Toward a Business History of the Internet: Digital Games and Gaming as a Case Study Approach to ‘Big Tech’ Industries

Internet technology has had a profound effect on how business is conducted in the 21st century. This paper argues that the business history of the internet is a timely and necessary intervention to begin to unpick the historical makings of internet industries. Internet companies have evolved over the past four decades to represent a wide range of diversified activities. Therefore, the task of business history in internet research is to generate specificity and empirical research on the rise and diversification of ICT businesses across internet-related industries. In light of this agenda, the paper makes the case for gaming as an industry-specific case study within the business history of the internet. The research follows the tradition of Alfred Chandler to examine the impact of networked technologies on structure and strategy in the game industry – and additionally argues for an interdisciplinary approach to account for the unique significance of digital media industries in the development of internet business. The empirical work of the research takes three examples of changes in dominant design in the game industry: namely online gaming, online stores for games, and game streaming. To analyze how these internet technologies have supported the game industry’s evolution since the 1990s, the paper supplements existing literature with company and industry level publications, archived consumer journals, and news articles primarily concerned with game companies in the United States and Europe. The outcomes of the research demonstrate the impact of internet technology on the production and distribution of games has led to the rise of a few large multinational firms who were early adopters of internet technology. These findings highlight three methodological takeaways from the study of the internet business history: the centrality of platform periodization, the transnationally connected nature of internet industries, and the need for locally specific analysis.