Playing without Rules? Regulating Imitation and Innovation in the Games Industry

Author: Christian Katzenbach (Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society) and Lies van Roessel (Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society)

Copyright and other IP measures are routinely assumed to be key factors in the creative economies. Yet, empirical evidence for their specific effects on creativity and innovation is still scarce – and methodologically not easy to obtain. While there is abundant data on the creative outputs and the economic cycles of different media sectors, we still know little about the impact of copyright and other IP measures on actual creative practices. In this paper, we contribute to the growing body of empirical copyright research by investigating the tension between innovation and imitation in the digital games sector. In this field, copyright and other IP measures fail to draw a clear-cut line between legitimate inspiration on the one hand and illegitimate plagiarism on the other in this context. In a multi-method, qualitative study (discourse analysis, industry handbook analysis, semi-structured interviews) we investigate how different actors in the industry handle this tension in their daily practice. Findings indicate consensus across the industry that copyright plays a marginal role in regulating innovation and cloning. Whereas independent developers compensate this through strong informal norms and public claims of authorships, big studios base their development process on secrecy and market research.

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