We have recently published a chapter for an edited book, published by the infamous Nova Science Publishing. It’s a nice and short piece we wrote up for the 3rd Conference on Cultural Economics in Paris, 2008.

Peter Zackariasson and Timothy L. Wilson (2010). Creativity in the Video Game Industry. in Alessandra M. Corrigan (ed.) Creativity: Fostering, Measuring and Context. Nova Science Publishers, Chapter 6.


In the summer of 1961 an MIT student by the name of Steve ‘Slug’ Russell was tinkering with the campus computer. It was not a very complex computer by today’s standards, but by the standard of that time it was highly complex, not to mention expensive. Steve was exploring the possibilities of that machine – more precisely, trying to demonstrate with an engaging and fun program the capabilities of this machine. And making a game was, in his eyes, the best way to go about it. This creative achievement would not only be the start of Steve’s career, but also of an industry that, just as in this first game, thrives on creativity and tinkering with computers.

The result of Steve’s tinkering was the video game Spacewar. This game is credited as the first ‘real’ video game (Demaria and Wilson 2004, Kent 2001). Despite its crude setup, consisting of two spaceships dueling on a round monitor, it quickly achieved immense popularity. It is said that the game was copied onto most university computers in the USA at that time. The impact of this game grew as more, and more, people saw it, and played it. Nolan Bushnell, for example, was an avid gamer[1] of Spacewar, he would later establish the Atari Company. This was one of the first large company developing video games, and it was highly successful in the early days of the video game industry.

Although the first video games were constructed for mini-computers, the main platform for the growing number of commercial video games in the early 1970s was the bulky arcade machines; the most popular games being Spacewar and the legendary Pong, a tennis game for two. In the early 1980s, game consoles were introduced on the home entertainment market. In a short time these became very popular, only later to be replaced by the PC as the main gaming platform. Today, the game console (for example Sony PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox and Nintendo Wii) has somewhat regained its position as the main platform for gaming[2].

No matter if one is a gamer or not, one has to admire the growth and creativity in the video game development industry. This industry has, in a very short time, grew from being non-profit creative explorations of capabilities in computers to an industry that today has surpassed that of the Hollywood box office in revenues. Whereas Steve Russell in an interview said that “We thought about trying to make money off it [Spacewar] for two or three days but concluded that there wasn’t a way that it could be done,” (Kent 2001, page 20), video games today comprise an industry with high financial input, but also potentially high return of investment. Throughout the growth of this industry creativity has been the core competence in making successful and profitable video games.

Creativity in the video game industry is present throughout the entire structure. This means that it drives the industry, creating endless opportunities, at the same time as it creates great pressure. One would, at a first glance, think that this was a highly technological environment. This is true, to some extent. But as we will describe later in this text, technical logics and perfection may not have that much to do with successful video games. One has to look at it from artistic and creative perspectives in most parts of the process of developing and publishing a video game.

In this chapter we will present the main areas of the industry and how creativity drives this industry in each of these areas. First, a primary aspect is the essence of what the video game itself presents; with endless of opportunities, carte blanche, there are the developers themselves that construct the boundary of all possibilities. Secondly, the industry structure is in a sense a traditional publishing structure, similar to other publishing industries. Creativity here tends to be a negotiated result but it also leaves possibilities for alternative production and distribution. Third, the structure of a studio developing video games is created to provide a foundation in which creativity thrives, a structure where iterations in development is expected; as defining ‘fun’ and how to reach it is, to say the least, difficult. Here we will depend upon observations made in one specific company (but one that is fairly typical of the industry). We will end this chapter with three creative challenges for this industry; challenges that have to be overcome if this industry is to be as successful in the future as it has been in the past.

[1] A person playing a video game is called a gamer

[2] http://www.theesa.comhttp://www.theesa.com, accessed 2008-10-25