At the FROG 2023 conference, Jan Švelch presented a keynote Tracked and Monetized: On the Interconnectedness of Game Monetization and Player Surveillance. The conference theme this year was “Money & Games”. The event took place in the Vienna City Hall from Friday October 13 to Sunday October 15, 2023. FROG was happning alongside an annual game fair Game City, which welcomed thousands of players and video game fans.
Freemium monetization and in-app purchases have added a new level of complexity to the relationship between players and developers as well as the task of maintaining and running games. Prior to 2009 and 2011 when the App Store and Google Play Store, respectively, enabled in-app purchases, the dominant monetization model was a one-time premium payment, especially after arcade games had fallen out of favor in the early 1990s. This made the job of tracking business performance of games relatively simple, and developers and publishers did not have to care much about what happened after the sale of software. In-app purchases are generally predicated on online connectivity and establish a continuous loop of monetization, and thus a more long-term consumer-producer relationship. In this context, it is crucial for the game industry practitioners to know what players are doing in the game and how they are spending their time and money. In this keynote talk, I will explore the connections between game monetization and player surveillance, drawing on my two previous empirical research projects about the production context of video game monetization (including the job profiles of monetization-related professions) and the normalization of player surveillance through infographics. I will argue that monetization is driven by data obtained through game telemetries and distribution platforms, but that the industry intentionally obscures this relationship to the public as it is aware of the problematic dimensions of this type of value extraction. At the same time, the fact that game design and game governance are so strongly influenced by monetization-related quantitative indicators can be used by player communities to stage an effective protest against game companies, as was the case during the Dungeons & Dragons OGL announcement by Wizards of the Coast in January 2023.