Alexandria Digital Research Library

An industry of Indies : the new cultural economy of digital game production

Vanderhoef, John Robert
Degree Grantor:
University of California, Santa Barbara. Film and Media Studies
Degree Supervisor:
Anna Everett and Michael Curtin
Place of Publication:
[Santa Barbara, Calif.]
University of California, Santa Barbara
Creation Date:
Issued Date:
Information technology, Mass communication, and Film studies
Video games
Cultural studies
Indie games
Online resources and Dissertations, Academic
Ph.D.--University of California, Santa Barbara, 2016

An Industry of Indies builds upon foundational questions concerned with the constitution, operations, changes, disruptions, and borders of the global digital games industry. Although scholars have engaged with the dynamics of the video game industry, few have analyzed the emergence of indie games over the last decade and the impact of these small games on the always already shifting terrain of this industry. During this period, the video game industry has been confronting a wave of changes wrought by continually emerging technologies, player expectations, and a generation of small game developers who have challenged particular industry practices and dogmas, even as they also provide value to the industry's largest video game publishers and platform holders. An Industry of Indies examines a range of independent, marginal, and alternative digital game production cultures across the globe, from commercial indie games to radical avant-garde games, and delineates the cultural and economic relationship of each to the global economy of digital game production and consumption.

This dissertation argues that despite the desire for real subversion amongst various indie development communities, an underlying neoliberal logic drives many of their entrepreneurial business practices. Even as many commercial indie developers distinguish their workplace practices, design approaches, and development ethos from the mainstream, corporate industry, most still rely on the same ideologies of bootstrap individualism and free market politics that undergird the dominant industry. Furthermore, even those developers who distance themselves from the industry, usually accompanied by a feminist and/or Marxist critique of industry practices or output, necessarily have to rely on venture capital funded startup companies like Patreon in order to connect with their fans and earn a living within a capitalist system with which they disagree -- a sad irony not lost on them. Within this greater context, the indie developer becomes a point of struggle between notions of the counter-hegemonic creative artist and the idea of the success-driven technology startup company, with the concepts of passion, art, and sustainability suturing the two perspectives together.

This project employs a middle-range media industries approach to describe and analyze the operations of indie developers within the global digital games industry, specifically an approach that combines interdisciplinary elements of cultural studies, discourse analysis, political economy, and feminist media studies. That is, this dissertation articulates the organization, operations, and agents of the commercial video game industry, in its largest and smallest forms, in order to describe how independent and alternative development cultures fit within larger systems of capital exchange, from commercial shops to solitary producers. It offers three significant interventions, primarily in the areas of media industries studies and game studies. An Industry of Indies examines indie games not only as alternative art or politics but as cultural products within complex, global ecologies of exchange; it focuses on the industry's smallest companies rather than its largest corporations; and it interrogates the boundary-policing strategies within media industries, arguing that commonly conceived barriers between amateur and professional media producers are, in fact, fluid and wavering, dependent on constantly shifting discourses and industrial practices, policies, and standards.

Physical Description:
1 online resource (270 pages)
UCSB electronic theses and dissertations
Catalog System Number:
Inc.icon only.dark In Copyright
Copyright Holder:
John Vanderhoef
File Description
Access: Public access
Vanderhoef_ucsb_0035D_13122.pdf pdf (Portable Document Format)