Dr Adrian Wright FRSA, a senior lecturer, at the University of Central Lancashire and author of a study “It's all about games: enterprise and entrepreneurialism in digital games” reveals the darker side of life as a tech entrepreneur
The heroic narrative of the digital entrepreneur portrayed by David Cameron’s coalition government promised a wealth of opportunity for technology entrepreneurs and start-ups in the creative industries. Policy initiatives such as the Blueprint for Technology together with the former Prime Minister’s vision of popular capitalism championed the digital sector as an example of how the UK can achieve growth for the economy by making innovative products for the digital economy.
Enterprise in the digital sector has a seductive appeal with dot com billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg, and popular games such as Angry Birds creating a ‘myth of success’ in which small start-ups, often coding late at night in their bedrooms, make it big through entrepreneurial values of hard work, dedication and business acumen.
The “lucky indie” which breaks through into the mainstream with a highly profitable release can be contrasted with reports which offer a reality check for ambitious young app makers, a picture which is supported by academic studies suggesting a darker side to enterprise in the digital sector which does not live to the glorification of the enterprise culture in the tech sector.
The £2.9 billion digital games sector is characterised by risk and instability. In the context of lowering barriers to entry for third party developers, individuals have been at best encouraged or at worst ‘forced’ into adopting more enterprising and entrepreneurial behaviour. This is supported by the changing composition of the sector, and an accelerating trend of vertical integration in the mid-2000s, where smaller independent companies were acquired by larger publishers can be contrasted with recent evidence suggesting as the majority of companies are small development teams.
Despite the romantic notions of increased autonomy, flexible, creative control entrepreneurial practices have been found to lead to long working hours as crunch (long hours at the end of a project) is also apparent in the experiences of ‘indie’ games developers. Furthermore, in order to gain work or make connections developers have been found to intensify their own work, encouraged to spend significant time networking either on or off line to enhance their employability, increase their chances of success in the future or simply to combat the loneliness of working at home.
Finally, the over-saturated market presents more challenges for developers as the burden of cost to produce the game is on the developer as is the necessity for expertise in each element of the value chain to bring the game to market. As some in the games industry stress, it is an unforgiving market and the aim for the start-up is to get past the challenging first game.