Spoiling the Future Metagame: The Promotional Logic and Reception of Card Previews in Magic: The Gathering

McFarland has recently published an edited collection Beyond the Deck: Critical Essays on Magic: The Gathering and Its Influence, featuring my chapter about card previews as promotional materials and the related metagame discussions. The book, which comes out just in time for MTG’s 30th anniversary, was edited by Shelly Jones and includes contributions by a group of international scholars, covering issues ranging from mechanics and design to economies and competitions to player communities and themes beyond the game itself.

In my chapter Spoiling the Future Metagame: The Promotional Logic and Reception of Card Previews in Magic: The Gathering, I analyze the promotional function of card previews for the 2020 Q2 set Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths. The findings suggest that the promotional logic is closely connected to the game’s business model and that cards that are likely to have higher prices on secondary markets due to artificial scarcity such as rares and mythic rares are given more attention during the preview period. On the other hand, most of the so-called common cards were revealed at the tail end of the promotional campaign in one big batch. The publisher and content creators all benefit from hyping up the upcoming cards. This increases the interest in strategy content as well as drives pre-order prices before the cards could have been properly tested in play. The chapter also explores metagaming discussions by players, which are sparked by the card previews and allow fans to theorycraft and hypothesize about new decks and strategies before the metagame settles again.


Mediatization of Tabletop Role-Playing: The Intertwined Cases of Critical Role and D&D Beyond

The journal Convergence has just published my article Mediatization of Tabletop Role-Playing: The Intertwined Cases of Critical Role and D&D Beyond. The article explores the impact of Critical Role (a weekly show on Twitch where voice actors, including Laura Bailey, Ashley Johnson, or Matthew Mercer, play Dungeons & Dragons) and digital tools like D&D Beyond on the tabletop role-playing hobby and industry. 


I argue that Critical Role promotes in-person play with high-end physical accessories despite being a mediated form of tabletop role-playing. Overall, the process of mediatization of analog games, including D&D and Magic: The Gathering (see the article Mediatization of a Card game: Magic: The Gathering, Esports, and Streaming), seems to follow the logic of addition by maintaining analog modes of consumption alongside new digital and virtual ways of playing (and watching). This multitude of playstyles is marked by extensive commodification, ranging from physical accessories (miniatures, dice) to digital subscriptions and virtual goods. These findings are based on a quantitative analysis of Critical Role‘s episode sponsorships and a qualitative analysis of embodied player practices, including the use of physical accessories as well as D&D Beyond‘s digital character sheets (starting in 2018) by the cast members. Aside from advertising from TTRPG-related businesses, Critical Role is regularly sponsored by video game companies, which sometimes commission entire episodes. The show and its cast thus inhabits a unique position between analog and video game industries, further showing the complexity of the process of mediatization, which is anything but straightforward.


Normalizing Player Surveillance through Video Game Infographics

Deathloop (2021) infographic.
The journal New Media & Society has just published my article Normalizing Player Surveillance through Video Game Infographics. I argue that infographics contribute to normalization of surveillance by presenting one-sided representations of proprietary player data, which cannot be corroborated and which are made to look less problematic by focusing on harmless trivia. The infographic format is intended to make game metrics more appealing and to show telemetries as sources of fun facts. In reality, telemetries are used for optimization of game development and monetization of player activity, serving the economic agendas of developers and publishers. The specialized press is complicit in this normalization of player surveillance by running stories based on selective disclosures of proprietary data. The empirical analysis of 200 infographics suggests that the deliberate omission of more problematic and sensitive metrics points to the industry awareness of the potentially controversial nature of player surveillance if disclosed in full. Video game companies are extracting value from player behavior, yet portray the surveillance aparatus as a source of harmless fun facts.


Developer Credit: Para-Industrial Hierarchies of In-Game Credit Attribution in the Video Game Industry

The journal Games and Culture has just published my article Developer Credit: Para-Industrial Hierarchies of In-Game Credit Attribution in the Video Game Industry. In this article, I analyze in-game credits of 100 games published between 2016-2020, which represent four major sectors of video game production: AAA, AA, indie, and freemium games as service. I explore how credits shape above-the-line/below-the-line divisions and establish (or potentially subvert) professional hierarchies.

The specialized press has repeatedly reported on missing or denied credits, showing that there is no industry standard regarding what constitutes a recognized and noteworthy contribution to video game production. Despite efforts from developer organizations and initiatives like IGDA or Game Workers Unite, my analysis shows that credits are handled in various ways, leaving individual developers at the mercy of studio leadership when comes to receiving credit for their work. In the article, I highlight three major aspects of in-game credits that influence above-the-line/below-the-line divisions.


Game Production Studies Edited Collection

The edited collection Game Production Studies, which I have co-edited with Olli Sotamaa, has just been published by the Amsterdam University Press. The book, which is available in open access as well as hardcover, features 16 chapters dedicated to the study of video game production. The cover illustration was created by Jana Kilianová.

The official copy: Video games have entered the cultural mainstream and in terms of economic profits they now rival established entertainment industries such as film or television. As careers in video game development become more common, so do the stories about precarious working conditions and structural inequalities within the industry. Yet, scholars have largely overlooked video game production cultures in favor of studying games themselves and player audiences. In Game Production Studies, an international group of established and emerging researchers takes a closer look at the everyday realities of video game production, ranging from commercial industries to independent creators and cultural intermediaries. Across sixteen chapters, the authors deal with issues related to labour, game development, monetization and publishing, as well as local specificities. As the first edited collection dedicated solely to video game production, this volume provides a timely resource for anyone interested in how games are made and at what costs.