Monday, June 11, 2018

Cool Event Alert: Loot Boxes: Video Game Gambling, Paying to Win, and the Question of Game Design, Talk by Drs. Mark R. Johnson and Tom Brock

Long time no see!

I am resurfacing after a pretty long hiatus from academic/public life, which included both a yearlong sabbatical (or research leave) and a (nearly) yearlong maternity leave. Work on Kids DIY Media is in full swing, as we are nearing the end of our data collection and analysis, and getting set to finalize our project reports, and I'll have more news on that in the coming months, along with some additional exciting announcements about the status of my book, courses, etc.

In the meantime, however, I'm so happy to be involved in this upcoming talk, hosted by Semaphore,  the Jackman Humanities Institute, and Gambling Research Exchange Ontario, which is happening on June 19th, 2018, 3-5pm, and will delve into some extremely key issues relating to pay-to-play models found in an increasing number of digital games. All of the details are below, and can also be found on the Eventbrite page for the event. I hope to see many of you there!

Loot Boxes: 

Video Game Gambling, Paying to Win, and the Question of Game Design

A Research Talk by

Dr. Mark R. Johnson (University of Alberta) and
Dr. Tom Brock (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Sponsored by the Semaphore Lab, Jackman Humanities Institute, and the
Gambling Research Exchange Ontario (GREO
This talk is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be provided.
Attendees are invited to join the speakers and organizers at a local pub after the Q&A.

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).

Headshot of Mark R. JohnsonDr. Tom Brock headshot