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The World-System of Game Development

The game development industrial revolution has transitioned us from product laborers to middleware consumers. good or bad?

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The industry has exploded into the behemoth katamari of entertainment that it is today, consuming, absorbing, ever-changing...  But what did it take to get this far, to advance this much in such a short period of time?  In short, world-systems.

According to Wikipedia, "A world-system is a socioeconomic system that encompasses part or all of the globe. World-systems are usually larger than single countries (nations), but do not have to be global."

The laymen definition of this basically implies that a division of labor between borders will improve overall productivity and a richer life for some.  At the heart of our everyday lives is a world-system that governs it.  From our jeans made in India to the shrimp caught in Thailand and bought in Missouri, there is an underlying infrastructure that exploits cheap labor in one part of the world and sells to affluent nations in other parts of the world.  Love it or hate it, but game development has fallen in line with many other industries, just not quite like you might imagine.

World-systems can be a win if you are on the right side of that coin.  They embody the natural order of capitalism and allow companies to find new ways and new markets to increase profits while injecting small economical boosts into foreign nations.  If you land on the other side of that coin you'll find yourself under the thumb of your employers and buyers.  World-systems are highly efficient and they maximize throughput of a product at the cost of a widening gap in the center of that system.  Every individual doesn't have to worry about essential survival instincts anymore, and it frees us to do other things with our time like go to the theater or attend a Comic Con instead of feeding cattle or harvesting potatoes or storing for a long winter.  If you dare to poke your head into the food distribution or clothing industries or even Hollywood, there you'll find a road map for the video game industry and we've arrived.

  • AAA Publishers = Core or Affluent Nations
  • Indie/Self Publishers = Impoverish Nations
  • Unity/Unreal/Others = Providers and/or Facilitators
  • Game Studios = Laborers turned Consumers

As game developers, we don't have to build our own technology anymore just as we individuals and families don't have to plow our own fields to survive.   Whether it's a network of distribution channels or providers making the connections, there are Facilitators in every industry that allows a world-system to function.   It has allowed our industry to grow incredibly fast and find new and more efficient ways to deliver more refined mass-produced products, but at the cost of mid-tier publishers shuttering and the widening gap between self publishers and AAA publishers.  The disruptive nature of the industry does let a couple small fries in the door but Shovel Knight's success didn't topple Call of Duty; it never will any more than the local farmers' success in his home town is going to bring down Monsanto.  Kickstarter didn't shake the foundation of our core nations, they took that idea and found a way to monetize it; arguably better than the people who actually need it.

green acres I'm no Doomsday prepper; I don't keep cans in my basement, and I don't think I would be in mortal danger if the bottom suddenly dropped and all Middleware facilitators left the game industry.  I'm lucky to have learned the trades of making a game before the industrial revolution of video games.  But it's a new world for a new generation of developers however.  They've transitioned from Laborers of a product to Consumers of middleware solutions.  They generalize in high-concept game development with a stronger focus on psychology and design than technical problem solving.  It's allowed companies to keep salaries flat in an increasingly competitive market, and have access to a wider pool of developers.

These high-concept game developers may live and die never knowing how to write their own binary map structure without Dictionary<>.   That sounds crazy to me, but I'm sure plenty of people get funny looks from their elders when they first put down the pitchfork to pick up the suit and tie...

It's not all bad.  The world-system of video games has allowed the industry to grow and create more jobs.  Less people know what happens under the hood when an object is dropped in a game world, but more people overall have the affordable tools and technology to design an enemy encounter without ever needing to know.

How you feel about that last statement... Well I guess it depends on when you were born.

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