Feb 13, 2012

Why the mainstream media love videogames that make lots of money

We can be absolutely certain that the mainstream media – broadsheets, ta

Double Fine Kickstarter

We can be absolutely certain that the mainstream media – broadsheets, tabloids, perhaps even televised news – will report on how Double Fine studios last week raised over one million dollars to make an as-yet unnamed videogame in less than 24 hours.

Double Fine did this through Kickstarter, a crowd-funding website where ordinary people can give money to nascent projects. They initially asked for $400,000 in order to fund the development of a point-and-click adventure game, and to film the process, but as of writing, the contributions to the project exceed $1.6 million. This is by any measure an extraordinary response.

However, we know that the mainstream media will report these events, because money – huge, stinking piles of money – is one of the only ways that the mainstream media is capable of understanding videogames. There are a small (but growing) number of exceptions to this, which is encouraging. However, as I wrote in September of last year, mainstream coverage generally falls into three categories: moral panics (videogames corrupting children), profits (videogames making bucketloads of cash), or the exotic (the unfamiliar worlds of those who play videogames).

These categories can, and frequently do overlap, but largely, they represent strategies of reporting from a safe distance. They are strategies that allow journalists to acknowledge the existence of videogames as a cultural phenomenon while simultaneously reinforcing a perceived difference.

This difference exists mostly in clichés. The videogame that broke all those records and got reported on by the mainstream journalist (you know the one – the one that you read about a few times every year) was able to make all that money because that mainstream journalist’s friends and relatives are now sitting at home unwrapping the game, while the journalist files their article on this strange niche interest.

It’s nice that videogames will make the front page (metaphorically speaking, of course, as it’s the kind of news that will only make the front page online). Equally, I’m certainly not saying that the Double Fine Kickstarter is not worth reporting on. It is. It’s a lot of money.

At the same time, it’s not hard to image that many of these stories will only pick out the sums involved and will continue to stare, uncomprehendingly in their own way, at these strange things called videogames. The things that make all the money.

I’d be genuinely thrilled to be proven wrong. All it would take is a little time and curiosity. What kind of a studio is Double Fine? Are point-and-click adventure videogames popular? How does this compare to other internet-led business ventures across other media, like Radiohead’s In Rainbows, or Louis C.K.’s Live At The Beacon Theatre?

What’s the interesting story here? It certainly isn’t just that videogames can make lots of money.

After all, we’ve known that for decades.


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9 thoughts on “Why the mainstream media love videogames that make lots of money

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  4. Travis Yates

    Hi Daniel,

    I was in a new category. I guess it was little guy sticking it to the man. My iPhone App “A Blackjack Card Counter” was all over the web. I was getting loads of calls.

    Now that I’m back to a lowly developer not making huge sums of money no one gives me the time of day. 🙁

    Travis Yates
    Director Webtopia iPhone Apps

  5. Daniel Golding

    Funky J – thanks for dropping in and commenting so passionately. Great to read. As for the blog’s purpose on Crikey, yes, it’s definitely part of the plan to push for a certain visibility. However, as I argued in my first post, I think that visibility is already there to a large extent – it’s just a question of making it okay to interact with it in a meaningful way. Hopefully we can do a little bit for that here.

    I would suggest, though, that perhaps those numbers about the videogame job losses that were going around a while back (I think it was suggested that 800 jobs or so had been shed) were slightly inaccurate as they didn’t take into account those working in non-traditional structures, which is a large segment of the industry today. That’s not to deny the importance of the job losses within traditional studios. It’s something that needs to be thought about and considered, but I suspect it’s also a sign of a shift to different modes of production in Australia as well as a sign of economic downturn.

  6. Phen

    I love games, but yeah struggle to see the interesting story here….

  7. FunkyJ

    As I posted on the main site, I really hope Game On blog gives more visibility to this industry amongst Crikey’s readership.

    It’s just as important socially and critically as the other arts which are featured heavily in Crikey’s pages, especially in terms of generating dollar value, which is all that seems to matter to people these days.

    After all, there’s been a massive decline in the number of video game jobs in recent years, and the once vibrant industry which hired thousands of people is reduced to a cottage industry. Talented, artistic, and creative people either leave Australia in droves, or turn to more mundane work to get a wage, and it’s not covered in the mainstream press or even Crikey, it pisses me off no end!

    If this was the film or automotive industry, politicians would be tripping over themselves with a show of help, but because the industry is still seen as immature both in content and audience, it’s all but ignored, which is dangerous for a country such as Australia who could, with the right government assistance and investment support, could be the biggest producer of games (and therefore biggest income generator from games) in the world.

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  9. BlackIvory

    I heart Kickstarter.

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