Daithí Mac Síthigh explores how legal issues impact games developers and users, for our Research Blog Series
Project Name: Games and Transmedia
Investigators: Professor Daithí Mac Síthigh (Queen’s University Belfast, formerly Edinburgh University, then Newcastle University), Dr Keith M. Johnston (East Anglia), Dr Tom Phillips (Edinburgh and East Anglia) (RA)
What did your research aim to do?
We sought to ascertain how copyright law, and other legal mechanisms, promote or restrain the development of business models, creative platforms and payment mechanisms in the video game sector. In particular, we thought of games within a wider ‘transmedia’ sphere, and tracked the impact of emerging platforms ranging from app stores to crowdfunding.
How did you do it?
We studied legal issues such as licensing, ‘software’ and ‘artistic’ aspects of copyright law, and consumer law, in terms of the impact of the law on developers and users. Specifically, we held two research workshops – one games-focused and one transmedia-focused – with participation from a wide range of the relevant industries. We also presented our work to a range of audiences at conferences (e.g. developers, game studies academics, legal scholars). We published our findings in three articles and two book chapters, with other work still to follow.
What are your key findings?
Legal issues are often understood in general rather than specific terms. Knowledge tends to be concentrated on intellectual property, and to some extent, responding to public policy debate, tax relief and age rating. The problem of “cloning” on emerging platforms cuts across legal categories (copyright, trademark, passing off) but solutions e.g. revising the law so that a clear cause of action is identified; greater responsibility for extra-legal policing by platform operators are questioned.
There is no single ‘path’ to success; digital distribution and the (un)willingness to pay for content up front mean that both established players and new entrants are faced with regular ‘choices’ as to which path to take. Commissioning practices and rights clearance can still be a barrier to the development of transmedia projects, including the creation of games.
While mid-2000s web 2.0 rhetoric may have suggested a shift towards a new role for the ‘public’, our impressions have been that the model of the developer or writer as the visionary artist (and perhaps the business brain) still holds some appeal.
What impact has your work had so far/what impact do you anticipate it will have?
We were able to take our findings to industry events (e.g. Develop Live, Norwich Sound and Vision) by invitation; there is potential for further impact, perhaps as the UK considers how if at all to change consumer and copyright law as Brexit develops.
Challenges encountered/Lessons learned
Combining aspects of law with media studies was influential not just on the project but on our own research agendas. There was also a (healthy, but significant) difference of opinion between different players e.g. traditional broadcasters, small start-ups, legal practitioners, and the like. We also needed to respond to controversies and new developments e.g. the success and copying of the game ‘Flappy Bird’.
Are there additional/new research questions still to be answered in this area?
Definitely. Payment and business models are still in flux, and copyright reform efforts (e.g. as still underway within the EU) have the potential to add new complexity or uncertainty to the balance of rights and interests across the sectors.
How has your association with CREATe helped to take things forward?
CREATe colleagues were very interested in the presence of games within the wider research centre and offered excellent feedback or counterexamples; the CREATe team also facilitated a sectoral working group on games. We were also able to see our findings included in multi-industry studies such as Voices of CREATe. We also made links with CREATe friends working on games elsewhere e.g. Christian Katzenbach and his team at HIIG, and were supported in attending international events like the Global Congress on IP and the Public Interest in Delhi.
Find out more:
‘Multiplayer Games: Tax, Copyright, Consumers and the Video Game Industries’ by Daithí Mac Síthigh, European Journal of Law and Technology: http://ejlt.org/article/view/324
‘”A step into the abyss” Transmedia in the UK Games and Television Industries’ by Keith M Johnston and Tom Phillips, International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/57619/
‘“Don’t clone my indie game, bro”: Informal cultures of videogame regulation in the independent sector’ by Tom Phillips, Cultural Trends: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09548963.2015.1031480
Two CREATe blogs by Tom Phillips: Industry Talking to Industry: The Develop Conference 2013 and Flappy Bird in Context: Using the ‘Games and Transmedia’ Workshop to Examine Gaming’s Current Phenomenon