March 11, 2010

Editor's Note

Welcome to another edition of the Convergence Culture Consortium's newsletter!

In this issue, C3 Consulting Researcher Stefan Werning presents his thoughts on how the communication between video game fan and game producers can be tapped to shape the industry's interactions with these fan communities.

Also, C3 and CMS alum Geoffrey Long presents his interview with CMS Visiting Professor Mia Consalvo.

As always, feel free to peruse our Convergence Culture News section, as well as our numerous new articles written by the C3 team, listed in Glancing at the C3 Blog.

This issue of the C3 Newsletter was edited by Alex Leavitt. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to send an email to

Virtual Event

This is a reminder that an official announcement of the first C3 2010 Virtual Event, to take place on April 1st, will be sent out next week.


In This Issue

Editor's Note

Opening Note
Collective Simulation (Part 1)
Stefan Werning

Glancing at the C3 Blog

Convergence Culture News

Closing Note
An Interview with Mia Consalvo
Geoffrey Long


Transmedia, Hollywood: S/Telling the Story

A one-day public symposium exploring the role of transmedia franchises in today's entertainment industries. Transmedia, Hollywood turns the spotlight on media creators, producers and executives and places them in critical dialogue with top researchers from across a wide spectrum of film, media and cultural studies to provide an interdisciplinary summit for the free interchange of insights about how transmedia works and what it means.

Co-hosted by Denise Mann and Henry Jenkins, from UCLA and USC, two of the most prominent film schools and research centers in Los Angeles, Transmedia, Hollywood will take place Tuesday, March 16, 2010, on the eve of the annual Society of Cinema & Media Studies conference, the field's most distinguished gathering of film and media scholars and academics (March 17--21, 2010) in Los Angeles.

Opening Note

Collective Simulation. How game fans collectively project (and shape) possible futures of their medium. (Part 1 of 2)

By: Stefan Werning

As in most media industries and in line with the concept of participatory culture, the communication between fans and producers of digital games is becoming more and more bidirectional and responsive. The goal of this essay will be to analyze recent symptomatic examples of game fan activity in order to identify recurring patterns of user behavior and to examine strategies for companies to tap into these activities. Often, fan community activity is being analyzed with regard to the use of narrative (cf. e.g. Albrechtslund, 2010) or (group) identity formation (e.g. Williams, 2009). In addition to this body of research, I understand it as part of a bigger project of collectively modeling potential extrapolations of existing and upcoming game developments as well as tracking and reconstruction cancelled games.

One increasingly popular source of data is the text type of patent applications which many game websites as well as individual users regularly scan for news. (cf. e.g. link) Since they provide a fuzzy outline of a potential upcoming product, the elements of a patent application can be feasibly (re)combined by users, e.g. with regard to previous patents or products by the same company, to arrive at a number of predictions, the plausibility of which is being gauged by the community in forums and other communication channels. Similarly, age ratings by the ESRB, PEGI, USK etc. often reveal game-related information before the game launch. Artist portfolios mentioning game titles on personal websites and social media portals are particularly fruitful for keeping track of projects that were cancelled or put on hold but also occasionally confirm the existence of yet unreleased/ unannounced games. (cf. e.g. link) Moreover, official job ads are also implicitly understood as ‘missing links’ since users (rightly) assume that they are often directly related to a specific upcoming project. (cf. e.g. link)

The bits and pieces of information provided by these sources can be combined and juxtaposed to solidify or falsify certain extrapolations. For instance, users habitually compare the competitive environment before major game industry events such as the E3 in Los Angeles or the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco and triangulate, i.e. use announcements about or from competitors to project what a company might or might not announce. For example, Sony’s unveiling of the PSP-Go at E3 2009 had already been anticipated via leaked images but also by considering competitor activities. Since the element of surprise is obviously part of corporate project planning and since leaks often force companies to change plans in order to favorably introduce a new product, this example shows how anticipating upcoming developments inevitably shapes them as well.

All in all, these fan activities are strikingly congruent with the usage patterns of ‘spoiler fans’ that Mittell and Gray identified taking the Lost user community as an example (Mittell/Gray, 2007), i.e. attempts by users to reconstruct the chronological order and contiguities (e.g. different types of relationships between characters) of a fictional narrative context. Since video game fans are similarly connected, individual attempts at following and predicting game-related news arguably develop into a process of collective simulation that closely resembles the ways in which ‘spoiler fans’ interact with the fictional narrative frame of their favorite franchise, albeit motivated by an external goal.

Complementary to the notion of the ‘attention economy’ (Herbert Simon), this collective simulation process can be tentatively investigated using the conceptual role model of distributed computing. In that sense, the main ‘problem’ is broken up into smaller sets of tasks or observations that can be ‘processed’ (e.g. speculated on) by individual users as ‘clients’ who send their results back to the ‘servers’, i.e. gaming blogs and similar institutions which aggregate, synthesize and publish the results, thereby sending new, more precise ‘tasks’ or bits and pieces to work on as ‘output’ in return.

Similar to the use simulations run on computers rather than user communities, this process can be conceived of as intrinsically ludic (cf. e.g. Lindley, 2004); thus game fans arguably turn the practice of anticipating developments within their favorite medium into a meta game. Looking for more clues and making sense of previously ‘incompatible’ pieces of information creates ludic pleasure and a sense of flow. Additional factors, for example company policies such as protective trademarks thereby implicitly fuel the playful simulation by adding more combinations for players to ‘process’ and more ‘game rules’. (link)

Viral marketing campaigns in the form of augmented reality games (ARG) such as I Love Bees, created for the launch of Halo 2, or Sony’s Xi (2009), which did not have a dedicated marketing goal but was intended to generate activity on and thereby promote its platform PlayStation Home, have already tried to tap into this behavior by extending the implicitly ludic behavior into a ‘proper’ game. However, those campaigns which tried to create their own meta game were only moderately successful, mostly because the ‘rewards’ existed only in the game itself and the process has been very time-consuming for the user.

Most basically, rather than creating game-like campaigns from the ground up, feeding into the existing meta game appears to be a valid strategy. One such example is the more local use of games or game-like syntagms as a means of conveying product-related messages. For example, the upcoming retro-style game Classic Dungeon is being communicated via promotional materials ‘hidden’ in a Picross puzzle (drawing e.g. on Nintendo’s popular Picross titles for the Nintendo DS) which gamers are familiar to ensure that the ‘puzzle’ will be solvable in most cases. (link) Thus, the game itself is used rather as a ‘consensual code’, stripped of most of its intrinsically ludic elements and the challenge that made it a game in the first place.

An important conceptual prerequisite is the fact that accelerated means of production, e.g. the reusability of assets and visual effects for projects other than direct sequels, allow for creating content with the primary purpose of promoting other media products. One extreme example is the case of the game Dark Void for which the developer Sunsoft create a fake-8-Bit game Dark Void Zero, which was communicated in a tongue-in-cheek manner as the ‘original’ game which had never been released since the late 1980s and has now been rediscovered. (cf. e.g. link) This fairly easily and cheaply produced content was used to ‘simulate’ user reactions to the yet untested franchise within the defined audience of core gamers that actively respond to this type of strategy. Similarly, downloadable content for major game franchises which is incrementally being released (e.g. new episodes for games such as Resident Evil 5 or Final Fantasy: My Life as a Dark Lord) is leveraged to generate some extra revenue but mostly in order to gauge user responses to and long-term interest in the franchise as a basis for deciding on the economic feasibility of a potential sequel or re-release.

On that note, already in earlier media technological contexts, media content has been created not primarily as a separate media text but as a ‘simulation environment’, e.g. to test a character constellation that would drive a potentially new franchise. For example, in Japan, radio plays are occasionally produced to ‘prepare’ the introduction of a new anime franchises and specifically to try out the interplay between the voice actors (seiyuu), which often iconically represent the franchise. Similarly, mobile phone games in India used to be primarily marketing instruments that tied in with high-profile Bollywood movies and allowed simply for replaying iconic scenes.

Stefan Werning has written on a wide range of topics, often with a focus on interactive media as well as a comparative look at the use and implications of media technologies. His MA thesis on computer game adaptations of literary works won him the Ambassor's Award of the US Embassy in 2004. Until 2006, Stefan worked as a stand-in assistant professor for media studies and as an associate lecturer at the Asian Studies Center in Bonn. Other professional experiences include leading a project group at the Fraunhofer Institute Media Communications (IMK) (2002-2004) and working as a senior product analyst and supervisor of user-generated content at Nintendo of Europe (2007-2009). Stefan is a member of the working group 'computer games' at the German Association for Media Studies (GfM). As of October 2009, he is working as an assistant professor for Digital Media at the Applied Media Studies department at the University of Bayreuth. Recent publications and presentations include: "The Convergent Use of Programmable Media for Terrorism Modeling and Social Simulations in Civilian vs. Military Contexts," In: Rolf Nohr, Serjoscha Wiemer (Eds.) Strategie Spielen Münster: LIT Verlag, 2008: 114-136; “TV and Digital Games – Challenges and Opportunities” presentation at the KFA symposium Digital New World – Vom Internet ins Fernsehen held by the ZDF, Mainz (January 16-17, 2009); „Introduction to ‘New Media Studies’“ guest lecture at the department for Media Studies at the university of Amsterdam (June 11, 2009); Real Wars on Virtual Battlefields? The Convergence of Programmable Media at the Military-Civilian Margin (dissertation) Bielefeld: transcript, 2009, "Media Processing. Understanding non-interactive media use in the context of digital technologies." presentation at the symposium Neue Medien in der Kunst: Geschichte – Theorie – Ästhetik held by the Academy of Fine Arts, Munich (January 22, 2010)

Glancing at the C3 Blog

Grant McCracken's Chief Culture Officer
(Sheila Seles)

Social Suicide's digital savvy: bridging monetary value and social worth
(Xiaochang Li)

Henry Jenkins and Camille Bacon-Smith at Gaylaxicon 1992
(Henry Jenkins)

5 Reasons to Watch The Oscars
(Sheila Seles)


Innovating the Medium for Transmedia: The Case Study of Valve's "Portal"
(Alex Leavitt)

C3 White Paper: Tacky and Proud, Exploring Tecnobrega's Value Network
(Ana Domb Krauskopf)

The Changing Culture of Online Television:
(Alex Leavitt)

Don't forget: you can read and respond to our daily articles and conversations on the C3 blog.

Convergence Culture News

Transmedia Focus

Random House kicks off 'transmedia IP' movement

Cold War: Clambake – The Game on Facebook is the first element of a new transmedia franchise

Dark Knight Transmedia Marketing Video

Exploring Transmedia's Mash-up of Selling and Storytelling

Closing Note

Numb3rs, Japan's Plans to Take Over the (Gaming) World, & the Romance Novels of Video Games: An Interview with Mia Consalvo

By: Geoffrey Long

In the fall of 2009, the Comparative Media Studies program and the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab welcomed back Dr. Mia Consalvo as a visiting associate professor. C3 Founding Member and GAMBIT researcher and communications director Geoffrey Long sat down with her to welcome her to campus and to discover what she plans to accomplish during her stay at MIT.

First of all, welcome! Where are you coming from?

I'm coming from Davis Square, but I most recently come from Ohio University's School of Media Arts and Studies. I'm an associate professor there, and I teach classes in new media, media criticism and analysis, and video game studies. I wrote a book with MIT Press in 2007 about cheating in video games, and right now I have two big projects going. One is on the role of Japan in the formation of the game industry and its status now, and the other relates to casual games and casual game players and casual game player culture and those kinds of things.

What stage are you in with these projects?

I've written a few smaller pieces that have been articles or chapters for other things that are eventually going to be collected into a book. One of the pieces, which I wrote when I was here at MIT last summer as a visiting scholar, was on the business aspect of Japanese video game industries and how they're trying to push more for globalization. Interestingly, even though Nintendo kind of resurrected the video game industry in the 1980s after it went bust, and most Western kids grew up playing Nintendo, once Western companies got back up and going there was a decline in sales of Japanese games, so that now Japanese games aren't quite as dominant in the West. In Japan, it's still almost completely Japanese games on the top sellers list, but in North America and Europe it's much more split, and you see Japanese companies trying to figure out how to get that global dominance back. They have plans for different kinds of localization, transnational products, those kinds of things.

When you're talking about the East and the West, you're not talking about just Japan and the United States. What is the game sale breakdown like in the rest of the world?

There are three major game markets that companies look at: North America, Europe (and mostly that's Western Europe) and Japan. Korea has its own special thing with online games, but otherwise they're kind of too small. North American bestseller lists are clearly mixed as to what games are made where, and Europe is the same. There are few local European products that wouldn't sell somewhere else, like football games, and the Germans prefer PC games over console games, particularly strategy games. In Japan, there's been this dominance of Japanese companies. When I was there in 2005 for a few months, it took me a while to realize, looking at the bestseller lists, "Wait a minute, there are no Western games here!" There were a few, like Halo and The Sims, but it was almost completely dominated by Japanese game developers. Now, because of the downturn in the economy and the declining birth rate in Japan, they've seen some declines in their sales, and Japanese companies are more motivated to look globally for other markets.

Why has the West had such a hard time getting into the Japanese bestseller lists?

There are a few reasons. One is that globalization is challenging to do well, and if you have something that's produced by natives and something that's produced by foreign-born speakers, you're going to have an advantage if you're a company from that country. It's not just language but things like interests in play styles and play difficulty and genres of games. I think the North American market has always been big enough, especially when combined with Europe, that some Western developers haven't seen the need to try. Another reason is that Japan is a lot more tightly organized in terms of distribution and advertising. In major Japanese video game magazines, you rarely see an ad for a Western game. You can go online and find information if you're really motivated to, but the Japanese market has what Mimi Ito calls the media mix – a lot of games are spun off from manga and anime and things like that, and the Western products don't have those easy tie-ins. A third reason is that some of the big, big games that might have the budget to cross over easily are things that don't translate well, like the Madden games. First person shooters like Halo don't go over well. The first Xbox did terribly. For the second one, Microsoft got smarter and got Hironobu Sakaguchi to do games for it. It's getting better, but it's still a tough nut to crack.

How many copies have to move to get onto a Japanese bestseller chart versus an American bestseller chart?

It depends on what chart you're talking about, because NPD has their weekly releases, monthly, yearly and all time. Summer is an easier time to get on the charts due to the seasonal slowdown, but in both regions right before Christmas is the big time to sell stuff. You're talking about at least several hundred thousand units to several million units in both markets. Japan is a smaller market in total size, but publishers there still expect similar numbers of units sold. When developers talk about a AAA title, they're talking about 2-3 million at least.

Does the sheer size of one market motivate one side to go over to the other, as opposed to the other way around?

I think developers are really careful. I went to a localization seminar at the Game Developers Conference this past year and it was mostly for Western developers looking to localize for other markets. They can do some pretty sophisticated cost-benefit analysis supermath to figure out if it's worth it, what are the projected sales based on similar genres and titles in those markets based on what's done well in the past, what production costs are going to be, and so on. They're increasingly moving toward what they call sim-ship, or simultaneous shipping, so that everything releases on the same day globally. Some of them are releasing simultaneously in over 20 countries.

So what's the perceived market in China?

It's huge. Because China has such a huge population, even a small percentage of households with game systems means a large number of potential players. The problems are the government controlling access for people, and piracy is still a real problem. You don't want to sell a boxed game, because you can get the copied one for free, so developers have to figure out ways to get monthly revenue from online games. Console makers are trying to figure that one out. I think China is also a little bit like Korea, which has Internet cafés as opposed to people having consoles in their houses. Like I said, the Chinese government is also pretty strict. You'll get in trouble if your game asks the player what region they're in, and it includes Taiwan as a country. They're kind of touchy on that subject.

You mentioned two books. Is the state of the transnational games industry the main thrust of your research while you're here, or is there something else you're working on?

The other thing is the casual game stuff. That started when I was visiting here last December, just hanging out due to the quarter system in Ohio, and I decided to write a paper on the game culture surrounding this casual game called Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst. Lots of people figure that most casual game players are very casual in how they play, that casual games are supposed to be easy to pick up and easy to put down with no real sense of commitment, but I saw this really intense, interesting activity surrounding the release of this game. I presented that paper at the Foundations of Digital Games Conference this past April. Since then I've started on a couple of other small projects, one of which is looking at hidden object games. A developer mentioned to me that hidden object games are the romance novels of video games, by which he meant that they're eagerly and quickly consumed, but their replay or reread value is very low. You go through it, you find the stuff, you figure out who did it (they're very often mysteries), and then you go on to the next one, which for game developers is awesome because it's not like Civilization where people buy it and then just play that one game forever. I'm playing the games to figure out if this holds up or if there's another layer of analysis to make. It was a detour based on some of the games I was playing. I'm not sure if that's going to be anything bigger, or if it's just going to be a series of small projects.

Have you noticed how casual games are fitting into larger transmedia franchises?

More television shows of various sorts are trying to do it. Top Chef has a game, Hell’s Kitchen had a game... Syfy said that they're redoing the whole games section of their website, which will definitely be more casual game-related. There's all this spillover right now as people are trying to figure things out, like what's a casual game versus what's a social game. There's a lot of interest and excitement and people aren't quite sure what's going to happen or how they're going to make money. Places like Big Fish succeed because they're a publisher that releases a game every day on their portal, in addition to developing a few high production value games of their own. Increasingly you hear publishers talking about how they buy these games that are produced by developers or development teams in Eastern Europe who can produce them a lot more cheaply than westerners can, and we've seen the price point go down too, so that those games now cost seven dollars. So how do you make money? You see these interesting crossovers, too. Frank Lantz's Area/Code did the alternate reality game for CBS' TV show Numb3rs. As part of it, they produced a minigame called Drop 7, which then took on a life of its own. You can buy it now for the iPhone, and it's pretty addictive. Looking back, I think the Drop 7 game was the most successful part of the whole thing.

Are you looking at gender in games?

As part of it, yes. I've been trying to stay away from a specifically gendered analysis this time because I've done a lot of work on women in games before, including a paper on women MMO players and their attitudes towards avatars and gear. What everyone forgets is that men have a gender too. I haven't seen a lot of interesting research yet on masculinity and video games. My early work also explored various links between gender and popular culture. I did my Ph.D. at the University of Iowa, in their department of Mass Communication. I didn't do anything related to video games at that point; instead I wrote about relationships between the body, technology and gender in popular culture. Really, I studied the Borg. My geek credentials go way back.

Mia Consalvo is Visiting Associate Professor in the Comparative Media Studies program for 2009-2010. She is also Associate Professor at Ohio University in the School of Media Arts and Studies. She is currently serving as the President of the Association of Internet researchers, and she is on the steering committee of Women in Games International. Her current research examines several topics, including the role of Japan in the formation of the videogame industry, the cultural of casual games, and women's gameplay. Her work has been published in Cinema Journal, Critical Studies in Media Communication, and Games and Culture, among others. She is also the author of Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames from MIT Press, and is co-editor of the forthcoming Blackwell Handbook of Internet Studies.

Geoffrey Long is a Researcher and Communications Director for the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab in the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT. He is also a writer, designer, musician, artist, filmmaker, and shameless media addict. His professional career includes a decade-long run as the editor-in-chief of the literature, culture and technology magazine Inkblots and co-founding the software collective Untyped, the film troupe Tohubohu Productions, and the creative consulting company Dreamsbay. Geoffrey earned his BA in English and Philosophy with concentrations in Creative Writing and IPHS from Kenyon College in 2000 and his Master's in Comparative Media Studies from MIT in 2007. He is a frequent lecturer on narratives in different media, including transmedia storytelling, and his own storytelling has appeared in Polaris, Gothik, Hika, {fray} and the iTunes store. His personal website/portfolio can be found at Email him at glong at mit dot edu.

This issue of the C3 Weekly Update compiled and edited by Alex Leavitt ( for the Convergence Culture Consortium.


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