Findings: Computer Games Development

In generating further insight into machinima, games developers as key stakeholders in the phenomenon were interviewed. The computer games sector has undergone significant development since machinima was first recognised in 1996. From its origins in Quake© and Doom©, there are now hundreds of games used to create machinima from Lego© and Minecraft© to Grand Theft Auto©, World of Warcraft© and Second Life© and a wide variety of computer, console and mobile devices with which to enjoy them. The UK market alone for computer games was reported to be worth appx £1.2B in 2013, and is estimated to rise to £2.2B by 2018 (UK Interactive Entertainment in Mintel, 2013), albeit these figures are predicated on strong console sales. Globally, the computer games sector grew 9% in 2013, worth a reported $76B (rising to $86B by 2016, bigfishgames.com) and advertising revenue within the games is forecast to reach $7.2B by 2016 (venturebeat.com) – considered to be on a par with the TV and film industry.

Within the UK, the average gamer is 35 years old, predominantly male and spends 3+ hours gaming per day, yet the fragmentation of development processes related to gaming, mobile and technology infrastructures, and accompanying business models, is changing the market structure making games ever more accessible. Trends are emerging in older consumers, women players, family and friend networks, mobile, social and casual gaming. Furthermore, in the UK, the sector directly employed 9,000 in 2012 and supported a further 17,000 jobs in film, TV, music fashion, art and design industries, contributing an estimated £947M to UK GDP (CBI/TIGA). Currently, UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE) is promoting Government backed tax breaks for developers and creative technologies skills within education (coined STEAM – science, technology, engineering, art, maths) to underpin the next generation of developers for this important sector of the creative economy (see UKIE.org.uk). Thus, whilst the impacts and values of the sector as a whole may be clear, its derivative impacts on the arts and cultural sectors are less well understood. The focus of this section of the research was therefore to evaluate machinima’s role and impacts on developments in the sector.

Themes explored through interviews with key informants within games developers were the impacts of machinima on organisations’ profit motive; the development of its supply chain including market segments; the ways organisations think about their competitive environment; and, their awareness of the broader societal impacts of machinima, eg., when viral films and artefacts influence populations beyond gaming cultures. Games developers from UK and international indie and AAA organisations were interviewed, including one professional association representing a number of organisations within the UK games sector.

Machinima’s contribution to the profitability and profit motive of games developers is identified by some through its direct impact on sales:

“I’m sure sales are driven by people specifically buying an engine/product for the purposes of creating machinima.” (GD15, games developer)
“… we have used them [machinimas]. We showcase quite a range. There are several that have been so consistent over the long run xxx [machinimators] and most recently that I can think of, right on our front [website] page, we feature the work of xxx [machinimator]…” (GD21, games developer)

It is, however, for many primarily seen to have indirect impact through design and development processes, and a circuitous route through audience reach activities by machinimators using game content. As these games developer highlight, it is also used to support customer engagement:

“I’m very comfortable with the fact that I’m not going to use it for direct monetary gain. Obviously I have to promote the service, so I want to be able to show your experience to the world to bring in more users to the service, but not to be sold or resold by myself.” (GD1, games developer)
“I began to make these little tips and tricks [machinima] videos, video tutorials, and see how it catches on with management at xxx [my company, games developer] and with the [customers]. Then we kept getting demand for more of these and that was a huge catalyst so I would say which topics do you want me to do next… I kept this dialogue, I couldn’t have done it alone, between us and the [customers], who requested more and more of these videos, tutorials over time. So I found it just a very non threatening and approachable form to educate our customers and take those requests and they felt invested in that…” (GD21, 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)

and the latter goes on to reflect on the way in which consumer feedback is captured through their moderated communities:

“The way our studio shows the value and support of our customers is by listening to their feedback. By providing platforms for this, online fora, community events, etc., gives the players a chance to share their their thoughts and for us to speak with them directly about it. Unfortunately, there isn't a separate platform for machinimators, but hopefully they are participating in the fora and events that we hold.” (GD4, games developer)
“We monitor industry-related review sites/communities and maintain accounts there so we don’t miss any feedback that might be constructive to our games.” (GD15, games developer)

Yet there is also recognition that once published, a game is no longer ‘owned’ by the developer but becomes co-created with its players or consumers:

“… the game isn't the designer's once it's been done, it's the players. And although the designer is responsible for sustaining and maintaining it over time and taking it in a direction, they are doing so in the context of taking their audience with them.” (GD19, games developer)

The sector’s recognition of machinima and its significance and influence on the behaviour of developers and other industry stakeholders was identified. The general view from inside the industry is that machinima is part of the broader cultural sphere which surrounds computer games:

“I think things start to get interesting, when its not about telling a story in the game but it is about using the game to communicate, you know, walk-through and tutorials and Easter egg hunts and things like that. So games become a medium not just for play but also for sharing.” (GD19, games developer)
“Machinima is something that exists as part of the cultural sphere around games . It's more fan-driven and it is more around fan culture, so you can see machinima being creative.” (GD5, games development association)
“…machinima has its origins in speed-runs and pure game-play videos. There's a massive scene emerged on Twitch [internet streaming channel] of what they call the 'let's plays', which is just people who basically have effectively a YouTube or Twitch TV channel, where they just play the latest games and other people just watch them playing.” (GD9, games developer)

The movement has broad impact on consumption practices in general, as these games developer states:

“Minecraft© let’s play are awesome and have made a underground network that (most) adults don’t understand. My kids don’t come in and turn the TV on, they look at xxx [machinimator] videos. That cannot be underestimated as a massive cultural shift.” (GD17, games developer)

The significance and awareness of the Machinima.com brand (which has been rebranded simply to MachinimaTM) is also noted, with the assertion that the brand has eclipsed the original movement from which it was spawned:

“[MachinimaTM] is not a portal for makers anymore, its a portal for watchers, in summary. And actually in some ways that's a good thing because it becomes a place – if you have an interesting game-themed thing. I really enjoyed xxx [film], I thought it was brilliant, and I watched it through MachinimaTM.” (GD19, games developer)
“MachinimaTM is now mainstream and once things become mainstream, like IGN [online media and game content promotion organisation] – its more of a trailer holding site than it is of being anything that's remotely ground-breaking.” (GD10, games developer)

MachinimaTM was a community website set up in 2000 by one of the originators of the term (Hugh Hancock). Since its takeover in 2005, MachinimaTM that has subsequently seen a series of capital investments making it the ‘go to’ channel for machinima, albeit now focused on ‘let’s play’ and fan vid content (its most recent round of investment was in March 2014, with $18M led by Warner Bros). Currently, MachinimaTM describes itself as a media streaming and gaming multi-channel network and its YouTube channel is only the second to exceed 5B views (thevideolink.com, 2 July 2014). To the majority of those interviewed, MachinimaTM is perceived as an online entertainment channel which hosts a variety of content, including live-action, reviews, film-trailers, comedy/parody, music video and others, which would appeal to its core demographic (primarily male, tech savvy, aged 18-35). The site’s usefulness as an aggregator of content related to specific games is noted, albeit that related revenue is generated by the channel rather than the games developer:

“[MachinimaTM is] basically just a news site and social network for geek culture. But that's interesting in its own right because that has grown out of the core... the core of their audience was machinima fans and they've basically just expanded and found that... machinima fans are also interested in video games and movies and comic books and so on. 'So we can just basically pull in all of these different threads and run news stories on them and people keep coming to the site and we get clicks'. At the end of the day, that website is a business so they're going to basically branch out into everything that is going to bring them clicks.” (GD9, games developer)

In order to draw a distinction between the MachinimaTM brand and the machinima movement, it was necessary to reiterate our broad definition of machinima as ‘the practice or technique of producing animated films through the manipulation of video game graphics’. This in itself points to a marked difference in understanding of machinima between the machinima arts and games development communities of practice. Currently, the practice of making videos using computer game assets is closer to the original of concept of ‘replay’, demonstrated via ‘speed-runs’ in early games such as Quake, Doom and Halo. Evidence of this can clearly be seen on millions of gamers' YouTube accounts and other channels such as Twitch TV (which includes live streaming channels), Let’s Play and Everyplay. The followings such channels have is therefore a shop window for games developers, delivered through the endeavours of machinimators whom they perceive to act as marketers for their products:

“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)
“I can’t see a case in which someone making a video wouldn’t result in helping my game, even if it was a negative video, which would at least have some useful feedback.” (GD20, games developer)
“If our products were used in fan-made films, I believe that could positively affect our organic reach in a way that we could only otherwise achieve by substantial market spends. Achieving this is no mean feat, of course.” (GD15, 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 intercomnnectivity 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)

Albeit with some recognition that these channels perpetuate an outdated view of what machinima is now, hinting at the potential fragmentation of audiences:

“Twitch TV, by its very essence and core, [is] the element of what machinima was 10 years ago… What MachinimaTM became was something that was much more acceptable, at the time that it was like properly formed and released and funded, etc…[now] its become a very important distribution platform but for the game end-user, its nowhere near as impactful as it used to be and one of the reasons why is because game developers have found their own routes to market now.” (GD10, games developer)

and yet the role of such channels reaching the audience, in conjunction with the continuous development of technology infrastructures such as the internet and mobile, are not lost on the games developers:

“The proliferation of thick-bandwidth access has definitively helped machinima, in that video content can be shared so quickly and widely. To that, machinima would probably not have gained considerable ground (and really didn't) without a centralized service like YouTube in place. One only needs to look at Machinima.com before and after their YouTube channel launched to understand how key the site was in both delivering and sharing machinima content with others.” (GD4, games developer)
“There's a lot of indies on Steam, there's a lot of indies on mobile too. Massive indie place, in fact there's a lot of transition from mobile to Steam because it's becoming harder and harder to be discovered. But it was only recently that indies have been really making money on Steam…” (GD19, games developer)
“[machinima] will never be without makers and it will never be without an audience, but it may evolve into being a product without impact. I think that's my fear… As soon as something becomes very mainstream, the marketplace becomes quite suffocated and it's impossible for these things to move off into different areas. I think that what the Twitch movement has done for machinima is, it's allowed machinima to exist, or it's allowed machinima to continue to exist, without the marketplace being totally saturated. The user uptake on Twitch is still low enough for Google to be interested in buying it but every single one of those Twitch users is someone who is either a person who enjoys machinima, an end-user or someone who makes machinima, a machinimator or a producer… but now the problem is that now Twitch will become mainstream and so now the end user will be looking for something else.” (GD10, games developer)

Nonetheless, some note the behaviours of these channels as being potentially damaging:

“… auto-censorship is very troubling… its troubling when you see robots doing this sort of thing because it is an invalidating way of judging people at a level of technology where its not competent to make those decisions. We have a lot of people that want to celebrate or remix a piece of music that are understandably getting mad at major record labels for taking down their remix or mash-up without a dialogue. I think its very detrimental because it hurts that two-way street. That’s something which we don’t want to be a part of – we want to have a healthy dialogue with our [customers]…” (GD21, games developer)

Furthermore, there are significant new opportunities presented through the confluence of machinimating, audience engagement activities and games development, such as enhancing the product proposition:

“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?'… it will be something that I have drawn out of watching a machinima, so I've taken satire and I have turned it into something that's a bit more tangible.” (GD10, games developer)

What’s interesting is that, as this games developer highlights, even when games developers do not specifically use machinima, they nonetheless realize its potential for reaching their target audience, despite relatively little emphasis on audience engagement beyond a core focus on design and development:

“… 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)

An indirect promotional tactic was also identified through the incorporation of games into educational contexts, at least partly because a number of games developers and designers are keen to directly support upskilling and training for reasons of business continuity:

“… by making [game] that was so easily turned to many, many different purposes, none of which (I’m sure) were imagined by the creators originally, there is now an entire culture and ecosystem for story-telling, let’s play, machinima, education, self-promotion, even music videos, chat-shows, etc, all using the one game-world that was centred on creation and flexibility. This explosion in turn has led to education-specific versions of the product with different licensing and support, that is obviously yet another strong revenue source for xxx, a great swathe of worthy PR and the kind of product placement one can only dream of (‘they use your game to teach stuff at school omg’) doesn’t get better than that. (GD15, games developer)

and in creating new community platforms:

“… our aim is that we're building up a community of developers and also we're building a community of players and we're creating a means for players and developers to talk to each other directly. So I think it's a very powerful piece where it's a two way street.” (GD19, games developer)
Whilst recognising machinimators’ technical skills and creativity as being valuable directly to games developers, for example:
“… these days games development companies are much more, or way hotter on recruiting directly from dudes who sit there all day and make machinima. The reason for that is you want somebody to work for you who is focussed and there's nothing more focussed than sitting there with your favourite game and turning it into a six minute short film or a three minute web episode… its the ones that are connected to the community that make the medicine sweeter in games development.” (GD10, games developer)
“We have hired several machinimators as staff. For those I've worked with, their contributions were invaluable. Not only were they able to produce work fairly quickly due to their previous experience, but they were also able to produce segments entirely on their own, as most came from projects where they were the sole creator and had to learn numerous disciplines (level creation, animation, audio production, etc.) in order to complete their projects.” (GD4, games developer)

There is some misunderstanding on the scale of the effort that goes in to many of the more professional productions such as those highlighted by respondents in the previous section of this report. For example, one games developer comments:

“The guys who put a lot of effort into making machinima obviously have a real interest in film but I think the difficulty with making a film is that it is very, very collaborative. Even if you basically operate the camera yourself and point the microphone and be basically a one-man crew, you still need another person for every character that you want in that story. So, you either need to have a whole bunch of friends who are willing to traipse around to a whole bunch of different locations with you and do that. And then you've got to find all those locations and you've got to find costumes and stuff... its a big effort so, I think the appeal of machinima is that you can tell a story, pretty much on your own at your computer.” (GD9, games developer)

Moreover, the comments highlight the view that machinima reduces the game to a linear format, which potentially devalues the art of game development itself and becomes something of an ‘apologist movement’ to filmmaking:

“I found the niche of the things with a frame called machinima around them to be like... I think I got a bit tired of that, I got a bit bored of that quite quickly. Which isn't to say that machinima is boring because people are clearly, certainly not making boring things - but putting that frame around it felt... it felt too much like games trying to be films.” (GD14, games developer)
“… we don't want to democratise film-making within games necessarily, we have our own genres to play with and I think that cartoon is an imperfect example of that. I suppose what I am trying to say is that by comparing us with films, we cheapen the value of the thing we have.” (GD19, games developer)

It was suggested that machinima has been used as a way to garner wider acceptance of games as a bona-fide creative art form, with existing arts communities being more likely to understand and appreciate the more traditional format of film.

“In the earlier days, some people struggled with the suspension-of-disbelief aspect of telling stories using established game engines and assets, and I think the movement got a bad wrap as being somehow the re-use of 3D clip-art as it were. These days, the lines have blurred substantially and the abundance of available creative tools that can be used to make assets and material to throw into well-known, high-quality engines has become accepted – people can look past the fact that something was done using widely-available assets and see the value and creativity at work.” (GD9, games developer)
“I think just like any art form there is a wide swathe of interpretation – I think, of course, with it being somewhat new there is always, this is something about the human experience: when you are not psychologically acclimated to something its treated as a novelty, it may be regarded as freakish or bizarre… over time of course that will subside, like any art form. I think though that the negatives are more indicative of what an individual artist or team of artists is expressing or doing with art, so not so much the platform itself.” (GD21, games developer)

It was further suggested that films made from games content became an acceptable entertainment form for small screen-based viewing, influencing TV, broadcast and large screen media entertainment formats in the process:

“Red vs Blue© gave filmmakers of that demographic, and you know I'm talking from 2003 onwards, it gave them an opportunity to be a bit more dangerous and controversial about their filmmaking… because after all, the games guys were doing it, so why can't the TV dudes and cinema dudes do it as well.” (GD10, games developer)

The importance and role of film and filmmaking within the game, incorporated as part of its design, is another of the roles that machinima is seen to fulfill for some games developers. For example, this games developer highlights that it is an important aspect of interaction with the brand:

“In fact Gabe Newell's Steam - Gabe Newell owns Valve, which owns Counter Strike© - he actually encourages [machinima] now, as he’s got 'Gary's Mod' in Steam and if you've ever played Gary's Mod... Gary's Mod is basically a playhouse, its like a theatre, its for you to just play out your fantasy and film it. It actually gives you a screen capture option, so you can start writing stories from the get-go.” (GD10, games developer)

whilst another comments that machinimators beyond the game are not a core target for their brand:

“I don't see much movement in terms of how machinima might affect our game’s growth, currently. Machinima is still niche enough that any developments aimed toward machinima producers are at the ‘blue-sky’ stage at most… The only machinima that's been produced with our game is strictly within the context of our game and for its core audience.” (GD4, games developer)

Copyright, however, was seen by some to be a concerning issue, primarily because of the potential reach that machinima has in its marketing role when content created portrays the brand in a misleading or degrading light:

“The problem occurs when people’s brands are misrepresented. Companies who want to portray a wholesome image don’t want their properties associated with activities they are not comfortable with – if someone features a kids’ game and then swears all over the commentary, its difficult for the consumer to see that its not an officially endorsed product.” (GD17, games developer)
“… somebody probably has done it [made an offensive machinima], but nobody would have cared. So in terms of legal and licence agreement issues, I think that there's probably some stuff in [our EULA] to try to protect us from anybody who wants to sue because little Johnny downloaded some content that wasn't suitable, that had been created by another user… Generally those are just accepted as 'that's what happens', when you put something out, the public react it. I don't think we would ever bother chasing anybody up like that unless they were deliberately masquerading something as 'official'. You know, as long as its clearly a fan-made thing then it would be fine.” (GD9, games developer)

but as another goes on to state:

“… there's always the potential that an artist will create a controversial work that can be viewed negatively, and that can happen at any time.” (GD4, games developer)

Often because the nature of machinima is seen to be subversive and machinimators apparently flagrantly disregard EULAs, TOS and guidelines:

“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. Even when xxx was making Battlefield 3© machinima, and his stuff is absolutely beautiful. But I think even then the guy didn't care. In fact what he did was, he used it as bait to get these companies to look at him. He actually was very blatant and overt, almost flagrant about what it was that he was doing.” (GD10, games developer)

Despite this, the games developers go on to comment on the challenges faced should they wish to exert control or restrict machinimating:

“… often this footage is already in the public domain, if you are playing the game. You can't really... copyright is something that is being used by many people in the pubic domain all at the same time, it's impossible to do that…” (GD10, games developer)
“… often this footage is already in the public domain, if you are playing the game. You can't really... copyright is something that is being used by many people in the pubic domain all at the same time, it's impossible to do that…” (GD10, games developer)
“The fear with user generated content is usually, 'what if somebody makes something offensive using our engine or technology, and damages our brand or damages our reputation’, or something like that. But I think that's an entirely imagined fear. I have never seen any brand in video games damaged by something that users did, because everybody understands that once its out there, you can't help what the users do with it.” (GD9, games developer)

In acknowledging the reality of IP claims over games assets and content as a significant challenge within contemporary culture, for some perceived infringement is seen as an inevitable consequence of an inappropriate legal framework:

“… but that sort of thing in the old days, movie studio may have come down on somebody trying to spread that around, like a tonne of bricks: that is perverting our copyrighted material. But 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)

and an aspect of contempory culture that should be embraced:

“… any fan activity that is based around your product or your IP is obviously hugely rewarding and appreciated… I guess that you can draw parallels between machinima and punk to a certain extent, in the sense that machinima is something that pretty much anybody can have a go and make something that is fun and irreverent, and by definition you are kind of perverting somebody else's content to create something fresh.” (GD9, games developer)

or at least the problems faced by other contemporary cultural movements such as music and film should be avoided:

“Copyright is your right to exert an end user licence... 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 come to copyright infringement than the music or film industry does because we have a better relationship with our fans.” (GD5, games development association)
“… its like a parallel with the major record labels when they are acting ahead, jumping ahead of something they don’t understand. So I think that has long-term harmful effects on both sides… Its really bonkers when the law doesn’t keep pace with what people want to do…” (GD21, games developer)
“That's interesting because that's marketing, that's not copyright infringement, that's marketing. You're not stopping people from buying the virtual goods in xxx by showing it off, you're making it more likely, so it made it more interesting.” (GD19, games developer)

One developer explains the scale of the challenge for their organisation, not so much in controlling IP but more in terms of expressing a legal framework that encompasses the needs of its many user groups:

“We’re trying to make it very clear that you should comfortable creating content [in our game] because we’re not going to steal it, we’re not going to highjack your content and take it behind your back. We want our users to be comfortable about that and given that it’s a legal contract, no matter how much work you put into it, you’re always going to have some percentage that doesn’t understand it, doesn’t agree with it, you’re never going to get to 100% with anything legal… in some ways we’re running a country and when was the last time you saw leaders of a country have 100% approval rating – it just doesn’t happen, it’s a tough situation. I think we can do better with making the language more clear so I don’t feel a strong need to change what our intent is, I feel very good about our intent, I think the language now actually expresses our intent, I think its just harder for some people to understand our intent through the language that’s written.” (GD1, games developer)

For others, despite not overtly supporting machinima, through making content available using gaming devices such as Xbox OneTM, then developers certainly implicitly support machinimating practices:

“[Interviewer: the XBox OneTM, I turned it on and there was a big MachinimaTM tile…] with that feature our games are quite amenable to it because once you've played through the game and unlocked everything, you've basically got in say [xxx game], you've got nearly 200 [xxx game] characters and all of the levels are available and the open world hub is available for you to just take... I suppose in that respect, even though we don't support it intentionally, its getting easier and easier nowadays for people to capture fragments from games and put stuff together if they want to, even though we never designed it that way.” (GD9, games developer)

Furthermore, distribution channels supports ‘celebrities’ by facilitating machinimators to monetise their work. Whilst some, typically traditional AAA developers with large brands, expressed caution in the use of game assets for machinima, it was clear that many games developers are very aware of the more fluid nature of copyright, acknowledging that machinima has become an important part of the marketing of any game. Therefore, its creators are supported, even to the extent that some games developers are happy for machinimators to monetise their personal distribution channels.

“… if you did stats on machinima you'd probably not be that impressed on its impact, direct impact, because you'd look at it saying "yeah, okay but what does it mean to me?". But it actually means a huge amount, because the very potential, it has an effect on players. The people who do it have an even greater effect and the people who watch the people who do it, have the most important effect.” (GD15, games developer)

A new co-creative environment for games development was described, particularly relating to the development of indie games where gamers are granted early access to titles in order to test, comment upon and suggest improvements. Machinima therefore becomes part of the development process. The creation of videos (such as play-throughs, tutorials, out-takes and other documentaries) are an integral part of the process and are equally valued by the developer and creator. For example, developers gain valuable data to help complete and improve their work:

“Its a relationship, its not a top-down thing, its a mutual, beneficial relationship. [Games developers] recognise that the fans and the communities are key, and games do not just get released any more and that's it. They get released and there's new content, there's new features, there's constant iterating...” (GD5, games development association)

and for others, the merely possibilities of machinima as an output from their game challenges them to think through the development processes with considerable care and attention to detail:

“… you have to think carefully about giving up some of your IP to the world at large and then living with the consequences… it needs to be designed into the game all through its development (not just bolted on in an attempt to ‘become viral’ at or near launch time). This is both restrictive in some ways and inspirational in others. We are building-in ways for our games to share and be shared, so that at launch they will be conceived of as a blend of what we intended them to be and what might be done with them. This is heavy stuff - and it’s easy to shy-away from the risks and play it safe. I hope the decisions we make as we develop our games prove to be brave and embracing rather than more narrow and tended toward covering-ass, which is, frankly, the safe and easy option. (GD15, games developer)

Machinimators are perceived to find value in this process in a number of ways. Foremost, by being able to play the game early, effectively becoming ‘power users’ through beta testing. In turn, this gives them credibility and status within their community of interest which is seen to reinforce membership of a close community of gamers with common interests and a shared set of goals, centred around the realisation of the game:

“… but its though the people who do machinima, super-fans – and the reason why in the community is because they will spend 18 hours a day filming Counter Strike©.” (GD10, games developer)

and for some, this includes product testing at a level beyond a level that most customers will be able to:

“… we’re looking at people with powerful computers that can set their graphics settings to ultra, and what they would like to see if it further pushes those sorts of elements, as well as people that have experiences elsewhere that might be useful to [our game] like modelers, conceptual modelers, people with gaming backgrounds that we’re thinking, well obviously some comparisons are going to be drawn about how good [game] looks and we want to be able to talk to them and learn from those insights…” (GD21, games developer)

with the reward being formal recognition for participation in such R&D activities:

“… we are always gracious to call out and elevate those community members that are just outstanding – someone like xxx [machinimator], he’s doing so much good, and we want to make sure that other people know that… we have officially sponsored xxx [machinimator] to continue to do his work, that is something that we officially endorse, because it is just so, the right word isn’t universal because its more specific, its more practical than that, but its something where it has a broad appeal and just so illuminating… keep on growing man, this rocks, its awesome.” (GD21, games developer)

so illuminating… keep on growing man, this rocks, its awesome.” (GD21, games developer) The importance of online distribution channels is clear, not only for the sharing of films amongst communities of machinima practice, but also for supporting emerging business models within the games industry. Ad revenue models are now well established, albeit that games developers tend to see little direct benefit from this method of distribution. The main benefits are derived from promoting the game to the long tail of consumers, ie., those who may not be so accessible to the organisations through their normal channels to market, and in turn the machinima viewers become interested in the game thereby closing the loop. Such revenue models are well recognized by games developers and, because of their role in reaching consumers, they are now actively supported:

“Many YouTubers generate ad revenue from videos they make of my game and I explicitly permit this with a blanket permission from my website. Twitch streamers also generate revenue through donations and subscriptions.” (GD20, games developer)
“… the publisher usually looks after all that marketing and promotional side - and the legal side as well. So if you don't have a publisher and you're trying to self publish, so your game is going up on one of the app stores or Steam, its a crowded market place. So, you see very often examples of games that are fantastic games, but it was when a key YouTuber who tends to talk about games or games are part of their show, latches on to it and features it and talks about it – that’s when suddenly there's a spike in downloads or numbers. So, [machinima is] a key marketing and discovery channel for developers and for publishers - and publishers are very, very savvy at knowing what distribution channels for marketing material – whether it be trailers or editorial or whatever – are the right ones for the right target audience. They won't all be the machinima channels, they'll just be personalities on channels, doing a review or playthrough, but absolutely, I think they support them, although I can't speak for all of them.” (GD5, games development association)

and, in turn, this leads to recognition of the drivers for creativity, benefitting both the developer and the machinimator:

“Almost anybody can, now, create something of worth, and has a shot at getting recognition and success. Whether or not this leads to an income is a very different question, but it certainly does for some. At least in terms of expression, the landscape has changed enormously, and from a commercial perspective, new industries now exist in which those with the drive and talent can pay the bills as a result of their talent and creations. I can only see this as a wonderful thing and grumpily wish it had existed in the same sense when I was young and we only had coal-fired CPUs!” (GD15, games developer)
“It introduced DLC [downloadable content] for instance, we never really had DLC before machinima… So that's everything from asset packs to different armours, to different weapons – all of these things that machinimators probably thought up when they were drawing fancy cod-pieces on Master Chief© or whatever, like part way through their machinimation. But now that has sort of borne forth a bunch of downloadable content, that we never really thought about before. So the fact, for me, machinima… I would say that that was one of the birthplaces of transmedia as we know it today – and of course, its used everywhere now.” (GD10, games developer)

Within this framework the role of the community as an ‘experience environment’ for sharing is emphasised:

“… if you haven’t got a place... somewhere to crystallise the experience, you won't get the community growing from it – and I think this idea of being able to understand the nature of community is going to be incredibly important… we let the community determine that themselves… The point is, we're dealing with social media now and you can't follow the old rules… but the key thing is, audience counts. So knowing who's liked, who's followed, who's commented, can give you a sense of what the game is about, can also give you a sense of what that person is about…” (GD19, games developer)

whilst the role of self-moderation within the community is also described, where the community brings quality content to the fore of attention:

“Sharing platforms, particularly those such as YouTube, employ rating, prominence, subscription and so forth to allow the growth of an ecosystem that regulates itself, helpfully solving the signal-to-noise ratio problems… to some degree.” (GD15, games developer)
“… this is like any social media, it's about the community deciding what's good, not individuals who happen to be in power deciding what's good… there are these kind of attitudes that social influence should bring to the foreground, the values that are important around a topic.” (GD19, games developer)
“If something is really great and you have, say, someone is really talented but introverted so they might not be getting the word out themselves, and if they have a friend or someone who spots this, I love those people who are connectors and vocal because they bring it to our attention. They tell their friends and, you know, the old concept of word of mouth, and its just online now… [reference to a machinima] the buzz just got around the community about it and that’s how I found out about it.” (GD21, games developer)

Indeed, as this games developer highlights, the inherent naivity and proliferation of works in the machinima community of practice is a particular challenge faced.

It also leads to design of new platforms that match games with players through machinima, which may support publisher distribution targets, but also builds community cohesion amongst games players who are now likely to cross different platforms in the process:

“… but our aim is that we're building up a community of developers and also we're building a community of players and we're creating a means for players and developers to talk to each other directly. So I think its a very powerful piece where its a two way street.” (GD19, games developer)

Such approaches require new thinking in developing community. This games developer goes on to describe a process of gamifying community where creating leaderboards and in-game rewards promote sharing activities through machinima, with prizes given for most viewed content posted on social media:

“… you get a in-game currency for posting a video of your play, which is great, you get some free currency for doing this. But equally, you get some free currency for posting up to FacebookTM. So that's all good. But then on top of that, they have a competition for the best video that week… [and] more interestingly, is they use some meta-data posting. So you can post meta-data into the video… [that enables tagging and sharing] so I can look at the high-score table of my friends and see where I am on that – and if they posted video for that run, I can go and watch it. So that's not a direct incentive in terms of 'here's some cash to do it'... although there is some in-game cash.” (GD19, games developer)

That said, this developer also highlighted an emergent problem in the demand for machinima as popular culture, suggesting that there will come a time when it will need to be rated and classified according to its content. Such comments recognise the rapid growth of streaming and sharing platforms that currently do not distinguish content appropriate for younger and mature audiences. Nonetheless, the developer highlights that to undertake such classification will be a challenge for them in dealing with audiences:

“… its a difficult one because we can see a point in time coming when we do want to permit more adult content but in a constrained area but at the moment, its still too early days.. I think we'd get into trouble, you know, not just trouble but it becomes complicated if we start mucking about with classification and censorship and all that kind of stuff.” (GD19, games developer)

Ultimately, as one games developer acknowledges, machinima is likely to transcend the current platforms which enable content sharing, because it encompasses an experience that crosses multiple media experiences:

“… machinima will always find a way to be cinematic. I mean prior to it being a games or art related thing, machinima was something that was definitely film related, it had its origins in cinema. So cinema might be something it goes back to but the great thing is, compared to cinema, is that machinima goes back to cinema with more knowledge. People who work in machinima know more about storytelling, composition, technique - than any of these filmmakers... they are telling a transmedia story.” (GD10, games developer)

and another goes on to identify the role of machinima as it has emerged with implications for the future in relation to digital natives and evolution of content consumption practices:

“… we're not digital natives and I think being a digital native in that period from 2003 up to date gives you the opportunity to cross-pollenate again and proliferate your narrative, across more than one media. Machinima allows you to be able to do that seamlessly.” (GD19, games developer)

The future role of new technologies is an area that games developers are keen to keep an open mind about in relation to machinima:

“With something like these next level of technologies, we have to be aware that they will change things in ways we both expect and not expect. For example, with something like Oculus RiftTM, a lot of people before using something like this, the obvious thing is to think of a first-person-shooter game, well that might not be ideal because they’re still struggling with things like latency with dizziness so of course there is the exploratory angle of going to an ‘ultranet’ world, in parts of [our game], now where it becomes really interesting for something like machinima, is the history of film cinema, the editor/director they are making you see the things you want to see, they are cutting things collectively and taking these camera angles and you cannot change it…” (GD21, games developer)

The applications of machinima are also acknowledged as being far reaching, beyond the game and its focal development:

“I value education highly and I’ve spoken numerous times with various [game] communities related to education… The way you can get someone to understand the context or a situation or whether its a process or being able to do that through [our game] and a combination of machinima and interactive experiences, sure beats the hell out of reading a page of text to try and understand something. So the way you can combine that with storytelling so that its actually interesting and captivates the user and especially when you can interact with these use cases, the way people can absorb information, it can be so much better using tools like what [we] offer, so I follow it closely.” (GD1, games developer)
“It goes from the sphere of entertainment to having far reaching effectiveness on how we treat each other as people. I refer again to xxx [machinimator] because he has used a number of topics, although they may have been told in other mediums before, like newspaper pieces, but I think in really showing what’s special… there are things I can cite from history, if we look back at our newsreels and things which has covered a lot of stories and elsewhere, there have been others, its not just about machinima but [game] itself as a creative medium, machinima of course is a forum in which that takes place, and as humans we’ve always had storytelling cultures and I think machinima lowers the bar of accessibility if someone wants to tell a story that way, which is very empowering, whether its a story of someone who wants to send something to their grandparents or someone who is telling a story of an adversity they went through or serious themes like human trafficking, other sorts of rights...” (GD21, games developer)

with one games developer commenting on the significance of machinima as a tool for empowering people to be creative, tell their own personal stories and reach their own audiences:

“I see it as some sort of democratization of expression – only a few people used to have the technology, skills and distribution platforms to tell their stories, so a few people told the stories to many people and with machinima, and even just mobile phones and things like Twitter and… there are more people having a chance to be heard and having an opportunity to tell the stories. So its, that’s incredible, being part of the wave of empowering individuals to tell stories and to find audiences who are interested in their stories… its a great thing and to be part of that is fascinating and makes what we do a lot of fun.” (GD1, games developer)

In summary, games developers value machinima in both direct and indirect ways:

In turn, games developers give recognition to machinimators through:

  • rewarding machinimators with assets, prizes and money through competitions and in-game activities
  • direct employment for games design and development, community management and audience reach related activities
  • incorporating creative tools into game design that support machinimating practices
  • adopting user-created assets and including them within subsequent iterations of gameplay, or by providing downloadable content
  • promoting and/or sponsoring machinimators as power users, exemplifying works and highlighting excellent practices with the game, in some cases supporting ‘celebrity’ making
  • collaborating with machinimators to support product development through panels and beta-testing
  • appreciating machinima as creative work implicitly through informed viewing and explicitly by not enforcing ToS to the letter (and in some cases adapting their guidelines to encompass and/or encourage machinimating)
  • enabling machinimators to monetize their creativity through channels to market
  • Other impacts on the creative industries and other sectors include:


    < Last Section | Report Index | Next Section >