Conference report - More than Just a Game

Last week the city of London hosted the 2-day conference More Than Just a Game: The Role of Games and Interactive Entertainment in Society, organised by Dr. Gaetano Dimita. The event took place in the Victorian One Birdcage Walk building at the heart of Westminster where a total of 42 speakers tackled the main issues in the video game industry from a social and legal point of view. 

The IPKat is delighted to post this addition report prepared by Katfriend Andrea Rossi will provide a general overview of the whole event referring to Anne Rose’s post for additional comments. 

Here's what Andrea writes:

More Than Just a Game - Conference Report

Day 1 

Dr. Dimita opened the event stressing the main question at the heart of the event: how do video games impact on modern society? This was first addressed by Paul Gardner, who provided some numbers on the exponential video games’ market growth (in Korea peaked 5 billion dollars in 2018) and its popularity (Fortnite is currently Netflix’s biggest competitor with more watchers than YouTube). Despite this success, Gardner stated that video games need to embrace the power of storytelling: films, books and play still conquer the public at large because they tell a story that can affect others’ people lives, while video games lack of a strong story content. Further, video games have interactivity that is where their great potential lies to, one day, rule the world. 

L to R: 
B. Sobkow, N. Sunner, M. Anderson, J. Elmergreen
The following panel, composed of Beata Sobkow, Magnus Anderson, Jonathan Elmergreen and Nav Sunner, discussed the perception of video games in the public opinion. Anderson opened by listing the main misconceptions regarding video games (they are violent, cause health problems, make players antisocial and are considered silly). He focused on violence pointing out that this is the best format to implement, but violence is for the audience without directly affecting it. Elmergreen, analysed the interrelation between video games and health problems, disagreeing with the WHO (World Health Organization) recent findings re the condition called “gaming disorder”. He pointed out that no treatment exists for this alleged pathology causing misdiagnosis and miscure. Sobkow addressed the role of female players and minorities in video games indicating that currently the characters are mainly designed for the white Western male public. However, Sobkow showed that this is changing with recent video games including women heroines and minorities (e.g. Horizon Zero Dawn and Mafia III). Sunner continued showing that video games can be more than simple games, being political (e.g. Trump’s Pussy Grabber), carrying a message, helping solving health problems or being educational. 

Dr. Cotter looked at what role language plays in video games. This is the main element for telling the story of a game and for gamers to interact among them (e.g. on YouTube or during E-Sport events). Language can also have the role of “metaludic element” as in Lost Words where words are used as magical powers (see here). 

The event continued with Dr. Dimita and Prof. Jon Festinger presenting the issues facing Loot-Boxes. Festinger started defining Loot-Boxes as real gambling systems. However, Dr. Dimita continued highlighting the problem that Loot-Boxes are more than this and, for this reason, the legislator must precisely define what Loot-Boxes are to have a clearer discipline on this peculiar type of gambling. 

After this, Tamara Sakolchyk and Yahor Yefanau presented on how national cultures affect the choice of video games. They divided the public in individualist and collectivist cultures, finding that, overall, while individualist culture (Western) countries have a video game set market and prefer casual games, collective culture countries (e.g. Russia, India and China) prefer games that reflect their own traditions (e.g. the most common Russian games refer to empires). 

Andrew Phelps presented on the spreading of video games for higher education and their growth in North America. Phelps addressed the aforementioned WHO classification highlighting how this can heavily impact on the students’ life who simply like playing video games. Nevertheless, video games are more and more part of educational programs (and a subject matter itself) with students that design video games in campus during their studies and this bring controversies on the ownership of the game (developer or university) once distributed. 

The following speaker, Christopher Millard, provided an overview of the recent trend of online gaming. As the film and music industry, with Spotify and Netflix, went from the physical release to streaming services for their products, similarly the video game industry is focusing on streaming services as Google and the recently announced Stadia platform). Millard argued that, if cloud gaming brings advantages (as the enhanced market speed, the massive reach and the flexibility of on-demand costs), distributors will need to access the main cloud gaming providers (AWS, Google and Microsoft) which can become the main competitors in the could gaming market rising issues as the ownership of customer relations, data protection and the limitation of the gamers’ rights. 

Mia Consalvo continued on the cloud gaming and streaming platforms describing Twitch’s economic structure that involves three types of subjects (streamers, affiliates and partners) creating revenues with subscriptions, donations, bits (watchers can buy stream currency to donate to streamers and Twitch keeps part of it), game sales, advertising and merchandise (such as Amazon blacksmith). Twitch has also its own policy makers and it was particularly active in the campaign against article 13 (now 17) of the EU Copyright Directive (find recent amendments here). 

L to R: 
S.F. Kane, A. Becker, J. Purewal, P. Sweeney, C. Pence.
The event continued with Sen F. Kane, Canon Pence, Ann Becker, Patrick Sweeney and Jas Purewal composing the panel that tackled the evolution of the video game ecosystem. First, Sweeney showed the key events in the video games industry over the past 30 years since the formation of ESA and ESRB in the 90’s, to the release of PUBG, pointing out how the exponential developing in this market by the year. Becker followed providing numbers on the video game industry with the 54% of the EU population playing video games and a growth in revenues from EUR 8 billion in 2013, to 12,3 billion in 2018. She pointed out that, despite this sharp growth, the videogame industry is not yet adequately regulated as current provisions (as the GDPR, the EU Copyright Directive and the Broadcasting Regulation) do not take into consideration video games, or only indirectly. Similarly, Purewal highlighted that the e-sports phenomenon is not clear in its business fundamentals and its franchise expansion despite being a profitable developing industry. The panel closed with Pence stressing that video games do not only aim at profiting but creating collective experiences providing Fortnite as the example where gamers experienced at the same time one single event (further info here and here). 

Micaela Mantegna followed discussing the relationship among players and the use of AI in video games. First, she highlighted that video games connect people around the world creating random encounters among those who share the same interests, resulting in physical gathering (cosplays) and friendship. Mantegna continued listing the uses of AI in video games highlighting, among others, the use to detect addiction, loneliness or dark patterns. 

Willy Duhen held the following session on data collection in video games, defining, first, the nature of collected data, pointing out their likely inaccuracy in reflecting the users’ profiles. He continued explaining the rights users have over their personal data highlighting the present means to protect personal information such as IP laws, trade secrets and competition laws (in EU and US). 

Dr. Andreas Lober then tackled toxicity in video games such as cheating and hate language. Lober explains that the first can infringe trade mark law, copyright and competition laws and it can be stopped, for example, by international enforcement as blocking injunctions. The second issue can be fought by reducing anonymity in games. However also freedom of speech has to be taken into consideration as case law tends to protect it the most. 

The day ended with Wojitek Ropels’ session regarding consumer protection. Ropels defines some of the main areas where consumer protection has to be enforced (e.g. in game purchases, in game advertising/misleading advertising, gambling) arguing that these must be regulated by terms and conditions that comply with EU consumer protection laws. Roples refers also to children protection defining the criteria to calculate the video games rating precising that usually games are not banned for violence (read here on Valkyrie Drive). 

Day 2 

The first session saw Kostantin Ewald, Kostyantyn Lobov, Nicolas Murfett and Isabel Davis composing the panel on e-sports pros, influencers and cheaters. 

Dr. Cedric Manara then showed how Application Programming interfaces (API) are used in video games and their legal implications. Google did not enter the video game market with Stadia as it has been allowing developers to access the Google Maps location data to build realistic scenarios in games, also allowing the interconnections of platforms as Java, Unity, etc. Manara reflected on the API language and its copyright protection referring to the Oracle’s lawsuit, pointing out that the outcome will affect the future development of the cloud where currently the video game industry is shifting. 

In the following session Rosie Burbidge highlighted the advantages to have a registered design in video games. Burbidge explained that the broad definition of design as provided in Regulation 6/2002 Article 3 allows the registration of different features of a video game (e.g. game characters, Mario Kart’s game play, Kandy Crush’s display, etc.). Further, designs are easier to obtain than other IP rights and can be invoked against competitors. 

Ross Danneberg and Gwilym Roberts defended the use of patents in this industry, as they felt that patents are not used as much as they should. They listed new features of video games that can (and should) be patented such as the aim and assist for shooting automatically (Call of Duty), the interconnection between physical and digital games (Skylander), randomness in creature appearance (PokemonGo), characters’ adrenaline rush (Nintendo), the Xbox “achievement” logo and so forth. These examples were used to show that if a company has a feature that is novel, it should patent it, even though this practice is not yet common. 

L to R: 
D. Gantchev, L. Bendel, J. Auverny-Bennetot, R. Kloczko.
After this, Dimiter Gantchev, Rafal Kloczko, Juliette Auverny-Bennetot and Leonard Bendel discussed how video games are part of the modern popular culture. They highlighted how video games have affected music (such as the Fortnite Marshmello event or Spotify playlists of video games’ music) and films (e.g Tomb Raider, Assasin’s Creed, Prince of Persia) attracting singers and actors’ attention. The panel concluded pointing out that, despite the wide diffusion of video games, they are not properly regulated and the legal consequences may affect developers and their creativity. 

In the subsequent session Prof. Uma Susthersanen, Dr. Yin Harn Lee and Ewelina Jarosz-Zgoda explained the challenges that video game preservation face. They described the activity of searching for and requiring for the assignment of the rights in old video games highlighting the main problematic aspects as orphan works (when the right holder is not identifiable), copyright matters (does the recreation of an old video game amount to a new work?) and moral rights. The panel concluded that some issue may be resolved with the institution of a Collective Society for video games. 

Dr. Kimberly Voll’s session tackled how to develop socially responsible video games. Dr. Voll pointed out that humans have difficulty communicating online and this can lead to misinterpretation of online behaviours. Hence, Dr. Voll showed how to build a digital environment where gamers can effectively communicate taking into account their “human” part creating compatibility and friendship. 

Professor Jon Festinger talked about the interrelation between players and AI in video games. Festinger points out that, due to AI, it is possible to find two types of video game features: behaviourism where the player is forced to act in a certain manner (addiction, Loot-boxes, leader boards), or humanism where free will is the main element (e.g. Minecraft). Festinger concludes that AI is showing that players are individuals and for this reason if the human is excessively manipulated in the game the law must intervene and regulate. 

Andrea Rizzi followed on by discussing the government interference in regulating the video game industry. Rizzi brought the Italian legal framework as an example, explaining that the legislator can intervene directly with ad hoc legislation (Legislative Decree 2013/2017), indirectly with unrelated legislation (Law Decree 87/2018 on gambling), or simply not intervening (e.g. e-sports and Loot-Boxes lack regulation). Rizzi also brought Italian case law to show and discuss how enforcement can affect video games discussing whether a more collaborative or stricter approach should be adopted. 

In the last session Darya Firsava addressed the issue that the video game industry has not been adequately regulated bringing examples of how, over the past decade, no further clarity has been provided focusing on the regulation (or lack thereof) regarding the personification and use of characters (e.g. for rating purposes) concluding that the ambitions should be lower to effectively regulate this aspect of video games. Professor Chris Reed continued by addressing the importance of the rules within video games (so called cyberspace). This was further developed by Professor Festinger who reflected on how to effectively empower video games rules through AI, criticising the fact that currently the system relies on “policemen” structure consisting of the players reporting illegal activities, but this results to be insufficient. Festinger asserts that AI can provide a solution with the use of training data, different learning methods and trails of its functioning. 
Conference report - More than Just a Game Conference report - More than Just a Game Reviewed by Eleonora Rosati on Saturday, April 13, 2019 Rating: 5

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