In this blog post, Postdoctoral Researcher Lilli Sihvonen introduces the cultural neo-production process of products (CNPP), which is a form of sustainable, enduring and special product relationships we occasionally form with products. She presents the features of this relationship in the light of board game Kimble, and how the CNPP research can be extended to…
The Cultural Neo-Production Process
Both digital games and board games are consumer products with different types and lengths of market lifespans and durability. Many board games especially have a quite short market lifespan, after which they disappear entirely, while some exceptional games turn into mass-market classics whose value and demand can last for decades. We as players, users and consumers form a particular and special bond with these games, and we participate in maintaining their lifespans.
These games start to follow a life pattern of their own: they are on and off the markets, taking turns in disappearing and returning. For consumers, this means that these games are not always available for purchase. When the games return to the markets, their revivification is filled with nostalgic longing due to the withholding.
I call this kind of life pattern behavior the cultural neo-production process of products (CNPP). The CNPP is a combination of planned obsolescence (see e.g. Slade 2006) and planned revivification (see e.g. Davis 1979), where the two phenomena take turns and affect the duration of the market life and the form of the product. Planned obsolescence commonly refers to a method of deliberate shortening of product lifespans and durability, and it is associated with the nature of throwaway society, e-waste and environmental issues. In CNPP, the purpose of obsolescence is to draw our attention away from the old product into new ones, and withdraw the old one beyond our reach. The longing for the product begins gradually. When the product is returned, its updated, modified, and often improved re-version is like a flame that attracts both old and new consumer generations. Those who are reunited with the product know that it is a trustworthy and safe choice; they can be interested in what new experiences the product might offer, while for the new generation the product is wrapped in new style, features or technologies to make it more contemporary.
Case Kimble and Different Features
The CNPP is a theory on how enduring product relationships are born, and it serves as a theoretical framework for designing and maintaining these relationships. I have studied the Finnish board game Kimble as an example of the process, and defined its most important features and components.
The mass-market board game Kimble from Tactic Games was first published in Finland in 1967. Since then, it has had a constant market presence with only minor updates; the game itself has remained remarkably same, but the front cover, game package and some other physical components such as game pieces have been changed and improved over the years. In my doctoral dissertation, I study Kimble as an example product of these lifespans described above. I have recognized features, factors and components that these types of products tend to share and are common in the cultural neo-production process: a meaningful history, permanent features and modifications, user culture and biographies.
A meaningful history is a shared story, often productized and used for marketing purposes, but also to create a sense of inclusion among the company employees and the users of the product. It is often repeated on anniversaries and functions as a basis for comebacks. In Kimble’s case, a short historical overview was often added to the back cover of the game package on anniversaries, and it was re-told in many articles and interviews published about Kimble.
Permanent features and modifications are in a continuous interaction: permanent features are so essential that when removed, the game ceases to be the same. Their purpose is to maintain the recognizability and create trust within users. For instance, as decades passed, the users learned that Kimble is a durable product and can withstand quite violent treatment. Many owned really old Kimble versions, and stored them on their closet shelves.
Modifications, on the other hand, are designed to lure the consumers to buy the product either again or for the first time. Old generations are already familiar with the product, and interested in the freshly added components, and what new they might offer for their product experience. New generations are attracted by the renewed, modern design of the classic. Both generations might be interested in the retro feeling it has. For instance, the package of the first two Kimble versions (1967 and 1972) were covered with a portrait (either a picture or a drawing) of a family of four playing the game, which points to the family values of the 1960s. Nowadays, as republished versions, they are seen as more retro rather than representing the family values of today’s society. On the other hand, theme versions of Kimble (such as Winnie-the-Pooh Kimble) are ways to offer the old product in a more contemporary design for next generations.
User culture and biographies are not a necessity in these lifespans, but they are a sign of the product’s agency, which is no longer entirely controlled by the producer. For instance, Kimble is a part of broad student culture especially among Aalto University students who have developed several Kimble versions of their own and combined those versions with drinking game rules. Biographies also include other functional purposes of the game such as using it as a toy or dice for other games (Kimble’s dice is never lost because it is trapped inside the Pop-o-matic dye container).
Findings and future research
My most important research result is the theoretical framework of the cultural neo-production process, which is meant for both studying the lifespans of other games and products and designing new products with longer lasting lifespans (Sihvonen 2022, 82-85). My research shows that games are meaningful products and we can form strong attachments to them. They have potentially long and enduring lives, and their lifespans can provide valuable information and background for theories on how to create sustainable product relationships within different product segments. For instance, Kimble sheds light on to such facts that not all, especially physical, products need to disappear from the markets. Many products can be durable, endure on the markets, and provide sustainability for their companies, which implies that planned obsolescence is not necessary anymore.
Future research steps will focus on the development of the framework into a practical tool for companies and researchers. I aim to apply it to different kinds of products, and combine game theories to the framework more closely. Digital game production has long been known for different types of revenue models, similar to the cultural neo-production process. For instance, GaaS games, “Game-as-a-service”, share a similar kind of life pattern and are often referred to as “live games”. These types of games have a continuous life, which to some extent supports a more sustainable working environment for game developers, while for GaaP games, “Game-as-a-product”, and their developers the game is a project, which has a beginning and an end, often without any plans for future market cycles. By combining different theories from material culture and game research it is possible to further develop our relationship with games into a more reliable one.
Blog post info:
I would like to thank our main coordinator Usva Friman for being the proofreader and reviewer for each blog post this spring – including mine. On behalf of the CoE GameCult blog team I thank all the authors and readers, and wish you a nice summer break. We will continue publishing blog post about game culture research in September.
Bio and contact:
Lilli Sihvonen is a Postdoctoral Researcher in Pelikaupunki Turku (Game City Turku) project and research team coordinator of the CoE GameCult Turku team at the University of Turku. Her research interests include sustainable development, product relationships, game theories, board games and media archaeology, and she is currently also developing the model of the cultural neo-production process to a more practical tool for companies. She is also the main editor of the CoE GameCult blog posts.
Davis, F. (1979). Yearning for Yesterday: A Sociology of Nostalgia. The Free Press.
Dubois, L.-E., & Weststar, J. (2022). Games-as-a-service: Conflicted identities on the new front-line of video game development. New Media & Society, 24(10), 2332–2353. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444821995815
Sihvonen, L., & Sivula, A. (2016.) Klassikoksi rakennettu – Erään lautapelin historia. Pelitutkimuksen vuosikirja 2016: 38–51. https://www.pelitutkimus.fi/vuosikirja2016/klassikoksi-rakennettu-eraan-lautapelin-historia
Sihvonen, L. (2017.) Pop-o-matic-muovikupu ja kestävyys – Kimble- lautapelin pysyvien ominaisuuksien merkitys. Ennen ja nyt: Historian tieto sanomat, 17(1). https://journal.fi/ennenjanyt/article/view/108788/63785
Sihvonen, L. (2018.) From a Board Game to a Drinking Game – One Biography of the Finnish Board Game Kimble. Well Played Journal, 7(1): 127–142. https://www.utupub.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/172641/Well%20Played_Sihvonen.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
Sihvonen, L. (2020). ’Classics Age’ – The Flexibility of Planned Obsolescence in Terms of the Classic Finnish Board Game Kimble. WiderScreen Ajankohtaista 14.10.2020. http://widerscreen.fi/numerot/ajankohtaista/classics-age-the-flexibility-of-planned-obsolescence-in-terms-of-the-classic-finnish-board-game-kimble/
Sihvonen, L (2022). Kimble-lautapelin kestävä tuotesuhde: Kulttuurituotteiden uustuotantoprosessit. (The Enduring Product Relationship of the Board Game Kimble – The Cultural Neo-production Processes of Products.) Doctoral thesis. Turun yliopisto. https://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-951-29-8863-1.
Slade, G. (2006). Made to break: Technology and Obsolescence in America. Harvard University Press.