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The ‘gambling turn’ in digital game monetization

Johnson, Mark R and Brock, Tom (2020) The ‘gambling turn’ in digital game monetization. Journal of Gaming & Virtual Worlds, 12 (2). pp. 145-163. ISSN 1757-191X


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This article examines how ‘gambling’ secured a central economic and cultural position in the development of modern digital games. We first trace how developers have monetized ‘games’ and ‘play’, from slot machines to PC, console and mobile platforms, before considering the recent controversy over ‘loot boxes’ as an emblematic case study of the ongoing gamblification of digital play. We argue that (1) the rising costs of development and marketing for ‘blockbuster’ games, (2) an overcrowded marketplace and (3) significant shifts in the corporate culture of the games industry are creating cultural conditions which legitimize gambling as a form of digital game production and consumption. This is evidenced in developers’ capacity to innovate around legal challenges and player demand for further customization and rewards. What emerges is a question about the future direction of game development and the impact of a logic of money, rather than play, which now underwrites it.

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