Talk: “Loot Boxes: Video Game Gambling, Paying to Win, and the Question of Game Design” June 19, 2018

Abstract: A ‘loot box’ is a consumable virtual item purchased and redeemed within a video game to receive a random selection of virtual items. In the last eighteen months, their implementation in many major and independent titles has led to extensive controversy. For example, in April 2018, gambling authorities in Belgium and the Netherlands declared that loot boxes risk creating a new generation of problem gamblers, whilst China, the UK, US and Canada have expressed concern over whether that loot boxes lower the threshold of gambling by integrating ‘games of chance’ into otherwise skill-based gaming experiences. Despite public and policy outcry, research has not engaged with those who actually design and develop these systems: the voices of designers are missing from the debate. In this talk, Drs. Johnson and Brock will outline their present research program into this phenomenon, which is believed to be the first project to interview industry actors on loot boxes within video games development and integrate these voices into local, national and international debates about the regulation and funding of games development. They will outline their main research questions, interview data and findings to date, and potential directions for further investigation into loot box implementation, effects, and impacts on both policy and regulation, and video game players themselves.

Speaker Bios:
Dr. Mark R Johnson is a Killam Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta. His research focuses on the intersections between play and money, such as eSports, live streaming, fantasy sports betting, gamification, and loot boxes. He has published in academic journals including Information, Communication and Society, The Sociological Review, Convergence, and Games and Culture, and his first book, The Unpredictability of Gameplay, is due out in late 2018 from Bloomsbury Academic. Beyond academia he is also an independent game developer and a former professional poker player.

Dr. Tom Brock is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University. His research interests include video games, social theory, digital cultures and political protest. Tom currently co-convenes the BSA Realism and Social Research Group and steers the BSA Theory Group. He is an Associate at the Centre for Social Ontology at the University of Warwick and is also the co-author of the edited book, Structure, Culture, Agency: Selected Paper of Margaret Archer (Routledge).

This event is free but registration is required due to space limitations. Light refreshments will be provided. Register at this EventBrite page.