This research has found cultural values that have benefits for machinimators (artists and creators of machinima), games developers and cultural industries. For machinimators, these constitute development of a broad array of personal skills related to contemporary digital arts practices, marketing and outreach, income generating and societal impacts. For games developers machinima contributes to their profit motive in direct and indirect ways, through sales and product development, audience development, supply chain enhancement (incorporation of machinima skills into business activities), and by raising an awareness of the broader implications of games cultures beyond the immediate reach of the game. For cultural industries, through showcases and exhibitions of machinima, curators have identified a wide range of interest in the work that highlights implications for curation of such types of digital art as well as the ways in which it has enhanced audience development and supported achievement of cultural strategy. The perspectives collectively highlight the cross-cultural and international potential of machinima and its ability to make celebrities out of games players and users, and build audiences for games brands. The discussion now focuses on the areas of specific findings that have important implications for future cultural developments.
In summary, these are:
- machinima is an important genre of digital art that is converging with filmmaking and other creative media in the finished quality of the work, yet remains unique in its mode of creativity and has value as a performative medium;
- the originality and authorship of machinima work needs to be recognized and respected by games developers and streaming channel owners in particular;
- the legal framework for digital cultural practices such as machinima is out of touch with stakeholder needs, and does not fully recognize the roles of co-creation between actors (content creators, creative and cultural industries) in creating cultural and economic value;
- the nature of the virtual as contemporary ‘experience environment’, often evidenced through machinima works.
Findings highlight the evolution of machinima and its growing adoption for creative expression by games players and fans, amateur filmmakers and professional artists, and for hybrid professional practices including teaching and learning. At one end of the creative spectrum, there is increased use of the technique to support dissemination of gameplay and game related activities, which has now evolved into a significant online movement evidenced through the development and growth of networks such as MachinimaTM and Twitch, underpinned by platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo. This category of fanvid machinima makes up the vast majority of content online today. The quality of the work, however, is growing exponentially, aligned to the use of machinimating tools included within games, gaming devices and also production tools provided alongside games play. The consequence of this is a growth in high quality content receiving critical acclaim from within and outside communities of interest and practice, including creative and cultural industries.
One of the significant challenges faced by machinimators is in generating interest in their work, made difficult because of the sheer volume of fanvid machinima and current dominance by a small number of distribution channels that are, in turn, focused predominantly on gaming and gameplay. This trend is set to continue as ‘professional gaming’ (sometimes referred to as esports) continues to develop apace, again evidenced by recent channel takeovers (eg., Twitch by Amazon) and the further investments made by games developers in gameplay events emphasizing live viewing and replay machinimas. As such, machinima is a games culture embedded phenomenon. It is difficult, for example, for non-game players to understand fanvid (including replay) machinima unless they are themselves players of the specific games. Games developers clearly value this content primarily in its collective form through subscriber channels and segmented distribution networks – machinimas become a tangible and continually updated stream of recent gameplay that effectively acts as a promotional tool demonstrating brand presence, game playability and community engagement. The value of machinima for games developers and publishers is therefore significant in terms of cost-benefit for target market penetration and community development. For individual machinimators, the focus in creating fanvid machinima is primarily on building personal reputation and status.
In contrast, creative machinima, which is valued both for its game content and the artist’s creativity in developing story, character, scene, etc., has capability to extend the reach of its core game environment to new audiences including non-game based. The findings suggest that artists see themselves as creative professionals with a unique skillset, made possible through the complexity of games culture as it increasingly embraces new technologies such as augmented and virtual reality. Creative machinimators are, for example, often thought leaders in their genre, testing boundaries in creativity by combining digitally enhanced (virtual) experiences with advanced filmmaking and animation techniques to showcase novel work that cannot be made in any other way at present. From an aesthetic and viewership perspective, such machinima appears to be converging with traditional animation yet creatively the skillset is more contemporary and diverse, and will continue to be so as machinimators often seek to remain at the forefront of developments in their chosen creative matrix.
What is contentious in these planes of creativity is the fuzzy ground of ownership of, and values placed upon, machinima works. Games developers articulate their terms of service precluding machinimators from generating commercial interest in their work. Yet in this research games developers interviewed acknowledge that IP cannot be claimed because their game content is freely available and actively supported through various channels of distribution including machinima. Further, many include in-game tools that enable and facilitate gamesplay capture and replay – and even if they do not, if they are playable through devices such as XBoxOneTM which incorporates record and upload functions to streaming services, then there is an implicit acceptance that replay machinima will be created and shared. It is not their intention to limit machinima that achieves direct and indirect financial returns for the firm, irrespective of how the machinimator benefits from their work. Indeed, this research suggests there is a ‘hidden’ business strategy in play, situated in the fuzziness between games developers’ rhetoric and practice and cultural development of machinima: despite the very large number of machinimas, it remains a largely ‘underground’ movement – works are often produced against the rhetoric of terms of service that precludes such activity and gamers themselves often create machinima with a view to generating audiences. Machinima becomes attractive because it is perceived to be illicit (if not ‘illegal’) and therefore intriguing to participants yet by legitimizing machinima, games developers may unwittingly stifle their most important marketing activity (‘The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do’ Walter Bagehot). Thus, games developers implicitly promote machinima activities, do not clarify terms to match practice, or censor work, and indirectly support machinimators by negotiating access to audiences through key distribution channels and directly support machinimators through sponsorships and ‘shout out’ promotion of individuals. In some instances games developers may even claim and brand the original ideas of machinimators. This is an interesting opportunistic co-creative process that demonstrates a symbiotic and exploitative relationship between machinimator and games developer. It further leads to a new understanding of the role of machinima and community as a form of games development practice – this extends beyond the concept of ‘power-users’ commonly associated with product beta testing. It also highlights that the current legal framework is considerably out of touch with this form of contemporary digital arts practice, where sectoral growth, research and development is culturally embedded in co-creation and participation of user communities.
The concept of community as ‘experience environment’ for creative works is also highlighted in this research. The growth of internet channels showcasing machinima illustrates the demand for the medium, yet the machinima phenomenon has ‘grown out’ of the internet and is now actively promoted in gallery and festival activities. This is not without challenges given that screen formats and audience expectations of participation are quite different. Nonetheless, community is central to machinima – it embodies the game, games culture, creative values and the ways in which these are exchanged among community members. Curators therefore act as the third leg in a relational triad with machinimators and games developers, effectively legitimizing machinima as a creative endeavor by recognizing and showcasing the work. In showcasing machinima in a range of modes, curators contextualize and situate it within the wider sphere of digital co-creative arts practice. Whilst it is difficult to determine whether they capitalize upon the expanding movement or popularize it through endorsement, this contextualization nonetheless increases accessibility of the work to broader audiences. Whilst games developers appear to be slow in recognizing the value of these channels, creative machinimators are evidently keen to associate themselves with galleries and festivals that afford them access to a growing yet critical audience albeit they are reliant on curatorial expertise in digital arts genres. It is evident that there is, however, little concensus on curatorial practice for this kind of work, particularly in its positioning and relationship to more established digital arts practices (such as those explored by the recent exhibition ‘Digital Revolution’, Barbican London, 3 July-14 Sept 2014). Interestingly, research findings indicate curation follows two distinct paths related to gaming cultures and aesthetic practice. Both of these are understood through an increasingly engaged audience familiar with games and games related art, now formed into a community of followers.
Furthermore, community is an ever-present environmental factor when experiencing machinima. Its participation is central to the virtuous cycle of creative and distribution processes adopted by machinimators, evidenced through feedback on social and streaming networks. The machinima community therefore exists on and offline simultaneously, crosses multiple platforms and is both virtual and tangible. Audience awareness of their role as community of interest and practice serves to reinforce creative values. Curators often explore the ways in which community is engaged with showcased and exhibited works, but increasingly they recognise that machinima is a self-curated medium and seek to explore how the role of audience may be extended or developed in the gallery and museum context.
In conclusion, machinima has emerged from games culture and has a unique aesthetic quality that is now converging with the wider sphere of digital arts practice. Research findings highlight cultural values for all stakeholders, including individual machinimators, games developers, curators and communities of interest. Research intimates wider implications of the machinima movement in terms of growth of channels such as MachinimaTM and TwitchTM and the emergence of new segments of games players that seek to monetize their activities through fanvid dissemination; a potential for new applications of machinima including teaching and learning, knowledge exchange, and ‘documenting’ virtual experiences in game contexts, as well as hybrid cultural experiences particularly focusing on performance.