September 28, 2007
MIT C3 WEEKLY UPDATE
Weekend of September 28, 2007
*Editor's Note: FoE2, HTML Newsletter, and This Week's Newsletter
*Opening Note: Shenja van der Graaf on Fan Modding
*Glancing at the C3 Blog
*Closing Note: Eleanor Baird on Valuing Fans, II of V
--------------- EDITOR'S NOTE ---------------
Futures of Entertainment 2
FoE2, the Consortium event scheduled for Nov. 16-17 here at MIT, has just opened registration. We will be sending out an e-mail with more information about this year's conference, but please take a look. We hope that many of our subscribers to the C3 Weekly Update will plan to join us here in Cambridge in November to discuss topics like advertising, cult media, audience measurement, fan labor, and mobile media platforms in the current media environment. For more information, visit the FoE2 site.
We should be starting to send out the C3 Weekly Update in HTML format imminently. In the meantime, we are trying our new mail-out system this week. If you have any trouble receiving this message, please contact me. Also, if you know of anyone who did not receive their newsletter as usual this week, please have them contact me.
This Week's Newsletter
This week, our Opening Note from Shenja van der Graaf focuses on the industrial logic behind game modding, looking at the relationship between users and producers surrounding game-modifying behaviors. We will be sharing the full essay, entitled "The Mod Industries? The Industrial Logic of Non-Market Game Production," on the exclusive part of our site. The essay was co-written with David B. Nieborg for the European Journal of Cultural Studies. If you have trouble getting to the exclusive part of our site and are interested in seeing the essay, please e-mail me.
The closing note is the second in the five-part series from C3's Eleanor Baird, looking at a potential method for valuing the activities of fan communities surrounding television texts. Last week's closing note provided background and perspective for Eleanor's study, while this week's piece introduces an approach for valuing fan engagement across three dimensions. The closing note will feature a portion of that piece, with a link to the full PDF--which includes tables--here.
As usual, the newsletter this week features all the entries published during the week on the Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog.
If you have any questions or comments or would like to request prior issues of the update, direct them to Sam Ford, Editor of the Weekly Update, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
--------------- OPENING NOTE ---------------
The Mod Industries? The Industrial Logic of Non-Market Game Production
By: Shenja van der Graaf
If we are interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the complex relation between users as modders and developers as facilitators, the argument is developed to see total conversions as a particular high profile mode of modding.
Soon after users created their own tools and set up distribution networks mod culture emerged alongside a vibrant multiplayer online gaming culture which directly benefited from the output of creative users. During the early stages of mod culture, i.e. the days of Doom (1993), modding literally meant modifying existing content, such as sprites (two-dimensional images in a three-dimensional space) and textures.
A general and unspecified notion of 'mods' as a moniker for all user created game material misses the finer nuances of the wide range of creative output of amateur developers. Even when concentrating on FPS mods there are many variations, such as client side mods as user created maps or skins, or server side mods such as server plug-ins which gather player statistics.
For user developed maps often existing game material such as textures are used making these mods more iterative than alterations. TC modders replace the original game's content layer completely with original user created material. Whatever the scale and scope of a mod it will always function within the original game's proprietary structure.
For gamers there may not be a significant difference between a well-designed TC mod, such as an early version of Counter-Strike, or a commercial game, such as Counter-Strike: Source.
Even though modders and engine developers have a shared set of development practices and tools they do not operate on an equal level. Not on an economic level, as it is strictly forbidden to sell a mod or to make it work without interacting with the proprietary engine.
Modding can be seen as: "[...] a special case where the commercial producer continues to exert constraints on use even as the work gets appropriated by the grassroots community. I can change the fundamental code of the game if I mod it, but at the same time, nobody can play my transformed version of the game unless they become a consumer of the original work," as Henry Jenkins describes in Convergence Culture (163). Nor, as we have explained, on a technical level, as parts of the engine and tools are closed off.
Scholarly work on mods tends to generalise modding as simply modifying existing game files and broadly define mods as user developed modifications or “gamer made alterations to commercial technology" (Sotamaa, 2004: 2 in Kerr, 2006).
As such these notions overlook important technological and political economic dimensions of modding: modding is not only a PC centric affair and as the World of Warcraft interface mods indicate, differ considerably in scope and scale among different PC genres. There are judicial and economic particularities that are part of gaining access to the tools of cultural production.
Although TC mods add a completely new layer of content this additional material is for commercial games required - through elaborate End User License Agreements - to interact with the game’s proprietary engine. Therefore, TC modifications can be said to be more of an addition to proprietary stand-alone software engines. In practice there is only a small difference between an engine licensee and a modder.
Yet, following Benkler's topology on the information economy, as users, in opposition to licensees, are forbidden to derive monetary value from their creations, mods are by definition non-market productions. And because of mods` dependency on proprietary code they are non-commons based. As such mods can be better understood as proprietary extensions.
All thoughts are welcome.
Forthcoming in the European Journal of Cultural Studies, 2008, with David Nieborg.
Shenja van der Graaf is a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School and the Research Center for Information Law at the University of St. Gallen and is also conducting research at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her research focuses on the organization and management of innovation and technology, especially demand-side innovation, product development, and media uses in media and software industries. Over the years, she has worked with an extensive international network of companies including Hakuhodo, Valve, and Ericsson.
---------- NEWS FROM THE C3 BLOG -----------
Hey! Nielsen--Whats the Metric? Eleanor Baird looks at Nielsen's newest attempts to take into account engagement and fan activities as part of their measurement, through the development of an online community looking at these issues.
Gender and Fan Culture (Round 17, Part 2): Melissa Click and Joshua Green. In the second part of their discussion, Green and Click focus on the meaning of fan in the second part of their discussion.
Gender and Fan Culture (Round 17, Part 1): Melissa Click and Joshua Green. C3's Research Manager participates in a discussion about gender issues surrounding the study of fans with Melissa Click, a doctoral candidate at the University of Missouri, Columbia.
Union Strike in Second Life. Sam Ford writes about the recent IBM union strike in Italy that spilled over into the popular Linden virtual world as one of the reasons why Second Life should not be viewed as mutually exclusive from everyday life.
Nielsen Pledges to Triple Sample Size by 2011. Sam Ford writes about the implications of Nielsen's announcement that it was tripling its sample size, as well as the many ways in which this decision still doesn't address other problems of audience measurement.
Coastal Dreams the Latest Online Video Series. Sam Ford writes about the launch of NBC's online video drama, as well as Pale Force, the animated series from Conan O'Brien and Jim Gaffigan.
The "Cluttered" TV Screen in the Context of Screen History. C3 Consulting Researcher Ted Hovet writes about the concept of the television screen from an historical perspective, juxtaposed with a recent New York Times article about the cluttering of the television screen.
The Fall Season Approaches: Pimp Your New Favorites. Henry Jenkins shares a post from his blog, focusing on the new fall season of television shows and his take on various pilots, as well as linking to reviews of these shows from The Extratextuals, the blog which C3 alum Ivan Askwith writes on.
Discovery/Starcom Study Finds HD Ads Significantly More Successful. Sam Ford writes about the short time frame that high-definition advertising has an advantage, as well as how relatively slowly advertisers responded to the opportunity.
A New Home for UGC Creators. Ana Domb Krauskopf writes about user-generated content and the site ugcDb, meant to profile the creators of user-generated media.
Aswin Punathambekar's BollySpace 2.0. Sam Ford highlights the work of C3 Consulting Researcher Punathambekar, who has reprised his blog at BollySpace 2.0 to look at South Asian media industries.
Work around the Consortium: Local Marketing, Fan Studies, Scorn, and Consumption Studies. In this post, Sam Ford highlights some of the recent work of GSD&M Idea City's Rad Tollett, Henry Jenkins' gender and fan studies discussion, Grant McCracken's piece on scorn, and Rob Kozinets' work on consumption studies.
--------------- FOLLOW THE BLOG ---------------
Don't forget - you can always post, read, and carry out online conversations with the C3 team at our blog: http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/.
--------------- CLOSING NOTE ---------------
Valuing Fans: Producers, Audiences and the Worst Episode Ever
Part II of V: Consuming, Activism, Socializing: Three Behavioral Scales
By: Eleanor Baird
Comic Book Guy: Last night's Itchy & Scratchy was, without a doubt, the worst episode ever. Rest assured I was on the internet within minutes registering my disgust throughout the world.
Bart Simpson: Hey, I know it wasn't great, but what right do you have to complain?
CBG: As a loyal viewer, I feel they owe me.
Bart: What? They're giving you thousands of hours of entertainment for free. What could they possibly owe you? I mean, if anything, you owe them.
CBG: Worst episode ever.
Source: The Simpsons Archive: Comic Book Guy File, http://www.snpp.com/guides/cbg.file.html
In last week's article, I set out some of the goals and the purpose behind this project. This week, I will take what I considered a first step: consolidating the types of fan behaviors from the literature onto scales of audience engagement and fannishness. In this installment, start to answer these questions, which were in part I:
How can we define a fan relative to the rest of the audience?
What do fans do?
Is there a way to categorize fan behaviors that helps us to better analyze their value?
I will be the first to admit that putting numbers to nuanced and qualitative concepts is a tough exercise. Even though we all know that numbers can be deceiving, we tend to put a disproportionate amount of trust in them. The purpose here is not to use numbers as an absolute measure to replace ethnographic and other qualitative research, but as a tool to summarize and gauge the activity of the audience.
How can we define a fan relative to the rest of the audience?
One question I began this investigation with was where a regular audience member begins to behave as a fan, and at what point their involvement, and what type of involvement, puts them in that category. There are arguments in the cultural and media studies community about where to focus research -- on the majority audience who are not defined as fans rather than the subsection of the population who are defined as fans.
Part of the problem with this debate is that there is not clear consensus on the set of behaviors that clearly differentiate someone who is simply a spectator in the audience from a fan. There has been research on the broader audience and the spectators and their behaviors, but that scholarship is often not connected to fan studies. Fan studies sometimes focuses on the fan producers, the people who create mashups, videos, and fiction. However, some have argued that one can still be a fan without producing any of those things.
Are commentary and discussion fan activities? Comic Book Guy, in the quoted dialog that opens this piece, talks about going online to "register his disgust." Watercooler conversations have been going on for years...is that not fan behavior? What about buying merchandise, joining mailing lists and fan sites, or organizing nights to have friends over to watch a TV show?
There are personal and social motivators for these behaviors. This week, I want to set motivations aside and focus on behavior, but I will return to motivations next week.
Drawing on some of the work done here in C3 and by Sam Ford in his ethnographic research on wrestling fans, I am developing a framework for assessing audience and fan behavior related to TV programming, based on three broad activity categories: consumption, activism and socializing.
What do fans do?
The purpose of dividing activity this way is to begin to develop a way of looking at the range of audience and fan behaviors both graphically and quantitatively. The goal is to develop three indices -- one for each broad category of behavior -- that represent the activities of the audience for a particular program. Later in this series, this index will be used alongside other data to assess fan activity and interaction with a TV program.
Fan studies has yielded a great deal of qualitative data, largely through ethnographic research. This data is very rich and diverse, but some generalizations, although imperfect, can be made. With the help of Sam's expertise, I boiled down the type of behaviors identified into three broad categories, which will each become a scale for engagement:
Consumption covers how and when audiences watch and hang on to content and consume branded merchandise.
Activism covers production of all types of outputs, encompassing discussion and analysis, promotion, performance, and creative production.
Socializing covers the communities, connections, and activities that people make as a result of their interest in a television show.
Is there a way to categorize fan behaviors that helps us to better analyze their value?
To begin to attach numbers to different behaviors, fan activities described in the literature are grouped under these categories and assigned a point value on a scale of five, the minimum value is 1 and the maximum value is 5.
Each point is assigned a value based on the time and effort required to carry out the behavior; the frequency of interaction with the property and demonstration of relative attitude, which is the strength of the affinity and the differentiation that the show has relative to the other alternatives available to the audience.
This method of differentiation is loosely based on practices outlined in marketing literature on assessing consumer loyalty. This approach is summarized in a diagram available in the full PDF of this piece through the C3 Web site, along with the tables explaining the scales for consumption, activism, and socializing among fans.
The values assigned to each behavior are added together to construct the index, so it is possible to get a point score on the scale as high as 15 or as low as 1. This is because the points on the scale are not mutually exclusive. We cannot say with certainty that the behaviors build on one another, that any audience that engages in one behavior at the third point on the scale must engage in the behavior represented by the second point of the scale.
The full version of this piece, including the charts, is available here.
In next week's installment, I will discuss where different types of fans fall on the scales, the relationship of these behaviors to internal and external motivators, and how this framework could be used to quantify fan activities.
Next week -- More on weighting and quantifying fan behavior
Dick, Alan S. and Basu, Kunal. "Customer Loyalty: Toward an Integrated Conceptual Framework," Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Vol. 22, No. 2, p. 99-113.
Ford, Sam et al. "Fanning the Audience's Flames: Ten Ways to Embrace and Cultivate Fan Communities." Cambridge, MA: MIT Convergence Culture Consortium, 2006.
Ford, Sam. "Pinning Down Fan Involvement: An Examination of Multiple Modes of Engagement for Professional Wrestling Fans." Cambridge, MA: Program in Comparative Media Studies, 2007.
Eleanor Baird is an MBA Candidate, Class of 2008 at the MIT Sloan School of Management. She has worked as a Research Assistant with the Convergence Culture Consortium since February 2007. E-mail her at email@example.com.
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