Gambling and video games are intrinsically linked, for a lot of people. With the increase of 'freemium' business models for games, meaning the game is free but there are plenty of microtransactions after the fact, along with the likes of loot boxes and addictive mechanics being increasingly used, there have been calls for regulation on the sector.
How Video Games Can Lead to Gambling
For many, gaming and gambling go hand-in-hand. Mechanics like loot boxes, gacha, and other randomised events that lean on luck, rather than skill, have led people to link the two together. The same psychological tools casinos use can be found in many video games, and the gaming leading to gambling has been cited as an issue by research in the sector.
The constant chasing of further rewards that feel just out of reach can lead to gamers seeking the dopamine hit of getting your favourite character or in-game skin, which is something that the world of gambling offers in spades. Maybe you were so close to getting the prize you wanted, maybe it only just slipped past on the carousel that looks a little too much like a slot machine. From there, it's a small step to actually playing the slots.
The issue isn't just the pipeline to regular gambling, too. When you have to pay real-life money to keep spinning the wheels in video games, many argue it's functionally identical to gambling, just with the promise of in-game rewards rather than monetary ones.
How Real-Money Gaming Can Be Controlled In Games
Plenty of organisations try to regulate gambling in games around the world. It's been a difficult journey to regulation, as the legislators are constantly playing catch-up with the fast-paced industry, needing to decide what is and isn't gambling.
These are some of the institutions doing their best to regulate and control real-money gaming:
United Kingdom Gambling Commission
The United Kingdom Gambling Commission is in charge of the regulation of all manner of gambling in the country. This covers a huge amount of the sector, from casinos and bingo to sports betting and the National Lottery.
To quote the commission's website: "We are responsible for issuing personal gambling licences for individuals and gambling operating licences for businesses."
One tool available for people in the United Kingdom is self-exclusion, which essentially allows players to limit their own gambling activity. Using GamStop, UK citizens can prevent themselves from accessing and using gambling websites and apps licensed in Great Britain for six months, one year, or five years, depending on the individual's needs. There are some non-GamStop online casinos which still allow users on GamStop in, though.
You can block individual organisations as well. According to the UK Gambling Commission, "Gambling businesses are required to have their own self-exclusion arrangements in place. You may wish to exclude from one business only." So, if you would like to exclude non-GamStop organisations, it is still possible.
ANJ, The National Gambling Authority
In France, the ANJ, which stands for the Autorité Nationale des Jeux, is the Gambling Commission equivalent. It stands for The National Gambling Authority, and is an independent body that reports to the French parliament.
The ANJ's mission statement is based on the following four objectives:
- Prevent excessive or pathological gambling and protect minors;
- Ensure the integrity, reliability and transparency of gaming;
- Prevent fraudulent and criminal activities, as well as money laundering and financing of terrorism;
- Ensure the balanced, fair development of various types of games, in order to avoid any economic destabilisation of the sectors concerned.
In 2019, the ANJ ruled that loot boxes are not subject to their rules surrounding games of chance, because the rewards from the boxes do not have real-world value. You can't sell your Overwatch skins on eBay, so it isn't regulated.
Federal and State Gambling Laws
In the United States of America, gambling laws are regulated at the Federal and State level. For the entire country, gambling is legal. However, there are numerous restrictions surrounding interstate and online gambling.
Most gambling regulation occurs at the state level. For example, California allows many forms of gambling such as lotteries and racetrack betting, but forbids commercial and sports betting. Meanwhile, all gambling is illegal in Hawaii. Interestingly, lotteries and racetrack betting are illegal in Nevada, home of Las Vegas.
At present, there isn't much precedent for video gaming being regulated under US law. The way loot boxes work sidesteps gambling laws in the United States of America, due to the fact that you can't cash them out into real-life money.
In Illinois, there has been a case of attempting to place a warning on loot box purchases, but since then, nothing has been done.
Possible Ways To Do It
The video games industry is still behind on this - there are no game developers, platforms, or publishers currently affiliated with GamStop, meaning self-exclusion isn't currently available.
Similar self-exclusion could be put in place for people who do need to stop spending money on loot boxes and other real-money interactions. GamStop is an existing area which could be expanded to include video games, but unless the legal regulation becomes as widespread as it is with traditional gambling, it'll be more difficult.
Parental controls are another area of improvement - if age verification were more stringent, it's likely that far fewer young dependents would spend money on in-game items.
There are plenty of ways to regulate real-money gaming, and if the issue persists, microtransactions for randomly-generated in-game objects could be banned altogether. This would present a significant challenge given the structure of the games industry at present, and the ever-popular 'freemium' business model.
There are plenty of ways to make real-money interactions safer in video games. The ones closer to the world of gambling would require getting national regulators to define and describe gambling in the same way, which would be a significant challenge but worth exploring.
Hopefully, the world of gaming can become safer for people of all ages, and it's important to limit the comparisons to gambling before they force global authorities to take drastic action.