Technology is intertwined in almost everything that we do. It is of no surprise then, that gambling and technology are also becoming intimately connected. At face value, we don’t often notice the subtleties of how gambling has incorporated itself into the technology we use everyday. Both Video games and social media, for example, now incorporate a number of concepts that, until maybe a decade ago, would have been found exclusively in a casino.
Take Super Mario for example, a household name in the gaming world. Would it surprise you to learn that Super Mario offers its own in-game casino in their Super Mario DS game titled “Luigi’s Casino”? Games that our children are playing more often than not have subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, gambling opportunities. In this blog we’ll look at the relationship that has started to form around gambling, video games and to some extent, social media. We sometimes refer to this as the “Gamblification” of technology.
Simulated gambling includes virtual games that resemble gambling, but, importantly, there is no real money involved. Bets are made with virtual “in-game” currency or tokens and there is no option to cash out winnings. Some of the popular games that have offered simulated gambling include Fallout: New Vegas, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, The Witcher series, The Red Dead Redemption series, Call of Duty: Black Ops (wager match), etc. Simulated gambling in video games is used as a means for the character to generate more in-game currency, advance in the game, or to earn bonuses. Usually, the odds of winning in these simulated gambling “mini games” are significantly better than these games real world counter parts.
Social Casino Games (SCG):
SCG are games that are designed to simulate casino and/or other betting activities. They are “free” to play and, similar to simulated gambling games, SCG use in-game-currency or tokens that can not be cashed out for real money. However, SCG allow users to pay real money to enhance gameplay, earn additional turns, participate in contests, or simply to purchase more in-game-currency. Many of these games can be found on social media platforms like Facebook (e.g., Slotomania, World Series of Poker, DoubleDown Casino, Wild Poker with Floyd Mayweather, Heart of Vegas, Double Luck, Bingo Blitz, etc.).
SCG’s are also very popular in mobile gaming and remain one of the top grossing game categories in both the Apples app store and the Android Market. Like, Simulated Gambling, SCG’s have much better odds of winning than their real world counter parts. This makes this type of gaming a bit more risky as someone playing a SCG may get the impression that gambling is very easy to win at. This may lead the individual try their hand at real world gambling where the odds are significantly more in favor of the casino.
The “Free-to-play” or “Freemium Games” with Micro-transactions:
Like most mobile phone SCG’s, “free-to-play” games are free to download and play, but users are able to pay real money for certain elements in the game. Typically, a player will purchase in-game-currency that can then be used to purchase things like loot boxes (we’ll discuss these in a moment), game bonuses, or various exclusive game content like skins, items, or characters. Players may also pay small sums to skip certain wait times, or speed up certain mechanic in the game.
Most recently, a number of games have introduced “loot boxes”, these are typically purchased with in-game currency and contain random game content. Sometimes this content is valuable, sometimes it’s junk. A player tends to have no idea what they will get until they open the loot box and find out. Various countries have go so far as to ban this mechanic as it resembles gambling to such an extent. If we consider the definition of gambling to be, “the act of risking something of value on an unknown out come”, it becomes very clear that the random nature of loot boxes fit this definition. However, some law makers have argued that a players time, or the in-game-currency players purchase do not count as “something of value” and so loot boxes have not yet been regulated as a form of gambling.
Skin-Betting on Third-Party Sites:
Some video games have entire user-generated communities based around in-game gambling. Although not formally programmed into the game itself, some players have developed third-party websites to gamble using in-game items (typically purchased with real money). On these third-party sites, in-game items are rated and given a valued based on their rarity, the rarer the item, the higher it’s value. Players may choose to gamble their items for other higher-value items. Bets are made through the third-party site and players choose to gamble an item via casino style simulated gambling (similar to SCG’s), or by placing bets on the outcome of a match (CS:GO, DotA2, etc.). This is frequently referred to as “skin betting” since one of the items users are able to bet are the digital “skins” (cosmetic items that change the look of a weapon or character). Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) was one of the most notorious games for this type of gambling.
We also see gambling mechanics in various social medias. Think about pulling down on the top of your Facebook feed to refresh the mobile app. This action is meant to resemble pulling the lever of a slot machine. We are “rewarded” with new content on our news feed. Notifications that are sent to our phones are also meant to make us feel like we’re missing something important on the app and that if we don’t go check out what’s happening, we’ll miss out. This is again similar to the feelings a slot machine gives someone gambling, we may continue to gamble thinking we’re going to “miss the jackpot if we walk away now“.
Looking towards the future, technology and gambling will only become even more connected as time passes. Companies like GameCo, for example, have been developing unique ways to attract millennial’s to the casino floor. GameCo has invented a new-age slot machine they are calling a VGM’s (Video-game gambling machines). VGM’s are designed to look more like arcade games or typical mobile phone games, only users are betting money, like a slot machine. The goal: to attract millennial’s to the casino using “skill-based” video games. These are currently not yet available in casinos in Canada, but GameCo has already secured investments from many American investors to continue development on these machines.
Casino’s around the world have also started to take notice of the popularity of eSports. These are video game tournaments where very high level gamer’s face-off in multi-player battles. Typically, these gamers participate in teams very similar to traditional sports teams. Casinos like the Luxor hotel and casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, for example have invested millions of dollars developing gamer lounges where patrons can watch eSports matches and bet on the outcome of those matches in a very similar manner to traditional sports betting.
Paying attention to the apps we use on our phones and the video games that our children play will better allow us to see how normalized gambling has become. Having conversations with our children about technology use and the gambling-related activities that are so readily available within these games is a proactive step that can help you and your children self-reflect on your gaming and gambling habits. Technology is changing the future, and we need to stay connected and aware of how that can affect us and our children.