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From Pong to Planet Quake: Post-Industrial Transitions from Leisure to Work


Abstract and Figures

In the closing weeks of 2002, video games were featured in various popular American news publications and media outlets such as Wired, Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek and Time Magazine. It is becoming increasingly apparent that video games are no longer child's play, but rather that they are poised to become a major entertainment form for the twenty-first century. Social analysts and media scholars must begin to formulate an understanding of this emerging mass-consumer phenomenon because it will increasingly impact social and economic structures of post-industrial societies. Part of the tremendous value generated by the American video-game industry is tied into broad global economic shifts that have created a space where services and ephemeral products, such as software, can be created and cheaply distributed. The predominance of " high-tech' production, the rise of the Internet, and the cultural capital associated with computerization all have contributed to the rise of hobbyist software developers that currently tinker with commercial video games and freely add to them increasing levels of sophistication. This paper sees video-game programmer hobbyists as a source of some of the significant value that the video-game industry generates, and understands the role of the programmer hobbyists through the lens of theories on post-industrial work. My analysis situates the work of hobbyists on the Internet within the context of post-Fordism and explores some of the motivations for this unwaged work. In the sections that follow, I will analyse the potential value of the work hobbyist do as well as analyse its transition to paid work as some commercial software developers experiment with incorporating these fan bases into the game design process.
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Information, Communication & Society 6:4 2003 593–607
Hector Postigo
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
In the closing weeks of 2002, video games were featured in various popular
American news publications and media outlets such as Wired,Entertainment
Weekly,Newsweek and Time Magazine. It is becoming increasingly apparent that
video games are no longer child’s play, but rather that they are poised to become
a major entertainment form for the twenty-first century. Social analysts and
media scholars must begin to formulate an understanding of this emerging
mass-consumer phenomenon because it will increasingly impact social and
economic structures of post-industrial societies. Part of the tremendous value
generated by the American video-game industry is tied into broad global eco-
nomic shifts that have created a space where services and ephemeral products,
such as software, can be created and cheaply distributed. The predominance
of ‘high-tech’ production, the rise of the Internet, and the cultural capital
associated with computerization all have contributed to the rise of hobbyist
software developers that currently tinker with commercial video games and
freely add to them increasing levels of sophistication. This paper sees video-
game programmer hobbyists as a source of some of the significant value that
the video-game industry generates, and understands the role of the programmer
hobbyists through the lens of theories on post-industrial work. My analysis
situates the work of hobbyists on the Internet within the context of post-
Fordism and explores some of the motivations for this unwaged work. In the
sections that follow, I will analyse the potential value of the work hobbyist do
as well as analyse its transition to paid work as some commercial software
developers experiment with incorporating these fan bases into the game design
Unwaged work, mods, modders, modifications, hackers
In 1962, Steve Russell, then a graduate student at MIT, designed the first video
game in history. Consisting of about fifty lines of code, Space War, as the game
Information, Communication & Society
ISSN 1369-118X print/ISSN 1468-4462 online © 2003 Taylor & Francis Ltd
DOI: 10.1080/1369118032000163277
was called, spread quickly from mainframe to mainframe until it routinely
began occupying computer science graduate studentsspare time. Russell and
his colleagues never thought that video games like the one they had designed
would amount to much in the commercial market (Herz 1997). Yet, almost
forty years later, video game sales revenues total over $6 billion a year. Video
games are big business, and their target market has expanded to include more
than the stereotypical teenaged boy made famous in lms such as War Games.
In 2000, 42 per cent of all computer gamers were between the ages of 18 and
35 years, and 32 per cent were over the age of 35. Further, 43 per cent of
these videogame players were women with an average age of 29 years (Interac-
tive Digital Software Association 2001).
Not only has the economic potential of video games increased, but so too
has the complexity of the games themselves. The tens of lines of programming
code of the rst video games have evolved so that, today, games are played on
desktop computers and on dedicated consoles in homes, and are written by
teams of skilled designers and programmers generating millions of lines of
code. However, despite the complexity of the contemporary video game, there
are a growing number of software programmer hobbyists gathering on the
Internet re-designing and tinkering with the code of their favourite commercial
video games.
This paper sees these video-game programmer hobbyists as one signicant
source of some of the signicant value that the video game industry generates
and it understands the role of the programmer hobbyists through the lens of
theories on post-industrial work. In the sections that follow, I shall situate the
work of hobbyists on the Internet within the context of post-Fordism and
within what Tiziana Terranova, citing Autonomist Marxists, calls the Social
Factory: a set of social practices undertaken by Internet communities that are
commodied and sold as content on the Internet (Terranova 2000: 33). I will
explore some of the motivations for this unwaged work done by hobbyist game
developers and analyse the potential value of the work hobbyists do. Finally, I
shall analyse the transition from unpaid to paid work, which is apparent as
some commercial software developers experiment with incorporating fan com-
munities into the game design process.
Video games today range in type and target audience and are designed not
only for the personal computer (PC) but also for dedicated consoles such as
Microsofts Xbox, Sonys PlayStation and Nintendos GameCube. This analysis
concerns itself with PC video games and PC gaming, primarily because hobbyist
game development is most prevalent for PC games. Modications to elements
of console games are generally geared toward the hardware and are not directly
supported by the commercial developers of the games. By contrast, many PC
games have a signicant fan base that continually makes modications to the
games, and such actions are supported by commercial developers. Before
continuing, however, it is useful to offer a taxonomy of video games and
acquaint ourselves with the language of gaming. From there we will move on
to discussing video-game hobbyists in the context of the post-industrial society
and as a new type of labour force in the economy.
There are many genres of PC games, some of which include Action Adven-
ture,Driving or Simulation,Strategyand Role Playing(RPG).
these major genres are various sub-genres. For example, a subset of the Action
Adventuregenre is the First Person Shooter, and subsets of the Strategy
genre include Real Time Strategy(RTS) and Turn-Based Strategy. The goals
and designs of each game can vary considerably from genre to genre. First
Person Shooterdesigns are immersive and allow the player to experience the
virtual environment from the perspective of the lead character whilst RTS
games generally give the player a third-person point of view of the virtual
environment on a larger scale. Commonly, the goal of a First Person Shooter
game is to complete some short-length tasks while navigating through the
environment. Conversely, RTS games tend to be more open-ended and give
the player more time to full a given task.
One characteristic of an increasing number of PC games is the possibility of
network play. Ever since the early days of PC gaming, there have been games
that take advantage of the connectivity of computer networks yet only with the
emergence of the World Wide Web has network-based play become a standard
(Herz 1997). Gamers response to early networked games has driven industry
development as interconnected gamers have recognized that playing against
other humans is much more interesting then playing against articial
Along with the rise of networked play there has been a proliferation of fan
groups dedicated to various games. The PC-game industry has wisely tapped
these emerging fan bases and fostered them by hosting fan websites and provid-
ing server space where networked gaming can take place. Fans contribute large
amounts of content for these sites making them valuable resources for gamers,
which serve as, amongst other things, a ready-made tech-supportgroup for
other gamers. Such additional resources add considerably to the value to the
developers game. In such a context, the video game industry can be thought of
as consisting not only of manufacturers, distributors and professional designers/
programmers but also of the extensive fan-based support network, despite the
fact that such networks are freely available and not part of any corporations
Hobbyist groups that develop modications to commercial games are part
of this support network and are generally known on the Internet as modders,
and whose modications are called mods. There are hundreds of mod groups
on the Internet producing thousands of mods for the scores of PC game titles.
Mods can range from relatively simple rearrangements of the physics of a
given virtual environment to total conversions. Total conversions are the most
ambitious of mods because they attempt to convert the gameplay of a given
game totally. Thus, for example, while the commercial designers of a game
might make it a First Person Shooterset in modern-day military environments,
a total conversion might re-design it to be a sword-ghting game set in feudal
Modders not only produce changes to the games but also post tutorials and
how-to guides to encourage the novice hobbyist to contribute and learn the
techniques of modding. Modders often make their mods available for free
download on their websites and, while no revenue is directly generated for
such transactions for the developers of a particular modded game, the mod
contributes to keep games interesting by adding new dimensions to them. As
such, these mods can play a role in the extending the sales of the original game
or developing a devoted fan base. As one looks over the immense amount of
work that generating this content entails, one cannot help but wonder in what
other ways all of this skilled labour might be contributing to the value of the
games being modded, what motivates individuals to contribute to mods, and
what broad social forces position the work of these hobbyists for indirect or
direct exploitation.
In an attempt to answer these questions, I shall situate the work of modders
within the context of the post-industrial economy using a framework offered
by Tiziana Terranova (2000). It is my intention to show that modders are part
of Terranovassocial factory, whilst at the same time demonstrating a transi-
tion from the social factory to paid workers. As part of the social factory,
hobbyists generate free goods in the partial context of leisure activities. Refer-
ring to these products of unwaged cultural labour she argues that:
Simultaneously voluntarily given and unwaged, enjoyed and exploited, free labour on the
Net includes the activity of building web sites, modifying software packages, reading and
participating in mailing lists and building virtual spaces.
(Terranova 2000: 1)
Unwaged labour on the Internet has been identied as an extension of an
ongoing project of cultural appropriation and commodication by Terranova as
she explores the manner in which work processes have shifted from the factory
to society. (Terranova 2000: 33). She argues that the work of content produ-
cers, volunteers, website designers and posters and all others who add content
to the World Wide Web make up a network of labour comprised of a exible,
collective intelligence. This collective is the self-organized, principle productive
force of the digital economy, producing many services and intellectual goods
on the Internet.
Subsequently, as hobbyistsleisure work is converted from gift to commod-
ity, what results is the circumvention of the initial investment risk for the
commercial developers as the development work is transferred to the fan base
where costs are negligible. Paradoxically, the hobbyist status of game modders
works against them as it situates their work outside of the programming profes-
sion, since commercial video-game companies are able to circumvent initial
investments and maintenance costs for hired programmers and can simply
choose from the most successful of the already-developed mods. Commercial
developers only purposefully incur risk when hobbyist-developed games have
already proven themselves popular in the market of free software exchange. At
this point, commercial developers may choose from the many hobbyist groups
tinkering with commercially owned software and strike a deal to clean up the
codeand shrink wrapthe modied software, selling it as a new product or
as an addition to the original piece of software.
Ultimately, this process manages
to harness a skilled labour force for little or no initial cost and represents an
emerging form of labour exploitation on the Internet.
The social and economic changes that have occurred since the early 1970s
are important for understanding modders as an emerging form of video-game
design, because these economic and social shifts generate the context in which
social activities such as forming and supporting community, volunteering and
pursuing hobbies can be harnessed as a source of revenue.
Daniel Bell (1973), Manuel Castells (2000, 2001) and David Harvey (1990),
for example, have generally agreed that the immergence of exible economies.
In these new economies responsive production and consumption practices are
no longer driven by large investments in xed capital or mass consumption of
invariant consumer goodsbut by rapid-response production systems and the
commodication of rapidly changing products and services. Under this vision
of the economy, businesses employ their exibility to stay ahead of their com-
petition and consumption is related to the rapid turnover of goods. Goods such
as software, computers and other technologies, whose production is driven by
rapid and continuous innovation and short market-life, have become staples of
new consumption as production patterns have shifted toward the knowledge
goods and services.
Flexibility, while making producers more competitive has
created great instability in work. Today, workers compete for jobs on a global
scale, and the jobs themselves have an ephemeral nature, rendering them
mobile, sporadic and temporary.
As Harvey points out, consumption patterns have changed and these changes
have been driven primarily by the cultural forces of the ‘fleeting qualities of
the postmodernist aesthetic that celebrates difference, ephemerality, spectacle,
fashion and the commodication of cultural forms(Harvey 1990: 156). It is
the commodication of cultural forms and social practices and the subtle ways
in which their value is harnessed that are of concern here. Terranova (2000)
tries to understand the manner in which hidden labour produces these
commodities and to explain the complex relationship between cultural forms
and the technologies and methods of post-industrialism. (In this case modders
developing games as a hobby and having their work appropriated within the
social factory.) Given that information products and services are of such value
to the new regime of accumulation, certain kinds of content production on the
Internet are quite valuable to businesses. Businesses exploit this value on the
Internet, indirectly or directly shaping their practices and their products to
facilitate the kind of content production they nd valuable. Video-game
hobbyists are uniquely positioned to have their work incorporated into the
commercial production endeavours because close ties already exist between
fans and companies developing games. As stated earlier, most of the commercial
video-game developers maintain and encourage modding and other forms of
fan support. Therefore, they have access to the work that is continuously being
carried out on various games as well as a sense of the potential value of some
of the most popular mods.
The motives for unwaged work on the Internet are rooted in the impressive
cultural position that information technology has gained during the turn to
post-Fordism. During the 1990s, the over-heated US economy sank billions of
dollars into ventures, many of which proved unsustainable or
have yet to show prots that warrant the investment. Simultaneously get rich
on IT and the Internetstories littered the mass media supporting a frenzy in
the American mind for appropriating the computer and the Internet as the new
symbol of economic, social and employment inclusion. It should not surprise
us, then, that computing and the Internet bring with them a range of expecta-
tions rooted in the economics of late capitalism and a myriad other social
factors. Early Netizens, for example, brought with them the values of the
1960s counter-culture infused with an anarcho-liberterian ideology. The Inter-
net became a means of creating community to people like Howard Rhinegold
of the WELL (Whole Earth Lectronic Link; Rhinegold 1998). To hackers, the
Internet became a place to solidify the identity they had started shaping while
working on computers as hobbyists before the rise of the Net. Exposed to large
groups of other hackers, they now found a place to show off their skills and
collaborate on more ambitious projects. In MUDs (Multi-user Domains) people
found ways of bending their real-world identities. Through collaborative and
GPL (General Public License) software such as Linux and modications of
commercial software, people created hobbyist circles that helped further their
careers and develop their social lives.
One of the major themes present in many accounts of groups engaging in
the production of free goods and services on the Internet is the sense of
community they derive from the experience. The Internet has supported the
transformative proliferation of electronic communities: Listservs, forums, chat
rooms and MUDs have all contributed to an ever-increasing number of virtual
places where people can come together online and discuss the issues that
concern them. These spaces are valuable to the people who frequent them,
and various researchers have speculated as to why this is so. Online communities
provide excellent opportunities to negotiate identity because they provide a
group of people against whom the individual may try out his or her invented
personae. Studying individuals frequenting MUDs, Sherry Turkle believes that
in postmodern times . . . people experience identity as a set of roles that can
be mixed and matched, whose diverse demands need to be negotiated.(Turkle
1995: 180). Rhinegold (1998), however, highlights the importance of group
identity in online communities and describes the WELL community whose
value stems from the support network that exists among the participants. For
example, he describes an instance when the community pooled its resources
to help a member in need of medical treatment in Nepal. In such a case, the
value of community does not lie in its potential for being an identity sounding
board but rather in its ability to function as a support network.
Another theme that runs through accounts of why individuals engage in the
production of free goods and services on the Internet is the idea of a Gift
Economy. In the eld of Internet research, economists Richard Barbrook and
Rishab Aiyer Ghosh have analysed the phenomenon. Barbrook sees the free
contribution of content and services to the Internet as a really existingform
of anarcho-communism, which, in part, transcends money exchange and seems
simultaneously altruistic and motivated by self interest. Individuals contribute
their services and wares knowing that they will be able to reap many times
over the amount they contribute to the collective (Barbrook 1998). In such an
economy the possibilities to generate revenue from intellectual property are
quite grim as freeis the operative word in the gift economy. For the most
part, however, modders do not seem to mind that the product of their intellec-
tual property is given away. In the message boards for mod groups, those rare
individuals who try to exert some intellectual property control over their mods
are admonished for missing the point. Ghosh furthers Barbrooks analysis by
likening this economy to a cooking pot to which a community collectively
contributes. He argues that, because the Internet brings together vastly distrib-
uted resources and nullies production costs beyond the rst copy of software
or information, the potential return for a single contribution is extensive
(Ghosh 1998a).
Joseph Sullivans (1999) explanation of why people embrace computerization
at home and in the work place is also useful in understanding some of the
motivating factors that bring modders onto the Internet and encourage them
to participate in the productive endeavours. Sullivans concept of computer
capitalillustrates how people see the computer and the language of a computer
culture as a mark of distinction with which to ensure their viability on the job
and in the social structure. This analysis is conrmed by Sullivans empirical
studies on workplace computerization and by my own research on modders.
Some modders engage in modding to gain recognition for their work from
commercial development houses or to see if they will be able to work in the
computer industry. One modder interviewed for this study noted: Ihave
always thought about a job in the gaming realm. And I knew of no better way
to see if it was for me than to try and create my own mini game(TonToE
2002). The status gained by participating in a successful mod can ensure incor-
poration into the commercial software development community.
Drawing on Thomass idea of ownership(Thomas 1994) allows me to
broaden the understanding of why people engage in unwaged labour on the
Internet and develop the issues raised above. For the workers interviewed in
Thomass exploration of technological change in the work place, one of the
most important aspects of accepting a technology and feeling good about the
production process was the idea that the worker felt a sense of ownership of
the process. For Thomas, this sense of ownership was often fostered by the
active involvement of workers in technological choice and work-process design.
Building on Thomass concepts of ownership of alienating labour, I want to
suggest that the unwaged work on the Internet is an attempt to transcend
Ownership of the productive process, even when this process is not physical,
is what makes the workers in Thomass study non-alienated from their work,
and I believe it is the same process that compels modders to work hard for and
identify with their labour. This is evident in the level of research and planning
that some modders put into their mods. Throughout April 2002, I monitored
the development discussion board for the Britains Finestmod for Medal of
Honor: Allied Assault, a top-selling Third Person Shooterfrom Electronic Arts.
During the early phase of this mods development, modders took great care in
establishing historical accuracy, going so far as to assign one of the developers
the task of being team historian. Minute details such as gunre sounds and
weapons specications were discussed at great lengths during development. A
player without a knowledge of military history and technology would not notice
the level of detail present in the mod, but it was this care for development that
instilled in the modders a sense of ownership and pride in their work. Like
many other modder communities, this network of dedicated modders consisted
mostly of teenagers living across large geographical spans and also, like many
mods, Britains Finestdid not see completion.
The discourse coming from hackers such as Linus Torvalds and Eric Raymond
stresses the artisanal relationship that programmer hobbyists hold with their
work (Raymond 1999; Ghosh 1998b). Modders, for their part, often explain
that coding gives them a sense of satisfaction and pleasure in creating good
software. In the interview, one modder noted: Why do I do it? . .. I guess the
simple answer is for the passion I have for doing it(TonToE 2002). Given that
many modders and hackers work on their projects at home away from their
day jobs, it appears that many are drawn to the fun and non-alienating aspects
of production on the Internet. With the reward mechanisms of community
and credit in place, the Internet becomes the perfect place for hobbyists to
produce and share their work with a wider audience.
Estimating value
Through comparisons of commercial video games and total conversion mods,
some interesting parallels can be found as well as points of contrast between
Ta b l e 1 Comparison of time and cost expenditures between professional and
modder development.
Professional Modders
Time to completion 24 years 6 months to 2 years
Total expenses, not including $25 million None to about $10,000 if
distribution equipment included
Labour costs-salaries $12 million None
the development of mods and full games. Through such analysis, it is possible
to illustrate the value added to the commercial software by the work of the fan
modders. My estimates are summarized in table 1.
From a labour theory standpoint, it seems that modders add a considerable
amount of value to commercial games. They contribute in the region of six to
twenty-four months of additional time, developing additions to the original
code that can range from thousands to millions of lines of code, and earn no
salary for their work. Comparing salaries paid to commercial developers with
the lack of nancial compensation that modders get it is possible to get a good
sense of how much value modders are actually adding to the game (table 2).
It appears that modders working on a mod for one year produce labour worth
about 10 per cent of a games total development budget about $520,000 a
year. Whilst these gures are general estimates and there tend to be variations
in production budgets and times to release, the comparisons illustrate the value
in terms of unpaid labour that is being expended on mods.
But does this added, valuable labour translate into prots for the companies?
This is a hard question to answer directly because the sales gures for various
video games depend on more factors then simply the interest expressed by fan
developers. Further, the question of whether fan interest is an outcome of good
Ta b l e 2 Comparison of salaries between professionals and modders.
Professional Modders
Lead programmer $80,000 None
Programmer $52,000î5 programmersóNone
Designer $45,000î4 designersóNone
Total expense for a year $520,000 None
% of design budget for project 10%
game design or an outcome of potential expansion by the mod community still
remains unanswered. However, some of the behaviour of commercial devel-
opers suggests that companies do perceive some value in modding. For example,
the majority of companies producing within the Action Adventuregenre
include some form of level editing with their game release, or they release the
source code and scenario development kits for their games over the Internet,
thus actively encouraging fans to develop scenarios for their games. Also,
companies such as Valve Software have commercialized some total conversions
of their popular title Half-life, showing that they are successfully commercializ-
ing developments produced by their fan communities. In a market where
production costs are high and returns, on the average, are low, part of the risk
factor associated with the business can be avoided if a freely developed game
proves itself prior to commercial distribution. This model of development is
far from perfect because it does not extract all the value potential of the freely
developed game as some form of the commercialized mod always remains
freely downloadable on the Internet. Yet the attempt by companies such as
Valve Software to recognize the value of this mode of production shows that
companies are starting to exploit a potentially important development model.
Transition to paid development
The relationship between modders and commercial developers has a history
that reaches back into the early 1980s and the development of a mod for
the Apple game, Castle Wolfenstein. In the mod to Wolfenstien called Castle
Smurfenstein modders redesigned elements of this game away from its World
War II context and instead included elements from the then-popular Saturday
morning cartoon, The Smurfs. The relationship between modders and commer-
cial developers solidied in the development of Wolfenstein 3Dand Doom
both from id Software. Wolfenstein developers at id noticed that mods were
actually extending the life of the game, and therefore, they released the source
code for their popular game Doom. This gave modders unparalleled access to
the games innards and allowed id to tap into a collective development power
akin to the open source movement, yet still maintaining intellectual rights over
the code (Au 2002).
One interesting development of the increasing interaction of commercial
developers and modders has been the emergence of development kits. That is,
as some modders began to have access to more elements of a game, other
modders developed programs to help in the manipulation of game code. Mod-
ders working on Doom, for example, used the modder-developed tool-kit
Worldcraft. Ultimately, commercial developers began to release development
kits with their game releases, and incorporate level editors into commercial
game releases. The use of these modder-developed development kits has also
moved upstream. According to Au (2002), the relationship between modders
and Valve Software was particularly strong, to the extent that Valve used of a
version of Worldcraftto design its immensely successful Half-life.
Valve continues this relationship with the development of its broadband
distribution network, Steam, which will allows modders to distribute their
games over the Internet for little or no unit cost. To gain access to this
service, all modders have to do is pay a license agreement and royalties for the
development engine. This is a step beyond incorporating the work of the best
modders into a commercial release as the royalty and license fee can generate
direct revenue for Valve from its modder communities. What is interesting
about this new technological set-up is that it concretizes the hobbyist position
between professional programmer and amateur. Valve benets in that it captures
value in not having to pay amateurs for their work whilst able to gain revenues
from the royalties of successful games.
Reviewing the popular press during the last weeks of 2002, it seems that video
games are poised to capture increasing amounts of the popular consciousness.
The 25 November issue of Newsweek had the Sims Nuclear Family on its cover;
Entertainment Weekly had Lara Croft in a star-spangled top hat assuming the
classic Uncle Sam I Want You!pose; and Wired had Jason Kidd, of the
professional basketball team the New Jersey Nets, gesturing (with a Can you
believe your eyes?look on his face) at an Electronic Arts representation of his
digital self.
The study of video games is particularly important now because they are
quickly emerging as a dominant form of entertainment, rivalling television or
commercial movies in scope and economic potential. That the work being done
by hobbyists is of economic value can hardly be debated since spokespersons
for the companies themselves acknowledge that the work of hobbyists some-
times helps promote the life of games. Some may argue that hobbyists are not
really being exploited, since some are being hired by publishers outright, or
selling their mods to developers and those that are not are gaining some form
of reputation in the gift economy of the Internet. In that sense it would be
narrow-sighted for this study to suggest that money can be the only form of
compensation for the work that hobbyists do. While it is true that hobbyists
may receive more than just money for their work, when compared with the
billions of dollars that video-game companies reap, it would seem that they
should gain more than a good reputation for their keencode.
The utilization of hobbyist-produced software on the Internet by commercial
developers is not something that has come about ex nihilo, but rather is a
consequence of very concrete changes in the global economy. Questions remain
concerning the nature of unwaged work on the Internet. Will this passionate
labour become more prevalent as video games become a more pervasive feature
of US society? Already, thousands of individuals pay a monthly service fee for
the privilege of joining massive multi-player online games like Everquest,Ultima
and The Sims Online and devote hours of their free time to build up the virtual
environments they live in. Could we not argue that their leisure is being turned
into a commodity? The irony of the situation is that they pay for participation
and that they do not share in the prots. Perhaps it is not only that regimes
of accumulation and consumption have changed to make hobby and leisure
commodiable, but that they have always held value for human beings; they
have always been market alienable. Rather, perhaps information communication
technologies have allowed hobby and leisure to become commodities that are
massively produced and consumed, a process by which cultural forms are created
by the masses for the masses. All the while, businesses exact a toll for owning,
not the means of production (for they do not own the groups that make
culture), but rather the means of consumption: the bandwidth and server space.
It is possible to conceive of a dystopia in which some day all of us will pay a
fee for the privilege of being social. Thousands of Netizens already do it.
Hector Postigo
Department of Science and Technology Studies
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
110 8th St
Troy, NY 12180
1. Editorial note: these gures refer to USA gamers only.
2. These categories are generated from a review of the most popular gaming sites on the Web,
which include and, as well as from review categories
generated by major retailers such as Electronics Boutique, Circuit City and Best Buy.
3. Interestingly, this is not the only industry that seems to have beneted from the work of
hobbyist and enthusiasts. For an analysis of the role of hobbyist in the success of early
personal computing see Ceruzzi (1999); and for a similar analysis of the Japanese electronics
industry see Takahashi (2000).
4. For an idea of the vast number of mods see, for example,, just
one of the many sites for Quake 3, which contains hundreds of mods for that game.
5. This is exactly what the Nihon mod of Red Storm EntertainmentsRogue Spear does.
6. Here I do not mean to imply that the commercial developers cheat the hobbyist out of fair
pay. What is clear, however, is that the initial risk that is usually incurred by developers is
avoided because developers never had to invest capital on a uncertain project. The success
of the hobbyist-modied software on the Internet serves as a type of market test for the
packaged product. Some companies rely on this success as an indicator of the packaged
softwares future commercial success.
7. It is worth noting that it is not the it is not only the change in the mode of production that
has allowed the emergence of the work of hobbyists as valuable on a mass scale but also the
emergence of information work as the most valuable form of work in post-industrial
economies (see Castells 2000, 2001; Bell 1973).
8. For development of this theme see Aronowitz and DiFazion (1994), especially chapter 1
and the introduction.
9. For a review of the above topics see: Reid (1991); Himanen (2001); Raymond (1999); and
Turkle (1995).
10. TonToE is the author of the Outlaw Mod for Half-life.
11. The progress of the Britains Finestmod was monitored during the month of April 2002.
Subsequently, that mod is no longer being developed. Some information on goals and
progress can still be found at: http://www.planetmedalof
iv_britainsnest.shtml (last viewed in July 2003).
12. Numbers derived from: Ahearn (2002); Scott (2001).
13. Figures taken from: Ahearn (2002); and from
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... To create a TC mod demands basically the same capabilities and infrastructure that a professionally developed game project would need, with the critical difference that, in modding, there are no monetary expectations involved and no actual pay for the people working on it. Therefore, many of these projects fail along the way and, for the ones that succeed, it is not unusual for them to take many years to be completed (Postigo 2003;Laukkanen 2005). It is this general scenario of this subset of mods that constitutes the background of where our research took place. ...
... The large amount of personnel, resources, roles, and tasks involved in the execution of TCs lead these projects to have an external appearance quite like that of a formalized game studio. Top-down production models (Unger 2012), projects that take years to be completed (Postigo 2003;Laukkanen 2005), teams composed of dozens of individuals subdivided into different roles and working up to 20 hours a week (Postigo 2007;Laukkanen 2005), promotional websites, job listings, marketing, PR and branding efforts (Laukkanen 2005;Au 2002;Nieborg and van der Graaf 2008), are all reported properties of TC projects that can also easily be seen in the professional game development environment. As observed by Au (2002) and Nieborg and van der Graaf (2008) total conversions' symbiotic relationship with game development studios makes them gradually gravitate towards more industrial-like practices to the point that 'In practice there is only a small difference between an [game] engine licensee and a modder' (Nieborg and van der Graaf 2008). ...
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The activity of game modding has often been viewed as a fringe form of informal, hobbyist and amateurish software development despite its considerable growth in popularity in the past two decades. However, it is hard to see how supposedly free-form and unorganized groups of volunteers are able to successfully carry out projects of such magnitude as total conversion mods. Considering the small number of studies dedicated to understanding the mechanical processes of mod development, this research is focused on analyzing the project development practices of nine total conversion game mod teams. Relying on semi-structured interviews guided by the 10 knowledge areas of the Project Management Body of Knowledge, we aimed to develop an initial and clearer picture of the activities related to project organization, management, and software development that take place among these groups. Our findings point towards total conversion modding being an activity that, although highly informal, does tend to present recurring patterns that can be seen as preferred practices, thereby positioning it as more than just a collective and voluntary form of 'lawless' software development.
... According Crowdsourcing classification, this type of tasks are routine tasks (Schenk and Guitard, 2009), example of this type of Crowdsourcing is image recognition and labelling. In spite of Crowdsourcing main advantage -low labour costs -, it has several shortcomings, such as: cheating (Chen, et al., 2010), complicated quality control system (Kittur, Chi, and Bongwon, 2008) and ethics violation by exploiting and underpaying workforce (Postigo, 2003;Cove, 2007). This research search answers for questions -is the Crowdsourcing labour exploitive practice from point of theory on exploitation, and how do workers feel exploited participating in Crowdsourcing activities? ...
Online platforms devoted to investigating criminal cases or mysteries are often seen as reaching outwards to identify suspects, promote punishment, and try to solve cases. Simultaneously, internal interactions between posters motivate them to contribute, even to outdo one another, and so a team spirit emerges. This article analyzes a lengthy thread on a Swedish Internet discussion forum, Flashback, in which a wildlife photographer was exposed for manipulating photographs. We explore how the online interaction is characterized by both competition and collaboration, as well as hard work and displayed expertise, and is framed in terms of the morally right and an underdog perspective. The posters' activities are largely directed at the photographer's moral wrongdoing and take the form of an internal process between the participants, where work and play merge. We analyzed the case with the help of Randall Collins' interaction rituals, Erving Goffman's frames, and the concept of playbour.
The multiplayer tactical shooter Counter-Strike reveals a landscape structured around the line of sight, a delicately balanced arena that mediates a competitive feedback loop of extreme skill. Originally a player-made modification (mod), Counter-Strike continues to be replenished with community-made landscapes that push the boundaries of ownership (should modders mod for free?) and taboo (if it’s OK to play a shooting game in a virtual Venice, should it also be OK to play a shooting game in a virtual high school?). The familiar landscapes of Counter-Strike reflect how we consume landscapes through sports and tourism, and like other successful sports, Counter-Strike became a medium for gambling, money laundering and product placement, adding an external financial context for how we understand the meaning of these landscapes.Keywords Counter-Strike Multiplayer tactical shooterESportsTourismWeapon skinModding
If we finished a computer game and the software kept running, we would get the multiplayer sandbox Garry’s Mod. This landscape is populated by objects from hundreds of other games, but there is no goal or set of rules. Like a billionaire playing life on God Mode, the world appears to have been flattened and all objects start to feel the same, a landscape somewhat between a museum and a playground, a postmodern rubble of decontextualised Lego pieces. If YouTube transformed video art into a mainstream practice, Garry’s Mod transformed modding into a mainstream style of play, revealing the memefied swamp of Web 2.0, an unorthodox architectural studio and an encrypted landscape for private communication.Keywords Garry’s Mod Web 2.0SandboxUser-generated contentDigimodernPostmodernPlaybour
Virtual sports are symbolic representations of embodied, expressive, and “real world” athletic experiences. These sports can involve complete “out of body” practices wherein participants “play” a sport without exerting their bodies in a traditionally athletic way (i.e., a sports video game), or more embodied performances involving physical activity in a simulated sports environment (i.e., athletic movement in a modified sports setting like a cyclists’ wind tunnel). Centrally, virtual sports involve human beings as either real or represented athletes in a technologically enhanced setting. Although certain ludic activities might be considered representations of sport (e.g., “touch” football, “pick up” ice hockey, or go‐kart racing), virtual sports are those that place either embodied or computer generated athletes in simulated sports spaces.
In this article, we develop a theory of gameplay labour, acknowledging the paradigm of political economy yet grounded in game design and play, called ‘cultivation play’. In most understandings of game work, theorists traditionally explain digital labour in games as inherently difficult or manipulative. Instead, we propose a theory that explains how gameplay work can be organized around a design heuristic – character progression – that is rewarding, given the objectives and interests of different kinds of players. We explicate our theoretical intervention through an analysis of four games: Stardew Valley, Grand Theft Auto V, The Witcher 2 and The Witcher 3 . We specifically examine upgrade paths, what we call character progression tasks, wherein levelling up, progressing, gaining in-game skills and working towards goals operate to create an environment of gameplay work that players may find engaging.
Modders, as people adding modifications or suggesting those to original creations, have been a source of free labour in the digital game industry. Their contributions have been at the root of many controversies. As such, corporations have adopted either hostile or friendly attitudes towards the practice of modding, which is reflected in how corporations try to facilitate or limit modders’ agency to create user-created content. This article explores the perspective of players as creators, commonly referred to as modders, on corporate strategies to commodify their free labour. The empirical work consists of semi-structured interviews with modders associated with the website fora and By adopting Sayer’s concept of moral economy , this study draws two conclusions: first, that modders exist within a participatory ecosystem comprised of the modder, the community and corporate actors, where all actors participate in a political-ideological negotiation on how modders ought to create digital game modifications; second, when analysing agency affordances, a moral economy of multiple actors with different norms, values and social codes constitutes a provision system of social dependency that is at risk of collapsing whenever there is outsider interference, as well as corporate attempts to incorporate modders into paid-mod systems.
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This Open Access book provides a comprehensive review of the rapidly developing esport phenomenon by examining one of its contemporary flagship titles, Overwatch (Blizzard Entertainment 2016), through three central themes and from a rich variety of research methods and perspectives. As a game with more than 40 million individual players, an annual international World Cup, and a franchised professional league with teams from Canada, China, Europe, South Korea, and the US, Overwatch provides a multifaceted perspective to the cultural, social, and economic topics associated with the development of esports, which has begun to attract attention from both commercial and academic audiences. A decade ago, it was still somewhat conventional to start a study by writing how “esports is a novel phenomenon.” As today more than a thousand studies have been published on esports, including several books and special issues, the need for more specific case studies keeps increasing. This multidisciplinary and multi-methodological book on Overwatch responds to that need. With 15 authors from various backgrounds, the book provides a far-reaching analysis of Overwatch and its modes of engagement. Ten chapters provide a foundation for understanding how a title like Overwatch operates both as an esport and a more general entertainment product at the same time.
Review of The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age / by Pekka Himanen, with a prologue by Linus Torvalds and an epilogue by Manuel Castells. Random House, 2001, ISBN 0375505660
Technology and Culture 41.3 (2000) 460-484 The development and international success of the Japanese consumer electronics industry in the postwar period is often portrayed as the result of a collaboration between big business and government ministries. This portrayal neglects an important foundation for the success of this industry: the existence of a culture of "tinkering" with consumer electronics in Japan. After World War II a network of inventors, tinkerers, and small businesses developed an unofficial sector of radio manufacturing, which grew to include radio magazines, books, and standard-setting trade associations. This network helped launch the television kit industry, which lowered the price of home-use televisions, making commercial broadcasting viable in Japan. Even after mass-produced televisions had driven television kit manufacturers out of business, the large Japanese consumer electronics manufacturers used the network of repair shops that had assembled television kits to build a service network. These local service providers, close to their customers and to the service problems of the products, gave manufacturers the feedback they needed to create products that met consumer needs, enabling Japanese industrialists to compete effectively in the export market. Today the Japanese electronics industries are dominated by big business, while amateurs and hobbyists play only a minor role, primarily as ham radio operators. Historically, however, the electronics industry began with radio, a field founded by amateurs and tinkerers. In the early stages of the radio industry, radio listeners typically built their own receivers; some became semiprofessionals and opened radio shops. Small-scale manufacturers sprang up to supply components. Amateur hobbyists, semiprofessionals, local radio stores, and small manufacturers for radio components formed an "unofficial" sector of the radio and electronics industry. In comparison, large-scale producers and assemblers of equipment, government, and public institutions made up its "official" sector. The radio boom grew out of the liberalized political climate of postwar Japan. After Japan's defeat the government ban on reception of foreign broadcasting was lifted, and commercial broadcasting began. As a result of greater programming, radio (and later television) tinkering expanded, and the dismantling of the Japanese military made military surplus electronics components available and inexpensive. The Allied occupation forces promoted radio production, using broadcasts to democratize Japan. Later, public institutions such as the research laboratory of Nihon Hoso Kyokai (NHK, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation), professional bodies of engineers, government ministries, and local government encouraged the hobby of radio, organizing training courses in radio construction and repair. Small-scale component manufacturers flourished as radio tinkering expanded. The television boom, beginning with the first Japanese television broadcasts in 1953, had similar roots in the culture of tinkering. Tinkerers wanted to build their own television receivers, but it was far more difficult to put together a television from scratch than to construct a radio. As a result, component manufacturers developed key components for television receivers and put television kits on sale. The kits were welcomed by hobbyists and semiprofessionals, and the television receivers they built contributed to the popularization of television. Some small manufacturers eventually grew into middle-sized companies, and after the popularization of receivers had been achieved, larger companies took over the mass production of televisions. Though the unofficial sector of the Japanese television and radio industry declined in the 1960s, it had a profound influence on the success of the Japanese electronics industry in export markets. The culture of tinkering and the amateur entrepreneurship of the early Japanese radio and television industry helped create an electronics industry attuned to customer demands for quality and service. Many of the tinkerers who began their careers as radio and television kit assemblers and owners of small repair shops went on to staff the service companies affiliated with large Japanese radio, television, and electronics manufacturers. With their firsthand knowledge of customer expectations and their knowledge of components, these tinkerers gave critical feedback to their new employers to help bring about the high-quality, high-reliability, low-cost consumer electronics that won over export markets in the 1960s. Radio broadcasting was begun in Japan in 1925 by the Tokyo Hosokyoku (Tokyo Broadcasting Station). This later became the Nihon Hoso Kyokai, an incorporated association under...