The sudden rise into the mainstream seen in indie development, cosplay, modding and gaming video content has re-energised the notion that users are in control.
As average people are responsible for a growing amount of available games and related videos, commentary, add-ons, upgrades and expansions, it seems appropriate to declare a new era of gamer-generated content. The market for gaming videos alone now generates $3.8bn.
User-generated content, however, is not new. Ever since media first moved away from an analogue, one-to-many model to one that is digital and many-to-many, amateur content creators have been sharing online.
What’s new is that in a digital economy in which anyone can develop, publish and distribute content, fan economics are now becoming a viable business model.
Sure, we’ve heard it before that consumers are now producers, co-creators, or, worse, “pro-sumers”. In this digital era, it should go without saying that an audience such as gamers, which busies itself with customising avatars and optimising character loadout, is particularly well-suited to create and consume.
In fact, it’s a really old-fashioned way of establishing an emotional connection between players and a game, as anyone who’s played pencil-based D&D can attest. An avatar is a miniature version of you, just like your Pokémon deck, your Minecraft universe and your SimCity all express who you are.
This constantly growing online inventory of things to watch, listen to or play is hugely overwhelming. To navigate it and find the things you like, you need guideposts – markers that help you identify things that match your interests. A platform like Steam is continuously working on improving its algorithm to help you find games you’ll like.
Another way to find the ‘cool’ stuff is following celebrities. The most obvious one is Felix Kjellberg (PewDiePie). The key to his success has been to simply remain true to himself. Case-in-point: his response to criticism following the revelation that he had earned $7.4m in 2014 was widely distributed as evidence of how truthful he was.
According to the Ross Miller over at The Verge: “Love it or hate it, his success – like so many YouTube personalities – isn’t just in playing games but actually connecting with an audience. No agent, press release, or any other intermediary. He just hits record.”
The real currency in this emerging gamer market is authenticity.
Learn from the pros (by not becoming one)
If you watched the EA conference during E3, you understand the power of authenticity. Following the usual blur of superlatives, all meticulously delivered by execs in Armani suits, an awkward static energy started to build up as the various company men insisted on referring to themselves as ‘game makers’.
Understandably, a billion-dollar publicly traded firm wants to reduce the margin of error when presenting its top-level team to a live, international audience. And, in fairness, for many of them being a strong speaker in a corporate environment, able to help a large organisation see their vision, is more important than seeming accessible to consumers.
So it’s no surprise that a flawless staccato of biz speak generates tension in a crowd of non-business folks. Deliberate or not, EA saved its press conference by switching to the modesty of the creative genius behind Unravel. It felt like a release from all the corporate electricity and, following this moment, Unravel became one of the most talked about non-triple-A games at E3.
Getting out is what it’s going to be about
When Microsoft acquired Mojang, most honed in on the $2.5bn it had been willing to shell out. These amounts make for great headlines and even greater industry gossip. But Markus ‘Notch’ Persson had other plans.
A statement on the company’s site reads: “[Notch] has decided that he doesn’t want the responsibility of owning a company of such global significance. Over the past few years he’s made attempts to work on smaller projects, but the pressure of owning Minecraft became too to handle. The only option was to sell Mojang. He’ll continue to do cool stuff, though. Don’t worry about that.”
To make ‘cool stuff’, even the most successful indie in the world needed to rid himself of the very thing that made him famous. In it, we find a lesson: as supply and demand for gamer-created content grows, the rules that govern success are the same for big firms and beginners alike: be yourself.
That’s the type of entertainment I look forward to.