MS-SDM Monthly Seminar Hunting for Whales: Game Design, Advertising, and Material Political Economy

February 8, 2024

Donald MacKenzie, Professor of Sociology, The University of Edinburgh and Colleen Macklin, Professor of Media Design, Parsons, Thursday, February 8, 12:00- 1:15

A machine-learning feedback loop, operated above all by Facebook/Instagram, is crucial to the app economy. It fine-tunes the advertising of free-to-play games and other apps so as to acquire users with greatest lifetime value, especially “whales” who spend significant sums of money on in-app purchases. However, changes imposed on mobile games and apps by Apple in 2021 have partially broken this loop, sparking a fierce, albeit subterranean, struggle to repair it. Drawing on 106 interviews with practitioners of digital advertising, the speakers will explore why Apple was in a position to break it, the efforts to reinstate it, and the resulting changes in “whale hunting.” It discusses the consequences for Facebook and for game design, the latter including major game studios reportedly shifting away from developing new games in favor of protecting the user base of their existing games.