In modern literature fan activities are often seen as ‘free labor’. Terranova etc. agree that internet users create value by contributing texts, music and visuals. This digital labor also is the case with fans who base their works on existing material. Following her ideas, Abigail de Kosnick also points at market value of fan artifacts: “Affinity groups, by endowing ordinary things with special meanings, actually increase those things’ market value”.
Hills: “fans are ideal consumers”
Terranova is one of the first to rise the question of fair compensation for free labor online. She sees internet as a thriving garden filled with results of intricate cultural production that were created and distributed for free.
Anyway, internet is not a secret garden any more, where happy digital peasants exchange gifts of appreciation. The immaterial labor on the internet has been successfully ‘valorized’, as Terranova would say. Various practices have emerged, such as crowdsourcing, to not mention the ad-based monetization model that has proven hardly effective for independent cultural production.
“Fan producers could similarly benefit from Google AdSense or the YouTube Partner Program if companies would allow them to use copyrighted images, text, video, and sound” – writes Kosnick, and it all already happened, and not in the best way.
So, if fan work generates value, we must ask, what kind of value and for whom, and how we measure it.
Also, fans appropriate cultural products created by other people – who were paid for that. It makes fair compensation problematic.
Fan studies describe fan activities as a culture of active participation. Fans not only ‘consume’ source texts, they also create original content and actively engage themselves in social events and interaction. Only a small part of an audience of a certain cultural product forms a fandom, but these fandoms are notoriously active.
The audience of free-to-play games is seen by their researchers as casual, less involved and predominately passive. Still, some researchers give contrasting accounts of fans of free-to-play games who play with great dedication.
Aren’t fans of free-to-play games passive consumers, manipulated into the game by developers? Well, no more than fans of soap operas, and we’ll see several cases of fan art created by fans of free-to-play games in huge volumes.
Coming to Fan Art in Commercial Free-To-Play Games: is it even possible?
Hypothesis: the lack of fan art in massively popular free-to-play games is caused by consumer-oriented ideology of such games. Developers of free-to-play games utilize every creative possibility to feed more of their own content to fans. In large-scale free-to-play games, the marketing bubble is so overblown that every wish of a player is predicted, programmed and controlled, including creative impulses.
Marketing materials and ads of free-to-play game give you everything you ever wanted. Want explosions? Seedy jokes? Want to play with your soldiers as if they were action figures?
(It’s like kids play – actually, both Jenkins and Hills rely on a playing child as a model fan)
Smaller and less popular free-to-play casual games may still get a cult following and inspire participatory cultures
Unnecessary lore – the narrative that no one asked for. All free-to-play games have it, as it is believed to improve engagement. (Do you remember the storyline of Candy Crush Saga? The Yeti? The Piss Dragon? Still, it’s all there.)
Jenkins sees transmediality as an important quality of fictional worlds that emerge from within most beloved cultural products.
Still, free-to-play games make themselves a part of the player’s ordinary live as one of their addiction strategies. Also, their cross-platformity is often seen as transmediality, between mobile and desktop. Finally, the Angry Birds movie!
Case # 1. A game with quite a lot of fan art. Also, it has lore that was readily interpreted by its fans, including the infamous ‘poopy hat’. It is a small game with a strong following, but the game hasn’t been principally updated for several years, which means death in free-to-play.
The players were happy to fantasize about Billy and his romantic relationships. Texts of the game only hinted at romance, so the fans were eager to discuss it themselves. The gap was there, it just had to be filled. The value was generated, but no one came for it, and the game is gradually losing fans.
The second case is a very interesting case of transmediality when a game becomes a media for another fandom What is also interesting is that it answers the question about free fan labor, because it shows special relationships between fans and producers, and also between different fandoms.
The most interesting and creative cases of fandom that we observe are executed in the least related media forms.
This artist makes in-game money for selling Doctor Who themed costumes for virtual pets. Think about it.
So, fans are not digital peasants, they are street peddlers at their worst and respected merchants at their best. They want compensation for their job and they get it from other players. The economy of fan labor is thriving as long as the producers are not involved.
Fans create free content. Quality content costs money (or it would, but it doesn’t). Also, fans promote the product. Also, fans buy fan stuff to construct and project their identities through it. This fan stuff receives extra surplus value only when sold to fans. Identities are a commodity. Fans create value. …Profit?..
So, why mass market free-to-play games don’t exploit their fans in terms of free labor? They already had everything covered, they filled all the gaps, and they have their own ways, much more passive and conformist, to make extra profit on their fans. Actually, they successfully prevent their fans from creating fan art, as – surprise! – it’s not free labor, like, _simply playing the game_….
Watching passively is free labor. You do exactly what you are su Doing something creative is not free labor, as the outcome of your activities is defined by you and not by your manager. So it’s a Schroeddinger’s cat for the source product owner: there’s either a cute kitty or a scary horny monster.
(And the last nail in the coffin: actually, in his “Manuscripts of 1844”, Marx was writing about an intrinsic “natural” urge for free creative labor that every human has. It sounds as credible as “women have a natural urge to be housewives”, but still, it’s how Marx understood free labor.)
Exploitation: the work of fans should be compensated. Terranova Participation: that’s how fans socialize. Henry Jenkins, Matt Hills
Exploitation vs. Participation
Also, gift economy: Fans feel obliged for excessive value they received, and they return the creative debt. As a fan, a person values certain cultural artefacts more than others, and they acknowledge this surplus value by giving back the creative debt.
The labor of colonization
The Labor of Colonization:
Fan Art and Casual Free-To-Play Games
BA in Oriental Philology & Undergraduate student of Media & Communication
European Humanities University, 2016
“The practice of being a fan does not merely consist of
passive consumption. Rather, fans are also
Mel Stanfill, Megan Condis
Fandom and/as labor.
In: Transformative Works and Cultures
Volume 15, 2014
“The pervasiveness of such production questions the
legitimacy of a fixed distinction between production
and consumption, labor and culture”.
Tiziana Terranova about internet labor
Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy
In: Social Text, Volume 18, Issue 2-63
Fan work generates value
Television Fans and Participatory Culture
Fandom: “Rich and complex
But… aren’t fans of casual
manipulated into the
game by developers?
Is There Space For Fan Art In
Commercial F2P Games?
Jenkins: fans need ‘gaps' to
Traditional fan art genres are easily found in free-to-play
1. Enchanting visuals of Clash of Clans ads - see Clash of
Clans Comes to Life (fans made a movie out of it)
2. Unnecessary lore of quests in farming games, etc.
Also: How Much Transmedia
Are Commercial F2P Games?*
“A transmedia text does not simply disperse
information: it provides a set of roles and goals which
readers can assume as they enact aspects of the story
through their everyday life”.
“Transmedia Storytelling 101”
What color is
YOUR Angry Bird
*As much as their
Case 1. “Happy Street”
“Happy Street” is a casual mobile free-to-play game in a
city builder genre (currently in the ‘sunsetting’ stage).
Unlike the majority of mobile
free-to-play games, fans of
“Happy Street” used to create a
lot of fan art.
This fan art was mostly centered
around game characters – Billy,
his girlfriend Zoe and their friends
– and it was mostly romantic and
The game itself was a typical
commercial free-to-play city
builder that required extensive
grinding, sending out various
invitations and requests and daily
visits to ‘happy streets’ of players’
The game is not developed much
further now, even though fans
used to love it.
Case 2. Ovipets
Ovipets is an old school free-to-play browser game in the ‘breeding’ genre (genetics).
Developers allow modifications to players’ profile and pets in the game.
Active peer-to-peer virtual economy developed around user-generated content in the
game. Amateur art is commissioned, sold and even stolen.
Interestingly, some of commissioned concept artists of the game are also on
DeviantArt, aside with thousands of amateur artists who play the game and try sell
their art for in-game money.
Also, the game attracted a significant share of active members of various fandoms
(MLP, Doctor Who, Sherlock, Tolkien’s universe, a number of anime fandoms etc) and
became a stage for role playing.
«Fandom is a form of free labor»
Why developers of commercial
casual free-to-play games do
not exploit this kind of labor?
(They are professional
exploiters, after all...)
Abigail De Kosnik. Fandom as Free Labor.
BACK TO THEORY
From the perspective of producers,
fan art is not ‘free labor’…
…Unlike simply playing the game!
‘The Labor of Colonization’
With fan art, fans fill the gaps that developers leave open.
Fan art is ‘bleeding’ outside the margins set by game
developers and marketers. Where possible, it crosses the
boundaries of media and 'colonizes' new territories.
When fan art moves between media forms, it expands into
areas that most likely could not be filled by the original
media or traditional forms of marketing.
'Colonization' is not a paid job – it's risky and resource-
demanding (who would send a man to the Moon today?).
"Digital colonists" take the colonized territories as reward.
Marketers may follow them and reclaim their work, as in
the case of Ovipets or MLP.
BUT, as long as it is between fans and not between fans and
developers, this labor is easily converted into other types
“From the perspective of dominant taste,
fans appear to be frighteningly out of
control, undisciplined and unrepentant,
When fan art denies ‘good
taste’ in a Bourdiesian
sense, it cannot be easily
converted into certain
types of capital.
Fandom rejects capitalist logic?
1. Andrejevic, M. Estrangement 2.0. In: World Picture Journal, Issue 6, 2011.
2. De Kosnik, A. Fandom as Free Labor. In: Digital Labor. The Internet as
Playground and Factory. New York: Routledge, 2013, 272 p. Pp. 98–111.
3. De Kosnik, A. Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked
Culture. New York: New York University Press.
4. Fiske, J. The Cultural Economy of Fandom. In: The Adoring Audience: Fan
Culture and Popular Media, edited by Lisa A. Lewis, 30–49. New York:
5. Hills, M., Greco, C. Fandom as an Object and the Objects of Fandom. In:
Matrizes. Volume 9, issue 1, 2015. P. 147-162.
6. Jenkins, H. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New
York: Routledge, 1992.
7. Sandvoss, C. Fans: The Mirror of Consumption, Oxford: Polity, 2005.
8. Stanfill M., Condis M. Fandom and/as Labor. In: Transformative Works and
Cultures. Volume 15, 2014. Available Online:
9. Terranova T. Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy. In: Social
Text, Volume 18, Issue 2-63, pp. 33-58.
Happy Street Fan Art
Happy Street by A3DP
going to the happy street by Sheyff
Happy Street by ohprocrastinator
Billy! by yuraka
Dusk at Happy Street by Kampidh
Billy by Asu-chan96
Dahlia and Zoe by PaulinaChinea
Happy Street Fans Of Hunter by lilyracoon
Zoe by Bueplub