Indie Games and the Need for Gatekeepers
Earlier this year, I posted an article exploring the manner talent agencies serve as cultural gatekeepers. While the post focuses particularly on talent agencies, it also highlights the continuing influence cultural gatekeepers play in both the production and consumption of a significant portion of today’s cultural expression. Recently, Microsoft’s attempt at revitalizing Xbox Live Indie Games and the praise and critiques Microsoft has received for doing so illustrates the continued importance of cultural gatekeepers, even in today’s digital cultural landscape.
Microsoft’s Xbox Live Indie Games provides a digital platform for Xbox Live users to download games made by independent game developers and small game studios not associated with the major publishers. This is certainly an example of today’s convergence culture. The implementation of large hard drive storage devices and emergence of high bandwidth internet connections has helped create an online community that gives small developers an opportunity to connect their cultural products with a potential audience outside the limitations and power implications of the established retail distribution system.
Certainly, we can view this as a positive for both cultural producers and cultural consumers. Freed from the limitations of the established distribution system, small game developers can not only exercise more creative authority in the video games they make but can also receive more significant financial rewards since they no longer need to share the revenue with publishers. On the consumption end, theoretically this platform may provide players with larger variety and potentially more creative assortment of video games to experience.
On the other hand, as sociologists, we must be cautious in our evaluation of this developing trend. While it certainly provides an alternative model to the standard means of distributing and consuming video games, as recent critiques of the service illustrate, it has not completely revolutionized the industry. While gamers and game journalists are both excited about Xbox Live Indie Games’ potential, many have expressed frustration with the platform’s navigation system, arguing that it is impossible to decipher which games are worth purchasing out of the sea of possibilities.
To deal with this problem, the most popular gaming website in America now provides weekly suggestions for Xbox Live Indie Games, with similar sites planning on following suit. The need for such interpretive communities even in the rough and tumble terrain of the indie gaming scene highlights the strong role cultural gatekeepers in all fields play in guiding society’s experiences with cultural texts.