In the last few years, there has been an increased interest among mainstream society and legislative and regulatory bodies on the relationship between gambling and the AAA video game industry. Based on recent reports, the number of gamblers in the UK has quadrupled to over 50,000 in two years, and there’s sure to be a lot of crossover with gamers.
Video games have changed with the increase of “games as a service.” This has seen game shift from a single product that developers release and never touch again, to something that people play for years because of the free support developers now provide over time. In some cases the support comes at the cost of a season pass, but there’s no denying that the content justifies the cost. But certain practices have continued to affect the games industry, and gambling is the most prolific among them.
We’ll start with the most intrusive way that gambling has affected the games industry, loot boxes. These are in-game item purchases that comprise a virtual crate, box, or chest rewarding players different game items based on the mechanics of chance and probability. The slot game mechanics aspect in loot boxes is much like that in the lottery game where you purchase tickets to win real money. The low probability of getting a big win encourages players to make multiple purchases to maximize their odds of the same. Loot boxes are quite popular in major titles like Fortnite, and online social games.
The reason that we say that loot boxes are the most intrusive way in which gambling has infiltrated the industry is because of the recent action being called for in the UK. The BBC reported that the House of Lords called for immediate action on loot boxes, having them regulated in the same way as gambling.
The reasoning for this regulation is sound, loot boxes are a game of chance, which brings them under the Gambling Act 2005. Furthermore, the House of Lords declared that if something looks and feels like gambling, it should be regulated as such.
The biggest issue with loot boxes is that they target children, leading some to spend thousands of pounds on nothing more than in-game cosmetics, often in the pursuit of something rare to show off to their friends.
In the UK there are reported to be 55,000 problem gamblers between the ages of 11 and 16. These gamblers are prime targets for loot boxes. While developers and publishers probably aren’t trying to squeeze as much money out of these vulnerable people as they can, it definitely comes across like they are.
This involves the wagering of outcomes in competitive game contests using real-world currency or real-world monetary value. The largest prize pools in esports betting can, at times, run to over one million dollars, and millions of people watch the contests. Two new gambling forms have been developed for this betting, including internal and external.
Internal gambling for esports is also called skin betting since it involves the wagering of “skins.” It includes virtual images which change a player’s cosmetic appearance in the game. The player can then trade these cosmetic enhancements as digital items between his/her team and even cash them out for real-world value. A third-party grey-market website or platform is used for the wagering of skins on virtual games wherein the skins can be gained or lost.
It’s important to not that while internal gambling might sound safe, it definitely isn’t. A number of CS:GO streamers used to run one such gambling website, and were actively encouraging their viewers to use it. This led to some very serious punishments, since this is still considered to be a form of gambling that minors were taking part in.
There is now a large number of betting bodies and agencies offering “external betting” opportunities. In most instances, the bets placed on these platforms are like those in traditional sports betting. They can, however, be precise and more focused than the latter by using different inherent data.
There is also a growing craze of livestreaming video game content. Several people live-broadcast their video games nowadays. In live poker games online, viewers can talk to broadcasters and directly to players to ask them questions, give advice, and discuss relevant plays. Some platforms even have “home games where they invite viewers to play along broadcasters in large events by wagering their cash against other streamers.
Some streamers now also use gambling-like systems to encourage viewers to donate to them. One example of this is when they encourage people to donate money in exchange for the chance to win a prize. While this practice’s legality is in question in most places, the chance to win something encourages people to donate their cash to a streamer.
In the future, you can expect two significant changes in video game gambling. These include regulation and licensing and changes in the monetizing of video games. Most people ask themselves what the significance is as concerns the convergence of online gambling and video games. Most jurisdictions have no age restrictions on the above ways in which video games have become mainly like gambling.
The concern among experts is that without an age restriction on these video games, they might become the entry point for young people into gambling addiction. This is because the players are often distorted with the high payouts they can get when they play more games.
A growing body of evidence proves that young adults and children now participate in video games that look and work like online gambling. Those who participate in these games have been shown to engage in gambling and experience gambling-related issues later. As such, parents whose kids engage in video games should be wary of how much they allow their kids to consume.
With that said, it isn’t entirely on parents to monitor their children, or adults to monitor themselves. Gambling has managed to change the way that some games are monetized, and that has led to some very harmful practices.
If anything, governments around the world need to be looking at what constitutes as gambling in games, and regulating it, or putting some rules in place that state what is and isn’t acceptable. this looks more likely as time goes on, but with so many new games launching every year, it’s almost impossible to catch every instance of gambling-like behaviour in games.
One caveat to this very damning discussion on gambling in games is that AAA games tend to completely remove themselves from such practices. These games have the highest budgets, and are usually made as story-driven experiences that have no need for monetization or microtransactions. Maybe these are the games that consumers should be demanding more of, because it would do away with any gambling behaviour being present in the most popular games of the moment.