Machinima as Capitalist Media Intervention by Jamison Lightfoot

Machinima as a movement is a very interesting paradigme. On one hand it is a billion dollar industry that millions of people view, create, and sustain. On the other is a relatively underground movement to which a large majority of those who precede ‘Generation Y’ have almost no knowledge of. Yet despite the massively split age demographic of Machinima, it might just act as the catalyst for the demise of the long ingrained capitalist studio system in the West. To fully understand why Machinima carries such an immense amount of cultural impact with the younger generation, the timeframe in which it was created must be understood with respects to Hollywood and pre-web media.

Before the advent of accessible video streaming on the internet, the film media industries in America had an all encompassing monopoly on the work that was being produced. Without a studio, funding, and most importantly a distribution house, it was close to impossible to get a work seen post-production. This meant often times the only films that were being produced and making profits were those of the already well established teams who helped create the very system. Films were making billions and the profits were being sent directly back into the director’s hands meaning it was a self perpetuating cycle where the successful directors got more famous and the ‘up-and-coming’ were being marginalized. This system seemed like it could never be penetrated by external forces, until the introduction to free, user created content. For internet video to have succeeded, and moreover Machinima as a medium, a couple major factors had to fall into place. The first being the boom in Internet technologies and the availability of streaming services. Machinima actually preceded a large amount of the video streaming services that viewers now rely on. Red vs Blue by Roosterteeth Studios is a perfect example, beginning their Machinima Halo based series before there was even embedded videos on the internet. However this resulted in server bandwidth bills in the thousands which made profit almost impossible. This leads into the second major factor, monetization. In order for internet video and user created content to thrive it must produce profit. In the beginning Machinima profit was derived largely from t-shirt sales that funded the production but often did not leave room for profit. However with the advent of Youtube and other streaming/embedding services, companies could now profit by monetizing through Google, Yahoo, Netflix etc. Lastly was audiences readiness for content ‘of the people’ rather than the constant barrage of multi-million dollar movie studios producing exclusively no-risk high budget films.

Finally the monotony of Hollywood media was beginning to be broken up by single independent producers. This is why video game engines as a film medium are so unique. As the cost of production is extraordinarily low as compared to traditional film production (factoring costs for system, capture card, game etc), it meant that a huge number of the youth in the Western world already had the tools to create expansive worlds through Machinima. This effectively bridged the gap between those who could formally not afford the startup cost of the film production industry (taking into consideration this phenomenon was primarily still a middle to upper-middle class industry due to the still necessary related costs and time). That is not to say that the easy access for content creators make Machinima easy. As Henry Lowood talks about in his text Real-Time Performance: Machinima and Game Studies, Machinima takes an immense amount of skill and creativity; it just also is far more accessible for adolescents to be able to learn. Machinima in many ways is a “Transmedia” medium, using video, games, editing, taking inspiration from comic books (Halo), in game cinema tools and many more. This meant creators were given the power of entire animation studios, all at their access. Using engines such as Halo and Half-Life as seen in This Spartan Life made it possible for Machinima artists to not have to limit their creativity. Now a rush of creative and compelling whole series were being produced. Web video is now at a point where a crucial step has been reached; returning audiences. Machinima as a movement is not set out to make ‘viral’ one hit wonders. Rather to build a returning audience that will continue to return, just like television and movies. Clearly Machinima holds an immense amount of cultural impact, and will be a crucial factor in the contemporary progression of film and media.

Works Cited

Burns, Burnie. “Roosterteeth podcast and ‘behind the scenes’ of RvB” Rooster Teeth. N.p Web. 30 Mar. 2015. <;.

Lowood, Henry. “International Digital Media and Arts Association | V2N1: Real-Time Performance: Machinima and Game Studies.” International Digital Media and Arts Association | V2N1: Real-Time Performance: Machinima and Game Studies. IDMAa, 8 Mar. 2013. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.

Red vs Blue. Dir. Burnie Burns. Roosterteeth, 2005-present. DVD.


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