book review

The Business and Culture of Digital Games

Aphra Kerr (2006)

If you need a complete and condensed overview of the current state of the games industry and game studies, then The Business and Culture of Digital Games is an invaluable source. In seven chapters Aphra Kerr gives a detailed account of games from a media studies perspective. She discusses most (if not all) of the relevant literature and presents a wealth of statistical data. The strength of this book lies especially in the latter. But even though it was due time somebody put all those figures in a digestible format, Kerr contributes only little to the information she gathers.

After an introduction, the second chapter discusses games as texts and reads like a summary of my personal collection of game books. It highlights various academic approaches to games and spends some time to unravel the narratology versus ludology debate. The next chapter discuss the games industry as a cultural industry, that is motivated largely the reduction of risk in a high-cost high-risk environment. Kerr demystifies some of the popular myths concerning the size of the games industry: it is not larger then the film industry and sales figures are dwarfed by sales of DVDs in the West and money spend on mobile phones and the Internet in the East. The fourth chapter focuses on the process of production, and the struggle between developers and publishers for creative control. Although little attention has been paid to this aspect of the industry by academia, the results are less surprising, Kerr reveals little that I did not know already.

Chapter five deals with the game players. Here Kerr addresses a few issues that haunt the Western games industry for some time. Most of these have to do with the preoccupation by the game industry with hardcore male players. As Kerr notes, market research surveys usually do not help as these "are relatively blunt instruments and tend to gloss over cultural differences and to reinforce gender stereotypes" (p. 98). The last chapter before the conclusion discusses some non-entertainment, mostly educational, uses of games.

The strengths of The Business and Culture of Digital Games are also its weaknesses. In her attempt to provide a definitive overview of game business and culture, Kerr seems to forget to add to this wealth of knowledge. It is hard to find anything new in her book. Sadly, she only hints at some very interesting avenues for further research, especially when she compares Western and Eastern business practices and game cultures. Although it has to be said that it was due time somebody with a solid background in sociology worked her way through all the statistical and anecdotal data and myths that surround the games industry.