Posted by: ath1 | October 8, 2007

In Between Media Corporations and Consumers

Jenkins is right to assert that our world today is rapidly turning into a collaborative digital media environment where commercial and creative projects are developed from both the producers and the consumers. He proposes that in this environment of rapid convergence culture, media corporations are apt to realize the increasing power of the consumers and consequently, they attempt to push this process of convergence into their control rather than letting it grow hysterically in the consumers’ hands. Nevertheless, these media companies find it difficult to manage a democratic world of participation. As a result, Jenkins points out that the studios can only assert solid control on consumers in the environment of interactivity (such as game), but they can’t do similar things in the culture of participation (in the real world).

Jenkins uses The Sims as a successful model to establish a firm relationship between the media corporations and the consumers. He argues that The Sims demonstrates how media companies should act if they want to maintain an intimate association with their fan-based communities: “smart companies of the future would empower rather than constrain consumer participation, and those who did not build stronger relations with consumers would be unable to compete”.

While much of what Jenkins suggests is accurate, there is a profound implication that he may have granted too much power to the participatory culture.

It is no doubt that The Sims has the ability to attract a large number of players and encourage them to participate in its virtual environment. However, I believe that the primary attribute that grants the Sims its enormous success is its employ of actual and ordinary elements in its world rather than its strategies of collaborating with the consumers. The players’ imagination and creativity can be in their best forms as the players deal with issues in the game more or less similar to their real-life experiences. In this sense, there is an enormous potential for casual viewers to turn into loyalties, because the players can directly relate their living experiences into the game and consequently, they have easy opportunity to become an instant expert of the game.

On the other hand, I believe the level of complication is what pushes the casual gamers away from turning into loyalties. Not many games can achieve similar levels of success as The Sims. One of the key reasons is that a large number of games assign their settings in a different environment or universe where its daily norms and activities are allocated distinctively from the actual world. Consequently, many ordinary players are often thrown off from this intricate web of knowledge, which is the information the players have to possess if they want to create their own content of the game. Besides, creativity is hard and often required determination. If the casual players find it too complicated, they would desert the idea of expanding the game and instead concentrate on playing it casually.

Will Wright, the creator of The Sims, represents this chart after the release of The Sims:

Wright’s Pyramid

Wright’s pyramid shows that tool makers only make up the smallest portion of the graph; after that is content creators, follow is the website operator. The content downloader occupies the second largest segment of the pyramid after the casual players. Consequently, it appears that participatory culture may not create such powerful impact and pressure to media corporations as Jenkins has suggested, since casual players is the largest part of gamer community and content creator merely stays close to the top of the graph.

In addition, the graph also implies the levels of difficulty within each segment. It suggests that most players are much fonder of simple gaming than creatively exploring the game world beyond its original context. As a result, I believe media companies should pay more attention in creating games that are closely connected to daily experiences to allow casual players to have chance to appreciate and explore the game beyond their “casually playing”.

However, it would be wrong if we deny the presence of the “creator” segment. I do agree with Jenkins that the fan-based communities that comprise the loyal portion of the consumers are the one accountable for why the media studios feel such pressure and uneasiness from the participation culture. After all, they are the main source of profit for the media industry.

On many levels, I believe collaborative digital participation can bring many benefits for the media studios, such as driving virtual businesses to generate profit, identifying potential employees, decreasing the cost of making content, or making the games more dynamic and interesting according to consumers’ perspectives. At the same time, the studios are terrified of losing their commercial branded name and intellectual property to the fan-based community, even though fans, in their nature and practice, are not opposing or rebelling against the media corporations. One can argue that fans are indeed put “pressure on the parameters of a media system, but not through oppositional forces”, but in discourse as (according to Jenkins) fans are finding ways to mediate between the original text and their own interpretation of the text. Well… one can say that these media studios are naively stubborn because they care about profit too much, but after all, that’s the inevitable consequence that capitalism produces.

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Responses

  1. I feel that one reason for The Sims success is that it appealed grealty to women, which the gaming market virtually ignored up till that point. The Sims is an easy game to get into, stop, and start again. The time-frame of the game is what you make of it. You don’t need to reach a save point before getting on with your day.

    I was a HUGE fan of The Sims. I had acquired most of the add on packs for the games and thoroughly enjoyed reading stories, complete with game-still photos, that people were able to create and put on The Sims website.

    I also downloaded tons of skins and furniture from tool makers to use in my games. I never created any items of my own however. I definatly belonged in the bottom two, largest tiers to the pyramid along with apparently lots of other people.

    Exploring The Sims beyond its intended context proved to be very easy for fans. It became its own genre of fan fiction. People could create Sims which looked like their favorite characters and shoot video and photo albums complete with text, creating entire stories. This benefited The Sims, tool makers, and whatever franchise the fan was creating fiction for. It was fun for the creator and the consumers.

    I feel that The Sims opened so many doors to the gaming world and the world of fan fiction, especially for casual consumers.


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