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The ‘gambling turn’ in digital game monetization

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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.

Keywords: gamblification; gambling; games industry; loot boxes; marketing; microtransactions; monetization; production

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: 000000041936834XUniversity of Sydney 2: 0000000107905329Manchester Metropolitan University

Publication date: June 1, 2020

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  • The Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds focuses on theoretical and applied, empirical, critical, rhetorical, creative, economic and professional approaches to the study of electronic games across platforms and genres as well as ludic and serious online environments.
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