Digital culture promises a business model that oscillates between blockbusters and niche products. This model leads to upheavals in the market that directly affect, for instance, the quality and availability of computer games. Just as we rely on cognitive models in our interactions with individuals, our understanding of complex social situations depends, accordingly, on models of a larger scale, based on longitudinal studies of our basic assumptions. In the field of finance, for instance, there are those who, trusting the rational expectation that markets will “naturally” correct themselves, seek “beta” in the wisdom of crowds, and there are reflexive behaviorists who, assuming that the world is in a constant state of flux or disequilibrium, look for “alpha” opportunities in the madness of the marketplace. Media studies is similarly divided between those who regard crowdsourcing as an impetus for transformation and progress (from the printing press to the mass media of the twentieth century and on to the highly differentiated media of networked cultures) and those who believe that the dispersion of the masses into ever more channels has produced a droning noise that threatens to smother whatever informational value or entertainment value might exist.1
In an effort to mediate between these seemingly irreconcilable positions, I have examined the planning cycles of the entertainment-software industry, although of course the disclaimer must be kept in mind that past performance is no guarantee of future results, whether we are dealing with finance or media studies. The question is what media studies may gain when speaking of the “new masses,” regardless of whether such insight can be expressed as formulaically as an alpha or beta deviation, in looking into to the business cycles of American computer-game developers.2 In this context, an interesting role is played by Metacritic and Gamerankings, two websites that aggregate criticism on the Internet.3 These sites have become so influential in the gaming industry that they are often used to determine the salaries and bonus packages of its managers and executives. Finally, the discussion will turn to synthetic worlds, for it is time for observers of new media to familiarize ourselves with trends in the entertainment software industry that have come to govern both the quality and the variety of the products being offered. While media studies typically approached the phenomenon of computer games in terms of media...
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Mass gatherings and the positive or negative phantasms of the masses instigate various discourses and practices of social control, communication, and community formation. Yet the masses are not what they once were. In light of the algorithmic analysis of mass data, the diagnosis of dispersed public spheres in the age of digital media, and new conceptions of the masses such as swarms, flash mobs, and multitudes, the emergence, functions, and effects of today’s digital masses need to be examined and discussed anew. They provide us, moreover, with an opportunity to reevaluate the cultural and medial historiography of the masses. The present volume outlines the contours of this new field of research and brings together a collection of studies that analyze the differences between the new and former masses, their distinct media-technical conditions, and the political consequences of current mass phenomena.