Annakaisa Kultima

Annakaisa Kultima is a postdoctoral researcher at Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture. She has been teaching and studying game design and development since 2006 in several universities in Finland and Sweden as well as travelled as a visiting lecturer around the world including universities in the US, China, Denmark, South Korea and Japan. Her research is concentrating on game development cultures, creativity, game industry trends, and game jams. Kultima’s PhD dissertation “Game Design Praxiology” examined the multitude of issues of understanding ‘games as created’ spanning a period of 2006-2016 with an ethnography of hundreds of game professionals. Kultima is also an active member of the game ecosystem in Finland and internationally: she is working as a judge in several game competitions, consulting game companies and non-profit organizations, running and participating in game jams as well as curating exhibitions on games. She is also a member of the founding team of Dibner-awarded The Finnish Museum of Games and the co-founder of influential non-profit organization Finnish Game Jam.

Contact information:
annakaisa.kultima at

Book Review: Game Production Studies

by Annakaisa Kultima

Olli Sotamaa and Jan Švelch's edited book Game Production Studies (Amsterdam University Press, 2021) is a long-awaited and deeply important collection of original studies, theoretical framings and reflective pieces on the economic, cultural and political structures that influence game making practices around the globe.

The line-up of authors is impressive: game scholars with 15+ years of academic experience, such as Aphra Kerr, Mia Consalvo, Andrew Phelps, John Banks, David B. Nieborg and Hanna Wirman are included. Newer names, yet already well-established scholars in game industry studies, such as Aleena Chia, Chris J. Young and Brendan Keogh among others bring their best contributions also to this volume. Many names are naturally left out, but more are summoned through citations. For example, Jennifer R. Whitson's and Casey O'Donnell's influential works are mentioned multiple times in the book.

The geographical representation of this article collection is wide, although not exhaustive. The book discusses and utilizes interview studies, studio observations and other empirical studies from Finland, Ireland, Germany, China, Poland, Canada, Australia, France and others. The book is well put together and ready to become influential.

Game Production Studies takes the reader to a wide variety of topics that are important to understand for any game scholars: the precariousness of gamework, issues in modern labor, indie game development, the impact of game making tools, game development hobbyism, play habits of game workers, the role of publishers, the integrated nature of monetization design, the regulation of games, as well as regional histories just to name a few. Such foundational topics are not important only for the ones that would be interested in industrialized issues of game making, but also for anyone embarking into the general studies of games, players and other play phenomena. Many of the views are framed within the discipline of political economy or labor studies, but there are also multidisciplinary works, and all contributions draw from the multidiscipline of game studies.

In general, time is critical in studying games as made. While something drastic and sudden as a pandemic can outdate the findings in an accelerated manner, the teeth of time can be unpredictable. The long-standing power structures shift, and changes can come from different directions. Careful positioning and transparency are of essence. We need to constantly be aware of the time passing and shifts of the game industry.

In the middle of the pandemic, time becomes even more critical as some generalizations we have made are now turning into historical notes. In five years from now, it will be important to know whether the data was collected in 2019 or 2021, and even more whether it was collected in January 2020 or in June 2020. Even though the start of the pandemic is a drastic divider, there are also other dividers within the history of game making. Console generations, development of mobile devices, regulation laws, tool development, access to game education, festivals and other intermediaries, platform policy changes, and so many other factors might influence the phenomena we research. As the influences can come from several directions and build up slowly, it can be difficult for a single researcher to know what is important to their data.

That said, there is an obvious draw-back of publishing this book in March 2021. Knowing how book publishing processes go, the editors and authors were probably not aware of the looming force of the pandemic while putting together the proposals and manuscripts. It is still too early to tell how exactly the sudden, global changes to daily life caused by the pandemic impacted game making communities -- the forced remote work, the lack of daily networking and knowledge-sharing, siloed game development, the sudden withdrawal of investments in the early pandemic, as well as other impacts of the “new normal.” It is expected that Covid-19 will become one of the most talked about themes in the near future of game production studies as the pandemic continues to have an impact on the everyday lives of game makers. These developments unfortunately are completely nonexistent in Sotamaa and Švelch's Game Production Studies.

My critical notes for future authors focusing on the topic of game production are two-fold. Firstly, it is very important to position one’s study, think about its limitations and explicate its data set as quickly, and with as much detail, as possible. Secondly, we need to be critical of how we cite previous works. A thorough, transparent data collection period and sample features are important for our future readers. Critical reading and usage of others’ works are equally imperative. We need to be aware that we write for an audience ten years, twenty years, thirty years in the future, and hopefully even more from now. Writing books about moving targets, such as game development cultures, is especially challenging.

A handful of articles in Sotamaa and Švelch’s Game Production Studies frame their findings quite late in the text, or in a scattered manner, making it hard for the reader to contextualize the intellectual offerings until almost half-way through the articles. For example, even though Brendan Keogh's article on game making hobbyism states already in the abstract that the study is based on “interviews with 200 amateur game makers,” it is revealed on page three that the interviewees are from Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and Germany. The article does not provide a thoroughly detailed account of the data. The study itself is a wonderful eye-opener of alternative ways to exist as a maker within the ecosystem of games, but I am left craving further background details to better interpret its findings.

Also the positioning and framing is rather tame in Consalvo and Phelps' article about game development and streaming. It takes quite a long time to come to the section where the authors present their data, which in this case includes observations of an American programmer and an Australian artist working on their (super) small-scale productions. While Consalvo & Phelps are touching on an intriguing phenomenon of performative and public game development processes on Twitch in an exploratory manner, I am left missing a better framing on the width of the phenomenon and how it ties into the spectrum of conventional game development processes. I know from experience that game development streams are not that big on Twitch, and in fact, the “Game Development'' category was cancelled due to a low viewer count in 2019. After only five years, Twitch turned the category into a tag, which dropped the discoverability of game maker streamers.

In Sotamaa’s own article on the play habits of game developers, the geographical limitations of the data are almost over-emphasized. Based on my own research on office play in seven game studios in Helsinki, London, Berlin and San Francisco (Kultima & Alha, 2017), and my overall ten-year industry ethnography including hundreds of informants from different countries (Kultima, 2018), I would say, that Sotamaa's results on the Finnish game studios are probably echoing widely in Western game studios. That being said, it is of course good not to assume this without citing previous work or collecting wider data.

In the end, David Nieborg’s article on game publishing sets the best example of careful positioning, blocking misguided generalizations or critique. Nieborg states that: “What I will describe, then, is not a universal publishing logic, but one that is specific to a particular industry sector (the game industry), a specific group of industry actors (globally operating, for-profit publishers) during a particular time frame.” This positioning does not weaken the power of Nieborg's study, quite the contrary, as the sample is carefully picked. Nieborg also showcases a solution for the problem of access (cf. O’Donnell, 2014) to AAA actors such as Activision Blizzard. Publicly traded companies leave a trail of documentation that can be used for analyzing their impact.

If transparency and careful positioning are crucial for research in the 2020’s concerning games as made, equally important is the practice of critically and carefully referencing previous works. For instance, the broadly cited and influential Casey O'Donnell's “Developer's Dilemma” is not a recent study anymore. Despite the publication year of the book (2014), O'Donnell collected his ethnographical data between 2004 and 2008, well over a decade ago. It is not a study of the “current game industry” anymore (cf. Sotamaa, 2021, p. 106). Between 2008 and 2021, a lot of development and foundational changes have happened, as well as between 2014 and 2021.

These two critical notes are intertwined: the better we are in positioning our own studies, the more of an opportunity we give to future generations to use our results with care. Some of our deductions could be later debunked, due to the access of wider and improved understanding of how game design processes and productions work. Editors of article collections, as well as reviewers of conference proceedings and journals, need to make sure that the authors will do an even better job in transparency and positioning.

It is perhaps useful to clarify that game production studies cannot be equated with the study of game productions. The colloquial use of the word “game production” is often used as an interchangeable term for game design process or game development process. The practitioners do not always critically separate these expressions, and our vocabulary is intertwined with their lingo. It is probably not clear to all readers that game production studies draw from media production studies, which emphasizes the focus on cultural, economical and political layers. This could have been, perhaps, better framed by Sotamaa and Švelch.

Reading through this interesting and rich collection of studies, I was worried how little depth is provided for the wider disciplinary spectrum of understanding games as made. In the introduction chapter, the previous studies relied on are more quickly rushed through, and an especially poor job is done with the works outside the vocabulary of production studies. Even though it is flattering to see my work holding a position for such a wide field, as game design research, the wording in the introduction provides an opportunity to discard the massive body of studies relating to game design (cf. Melcer et al., 2015) or misunderstand their representation. There might be a slight misunderstanding on what I refer to as “game design praxiology," a sub-category of game design research, which for a reason is “focused primarily on design processes and methods” as stated by Sotamaa and Švelch. I believe that we urgently need a deeper and wider academic understanding of the mundane day-to-day of design decisions and other features of game design processes. Before empirical evidence, we cannot say how much resemblance games have with other design disciplines. However, even game design praxiology is not disconnected from “the cultural, political, or economic contexts of game development.”

Whereas game design research is conducted widely within the multidiscipline of game studies (cf. Deterding, 2016; Kultima, 2015; Kultima, 2018), game design praxiology is in its infancy. Some of the older works have been conducted by Jussi Kuittinen and Jussi Holopainen (2009), and some more recent studies are from such young scholars as Ylva Grufstedt (2020) and Jeanette Falk Olesen (2021). It might be easy to think that game design processes have been studied vastly, as there is a lot of professional literature as well as public talks and blog posts available. But in academic rigor, we have very little understanding of design processes in game development.

It is also notable that a lot of relevant work from management studies goes almost unacknowledged (e.g. Tschang, 2003; Tschang, 2007; Cadin et al., 2006). Even though they draw from different analytical frameworks, management studies’ contributions must have relevance for cultural, economical and political reflections on games as made. The lack of acknowledging these contributions makes it seem like game productions have almost not been studied at all. Fortunately, Aphra Kerr’s ending reflection in Sotamaa and Švelch's book, reminds us how production studies has been there since the beginning of the multidiscipline of game studies. In a way, it is misleading to treat it as an “emerging” field.

As a final note, the collection does a weak job citing game jam research. The phenomenon of game jams has been growing exponentially since 2009 and we have a surprisingly large body of studies on it (Lai et al., 2021; Kultima, 2015). I was especially disappointed when I noticed that the study of the Chinese game industry did not even mention game jams -- even though the second author, Hanna Wirman, is the founder of Global Game Jam Hong Kong. The Hong Kong GGJ site was founded already in 2013 and has grown into one of the biggest jam sites of Global Game Jam. The impact of the event cannot be completely cursory so that it could be left out. Perhaps the author has not yet understood her own legacy.

If one is on a mission to “critically reflect of video production covering the economic, cultural, and political structures that influence the final form of games'' as put by Sotamaa and Švelch, there is a heightened academic responsibility to be widely aware of (and educate others about) the multitude of existing works. Critical scholars need to harness a more holistic view on game making than, for instance, the peers that build on a specific area of game design.

Even though these critical notes I’ve listed could not be left unsaid, it is more than clear to me that the contribution of the book is substantial and each article in the collection deserves to be bombarded with the love letters of academia -- citations. Sotamaa and Švelch's book Game Production Studies is in open access, so there are absolutely no excuses for not visiting these works and building (critically) on top of them. Congratulations to the authors and editors! It is good to continue from here.



Cadin, L., Guérin, F. & Defillippi, R. (2006). HRM Practices in the Video Game Industry: Industry or Country Contingent? European Management Journal Vol. 24, No. 4, pp. 288-298.

Deterding, S. (2016). The Pyrrhic Victory of Game Studies: Assessing the Past, Present, and Future of Interdisciplinary Game Research. Games and Culture, Vol. 12(6). pp.521-543.

Falk Olessen, J. (2021). How Game Jams and Hackathons Accelerate Design Processes. Doctoral thesis. Aarhus University.

Grufstedt, Y. (2020). Counterfactual History and Game Design Practice in Digital Strategy Games. Doctoral thesis. University of Helsinki.

Kuittinen, J. & Holopainen, J. (2009). Some Notes on the Nature of Game Design. In Proceedings of DiGRA 2009 Breaking New Ground: Innovation in Games, Play, Practice and Theory. West London, UK, 1-4 September 2009.

Kultima, A. (2015). Defining Game Jam. in The Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on the Foundations of Digital Games (FDG 2015), June 22-25, 2015, Pacific Grove, CA, USA. ISBN 978-0-9913982-4-9.

Kultima, A. (2018). Game Design Praxiology. Acta Electronica Universitatis Tamperensis 1885. Tampere University Press.

Kultima, A. & Alha, K. (2017). The Intertwined Role of Play at Game Companies An Examination of Office Play Strategies. Mindtrek 2017.

Lai, G., Kultima, A., Khosmood, F., Pirker, J., Fowler, A., Vecchi, I., Latham, W., & Fol Leymarie, (2021). Two Decades of Game Jams. In the Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Game Jams, Hackathons and Game Creation Events (ICGJ’21). ACM Digital Library:

Melcer, Edward; Truong-Huy Dinh Nguyen, Zhengxing Chen, Alessandro Canossa, Magy Seif El-Nasr, Katherine Isbister. (2015). “Games Research Today: Analyzing the Academic Landscape 2000-2014.” (2015). In the Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on the Foundations of Digital Games (FDG 2015), June 22-25, 2015.

O’Donnell, C. (2014). Developer’s Dilemma: The Secret World of Videogame Creators. Cambridge, USA: The MIT Press.

Sotamaa, O. (2021). Game Developers Playing Games: Instrumental Play, Game Talk, and Preserving the Joy of Play. In the Sotamaa, O. & Švelch, J. (Eds.) Game Production Studies. Amsterdam University Press.

Tschang, F. T. (2003). When Does an Idea Become an Innovation? The Role of Individual and Group Creativity in Videogame Design. In: DRUID Summer Conference. Copenhagen, Denmark, 12-14 Jun 2003.

Tschang, F. T. (2007). Balancing the Tensions between Rationalization and Creativity in the Video Games Industry. Organization Science, Vol. 18(6), pp. 989-100.

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