Author Archives: Casey O'Donnell

On the Relevance of a $5.9B Videogame Industry Deal

I spend an inordinate amount of time watching the news, blogs, and social media that swirls around what can at best be vaguely called “the videogame industry.” There are multiple industries, markets, cultures, interests and to pretend that it is a kind of unified monolithic industry doesn’t really seem to fit much an more (if it ever did). Yet, many CASTAC readers and authors are interested in structure. Why do particular socio-cultural-political-economic formations persist remains an important question that seems to cut across the interests of CASTAC readers. For context, Activision, one of the already largest videogame publishers, announced on Tuesday their acquisition of King, a developer and publisher of popular web-based and mobile-based “free to play” (F2P) games. To put this in context: The giant company’s acquisition of King is the biggest merger in gaming since the combination of Activision and Blizzard in a nearly $19 billion deal in 2007, and it cements the new publisher as one of the biggest players in every gaming platform—home consoles like the PlayStation 4, PC online games like World of Warcraft, and mobile. (read more...)

Rigged Designs: Toward an Anthropology of Rigs?

“Claw machines are rigged.” This recent headline at Vox caught my eye. Not because it was surprising. But because it wasn’t. What I wanted to know was why someone was surprised to find this to be the case. There are a variety of interesting elements to be found in the post. Perhaps most interesting to myself and CASTAC readers, however, was an Also read link to an article drawing heavily on the work of Natasha Schüll and her wonderful book Addiction by Design. I had already assumed the game was rigged; I was surprised that anyone was surprised. But the term “rigging” gave me pause. What I think surprised the author of this particular article was the way in which the game was rigged. It wasn’t that the claw just wasn’t strong enough, which had been my presumption up until reading the article. But rather that the underlying circuitry of the game dictates a variety of behaviors from the claw. All of which fall into some subset category of what we’d expect from a claw in a game machine. Sometimes the claw grabs harder than others. Sometimes when it grabs more tightly it “loses” its grip on the way to the drop zone. All of these are controlled by a desired payout rate dictated by the operator (i.e., owner) of the game. Which is why while reading the article I thought to myself, “that’s quite literally the same core mechanism that operates how the RNG (random number generator), discussed by Natasha Schüll, in a gaming machine functions.” Which is why I was then doubly pleased to find her work when I clicked the Also read. (read more...)

Shifting Fields of Academic Publishing

I’ve been thinking about academic publishing lately. Some of that is related to being in the middle of Michigan State University’s tenure process. It also has to do with having chaired an ad-hoc committee to revise my department’s annual review process. It also has a bit to do with Issue 30.1 of the journal Cultural Anthropology (CA) being released last week. Since graduate school, I have wandered the borderlands between Anthropology, Game Studies and Science and Technology Studies. I’ve been (somewhat oddly sometimes) employed by “communication” colleges of various sorts, in part due to Game Studies having found its most disciplinary home in such locations. But I think most importantly it has put me in conversation with a variety of approaches to and perspectives on what academic scholarly activity should/ought/might look like. Add to this my work as a game designer/developer and conversations within the institutions I inhabit how those materials should/ought to/might be evaluated. (read more...)

Developer’s Dilemma and Making as Privilege

A book I wrote, Developer’s Dilemma [Press, Amazon Physical Book, Amazon Kindle, iBooks], was recently published by MIT Press. It is an ethnography that explores the secretive everyday worlds of game developers working in the global videogame industry. There is an excerpt of the book over at Culture Digitally if you’re interested in checking out some of the words prior to making a commitment to the rest of the text. But I didn’t really want to start this year off just plugging my book. I mean, I did plug it. Just then. You should check it out. But that isn’t the point of this post. I recently Skyped into Tom Boellstorff’s graduate seminar to discuss the book. One of the questions they asked me had to do with “game talk” and if I thought game talk had to do more with boundary policing than it had to do with actually having real utility and functionality. Game talk, in essence, is the use of game names as a shorthand means by which to reference the rather complex mechanics and ideas that set certain games apart. It was a wonderful question, because in the book I write: (read more...)

On the Ethnographic Butterfly Effect

More than three months ago I wanted to write about the ethnographic butterfly effect and a key informant’s book. But there were strange things happening around games and social media at the time coupled with tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri. So I wrote about those things. It is more than three months later and there are still strange things happening in social media around games and everything in Ferguson, Missouri (and other parts of the United States) is somehow impossibly more sad. So I’m going to write about the ethnographic butterfly effect and a key informant’s book on the game Jagged Alliance 2. (read more...)

Reflections on a Decade of GDC Fieldnotes

Ah, the Game Developers Conference (GDC)… I started my field research in 2004 at a relatively small but growing game studio: Vicarious Visions. Since that time I’ve been researching game development and game developers. That’s a long time to study such an amorphous, variable and shifting thing/community/world/culture. I’ve ranged from AAA developers to hobbyists to serious game development teams. I haven’t made it to every GDC in that time; travel has always been highly subject to the aleatory. But I have been watching, listening and taking notes from afar even when I haven’t been there myself. What follows is a meta-note, on my collection of meta-notes, which will make this pretty meta-meta. (read more...)

What’s Up in the Cloud(s)?

In May, Adobe prompted me reflect on the “Cloud.” Adobe announced that it’s widely used “Creative Suite,” which includes things like Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Acrobat and many other software products would be transitioning to a subscription-based, web-based and cloud-based product, the “Creative Cloud.” My first (and clearly cynical) thought was, “Well, at least I don’t have to install their bloated [explicative] software anymore or have Acrobat update every other day.” At the same time, the reality of what that would mean for people who use these products for their jobs, encouraged me to consider it further. It also prompted me to return to a 2008 discussion between Richard Stallman and Bobbie Johnson of the Guardian. I should also disaggregate the cloud infrastructure from products that deliver their services via the cloud. These are often conflated in accounts of the trend. The cloud infrastructure is/are computers and the networks that connect them and them (read more...)

Public (Research) Design: Un-friend Stories

An Introduction [Cross Posted at] Ask an anthropologist a question and they’ll tell you a story. In this case, you didn’t ask, but I’m going to tell. During the fall of 2012, I was perusing my Facebook feed before bedtime, imagining myself to be reconnecting with old friends and keeping up with their lives through their links, posts and various photos. I was ruminating on the continually tweaked feed algorithms that always seemed to send friends into the foreground and others out of view. One old friend in particular and his regular kid photos were strangely absent, so I flicked open the side panel of Facebook’s iOS client and began searching for his name. Nothing turned up in the auto-complete, which was strange… At which point I quickly realized it meant that I had been un-friended. Indeed an actual search yielded his profile, which offered me the friendly blue-button (read more...)