A not-so-shining spotlight has been pointed at video game developers over the last few months. In December of 2023, nearly a dozen gaming companies including Activision Blizzard Inc., Epic Games Inc., and Roblox Corp. were hit with lawsuits that alleged a 9-year-old in Chicago became addicted to the companies’ games such as Fortnite, Call of Duty, and Grand Theft Auto. Prior to that, an Arkansas family took Microsoft, EA, Activision, and other gaming providers to court for enabling gaming addiction via the integration of loot boxes. The same occurred across the border in Canada a few months prior.
This momentum has increased the call for regulation, not just to shield youth from exposure to mature content, but to protect the entire American gaming population from the threat of video game addiction. While more needs to be done at the regulatory level, the recent movement should be taken as an opportunity for gaming developers to accept greater responsibility and initiate programs to protect and support the mental and behavioral health of players. Doing so is not just ethical, it’s a smart and sustainable business practice that will mitigate public relations backlash while fostering a healthy player base. Below is a breakdown of how the industry can initiate change for the better in 2024 and beyond.
How Video Game Developers Can Take a More Proactive Role to Protect Players from Problematic Gaming Behavior
Pre-Gaming Messaging About Pre-existing Conditions and Vulnerabilities
Vulnerable populations are generally not aware that they have a higher risk of developing internet gaming disorder (IGD) and video game addiction. If they (or loved ones) knew, they may think twice before participating in gaming. There are at least four mental and behavioral health issues that are known to increase potential for developing gambling disorder which are also linked in a co-occurring manner to IGD. These include the following:
- Bipolar disorder
- Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
Furthermore, those deeply ingrained in certain occupations may be more likely to have a complicated relationship with gaming. For instance, research has found an association of IGD in male athletes while veterans and active military personnel may also exhibit a propensity towards problematic gaming.
Video game development companies are called upon to increase messaging on gaming packaging, sites, and apps to intercept vulnerable persons and parental gatekeepers. Messaging should list the above conditions and occupational vulnerabilities which will inform susceptible individuals about their risk. Gaming developers should not fear a loss of user-base due to intercept messaging. Movie theaters, content streaming services, and gaming developers already do this to ward off the 3-5% of the 2.7 million American epileptics who are photosensitive and should therefore avoid game play. Consider those at risk of IGD in the same manner.
Invest in AI to Monitor for and Manage Video Game Addiction
Gaming developers use machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to enable Non-Player Characters (NPCs) to exhibit behaviors that learn and adapt based on player interactions. This contributes to a more realistic and engaging gaming experience. In this sense, AI is used as a player acquisition and retention tool. What more developers need to consider, is that AI can be used to identify problem gaming too.
The most common application in the fight against IGD is to employ AI algorithms to monitor and limit excessive gaming time for players. However, more advanced tools are being used around the world. This facial recognition program can monitor and can prevent game play for household children and teenagers during times of the day when they should not be playing. This same tech can be applied to outright block those who opt-in for gaming self-exclusion and for parents who want to limit their kids’ access to gaming systems.
Support Causes that Support Problem Gaming Research and Treatment
Video game developers can take an even more proactive role in preventing the spread of IGD by supporting organizations that are the frontline in the defense against gaming addiction. Given that many are fighting a losing battle due to a lack of funding, support is best offered by donating to their research and treatment initiatives.
One outlet for gaming developer support that circles back to vulnerable populations addressed above – veterans and military personnel – is Kindbridge Research Institute (KRI). Through critical partnerships, KRI has a primary goal to dramatically increase the rate of research on treatment for veterans with gaming disorder. Gaming companies can show their support by donating here. In addition to exhibiting moral fortitude, partnerships of this nature will garner positive PR for a given gaming company and inspires developers to step up and help fund IGD research and treatment.
Work Closely with Gaming Disorder Treatment Providers
This carries over from the above call to connect with proven research institutes and treatment providers. There are experts in mitigating the risk and growth of problem gaming. Gaming developers should lean into this expertise to create a more robust program to support past, current, and future players who struggle with IGD.
Kindbridge Behavioral Health is the first-of-its-kind platform in the USA that will work with your gaming organization to create and manage a program that protects vulnerable players. Contact us today to discuss options.
Responsible Gaming Companies and Developers
CALL +1 (877) 426-4258