Passion or Proft? Or Both? Negotiating the Meaning and Conditions of Creative Work in the Digital Games Industry

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


The digital games industry is one of the fastest growing branches in the creative sector in Sweden: In the last three years the proportion of employees has increased with about 20 percent. Specific for this branch is that digital games companies compete in a highly globalized and digitalized market dominated by a few large corporations. It creates the backdrop for specific working conditions. Previous studies from North America and the UK point at high workloads in combination with insecure work contracts and exploitation of the game developers’ own passionate interests in gaming. The quest for being creative is often juxtaposed to economic efficiency, as well as being used as means of obscuring precarious working conditions. For instance, the industry is characterized by long working hours and planned overtime, so called ‘crunch’ and collective agreements seem to be rare. There are however few studies of working conditions in the digital games industry in the Swedish context.

The paper will present ongoing research and preliminary results from a study on the working conditions and working culture in the Swedish digital games industry. The study investigates the working conditions in industries where norms and structures are unclear and renegotiated due to factors such as digitalization, globalization, expansion, and particularly in working cultures characterized by informal relationships and blurred boundaries between work and life. The study departs from the following research questions: 1) How are working forms and conditions understood, experienced and negotiated? 2) How are creative work understood, experienced and organized? Through primarily in-depth interviews with game developers, motivation and driving forces are investigated, as well as experiences of (in)security related to working conditions and organizing practices. In particular, the analysis focuses on boundary negotiations between work and leisure, how different type of work is valuated socially and economically, and how creativity is understood and negotiated in a commercial context. Through the theoretical notion of ‘relational work’ coined by the sociologist Viviana Zelizer, this study analyses the nuances and complexities involved in the valuation of creative work. It shows how the game developers (re)draw boundaries between moral and economic value spheres in an interactive and situated practice, informed by structural conditions in the industry. The paper demonstrates how game developers negotiate and compromise between the ideals of being creative versus ‘selling out’, how professional identities as game developers are being shaped in this process, how boundaries between work- and friendship relations are blurred or distinguished, and how emotional engagement and allocation of time to various work tasks are being socially negotiated and normatively regulated.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Jun 22
EventThe 19th ILERA World Congress 2021 - Lund University, Lund, Sweden
Duration: 2021 Jun 212021 Jun 24


ConferenceThe 19th ILERA World Congress 2021

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary


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