Space Invaders: Warner Bros. and the History of Hollywood in the Video Game Industry
- Author(s): Fleury, James Bernard
- Advisor(s): Caldwell, John T
- et al.
This dissertation traces the history of convergence between “Hollywood” (i.e., the American film and television business) and the video game industry. It focuses on the Warner Bros. studio and its conglomerate owners (i.e., Warner Communications, Inc.; Time Warner; AOL Time Warner; and AT&T), whose video game industry involvement has included both in-house production (through Atari and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment) and licensing arrangements with outside companies. Although “convergence” as a corporate ideal implies two cultures cooperating as they move toward becoming a single culture, its application as a corporate mandate often has led to competition arising out of established hierarchies between groups of creative workers within the media industries. This project charts how Hollywood conglomerates have found it challenging to practically implement video game-related convergence due to seemingly incompatible cultural differences between the games business and other media industries. Even as Warner has changed over time in terms of ownership and structure, I argue that its decades of game development and licensing show that convergence between so-called “old” and “new” media tends to involve struggles for not just creative control but also cultural survival.
Reflecting on continuities present throughout Warner’s video game history can provide insight into Hollywood’s contemporary, and future, involvement in emerging media. In particular, this history demonstrates a recurring trend throughout Hollywood of initially using new technology to promote existing old-media interests prior to experimenting with original content—all while maintaining a hierarchy in which the newer media and their creators occupy a lower position than those in older media. Through interviews with artists and executives connected to this history, analysis of trade and popular press reports, archival research, and close readings of particular games, this project considers the implications of trends underlying Warner’s conditions for creative labor in efforts to converge the film and video game industries. Based on these trends, I contend that Hollywood conglomerates will continue to approach the implementation of media convergence as an industrial ideal without regard for its practical effects on creative workers.