The Convergence Between Gaming and Real Money Gambling - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The Convergence Between Gaming and Real Money Gambling

The terms gaming and gambling used to denote quite separate concepts, with gambling recognized to be a very specific sub-set of gaming. Games were understood to be about fun, leisure, social interaction and entertainment. Gambling existed in a different sphere, with connotations of vice that kept it apart from other forms of gaming both in terms of public perception and legislation.

What gaming and real money gambling have in common today
Today, the line between gambling and gaming has become increasingly blurred, and many in the gambling industry prefer to use the term gaming to cover concepts such as real money casinos and even sports betting. But how and when did this shift start, what has increased this convergence, and what are the implications?

Gaming and gambling have converged in various ways from either direction. While real money online casinos remain in a category of their own, their functionality has started to change. The addition of competitive elements within a casino site, such as slot competitions and in-site points collection, means that many have started to resemble computer games. This concept of gamification was identified back in 2002, and can be applied to multiple fields such as marketing and education. The gamification of gambling was inevitable.

Other ways that real money gambling operators bring games into their products include the design of gambling games to incorporate familiar childhood favourites and traditional skill games. This could be anything, from a Monopoly-themed scratchcard to a slot game with a pinball element or characters from popular video games. So-called social casino has also gained in popularity, in particular because they bypass the age restrictions and other rules imposed on ‘real’ casino sites. Social casino games can be free, but often have small costs to the players. They replicate the act of gambling, but there is no way to actually win money – only to spend.

How the AGA moulded attitudes
It was the formation of the American Gaming Association in 1994 that started the gradual alteration in attitudes to gambling, which by now has spread around the world. Note the name – even then, this lobbying body set up to represent the interests of the gambling industry preferred the use of the word gaming. A clever and subtle piece of neuro-linguistic programming, the idea was planted that gambling was primarily just a form of entertainment.

The AGA oversaw the expansion and development of gambling in the USA. Casinos in Las Vegas became entertainment hubs, with revenue sourced from hotels, dining, shopping, live music and other stage shows. The actual act of gambling – casino table games, slot machines, sports betting – became integrated into a larger idea of leisure activities, while still providing a significant portion of revenues at the venues.

The online revolution
By the time online casino sites started to gain popularity around the turn of the millennium, the terms gaming and gambling had started to become synonymous in the minds of many. Here was another form of online amusement that fell into the category of a leisure activity. Meanwhile, a revolution was going on in the world of video games. No longer just for teenagers and adults who never grew up, console and especially online games gained a larger and broader fanbase as graphics improved and subject matter diversified.

Added to the mix was the inexorable rise of social media. Close to half of the global population now own or have access to a smartphone, and many of these users have financial accounts linked to their devices. The stage has been set for gaming and gambling to converge in a way that has never previously been witnessed.

Should loot boxes be regulated like gambling?
More subtle, but perhaps more significant, has been the integration of gambling elements to types of games that are not traditionally associated with them. The biggest of these has been the introduction of loot boxes to many video games. Experts argue that the behaviour of players concerning these items closely resembles that of gamblers, with all the potential problems that this could entail.

For those unfamiliar, a loot box is an in-game item that can be purchased for a relatively small amount of money. The contents of the box remain a mystery until the purchase has been made – they could contain items useful to the gamer, or they may not. This is the gambling aspect, and at present it remains completely unregulated. As the purchase of the boxes involves micro-transactions, it is easy for players to overspend without realizing.

Although this may appear to be less consequential than traditional gambling, one research group forecast that annual spending on loot boxes could reach $50 billion by next year. Considering that many of these purchases are made by minors, there is a strong case for looking into more stringent controls on their availability. Thus far, most attempts to do so have been unsuccessful.

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