Another face of media concentration?

I am not sure if many of the readers know, but my Masters’ thesis was on media industries dynamics. One of my original motivations to start looking at media industries was vast literature on media economics, particularly media concentration/conglomeration, i was exposed to during my undergraduate and graduate studies. In a super-simplistic way and in a nutshell, the common concern regarding the dynamics of media industries is that as time goes on there are fewer hands controlling the growing number of media outlets. Of course the actual picture is more complex and i should probably blog about it (and my thesis?) at some point.

However, the point of this post is different. Yesterday I read a Washington Post article about the shrinking membership of the Entertainment Software Association – an association of video/computer games producers. The fact of intra-industrial battles was not as interesting as the mention of merger discussions between Activision (Guitar Hero) and Vivendy (WoW). This news comes in a span of just a few months from EA’s (The Sims) attempts to take over Take-Two Interactive (Grand Theft Auto). Are we moving towards

I find it really interesting and tied to the debate over mass media ownership at large. Ironically, being a huge and rather fast growing industry, video games industries are gaining less attention compared to the mainstream media. At the same time, i think the cultural function of video games can be legitimately compared to that of the popular culture. As video games become a more prominent outlet for leisure time we can start asking similar questions about this industry as we were asking about other culture-related industries.

I think the link above will become even more obvious as the two industries continue moving towards each other. For example, not too long ago I read about an attempt to create an interactive movie based on the popular WoW. The idea is that it would combine elements of the game and users’ input with cinematography and it is a clear step towards merging the two domains.

Probably the combination of the two developments – conglomeration of the video-games industries and amalgamation of cultural outlets – prompted me to think about the WP article in terms of another expression of media concentration. What do you think?

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6 Responses to “Another face of media concentration?”

  1. Josh Braun Says:

    Mark Deuze’s new book, Media Work—the one that you got me involved reviewing—has an entire section on the video game industry, in which he compares it to other major media industries (film, television, marketing, advertising, and so on). It’s a good book. I’ll try to sum him up in a nutshell below, though I’ll never succeed in doing him justice in a reply thread…

    He suggests that a lot of similar trends are going on in all the industries, but that there are idiosyncrasies in each. Basically the game industry has a nice bottleneck when it comes to publishing on consoles, since the development platforms for those are closed-source. Small development companies compete fiercely to get their stuff published by large publishing companies. There are more opportunities for small companies when a console is brand new, since there’s a big content hole that has to be filled rapidly. As a console becomes established, series of established game titles and whatnot get a bigger monopoly. Increasingly, game publishers are outsourcing little bits of game development to lots of places, so there may now be multiple development companies working on one game. And more and more, working arrangements in the game industry are becoming temporary and project based. It’s the same hourglass as you see in other media industries, with a few huge media conglomerates, and a bazillion tiny companies competing for their contract business.

    Computer game development is similar in some ways, except the platforms are open-source, so the competition is a lot more fierce, since the barrier to entry is lower. Then there are intermediate platforms like cell phones and whatnot, which are sort of a mix of both worlds.

    In all of the above, there are grueling 90-hour work schedules, because of the amount of work necessary in producing the games on deadline, and also because the game companies have a Google-esque work-is-play-so-why-not-work-all-the-time ethos to them, which ends up being somewhat exploitative. There have been recent lawsuits for better working conditions in the gaming industry.

  2. Macros Says:

    Wow… thanks for the review. I find those to be almost shocking facts. Any ideas where I could get a hold of that book?

  3. Dima Says:

    Thanks Josh! Are you going to post your complete review on your blog? (if that is allowed).

    Macros, you can try your local library or get your own copy.

  4. Josh Braun Says:

    @Macros: Here’s the book’s page at Polity Press, with various options for ordering. Deuze’s also got a blog, which I’m sure has a lot of thoughts on these issues.

    @Dima: I’m not allowed to put the review on my website until one year after it’s published. Damn copyright agreements. But I’ll post a link when it comes out, and I’m sure that before then a personal copy might find its way to you somehow, assuming you’re interested. =)

  5. Josh Braun Says:

    As promised, here’s a link to the review on NM+S’ site:

    http://nms.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/10/6/957

    NM+S has locked it down, of course. But Deuze has reprinted it at his blog for now:

    http://deuze.blogspot.com/2008/11/media-work-book-review.html

  6. Dima Says:

    Thanks, Josh!
    I actually saw Deuze’s post yesterday :)

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