Recap of the first Gamework seminar: Researching the Game Industry

While it is now almost two months since the first Gamework seminar, Researching the Game Industry, in Bergen in February, it is about time for a recap of the event. As the aim of Gamework is to establish formal collaboration for comparative research on the Nordic game industry with the purpose of creating a consortium of international academic and non-academic parties, the first seminar was intended to gather international researchers with experience from game production studies and game industry studies to share their perspectives and identify areas that are still short on research.

Although the aim stresses a focus on the Nordic game industry, it is important for us as project initiators to stress that we cannot understand the particularities of the Nordic situation without understanding the broader context. For this reason, we are also aiming for collaborations with researchers with expertise on other national game industries. In the light of this philosophy, the first day of the seminar had presentations by scholars with experience from researching not only different national industries, but also different characteristics of those industries. A veteran of game industry studies who has researched the Irish and UK industries for almost two decades, Aphra Kerr of Maynooth University argued for combining a cultural industries approach with mixed methods is crucial for understanding the kind of project based distributed and precarious work that game production is. With experience from researching game development in India and the US, Casey O’Donnell of Michigan State University also has experience from comparative industry studies. From his perspective as a social anthropologist he explored the sub-area of studio studies and what can be gained from researching the work and production practices rather than the products of game development.

While Kerr and O’Donnell’s talks were aimed at more general methodological level of game production and industry studies, four other speakers focused on specific national industries. Taking a historical approach, Jaroslav Svelch of Charles University of Prague asked what the 1980s Czechoslav “Sneakernet” culture can teach us about game distribution. The three network initiators also stressed the national perspectives, in particular related to welfare measures in the Nordic region. Olli Sotamaa of Tampere University discussed the “glocality” of the Finnish game industry. With his experience from researching the Swedish game industry, Ulf Sandqvist of Umeå University asked about the relation of an emerging industry and the Swedish welfare state. As an expert on the Norwegian game industry, my – Kristine Jørgensen of University of Bergen – talk was identifying some defining characteristics of the Norwegian game industry and also located Bergen as the host city in that context.

The three remaining speakers were addressing the game industry from another angle, focusing on particular practices or conditions for the game industry. David Nieborg of University of Toronto addressed money-making in the app economy, adding a political economy perspective to discussing the challenges related to sustainability. Hrafnhildur Jonasdottir of Westerdals Oslo ACT was presenting her current research on innovation processes among Norwegian game developers, and Heikki Tyni of Tampere University focused on his research on crowdfunding model not only as a business model but also as a cultural phenomenon.

The takeaway: A network for game industry and production studies
While many of the researchers at the seminar meet infrequently at international conferences, organizing an event dedicated to the challenges for research on the game industry and game production is a rare opportunity. The participants expressed a strong need for a network dedicated to game industry and production studies, as it currently is a marginal area in game studies. To accommodate this need, day 2 of the seminar was dedicated to identifying possible collaborative opportunities.

First, having an arena for sharing experiences with research in the area, and where PhD students and upcoming researchers interested in game industry and production studies can become part of a network is invaluable. Second, game industry and production studies need a venue for initiating collaborative efforts connected to submissions of proposals for research grants, and co-authorship of publications.

Having identified these issues, we ended the meeting with the following takeaways:

  • Two panel proposals.
  • Researching and applying for funding of the network after Gamework ends.
  • Planning of the second Gamework seminar in Umeå Autumn 2017.

Presenter slides are now available here.