ⓘ Playbour


ⓘ Playbour

Playbour is a hybrid form of play and labour, specifically in the digital games industry. The term was coined by Julian Kucklich in 2005 in his article Precarious playbour: Modders and the digital games industry. Kucklich describes playbour as a type of free labour that fits neither traditional definitions of work nor the categories of play or leisure. Nevertheless, forms of playbour are often incorrectly perceived as being just an extension of play. Playbour is also sometimes categorized as a part of the gamification of society in general.


1. History

While the term playbour itself is a relatively new invention, the phenomena it concerns – those of productive leisure and free labour in the digital games industry – have been around at least since the late 1990s. Kucklich states that since the early 1990s, the relationship between the players of digital games and the digital games industry has changed substantially. He attributes the alteration to the rise of computer game modification, or "modding", as a widespread practice among players.


1.1. History Modding

Creating mods for digital games is the perfect example of playbour: a growing number of consumers of digital games are not satisfied with just playing the game, but prefer to enhance their playing experience by creating content for the game themselves. In modding we can see the very essence of playbour, or free labour: while the work of creating a modification can be seen as playful and enjoyable, it is still work. In this respect modding can be fairly similar to another form of collaborative digital production; open-source software development. The first game to gain a modder base of considerable size is widely agreed to be Doom 1993. The emergence of Doom mods is usually attributed to the fact that the games code was deliberately designed to facilitate player-created content. The most famous modder creation is probably Counter-Strike, originally a team-based mod for Half-Life 1998. It later also became the first commercially released mod.


2. Controversy around playbour and modding

Not only is modding a big part of gaming culture, but it is also an increasingly important source of value for the digital games industry. Game companies usually retain the intellectual property rights of the modifications. Since players need to have a copy of the original game to run the modifications, mods may add to the shelf-life of the product. In addition to that, mods may help with establishing brands e.g. Counter-Strike, thus saving companies a significant amount of money. Marketing costs often take up a large percentage of a games budget, but successfully established brands require less marketing. Mods also increase customer loyalty and are an important source of innovation in the digital games industry. Another way that game companies can benefit from the modding culture is that they can recruit modders as employees who are already trained at no cost to the company.

While game companies may benefit economically from playbour, the players doing the work are not entirely uncompensated: they may obtain virtual in-game rewards or social capital such as followers on social media. The experience of play also has value in itself. Playbour is a voluntary activity and players dont usually view modding as labour. Nevertheless, it has been suggested that playbour modders are exploited by the games industry.