Adorno and Horkheimer, The Game Industry and Steffan Amande
The thirty year old game industry is peaking at this moment and the top of the mountain is still far away. Also in the Netherlands the future seems nothing less then positive. Games have become new territory for researchers. In the corridors people are already dropping the term ‘game studies’. Contemporary research areas are the interaction between the virtual and the real economy, violence in games, gender studies, narrative, psychological impact, and the game industry itself. The latter is the fastest growing industry in the world. The game industry has surpassed the film industry.
The above situation sketch gives a hopeful impression for Dutch investors to pay extra attention to this advancing market. But when we place the Dutch game concerns in the theoretical perspective of the cultural industry, the future doesn’t look as bright. The cultural industry is a term from Adorno and Horkheimer and was introduced in 1947. They concluded from their Marxist standpoint that all products, including cultural products like films and music, come forth by capitalistic means. A small amount of large concerns decide which products the consumer can select. All small concerns are forced, that is if they want to survive, to produce products that are the same as those produced by the trendsetters. In other words, because of expansion market concentration occurres and this withdraws room for diversity and innovation. Eventually there will be no authentic products, all cultural products will be the same. Dutch game concerns with a minimal home market are in this perspective considered fortuitous.
In the last decades different opinions arose. In the music industry for instance, the industry is ruled by the Majors and the Minors. Yet, independent producers can still bring out their products in an alternative niche. This means they should not ‘go with the flow’ and avoid producing music that is formulated according to the Billboard charts. The Netherlands has been successful with this niche strategy. Dj Tiësto, and with him various other Dutch Dj’s in other subgenre’s, is considered the best in the world. In the film industry the Swedish children film is a good example. But this is and never will be the case with the game console market.
The console market is owned by Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony. The games that can be played on these consoles are controlled by the owners of the consoles. The packaging, promotion, release and content is all decided by these owners. Game developers have no room for innovation and risks. If a game developer decides to produce a game on their own account, they risk loosing millions of dollars/euros, which is the case if none of the three parties shows enough interest. When Dutch game developer Davilex released Knight Rider it was only brought out in Europe, the USA and with it the biggest market, was not interested. Davilex stopped developing games for consoles since and focuses now on promotion. Guerilla produced the very successful game KillZone, it won the first price at the E3. However, in December 2005, Sony took over Guerilla including all the employees. The structure of the international game industry makes it impossible for Dutch developers to play a decisive role. Currently ProLogic is the only Dutch console game developer still operating in The Netherlands. There are only seven Dutch console games.
So what is the punch line you ask? Well since today we have another exception: the Dutch gamers. In 2004 the Dutch gamers finished at the top of the ladder with three gold medals and one bronze. Yesterday Steffan Amende won a bronze medal with Need for Speed. This is to be considered awkward in the light of the above described theory. The Dutch game industry hardly gets financial support from the government and gamers definitely do not receive royal sponsoring. One bronze medal might sound weak, but if you place it in contrast with the countries where market concentration is the highest (Japan and USA), where virtually all games come from, then it is amazing that Dutch gamers belong to the best. Holland has no games that reflect the Dutch culture and actually has no game industry either, but we don’t need to; if we would produce the games we really want, the average American and Japanese will not be able to play them, for they would be too difficult. Hence, the Dutch win at the games produced by these “weaker” countries. And actually soccer is also too easy for the Dutch, that’s why one of the smallest countries has the best players in the world. Too bad, I’m only half Dutch.