Academic Journal Article: Megabooth: The cultural intermediation of indie games

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We had the pleasure of working with Dr. Felan Parker, an Assistant Professor of Book & Media Studies at the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto. Dr. Parker, along with Dr. Jennifer R. Whitson and Dr. Bart Simon, have been researching indie game cultures. After a multi-year study on Indie MEGABOOTH, our developer network, and role in the industry overall, the research team published their second academic journal article this summer.

Check out their work–titled “MEGABOOTH: The cultural intermediation of indie games”–which is open access and available here. Felan himself shared a few words below:

STUDYING THE MEGABOOTH

Hello again! We’re back with more (social) science – the first full article based on our research on the Indie MEGABOOTH was just published in the peer-reviewed journal New Media & Society! The article is open access, so you can download it for free if you’re interested, but read on for a plain-language summary of our thoughts…

With exciting new MEGABOOTH endeavours on the horizon, this is a perfect time to take a minute and look back on how we got to where we are today. The big questions we’re asking with this project are:

  • WTF is the Indie MEGABOOTH?
  • What does the MEGABOOTH actually do?
  • What can the MEGABOOTH tell us about the current state of indie game development and the game industry in general?

Organizations like the MEGABOOTH (along with the Independent Games Festival, IndieCade, and others) play a defining role in the indie ecosystem, essentially making up the infrastructure that enables and shapes indie game development. Rather than focusing only on game-making, we’re equally interested in all the other factors that make game-making possible. To help tease this out, we’ve adopted the concept of “cultural intermediaries” from sociology and cultural studies.

Cultural intermediaries are people or organizations who broker connections and mediate relationships between producers, distributors, and/or consumers. The classic example of a cultural intermediary is a marketer, whose job it is to make products look appealing to potential customers, but the concept can be applied to a wide range of pursuits beyond marketing and PR: film festival programmers, cocktail bartenders, personal trainers, country music producers, and, we think, indie game showcase organizers. Intermediaries have a big impact on how/what kinds of cultural products are created, funded, discovered, shared, and enjoyed.

In the first half of the article, we go over the history of the MEGABOOTH, based on our own interviews and journalistic sources. From humble beginnings as a collective of like-minded indies, we trace its evolution and expansion into a self-contained organization and a prominent voice and brand in indie games all over the world, discussing in the process what these changes have meant for the MEGABOOTH and its organizers. (Getting a handle on a constantly-evolving organization like this is tough – we’ll have to write another article to catch up with the most recent developments!)

In the second half, we dig into the nitty-gritty of all the different kinds of cultural intermediation that takes place under the MEGABOOTH umbrella. An incredible amount of work goes into coordinating and executing these showcases, ranging from the physical logistics of walls, tables, and equipment, to the time and emotional energy invested in putting together a carefully curated selection of titles that cut through the noise of the crowded indie game market. To the average convention attendee, most of this behind-the-scenes work is invisible, since the booth is designed to highlight the games and devs themselves, but it’s indispensable.

Even more than logistics and curation, though, it’s other, less visible activities that have the greatest impact on indie game development. The MEGABOOTH and its organizers mediate behind the scenes not only between indies and audiences, but also between indies and the powers-that-be of the game industry – the journalists, influencers, publishers, platform holders, investors, etc. that can be the key to success for devs. By the same token, those powers-that-be rely on intermediaries like the MEGABOOTH to discover promising new games. The MEGABOOTH helps indies navigate and survive the often-perilous indie ecosystem by carefully maintaining its position at the centre of an ever-expanding network of connections. Based on what we’ve seen, this is the most valuable service that cultural intermediaries provide, and helps explain why MEGABOOTH has come to play such a key role in the contemporary game industry. The MEGABOOTH and other intermediary organizations make up the literal and figurative infrastructure of indie, and without them indie game development would look very different.

You can read the full article if you want to know more, but that’s the gist of it! A big thank you to the MEGABOOTH team for being so open and supportive of this research, and to all the devs who have taken time to chat with us over the last couple years. Back to work for us – we have another article in the works about the quest for sustainability in indie game dev, and more to come after that. See you around the ‘booth!

Dr. Felan Parker (St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto), Dr. Jennifer Whitson (University of Waterloo), and Dr. Bart Simon (Concordia University) are academic researchers working on a long-term study of the Indie MEGABOOTH and the wider indie game development community. You can read their previous blog post here and here. This research was supported by Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.