routes.” (GD9, games developer)
Marketing strategies relate to market development actions that appear to contradict TOS – there is recognition that this is a most important customer yet a long-tail segment of games players. Firms are not prepared to take action to remonstrate these customers, so by implication they are endorsing the behavior in a number of ways:
“The machinima culture is a subversive culture. Its a culture of people who, like I was saying earlier about the dark arts, they want to have the freedom if they want to be subversive and controversial – and if they want to be, you know, more conformist, then there is an outlet for them to be able to do that. But machinima people generally, their culture tends not to be driven by rules… I think their awareness is firmly in their community.” (GD10, games developer)
“Copyright is your right to exert an end user license... you know, a lot of people realise that machinima or fan made videos in particular were because people loved those characters in the game and whatever it is you are making a film out of. So there's no point in punishing your fans. The games industry has always had a different track record when it comes to copyright infringement than the music or film industry does because we have a better relationship with our fans.” (GD5, games development association)
“…nowadays everybody just understands that its going to happen. You can't stop it, any more than you can stop people summarising a novel to their friend or spoiling the ending. So I think they're just... you still end up with EULAs but I think they are largely just for the legal departments, to make sure that everything's covered and that the companies basically are saying 'well yeah this game is out there...’” (GD9, games developer)
Machinimators responses to marketing strategies highlight the subversion, corresponding exploitative behaviour and anti-relational approach – their lack of direct communication on attitudes to the TOS is reflected in uncertainty.
“I see that there is a very big positive of being locked out of the marketplace based on the history of former art and technology in that when you have a marketplace you are creating to fill that, and when you are locked out of the marketplace you can make anything you damn well please.” (MA3, machinimator)
“I think that the practice of working with game engine worlds and telling stories in those worlds and repurposing them is still enormously powerful but the way the law has shifted and the way everyone’s attitudes have shifted its an unfortunate ghetto and a dead end for anyone that goes into it because you are also limited in terms of what you can do with those assets.” (MP9, machinimator)
“So there's this constant sense of... I wouldn't call it nervousness, but just awareness that I'm pretty dependent on a corporation or a company that I know nothing about and have no impact on.” (MA8, machinimator)

Games developers therefore risk losing their most valuable customer base because of inaction… however, an alternative view is that if they legitimize machinimating then do they turn off this key audience, which thrives on subversion by association.

In conclusion, the paper highlighted four aspects relating to co-creation of value between machinimators and games developers:

  • Findings indicate clear segments of engagement within the emergent creative practice of machinima – the most creative and ‘valuable’ work is often outside direct control of firm
  • Analyses highlight a range of values associated with machinima that have direct and indirect benefit to firms
  • Firms marketing strategies are overtly based on engagement, eg., in-game tools, promotion of ‘power users’
  • Firms marketing strategies are covert and implicit, exploiting immaterial labour, playing on community values of subversion

(This paper is being developed for a subsequent journal submission.)


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