Catherine Flick: Publications, Media, and Thoughts

Yesterday the UK government released its new Video Game Research Framework.

The framework establishes a structure that guides games research and development and presents exemplary research practices, and it is important to everyone in games because it represents the first time that policy makers, industry and independent researchers (academics) in a key games market (the UK) sat down and took a good, hard look at themselves, games, their work so far in the context of games, and how to realise the positive potential of games in society, while avoiding the negatives. These same stakeholders then discussed what information and knowledge is needed to achieve that positive potential, and then hashed out a plan for how to get there.

This has importance outside of the specific confines of UK-based games R&D. The framework as it exists now sets out the research priorities – it tells is what knowledge we need to build. That is relevant whether you are based in the UK or not.

Furthermore, the framework establishes a range of best practices for how to build that knowledge, and provides standard for academic and industrial research.

The recommended priorities within the framework encompass understanding the motivations behind people’s engagement with games, investigating the influence of games on both physical and mental well-being, and examining the effects of in-game elements, such as expenditures and advertising, on players’ overall experiences. Additionally, the framework proposes broader areas of concentration, including exploring the economic possibilities of the industry and investigating the role of video games in education.

But importantly, the framework moves beyond just setting research priorities, but also covers challenging topics such as ethics, data privacy, data sharing, online safety design, and the economic impact of games. These are topics that it can be challenging to deal with, but nonetheless, we must do so in an open and transparent way, informed by data sharing and collaboration, if we are to move forward in a significant way.

Data sharing is particularly important – for an industry with an estimated 4bn active users and some 225bn USD in global revenue, preciously little hard market and behavioural insights exists. We have done a lot of laboratory-based or small-scale work in games, but there is longer between the papers that work with the ultra-large scale data that the games industry holds. Similarly, it is rare to see the industry collaborating with academics to reach players. There are good reasons for this – liability issues, data protection, and other factors can make collaboration cumbersome. In this, the framework also helps, providing a strong methodological foundation to guide data sharing including suggestions on how to respect relevant law and gathering data with player consent.

The framework even considers broader research priorities, including AI and heritage, to encourage academics to think about tackling a broad variety of games-related topics.

We are among the academics who worked with the other stakeholders on the year-long process of creating the framework. As public experts, we are used to working with policy makers and with industry, but it is a bit rare to have all three in the room together in the way that it has happened here. It speaks well of the UK government (and the DCMS in particular) that it has taken up the challenge of how to realize the immense positive potential of games – learning 21st century key skills, enabling creativity, building meaningful social connections, alleviating stress, enabling new forms of learning at scale, and more besides – and is not afraid to confront the problematic aspects of games either – gambling-like experiences, well-being impacts, ethical issues, legal challenges, toxic behaviour, predatory monetization and similar challenges.

The support of UK games industry stakeholders such as UKIE and TIGA are a keystone in the process of turning this ambition into reality. The framework puts forward a socially responsible agenda regarding data sharing, ethical game monetization and ensuring player wellbeing. But it is only when industry, academics, and policy makers work together in harmony that these goals can be realised. We eagerly anticipate to a new generation of open and equitable data access and collaboration with industry in light of the framework.

The Video Games Research Framework provides us with a roadmap for exceptional research and development, benefiting policymakers, the gaming industry, and ultimately all the billions of people who engage with games and recognize their ever-growing significance in our lives.

Anders Drachen (University of Southern Denmark/University of York, Director, SDU Metaverse Lab), David Zendle (University of York, Director, Digital Observatory, & Catherine Flick (Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility, De Montfort University)

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I have a new paper out, published in the new ACM Games journal! It's about in-app purchases in mobile games so it might be of some interest to people who play or make these sorts of games.

Our paper, “The Many Faces of Monetisation: Understanding the Diversity and Extremity of Player Spending in Mobile Games via Massive-scale Transactional Analysis” uses our world-first access to Unity Analytics' in app purchase data to understand how people spend in mobile games. We have roughly 2 years of data, $4.7B of in-game spending across 69m players of 2873 mobile games, and we look at the clusters of types of revenue distribution.

What do you find when you look at billions of dollars of in-app purchases? Certainly more nuance than “minnows” and “whales”. We found 4 clusters of types of spend profiles in games. Uniform: spending is distributed equally across players; Sub-pareto: more unequal but not at top Quasi-pareto: the most populous cluster, where all percentiles of spenders contribute but higher perc. are more monetised; and Hyper-pareto: majority of revenue is generated by a small proprotion of high spending gamers. These tend to be most profitable too.

We also found when looking at the top 1% of spenders in each game that there are significant patterns of spend of these across the clusters. Top 1% in Uniform spend $19 in their lifetimes. Sub-Pareto: $138. Quasi-Pareto, $660, and Hyper-Pareto over $1700 on average.

Unsurprisingly social casino games bring in the most revenue and have the highest concentration of high spenders; in fact the more a game relies on its top 1% for revenue generation, the more these individuals tend to spend. Also, we find some games bring in ridonkulous amounts of money, and some players spend ridonkulous amounts of cash on some games. “Ridonkulous” is a new technical term I just coined for how astonished I was at the amounts involved.

Anyway, you can read the paper here: If 30 pages of stats is a bit much, you can read a shorter version with all the take home messages here:

Citation: Zendle, D., Flick, C., Deterding, S., Cutting, J., Gordon-Petrovskaya, E.and Drachen, A., (2023) The Many Faces of Monetisation: Understanding the Diversity and Extremity of Player Spending in Mobile Games via Massive-scale Transactional Analysis. ACM Games: Research and Practice, 1 (1) pp. 1–28

#publication #mobilegames #gameplay #unity #futurevirtualeconomies

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This afternoon I was interviewed by Ben Jackson at BBC Radio Leicester about the ups and downs at Twitter in the last couple of days. I love chatting with Ben because he's a great interviewer, and usually has some really interesting questions that go beyond the “explain what's happening for a lay audience” type questions I often get asked as an expert.

You can have a listen to me prattling away for a bit (and trying to avoid coughing) on the topic of where Twitter is at 3h40 min in, for a limited time only!

BBC Radio Leicester (2023). Ben Jackson, 8 March 2023. (3h40 in)

#media #radio #twitter

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This article is about how ChatGPT is being used by grifters to flood Amazon with terrible books. It was in the paper copy of The Independent as well, featuring a picture of me, which is cool!

An image of the paper version of the news article linked below.

Generally I think this is likely to shake up the grift associated with pumping out terrible self help books as brought to light by Dan Olson in his great video about this particular grift. I feel bad for publishers :(

Stokel-Walker, C. (2023) ChatGPT-generated books are flooding Amazon, and experts warn they could drown out books written by humans. The Independent, 24 February 2023. Also available online at

#media #newspaper #ai

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Another article by the most hard working tech journalist in town, Chris Stokel-Walker (, in which I rubbish greeting card messages (I mean really who reads those, apart from my husband, because he doesn't like to write his own?). Sorry greeting card writers, really :( Seriously though, I suspect the use of AI will not matter so much for these sorts of generic type messages – this and things like website copy – and we'll come to appreciate real human effort going into things more. And humans won't be stuck writing horribly boring and/or repetitive copy.

Stokel-Walker, C. (2023) ChatGPT will write your Valentine’s Day cards, but we are not ready for the AI advancement. i news, 31 Jan 2023.

#media #newspaper #ai

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This article in New Scientist was written by Chris Stokel-Walker ( and featured me talking about the likelihood that Web3 would be at all great. (Of course, in my opinion it is Going Just Great.) My key quote is that people don't like to “faff about” when they want to get their work done, so it's unlikely that Web3 will be too likely to catch on in the workplace at least. Apparently you can also pick this article up in the physical edition, which I really should do before it disappears from shelves.

Stokel-Walker, C. (2023) Web3 promises to reclaim the internet from tech giants – will it work? New Scientist, 17 Jan 2023.

#media #newspaper #crypto

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I'm super excited to announce this publication, as it's the first major one from my new project I am working on with Anders Drachen (Southern Denmark University), David Zendle (University of York) and Sebastian Deterding (Imperial College London). We have teamed up with Unity Technologies, makers of the Unity game engine, gaining access to several years worth of data about where, when, for how long, and what people play, and how much they pay for In-App Purchases where these are enabled. This amounts to billions of hours of extremely valuable gameplay data; the types and amounts of data that have not been accessible before to academia.

One of the key things we want to do with this project is to showcase the value of opening up game development data (telemetry, transaction, etc. data) to research. And this first published paper sets the scene really well. There's been no real research done on mobile gameplay using anything other than self-reported data; this is notoriously unreliable compared with actual telemetry data from the games themselves – and usually confined to a small number of games. With the Unity dataset, we have access to this data for over 2 million mobile games.

We were interested in seeing what mobile gaming cultures exist across the world, i.e. what countries play in similar ways? And we were also interested in seeing whether the commonly held understanding that East Asian countries (e.g. China, Japan, South Korea) form a “monolithic bloc in terms of how they play games” compared with the rest of the world would hold true within this landscape.

Fast forward through a lot of very pretty graphics of the world and clusters that were originally named after Greek letters, then animals in the areas described, but returned to boring alphabetical identifiers in the revisions, and we found basically that there are 8 clusters of play cultures, with (largely) European countries playing similarly to China; India playing similarly to developing countries in Africa, Central and South America, Central and South Asia, and the Pacific Islands; the USA and Canada playing similarly to Russia and Japan; and a set of wealthy east Asian territories (Singapore, South Korea, Macao and Hong Kong) with a high standard of living having the highest saturation of playtime per capita and with the “most extreme” gamers – “the top 1% of players in these countries account for almost 58% of total playtime”.

What this means is that there are some surprises in how the world games – going into this I expected European countries to play similarly to the USA and Canada given a shared Western capitalistic lifestyle; this was not true, and the USA and Canada played more like Russia and Japan than European countries. Similarly we showed that East Asian countries cannot be treated like a bloc. We ended up raising more questions than we answered – why are these differences there? In charge of interpretation, I went down a lot of rabbit holes looking to see if there was anything obvious that could explain some of the clusters. Places where US military outposts lie or popular holiday destinations might explain the clustering of Caribbean countries with the USA, but other clusters are quite curious. What factors cause Guinea, Vietnam, and a series of small Pacific Islands to play mobile games similarly? Our initial forays into questions of economics, religio-cultural factors, and others showed very different contexts to these countries. We hope that further research might answer these questions.

You can access the paper for free here:

Citation: Zendle, D., Flick, C., Halgarth, D. et al. Cross-cultural patterns in mobile playtime: an analysis of 118 billion hours of human data. Sci Rep 13, 386 (2023).

#publication #mobilegames #gameplay #unity #futurevirtualeconomies

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I was honoured to receive a medal and listing as part of the OpenUK New Years Honours List which recognises “the 100 top UK open source influencers” of 2023. I'm not exactly sure how I managed to come on Onalytica's radar there but considering I have been on maternity leave since June I'd say I've done pretty well!

Anyway thanks to OpenUK and it seems I'm in great company so it's also a nice way to meet some new and interesting people :)

In terms of open source/open technology I've been using Linux since the late 90s, and have “grown up” a lot of the discussions about things like licencing, etc. I'm not a huge fan of the Free Software approach, but I respect the ideals of it. I wrote my 2004 Honours year thesis on the incoming Trusted Computing initiative from Microsoft and how its lack of openness would be bad for computing – you can read that here, and I've always dabbled in writing and using open source software (though I tend to release my terrible stuff under the MIT licence). I used to work for Freshmeat as an editor too, for those who remember The Old Days before App Stores. So yeah I have a rich history in this space, but what have I been talking about recently that might have picked me up for this list? Maybe it's the criticism of augmented reality, Web 3 and the cryptosphere that has flagged me up. Maybe they have some idea of what I might be doing this coming year, since I'm “Generation Next”. Anyway, if you know, let me know! I'd like to know!

Happy new year!

An image of a medal engraved with: OpenUK Generation Next Honouree 2023 Catherine Flick

#awards #media #openukhonours23

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I was interviewed at my university for this episode of a new crypto documentary back in March this year while 5 months pregnant, it was a lot of fun as I've never been filmed for a documentary before! I decided to splash out on a fancy Seraphine maternity dress and spent about an hour ironing all the damned pleats on the dress, and I actually put on lipstick and had a proper pamper session beforehand, so it was nice just for that! (I never wear makeup!)

Anyway they asked a lot of questions, at the time the Ethereum merge was highly unlikely, but they seem to have not put in most of the questions that I was asked about that/the environmental cost, so that's good. I think it's actually a reasonably measured tone they take. I'm not the only “voice of reason”, fellow crypto sceptic David Gerard says some very sensible things in there too, and given what's happened to the market since I sort of end up feeling a bit bad for the more purist artists, but I note that Stoner Cats are still selling for a minimum of about $65 worth of ETH so I suppose that isn't too bad, though it is an order of magnitude less than what they started at.

Another behind the scenes thing from my perspective – they wanted me to give a lecture to a group of students and film that. But my computer science/computing/business computing students are all shy and so didn't want to show up (I literally invited over a thousand students, 2 showed up). Instead the press officer and I managed to wrangle in a few students who were hanging around the building – most of the students in the film are either fashion or pharmacy students who had NO idea what I was talking about. They also did a great job of not looking too bored when the camera was on them. Thanks students!

To watch, you can sign up for an Insight TV subscription here: or you can watch for free without signing up on a “web3” platform “MyCo” which has some silly “get paid to watch stuff” type thing going on which I'm pretty sceptical of, but you can ignore all of that and just watch it on their streaming site at

#media #documentary #NFTs #crypto #TV

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I was interviewed for the BBC World Service's Business Daily podcast by Leanna Byrne about cryptocurrencies where I talk about how different coins came to be and also about the environmental impact of Bitcoin. Somehow I was missed off the list of interviewees, oh well :)

You can listen here or search for it where you find podcasts.

#radio #crypto #podcast

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