Why is there no gamer cooperative?

Consumers' co-operatives are enterprises owned by consumers and managed democratically which aim at fulfilling the needs and aspirations of their members. They operate within the market system, independently of the state, as a form of mutual aid, oriented toward service rather than pecuniary profit. - Wikipedia

In recent years investors and executives are tanking the value of the games people enjoy (to play, make and watch). They do that by focusing on profit and growth instead of value creation for the consumers and the maintenance of good products and services. And they force those priorities down the corporate hierarchy.

This is understandable from their point of view, but completely counterproductive for the consumers and creators of games:

  • Players get games that treat them like cash cows with a focus on monetization instead of gameplay and positive experiences.
  • The creators get shit thrown at them from both sides - the unhappiness of the players as well as pressure and low wages from the executives. All of that the creators endure because they love what they do. In the end this of course leads to burnouts and "economical" lay-offs.

So the question posed to everyone involved in actually creating and maintaining the game worlds as well as those inhabiting them - the players, developers, content creators, support personal - is:

How does one reduce the influence of investors and executives on the creator-consumer relationship?

The problem, as always, is organization and coordination. There are of course entities that were invented to tackle that problem.

And cue a slashdot link to a call of a union for game developers to unionize. Typical slashdot complaints are then about politicized unions. Really amusing are the argument about the unions then only being out for money, which is exactly the problem of corporations or any general entity only out for profit maximization.

Unions in the entertainment markets have a problem: The valuation in those markets is massively subjective and most people engaged in those trades would work without pay to just work on those products. Many of them also much prefer that work to the work of organizing a union.

And of course the standard survivorship bias that people only see the successful/lucky ones and imagine themselves to be those people instead of the myriad unsuccessful trials. These stories keep people from organizing and caring for each other:

"They deserve their bad circumstances, because they are lazy/stupid/do not want it enough." - Strawman argument

This is similar in all entertainment markets, where the evaluation is subjective and the creation itself is a joy to many people: Music, art, comics, books, sports, film and television. Maybe even science and education. Those would probably be much better served by consumer-worker cooperatives than the current consumer-corporation structures.

The problems of cooperatives are of course manifold:

  • The evaluation/prizing problem is still as hard as it has been all the time.
  • Participation varies strongly by the members and is rarely differentiated.
  • This leads to the problem of possession and reasonable renumeration.
  • Cooperation is expensive - The direct democracy/consensus principle has massive inefficiency with regards to "small problems" and delegation of votes is desperately needed for larger structures (more than 6 persons).

The last reason is probably the most difficult in practice - millenia of human civilization has only lead to our current system of nation states and corporations . Those work reasonably well, but of course their faults are also readily apparent. So the question is always how to improve what is there while preserving what is good?

But to get back to the topic of cooperatives: They shortcut the creator-consumer connection, increasing the possible efficiency there considerably. Of course the question of transaction prize and valuation is still open, but especially for games one could leave it open to the players. Some pay-what-you-want scheme with a minimum buy-in or even pay-per-playtime.

Something like that seems to be itch.io, an indie platform with pay-like-you-want and sell-as-you-like features. There is even some flexible revenue share to the platform itself. It's founded as a corporation instead of a cooperative...but well, everything works or it stops by itself after some time ^

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