by Julia Stoll
During the last years globalization has transformed practically every industry. Everything is more connected, companies operate in several places around the world and people from different countries work together. In the videogame industry, the effects have been especially big. While globalization brings opportunities for making and distributing videogames on a bigger scale, game developers in regions other than the established “hubs” face great challenges.
In their article “Revisiting globalisation through the movie and digital games industries” Aphra Kerr and Roddy Flynn criticise the unequal distribution of market power in the film and games industries. Since big TNCs (transnational corporations) continue to grow and take over smaller studios, most of the production happens in a few specific regions. The products developed by these TNCs dominate markets around the world, leaving very little space for local studios (p.92).
Kerr and Flynn use the example of Ireland to illustrate how in many countries there exist practically no local game or film studios, although the demand for games and films is huge. Irish game companies have had to close down after a few years of operation, mainly because there are no local publishers and because big international publishers don’t invest in Irish studios (p.107). This is one of the problems that are caused by the dominance of a small number of TNCs in the market.
This description of the situation of the Irish game industry reminded me of an article by Jason Rubin, former president of the publishing company THQ, which showcases the difficult conditions for game developers at the Ukrainian studio 4A while producing “Metro: Last Light”. In addition to the barriers of cost and finding a publisher, which are also present in Ireland, Rubin points out that Ukrainian developers have to deal with terrible electrical and heating infrastructure and small outdated work spaces. Still, 4A is able to sell high quality games to a wide audience.
In many ways then, 4A is benefitting from globalization. The connection with an international publisher gives them the funding they need and the opportunity to distribute their games world-wide. On their own, they would not be able to reach the same amount of people, and show their talent. Now their work has earned them international recognition.
4A is one of the few studios that manage to work successfully from outside the main videogame “hubs”. Most of the money spent on the production of games still goes to North American studios. The fact that 4A can compete with these studios is a huge achievement. As Rubin puts it, “4A is to developers what the Jamaican Bobsledding team is to Olympic sport.” But even though they are operating from the Ukraine, they rely on North American or Western European publishers, who take control of their production process. Within the small budget that they have been given 4A has to meet deadlines and requirements. They have to make games that their publisher approves of – thus, in exchange for funding and distribution they have to give up a significant part of their freedom.
The examples of Ireland and the Ukraine make the challenges of globalization visible. With most of the market power lying with a small number of transnational companies, local start-ups have little chance of succeeding if they cannot find a publisher willing to invest in them. And if they can, they have to follow the publisher’s instructions, which limit the possibilities of what they can do with their small share of market power. Rubin imagines the possibilities for 4A if they had more freedom: “If 4A had been given a more competitive budget, […] hadn’t wasted a year-plus chasing the irrational requirement of THQ’s original producers […] what could 4A have created?” And moreover, what could developers in other underrepresented countries create if they were given the chance?
Kerr, A., and R. Flynn. “Revisiting Globalisation Through the Movie and Digital Games Industries.” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies (2003): 91-113. Web. 26 Mar. 2015.
Rubin, Jason. “Metro: Last Light Is the “triumph of an Underdog”” GamesIndustry.biz. 15 May 2013. Web. 26 Mar. 2015. <http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2013-05-15-jason-rubin-metro-last-light-is-the-triumph-of-an-underdog>.