A Brief Look at the Underbelly of the Games Industry

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When it comes to the gaming industry, we often think of the prominent people that contribute - game developers, journalists, publishers. While these are all top-tier, quality contributors to be admired, tons of lesser-known participants keep things moving forward as well.

Those who create in-game media or put in the extra work to preserve our industry history are who I’m referring to. It’s because of their often unnoticed work that the top dogs can continue doing what they do: making and promoting games.

This list highlights a few of my favorite industry personnel and explores why they’re essential. Take a look at a few, and come up with your own favorite underrated gaming industry participants.

In-Game Photographers

You know that feeling when you see a screenshot of a new game on social media, and it immediately makes you believe it’s the next best thing? Well, someone had to take that photo, and likely spent a lot of time doing so.

These in-game screenshots must be carefully executed, with the genre of the game dictating the content. Is it a shooter? Highlight unique enemies and weapons. How about a strategy game? Which units stand out and entice the audience? It’s one of those jobs that you’ll notice if done wrong but won’t think twice about when done right. 

Every console can screenshot in-game. This means the internet is now flooded with user images on top of the marketing ones. It’s vital that a professional image stand out from these user-created ones, especially when being used to promote your game.

Publishers like EA hire out for this job, with photographer Dead End Thrills being an excellent example of such a worker. His images underline what developers want to express with their creations. Having an eye for that is a skill that one should never overlook.

Bad Apple
“Bad Apple” - one of Dead End Thrills’ Pieces. (Source: deadendthrills.com)

Gaming Historians

Games have been around since the late ’50s with William Higinbotham’s “Tennis For Two” being the first. And in the ensuing 6 decades, we’ve seen dozens of consoles and thousands of different titles come and go. And with so many of these releases being physical, some titles and hardware have been lost to time, or at least have become very hard to find. This memorabilia could be mint condition, unopened versions of the original Super Mario Bros., or a signed poster from the original developer of a favorite title. Regardless of the item, someone has to keep track of it all, no?

Enter gaming historians. Whether they’re on YouTube, working at a museum, or doing it for their own personal gain, these protectors of the past are doing what they can to preserve the gems of industry moments long gone.

Nintendo DSi XL
An interactive history of the Nintendo DSi XL (Source: nvmuse.org)

The National Video Game Museum in Frisco, Texas is a physical representation of these efforts. Here, you can find a timeline of consoles, working versions of the oldest titles, and even a retro 80’s arcade. Another museum in Rochester, New York, The Museum of Play, houses a massive arcade with games back as far as 1967. This space also hosts the World Video Game Hall of Fame awards every year

There’s also vgmuseum.com, a nostalgic website dedicated to the more unique moments in the games industry. This space houses reviews, screenshots, wallpapers, and more, regarding games you’re sure to have never heard of. Plus, it’s lovingly formatted in the way of the old web, adding to that retro feeling.

Arcade Owners

Arcades are all but lost to the past. Back in their heyday, kids would save up all of their quarters and rush to play the latest titles right after school. Now, with the rise of consoles in your house, arcades are only for the most dedicated of gamers - those willing to leave the comfort of their homes to enjoy the titles of yesteryear.

The owners of these arcades have to be passionate. Games like Fortnite pull in most young players nowadays, so you can be sure these arcades aren’t the money makers they used to be. Instead, these managers do so out of their love for the medium.

Earlier this year, I interviewed the founder of an arcade bar here in Chicago called Replay Lincoln Park. There, he spoke on the trials and tribulations of running an arcade in the modern day while including alcohol on top of that. Of course, there have to be games that appeal to a mainstream audience, but the effort put into this space is real. The owner even makes sure to bring in original arcade machines instead of the altered remakes pushed out by some companies.

Pinball Machines
A celebration of arcade games - don’t forget to grab a drink!

Arcades are also a great way to meet people that share your interest in gaming. If someone is willing to trek all the way to an arcade and spend money on games, you can be damn well sure they’ll want to talk about it. As long as you don’t interrupt their Galaga run, that is.

The founder also mentioned the stress in repairing these machines. There aren’t many people who know how to fix pinball machines and even that number is slowly falling. Who’s going to learn how to maintain a pinball machine when they can be playing a modern title instead? Those working to keep these devices in check should never be taken for granted.

Of course, this is just a brief look at the underbelly of our industry. There are loads of other groups, like event organizers, indie curators, and more. Spend some time looking at these lesser-known positions. You never know, you might just find your next career path.

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