Quo vadis, game (industry) research?

Hey, Sitra! You commissioned a marvellous report on the state of game research back in 2005, but don’t you think it’s a bit outdated already? As a business school graduate I think the report was full of gold nuggets, but at the same time it also fell short on discussing the game industry from the organizational perspective.

Fair enough, back in 2005 there weren’t that many papers discussing the business of games, but now, in 2015, situation has changed dramatically.

  1. Prior to 2008, most industry level papers were looking at the industry dynamics mostly because the industry was dominated by three players (Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo)
  2. Furthermore, ‘back in the days’ games were mostly distributed in cartridge format, implying that modifications and updates to the original game were costly and difficult – if not even impossible – to make
  3. Finally, borders between different actors (publishers, developers, distributors, consumers) were clear cut, and more often than not this also implied severe restrictions on how knowledge and ideas travel between actors
  4. BONUS: e-sports was still a nascent phenomenon, and still is, but today it is growing rapidly

So, where does this take us? From a research perspective I think the time is ripe to take stock on what has been studied so far, where the industry is moving (are we about to witness another market crash due to saturation, or will the industry continue its aggressive growth?), and what does this all mean for game developers.

What is more, analysts and journalists seem to be somewhat unanimous about the game industry revenue increasing year after year (some exemplars here and here), and although we should be cautious about using the past to predict the future, we should expect the industry to thrive and grow during the next few years. But beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess, really!

Now, we’re looking at an industry that is growing faster than any other form of entertainment, has made capitals as remote as Helsinki attractive for foreigners to work in, and has gone through major upheavals during the last two decades or so. Despite this, management and organisation scholars have been slow in acknowledging what an interesting setting game industry would be to study.

WHY, ACADEMIA, WHY?

To be honest, just because an industry is growing fast doesn’t necessarily warrant academic attention. While for some this might already be adequate a reason, perhaps more interestingly game industry is super fascinating because it is situated between various interfaces: hardware and software, art and commerce, and passion and planning. While all this is true, how do we know game industry is here to stay? What if it turns out to be just another fad?

Sure, game industry is being hyped at the moment, and some of that is explained by an overall hype towards apps. Another gold rush, perhaps? While appification has created an illusion that games are ‘easy’ or ‘fast’ to make, this is certainly not the case. In a hit-driven business, entrepreneurs and game developers can’t take anything for granted. Building on this, many companies are bound to go under while only a handful make it to the top: between those two extremes, however, we have a vast amount of companies doing amazing things and actually making a living out of games.

From an organisational research perspective, game industry is like an uncovered secret. Hidden in plain sight, but hopefully not for too long.

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