“that’s the tragedy of the commons” - some fuck busy selling off all the commons

i get linked this piece a lot, so im writing a response

wanna be real clear up front that i like the piece, and im not responding to it directly, really. im responding to the way its been internalized and redeployed within the very specific context of itch, steam, and games culture in the art/punk space i half-inhabit. ok mask off time to be a fuck ✌

here's what im usually saying before the piece gets linked:

itch.io is just a silicon valley startup with a rainbow pin, and the moral valorization of itch as a platform has served to discourage moral-minded outsiders, disproportionately queer and marginalized, from publishing their games on the only storefront where i personally have ever seen rent money be made without some gatekeeper's permission: steam. this is nothing special about steam, and it could be any other platform, but steam is where most of the audience is today, and its one of the only places that you can get your work sold without knowing a guy.

when i publish games on steam and itch side by side, steam makes more than 100x the amount of money that itch makes, and not through any special featuring. in fact steam surfaces your games without some employee plucking you out, whereas itch seems to be based largely on the one or two itch people featuring you on the front page. to be very clear: when im lucky, steam makes me enough to live humbly in a big city with a partner to split rent, but i would make more money as a bus driver. itch makes enough money to buy a hotdog. sorry if saying this in public makes me look like a capitalist, but my games work is real work and i am not ashamed in any direction for selling them and making a living off of them.

i see the obsession with itch as part of a larger aesthetically-anti-capitalist posture that has been prevalent in the 'cool punk queer games' 'scene' for a while: steam is gross, selling your games is gross, talking about money is gross unless you can make yourself seem really cataclysmically poor, which if you can do that it's fine to ask for people to give you money as a purely moral act, as a donation.

look, fuck capitalism. but this is not a strategy for moving beyond it, let alone surviving it. this is just a way to look cool while capitulating. you might have work elsewhere, or support elsewhere, such that you can appear to be not capitulating at all. but i fuckin know you! if you work in academia or are some kind of culture worker, if you make money from public grants, if you work for amazon or elsewhere in software, and then you come into this space and moralize about the purity of free labor, fuck you!

you are not purified by your aesthetic separation from money. you are setting a cultural standard in this space that pressures the most moral-minded, most marginalized young developers to build their work practice within a framework that is guaranteed not to sustain them. fuck you.

here's a quote that i think distills what people are referring to from the piece when they link it in response:

"“by putting a price on free games we will make it easier for small devs to compete.” or - what if we finally forced Rockstar to pay their own taxes and then give the money to those small devs directly, rather than hoping that the market will sort it out?"

im not trying to impose some kind of 'all games cost money' precedent. i miss flash portals too, both as an artist and as a player. there should absolutely be spaces for work made in whatever context.

im asking you to stop phrasing these arguments like this, like its a moral failing to advocate for the continued existence of the sliver of games industry where independent artists can sell their own games to players and pay rent with the money. like talking about the really existing conditions of the present makes someone a capitalist shill.

im asking you to imagine steps towards a post-capitalist utopia that are steps you can actually take and live to see the other side. 'force rockstar to pay taxes' is not something either of us can do, not something all of itch's audience put together could do. why dont you go VOTE about it, nerd. in the meantime, some of us are trying to build and maintain sustainable spaces for living human beings! like by actually doing the work ourselves!

nobody is trying to sell off the commons. there are no commons anymore. itch is a privately held company. bye!

November 27, 2020