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Born to Sell: How Indie Games Went Mainstream At E3 - Forbes
"The idea of an “indie” has always been reactionary, an attempt to reverse the momentum of industrialization by stripping creative production to a poetic minimum.. The indie designer has become a romantic fixation for videogame culture in recent years, something that’s given an industry calcifying around expensive sequels a sense of creative momentum and social purpose it wouldn’t otherwise have had. The improbable successes of Minecraft, Braid, Gone Home and Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP show that it’s not the commercialization of creative sharing that’s corrupt, but only the industry’s least ethical practitioners, the handful of conglomerates like Ubisoft and EA and Activision.

It’s too easy to see the indie ethic as the antithesis of industrialized creativity, looking past the fact that indie and conglomerate are built on the same intrusive market structure that insists community participation should be bisected by a paywall. As has been the case in every industry of mass produced culture, the “indie” is inevitably just a tributary to a bigger market, less a correction to what is broken than an extension of it, ennobling the entrepreneurial at the most intimate levels."



"These micro-publishers offer a helpful services, but their emergence is a clear indication of how the same economic structures the “indie” appears to renounce end up being replicated on a smaller scale. In every other creative industry, the identity of any given “indie” group is fleeting, with the most successful of them eventually adopting the same capital values as the conglomerates they seem to oppose. After starting out as a small operation bringing European art movies to American theaters in the mid-80s, Miramax found it easy enough to transition into a studio unto itself, churning out bloodless genre movies like She’s All That, Scary Movie, and Cold Mountain. Similarly reviled publisher EA began as a self-funded assembly of programmers guided by a faith that computers could make you cry. 30 years later they’re a $3.8 billion a year company, voted America’s worst in 2013, known for acquiring studios to force them to work on legacy IP and then imposing massive layoffs when those games fail in the market

The infatuation with the “indie” is driven by a consumerist delusion that there’s an ethical and unethical way to shop for culture, it’s not the market structure that violates the basic dignity of human creative work but an aesthetic reading of the symbolic values represented in particular works. In that way, a stubbornly conservative game like Gone Home—making monogamous coupling the central force in human experience, celebrating a melancholy burst of nostalgia from the leftover trinkets of 90s identity politics and consumerism, and reinforcing a fundamental shamefulness about open depictions sex—can be seen as a more ethical than, say, Far Cry 3 or Battlefield 4, patriarchal hymns to white violence and empire that are, nevertheless, produced by the same market-driven labor structures as the indie.

The romantic indie ethos only further impoverishes those who work in it by enshrining the idea that creative work should be done on-spec, with all the financial liability held by the developers, while profits are subdivided by owners of the networks they depend on for distribution. As the pressures on the biggest studios and publishers intensify, demanding bigger and riskier investments to compete for a relatively fixed number of core game consumers, the flourishing of an indie culture ensure there is little incentive for corporations to pursue any strategy other than blockbuster survivalism. There is no need to compete against these upstart auteurs because they can be bought ex post facto. Even if they haven’t signed a contract, the form of their product, the volume of labor required to produce it, guarantees whatever success they have will be owned by the market system, be it Valve, Apple, Microsoft, or Sony."

Even wandering through the IndieCade booth at E3, a wonderfully creative and welcoming space amid a sea of neon repulsion, the sense of independence is almost entirely symbolic. One of my favorite games from E3 was found in the IndieCade space, a rough but beautifully playful game called Long Take designed by Sun Park and his studio Turtle Cream. Originally designed over 50 hours during a game jam event, Long Take has players control not the hero but a camera filming him or her on a 2D plane. Each level begins with a zoomed out shot of the entire space and then slowly closes in on the hero, who the player must track throughout the level. If the hero runs or falls out of frame the player fails. Only things framed by the player’s camera view are allowed to move, meaning the player must avoid revealing enemies or missiles waiting in the wings, which will begin to attack if they’re in-frame.

It’s a fantastically clever variation on one of the most familiar videogame types, enriched with a layer of voyeurism and the stress of not being directly in control while still bearing responsibility for the consequences. After my demo, Park told me while the game is currently free, he’s hard at work on expanding it into a full commercial version that he’ll eventually try and sell over Steam. The need to make money is the blackhole that swallows us at all levels, indie or otherwise.

In the economy of the indie game, one sees the self-defeating effort of our most technologically dependent art form attempting to re-enchant itself through a rite of economic self-abnegation. Paradoxically, the product of this process has most cultural meaning when it results in the greatest amount of market activity, reinforcing the subjective admiration of critics and players with an empirical measure of units sold, revenue earned, and awards won. The fantasy of an “indie” culture of game design is ultimately not about aesthetics or representation but a desire to see the market structure itself proven viable in a time when all indicators point toward its doom. Through the cultural umbrella of “indie” one of our era’s dumbest and and most paralyzing aphorisms—just be yourself—is transformed into an economic mandate, becoming a life preserve for a dying socio-political order in the process.

If videogames have become the predominant art form of the 21st Century, they have done so by amusing a population that has embraced being predominated. This year’s E3 made it possible to see how inextricable systems of economic exploitation are from the videogame, which is itself an engine of structural thievery, a miniaturized mirror that extracts maximum time for minimum return in the same way its financiers extract maximum hours for the lowest possible investment. Absent an ability to reject this structure of exploitation, we find it easier to relabel the exploited, to give them enchanted laurels of cultural significance in acknowledgement that there very likely won’t be any other kind of compensation."
videogames  indiegames  games  gaming  economics  exploitation  2014  michaelthomsen  e3  valve  apple  sony  labor  money  capitalism  markets  steam 
july 2014 by robertogreco
What Your Culture Really Says — about work — Medium
[via: http://mike.teczno.com/notes/on-managers.html ]

"Toxic lies about culture are afoot in Silicon Valley. They spread too fast as we take our bubble money and designer Powerpoints to drinkups, conferences and meetups all over the world, flying premium economy, ad nauseam. Well-intentioned darlings south of Market wax poetic on distributed teams, office perks, work/life balance, passion, “shipping”, “iteration,” “freedom”. A world of startup privilege hides blithely unexamined underneath an insipid, self-reinforcing banner of meritocracy and funding. An economic and class-based revolt of programmers against traditional power structures within organizations manifests itself as an (ostensively) radical re-imagining of work life. But really, you should meet the new boss. Hint: he’s the same as the old boss.

The monied, celebrated, nuevo-social, 1% poster children of startup life spread the mythology of their cushy jobs, 20% time, and self-empowerment as a thinly-veiled recruiting tactic in the war for talent against internet giants. The materialistic, viral nature of these campaigns have redefined how we think about culture, replacing meaningful critique with symbols of privilege. The word “culture” has become a signifier of superficial company assets rather than an ongoing practice of examination and self-reflection.

Culture is not about the furniture in your office. It is not about how much time you have to spend on feel-good projects. It is not about catered food, expensive social outings, internal chat tools, your ability to travel all over the world, or your never-ending self-congratulation.

Culture is about power dynamics, unspoken priorities and beliefs, mythologies, conflicts, enforcement of social norms, creation of in/out groups and distribution of wealth and control inside companies. Culture is usually ugly. It is as much about the inevitable brokenness and dysfunction of teams as it is about their accomplishments. Culture is exceedingly difficult to talk about honestly. The critique of startup culture that came in large part from the agile movement has been replaced by sanitized, pompous, dishonest slogans.

Let’s examine popular startup trends that are being called “culture” and look beneath the surface to find the real culture that may be playing out beneath it. This is not a critique of the practices themselves, which often contribute value to an organization. This is to show a contrast between the much deeper, systemic cultural problems that are rampant in our startups and the materialistic trappings that can disguise them.

We make sure to hire people who are a cultural fit
What your culture might actually be saying is… We have implemented a loosely coordinated social policy to ensure homogeneity in our workforce. We are able to reject qualified, diverse candidates on the grounds that they “aren’t a culture fit” while not having to examine what that means - and it might mean that we’re all white, mostly male, mostly college-educated, mostly young/unmarried, mostly binge drinkers, mostly from a similar work background. We tend to hire within our employees’ friend and social groups. Because everyone we work with is a great culture fit, which is code for “able to fit in without friction,” we are all friends and have an unhealthy blur between social and work life. Because everyone is a “great culture fit,” we don’t have to acknowledge employee alienation and friction between individuals or groups. The desire to continue being a “culture fit” means it is harder for employees to raise meaningful critique and criticism of the culture itself.

Meetings are evil and we have them as little as possible.
What your culture might actually be saying is… We have a collective post-traumatic stress reaction to previous workplaces that had hostile, unnecessary, unproductive and authoritarian meetings. We tend to avoid projects and initiatives that require strict coordination across the company. We might have difficulty meeting the expectations of enterprise companies and do better selling to startups organized like us. We are heavily invested in being rebels against traditional corporate culture. Because we communicate largely asynchronously and through chat, it is easy to mentally dehumanize teammates and form silos around functional groups with different communications practices or business functions.

We have a team of people who are responsible for organizing frequent employee social events, maintaining the office “feel”, and making sure work is a great place to hang out. We get served organic, vegan, farm-raised, nutritious lunches every day at work.
What your culture might actually be saying is… Our employees must be treated as spoiled, coddled children that cannot perform their own administrative functions. We have a team of primarily women supporting the eating, drinking, management and social functions of a primarily male workforce whose output is considered more valuable. We struggle to hire women in non-administrative positions and most gender diversity in our company is centralized in social and admin work. Because our office has more amenities than home life, our employees work much longer hours and we are able to extract more value from them for the same paycheck. The environment reinforces the cultural belief that work is a pleasant dream and can help us distract or bribe from deeper issues in the organization.

20% of the time, or all of the time, people can work on whatever they want to
What your culture might actually be saying is… We have enough venture funding to pay people to work on non-core parts of the business. We are not under that much pressure to make money. The normal work of the business is not sufficiently rewarding so we bribe employees with pet projects. We’re not entirely sure what our business objectives and vision are, so we are trying to discover it by letting employee passions take root. We have a really hard time developing work that takes more than a few people to release. We have lots of unfinished but valuable projects that get left behind due to shifts in focus, lack of concentrated effort, and inability to organize sufficient resources to bring projects to completion.

We don’t have managers and the company is managed with no hierarchy
What your culture might actually be saying is… Management decisions are siloed at the very top layers of management, kept so close to the chest they appear not to exist at all. The lack of visibility into investor demands, financial affairs, HR issues, etc. provides an abstraction layer between employees and real management, which we pretend doesn’t exist. We don’t have an explicit power structure, which makes it easier for the unspoken power dynamics in the company to play out without investigation or criticism.

We don’t have a vacation policy
What your culture might actually be saying is… We fool ourselves into thinking we have a better work/life balance when really people take even less vacation than they would when they had a vacation policy. Social pressure and addiction to work has replaced policy as a regulator of vacation time.

We are all makers who are focused on shipping.
What your culture might actually be saying is… Features are the most important function of our business. We lack processes for surfacing and addressing technical debt. We have systemic infrastructure problems but they are not relevant because we are more focused on short-term adoption than long-term reliability. We prioritize fast visible progress, even if it is trivial, over longer and more meaningful projects. Productivity is measured more by lines of code than the value of that code. Pretty things are more important than useful things.

Closing
Talk to your company about culture. Talk to other companies about culture. Stop mistaking symbology and VC spoils for culture. Be honest with yourself, and with each other. Otherwise, your culture will kill you softly with its song, and you won’t even notice. But hey, you have a beer keg in the office."
shanley  2013  business  culture  github  horizontality  hierarchy  hierarchies  control  power  meetings  homogeneity  organzations  vacation  policies  politics  work  labor  process  social  socialpressure  management  administration  illegibility  legibility  decisionmaking  powerstructures  criticism  valve 
march 2014 by robertogreco
managers are awesome / managers are cool when they’re part of your team (tecznotes)
"Apropos the Julie Ann Horvath Github shitshow, I’ve been thinking this weekend about management, generally.

I don’t know details about the particular Github situation so I won’t say much about it, but I was present for Tom Preston-Werner’s 2013 OSCON talk about Github. After a strong core message about open source licenses, liability, and freedom (tl;dr: avoid the WTFPL), Tom talked a bit about Github’s management model.
Management is about subjugation; it’s about control.

At Github, Tom described a setup where the power structure of the company is defined by the social structures of the employees. He showed a network hairball to illustrate his point, said that Github employees can work on what they feel like, subject to the strategic direction set for the company. There are no managers.

This bothered me a bit when I heard it last summer, and it’s gotten increasingly more uncomfortable since. I’ve been paraphrasing this part of the talk as “management is a form of workplace violence,” and the still-evolving story of Julie Ann Horvath suggests that the removal of one form of workplace violence has resulted in the reintroduction of another, much worse form. In my first post-college job, I was blessed with an awesome manager who described his work as “firefighter up and cheerleader down,” an idea I’ve tried to live by as I’ve moved into positions of authority myself. The idea of having no managers, echoed in other companies like Valve Software, suggests the presence of major cultural problems at a company like Github. As Shanley Kane wrote in What Your Culture Really Says, “we don’t have an explicit power structure, which makes it easier for the unspoken power dynamics in the company to play out without investigation or criticism.” Managers might be difficult, hostile, or useless, but because they are parts of an explicit power structure they can be evaluted explicitly. For people on the wrong side of a power dynamic, engaging with explicit structure is often the only means possible to fix a problem.

Implicit power can be a liability as well as a strength. In the popular imagination, implicit power elites close sweetheart deals in smoke-filled rooms. In reality, the need for implicit power to stay in the shadows can cripple it in the face of an outside context problem. Aaron Bady wrote of Julian Assange and Wikileaks that “while an organization structured by direct and open lines of communication will be much more vulnerable to outside penetration, the more opaque it becomes to itself (as a defense against the outside gaze), the less able it will be to “think” as a system, to communicate with itself. The more conspiratorial it becomes, in a certain sense, the less effective it will be as a conspiracy.”

Going back to the social diagram, this lack of ability to communicate internally seems to be an eventual property of purely bottoms-up social structures. Github has been enormously successful on the strength of a single core strategy: the creation of a delightful, easy-to-use web UI on top of a work-sharing system designed for distributed use. I’ve been a user since 2009, and my belief is that the product has consistently improved, but not meaningfully changed. Github’s central, most powerful innovation is the Pull Request. Github has annexed adjoining territory, but has not yet had to respond to a threat that may force it to abandon territory or change approach entirely.

Without a structured means of communication, the company is left with the vague notion that employees can do what they feel like, as long as it’s compliant with the company’s strategic direction. Who sets that direction, and how might it be possible to change it? There’s your implicit power and first point of weakness.

This is incidentally what’s so fascinating about the government technology position I’m in at Code for America. I believe that we’re in the midst of a shift in power from abusive tech vendor relationships to something driven by a city’s own digital capabilities. The amazing thing about GOV.UK is that a government has decided it has the know-how to hire its own team of designers and developers, and exercised its authority. That it’s a cost-saving measure is beside the point. It’s the change I want to see in the world: for governments large and small to stop copy-pasting RFP line items and cargo-culting tech trends (including the OMFG Ur On Github trend) and start thinking for themselves about their relationship with digital communication."
michalmigurski  2014  julieannhovarth  github  horizontality  hierarchy  hierarchies  power  julianassange  wikileaks  valve  culture  business  organizations  management  legibility  illegibility  communication  gov.uk  codeforamerica  subjugation  abuse  shanley  teams  administration  leadership 
march 2014 by robertogreco
Former Valve Employee: 'It Felt a Lot Like High School' | Game|Life | Wired.com
“It is a pseudo-flat structure where, at least in small groups, you’re all peers and make decisions together,” she said. “But the one thing I found out the hard way is that there is actually a hidden layer of powerful management structure in the company and it felt a lot like high school. There are popular kids that have acquired power in the company, then there’s the trouble makers, and everyone in between.”
business  valve  2013  via:caseygollan  structurelessness  horizontality  power  control  hierarchy  hierarchies  leadership  organzations  communities  culture  legibility  illegibility 
march 2014 by robertogreco
cityofsound: Sketchbook: Fabrica 2013 Informal Annual Review: Fabricanti Handbook
"Notes on the Fabricanti Handbook project

When new researchers arrive at Fabrica, there's a lot to take in. They arrive from all over the world for a start. For many it's their first time in Italy. There are language questions, cultural questions. We are also based in the country, outside Treviso, so without the distractions of a big city but equally without its inherent support networks. They also have to quickly get their head around a unique organisation, with a particular mission, in a very special space.

There is a lot of tacit information which sometimes takes a while to uncover and understand before they feel like "Fabricanti", the word we use for Fabrica's researchers.

Interested in enabling Fabricanti to hit the ground running, we've made the first Fabricanti Handbook in Fabrica's history - it describes how to live here, how to work here, how to play here. We asked two of our Fabricanti to lead the project: Anna Kulachek from Ukraine and Samantha Ziino from Australia, both graphic designers. (This was also an experiment in self-directed projects by Fabricanti.) They conducted interviews with their fellow Fabricanti, and decided all the content themselves, from text to photography to illustration. It draws on stories from Fabricanti alumni, sharing their knowledge of local tricks and quirks, and most importantly, how to get your personal projects done. We were inspired by the Valve employee handbook, by Tom Sach's "10 Bullets!" videos, Ove Arup's key speech and more, but this is a bespoke tool for Fabricanti only.

It describes place, people, processes and projects - and all the basics in terms of living locally, from ordering pasta and visiting the Biennale to why a fur coat and a little dog makes you a Treviso resident - but does so in a way that is playful, enriching and inspirational. It is full of in-jokes and secrets - though, importantly, we felt it should not have everything in it. Not everything should be so easy to find. Knowing the web is full of iconic shots of the architecture bereft of people—as architectural photographs tend to be—Anna and Sam commissioned Fabrica's photographers to take shots of the building as it is, with people in it. Knowing the institution could get a bit hierarchical, they contrasted the official view with a Fabricanti view, using different sizes of paper (there might be an idea of an official daily schedule, but the day is really only "before lunch" and "after lunch"; there is the official floor-plan, and then the way it actually works, and so on).

It should feel like a beautiful gift for your first day at Fabrica, an invaluable guide throughout the year, and a souvenir of your time there when you leave. The cover is a delicate all white on purpose, such that the scuffs, bruises and scribbles tell their own story at the end of the year. (There is a "FabricApp" developing alongside the book, starting with a Google Map version of the maps in the book, and developing into real-time installations around the Fabrica campus, as part of Fabrica's Sandbox project with BERG.) Different paper stock defines the different sections.

So this book is by Fabricanti for Fabricanti. But it also describes Fabrica. In making the book, we had to commit to print a few key ideas, notions, patterns about Fabrica, which hadn't happened much. So as Fabrica enters a new phase of its history, the Fabricanti Handbook is an excuse to form a few ideas about what it is. It is a functional document— how do you not just survive Fabrica, but thrive?—but also an inspirational one, a sketch of what Fabrica is now.

As Fabrica is an evolving project (and as bus routes change and bars open and close) it will be redesigned each year, by new Fabricanti; but with this version 1.0, Anna, Sam and their friends have made a huge contribution to Fabrica's present and future.

Insights

• Make something tangible as an excuse to force us to write something down
• Use a new project to try out different non-hierarchical organisation
• Use a Handbook project to bring organisations together
• Focus on the researchers' environment
• A side-effect of making a great Handbook is that you get great promotional material"
fabrica  print  books  2013  danhill  treviso  italy  projectideas  tangibility  commitment  valve  tomsachs  handbooks  howto  annakulachek  samanthaziino  storytelling  openstudioproject  cityofsound 
october 2013 by robertogreco
Why Valve? Or, what do we need corporations for and how does Valve’s management structure fit into today’s corporate world? | Valve
"Whatever the future of Valve turns out like, one thing is for certain – and it so happens that it constitutes the reason why I am personally excited to be part of Valve: The current system of corporate governance is bunk. Capitalist corporations are on the way to certain extinction. Replete with hierarchies that are exceedingly wasteful of human talent and energies, intertwined with toxic finance, co-dependent with political structures that are losing democratic legitimacy fast, a form of post-capitalist, decentralised corporation will, sooner or later, emerge. The eradication of distribution and marginal costs, the capacity of producers to have direct access to billions of customers instantaneously, the advances of open source communities and mentalities, all these fascinating developments are bound to turn the autocratic Soviet-like megaliths of today into curiosities that students of political economy, business studies et al will marvel at in the future, just like school children marvel at dinosaur skeletons at the Natural History museum. I trust that Valve’s organisation will become, if not a central chapter, at the very least an important footnote in this historical turn."
business  capitalism  economics  valve  management  administration  leadership  2012  via:caseygollan  yanisvaroufakis  hierarchies  hierarchy  horizontality  verticality  corporatism  waste  watefulness  finance  democracy  unschooling  deschooling  postcapitalism 
may 2013 by robertogreco
Valve: Handbook for New Employees: A fearless adventure in knowing what to do when no one’s there telling you what to do [.pdf]
"There is no organizational structure keeping you from being in close proximity to the people who you’d help or be helped by most."

"Since Valve is flat, people don’t join projects because they’re told to. Instead, you’ll decide what to work on after asking yourself the right questions."

"What’s interesting? What’s rewarding? What leverages my individual strengths the most?"

"…our lack of a traditional structure comes with an important responsibility. It’s up to all of us to spend effort focusing on what we think the long-term goals of the company should be."

"Nobody expects you to devote time to every opportunity that comes your way. Instead, we want you to learn how to choose the most important work to do."

"We should hire people more capable than ourselves, not less."

"We value “T-shaped” people…who are both generalists (…the top of the T) and also experts (…the vertical leg of the T). This recipe is important for success at Valve."
agency  initiaive  motivation  tcsnmy  administration  management  hiring  t-shapedpeople  responsibility  creativity  videogames  projectbasedlearning  pbl  community  leadership  lcproject  flatness  flat  hierarchy  specialists  generalists  work  culutre  valve  specialization  horizontality  horizontalidad 
april 2012 by robertogreco

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