CfP: Special Issue of Journal of Consumer Culture

Digital Transformations in Gaming and Gambling Consumption

Guest Editors:

  • Dr Tom Brock, Sociology, Manchester Metropolitan University
  • Dr Mark R Johnson, Political Science, University of Alberta


Consumption patterns of video games and gambling are undergoing a number of profound shifts, with new phenomena emerging almost every year to complicate and confuse the once-clear boundaries between these two forms of play. Perhaps the most visible element of this trend is the rise of “loot boxes”, virtual containers that contain an unknown selection of items either cosmetic or gameplay-changing in nature. These are part of a broader trend of “microtransactions” in digital games, small purchases that are designed to enhance or progress a player’s experience; loot boxes in particular are the most “gamblified” of all of these. Similar trends are occurring elsewhere. Within Esports, a growing number of betting sites are now accepting wagers on professional gaming competitions, and the market for Esports wagering is estimated to be seven times the size of the market for Esports itself (Smith, 2018). Within Esports games themselves, skin betting entails the wagering of digital cosmetic items, “skins”, against and with other players, sometimes in traditional gambling games and sometimes in custom competitions designed uniquely for that purpose (Perez, 2018). On live streaming websites, broadcasters have developed a wide range of systems that resemble competitions, raffles or even lotteries monetise their content (Johnson & Woodcock, Forthcoming) and encourage viewers to remain loyal. Social casino games reproduce many forms of play from traditional brick-and-mortar casinos on mobile phones, with easy user interfaces and “juicy” game elements designed to maximise appeal and user retention (Cassidy, 2013; Gainsbury et al, 2016). Online poker is also gradually experiencing a resurgence since the legal controversies of 2011, and some of the largest sites like BoomtownBingo have themselves begun using a loot box system to reward long-term players for their loyalty (Derbyshire, 2018). Finally, the recent classification of “gaming addiction” by the World Health Organisation uses understandings of pathological gambling to define a threat of pathological gaming (Judge, 2018). This brings medicalized understandings of gaming and gambling closer together than ever before.

In particular, we note the controversies around many of these phenomena have brought forth a series of debates about the integration of gambling mechanics into video games and vice versa. For example, there is extensive disagreement about whether or not ‘loot boxes’ are a form of gambling, and major games developers, such as Electronic Arts, are now sharply at odds with regulatory bodies in North America, Europe and Asia. Equally, the concept of ‘paying-to-win’ is changing established cultural and discursive concepts around ‘gaming meritocracy’, whilst many policymakers have expressed fears that, through microtransactions, those under legal age limits are experiencing gambling mechanics in an environment that is difficult to control or regulate. All of these combined disputes and issues set a timely context for studying such new forms of digital gambling and gaming, and the distinctive online cultures that have arisen around them. Whatever the moral or ethical responses to these trends, this blurring is now an increasingly central element of all kinds of play, and is deeply reshaping consumption patterns across both existing and new demographic lines.


This special issue is therefore concerned with unpacking how the rise of gaming systems in gambling, the rise of gambling systems in gaming, and how the implementation of new forms of monetary gameplay cutting across these boundaries are reshaping our production, consumption and prosumption (Ritzer and Jurgenson, 2010; Beer and Burrows, 2010) of digital play. In particular, we invite papers on the following topics, although this is not an exhaustive list:

  • The consumption of loot boxes, microtransactions, and other “pay-to-win” mechanics.
  • New gambling technologies and platforms (e.g. “skill-based” video gambling machines).
  • Live-streaming and Twitch.tv gambling integration, e.g. viewer competitions.
  • Skin betting and other traded or wagered virtual currencies.
  • Cultural changes surrounding play and money, leisure and work.
  • Economic challenges and new business models of the games industry.
  • New ways that game consumption and gambling consumption are being stigmatised.


Proposals should include an abstract of 500-750 words, and bios for all authors of no more than 100 words. The deadline for proposals is December 31st 2018, with invitations to submit a full paper going out on January 31st 2019. The guest editors welcome both theoretical and empirical contributions. Invited paper submissions will be due 1st June 2019 and should be submitted to both Guest Editors by email. Once submitted they will undergo peer review under the normal procedures of Journal of Consumer Culture; therefore, invitation to submit does not guarantee acceptance to the special issue. The special issue is scheduled for online publication in 2020. If you have any questions, please feel free to discuss your ideas with the authors at T.Brock@mmu.ac.uk and markrjohnsongames@gmail.com.


Beer, D. and Burrows, R. Consumption, Production and Participatory Web Cultures, Journal of Consumer Culture, 10(1), p3-12.

Cassidy, R. (2013). Partial convergence: social gaming and real-money gambling. In Qualitative research in gambling (pp. 86-103). Routledge.

Derbyshire, M. (2018). PokerStars NJ Ditching Old VIP Club In Favor Of Stars Rewards This Year. US Poker, available at https://www.uspoker.com/blog/pokerstars-vip-club-stars-rewards/24289/

Gainsbury, S. M., Russell, A. M., King, D. L., Delfabbro, P., & Hing, N. (2016). Migration from social casino games to gambling: Motivations and characteristics of gamers who gamble. Computers in Human Behavior, 63, 59-67. The Texas friendly online casinos is what one can check out to make sure they can gamble and have fun with real money.

Johnson, M. R. & Woodcock, J. (Forthcoming). “And today’s top donator is”: How Live Streamers on Twitch.tv Monetise and Gamify their Broadcasts. Social Media + Society.

Judge, A. (2018). Video games and mental health: ‘Nobody’s properly talking’. BBC News, available at https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-44662669.

Perez, M. (2018). From Unikrn To Skin Betting: How The Supreme Court’s Sports Gambling Ruling Impacts Esports. Forbes, available at https://www.forbes.com/sites/mattperez/2018/05/15/from-unikrn-to-skin-betting-how-the-supreme-courts-sports-gambling-ruling-impacts-esports

Ritzer, R. Jurgenson, N. 2010. Production, Consumption, Prosumption. The Nature of Capitalism on the Age of the Digital Prosumer, Journal of Consumer Culture, 10(1), p.13-36.

Smith, N. (2018). Esports bookmaking? Globally, it’s already a billion-dollar gambling industry. Washington Post, available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/esports-bookmaking-globally-its-already-a-billion-dollar-gambling-industry/2018/04/06/be89c282-2b99-11e8-8688-e053ba58f1e4_story.html

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