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Opinion: Joysticks to Jackpots

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

by Anthony Gaud

CEO, GaudHammer Gaming Group / Chair, Esports Trade Association's Regulated Videogames and Esports Committee

Rising Concerns Over Real-Money Video Games (RMVG) Call for Stricter Oversight

There has been an increase in the scrutiny of video games incorporating real-money game mechanics, such as loot boxes, gacha systems, card packs, and the like, reflecting growing concerns regarding the proximity of these mechanics to conventional gambling. These Real-Money Video Games (RMVG) employ tactics that are disturbingly similar to traditional gambling methods. As platforms such as Roblox make these mechanics accessible to millions of young children, robust oversight of this burgeoning industry is imperative, especially given its potential implications for vulnerable populations.

Gaming vs. Gambling: The Diminishing Distinction

Projected to earn over $100 billion in the foreseeable future, RMVG mechanics employ a cocktail of psychological tactics to spur spending, many of these mirror strategies from the gambling arena. They exploit human psychology, crafting an environment wherein players, many of whom are minors, feel a near-irresistible pull to invest for progression.

Games often put players in a "hot state" – a state of amplified arousal and impulsiveness, driving real-money transactions. This parallels the "near miss" phenomenon in slot machines, creating a belief in players that victory is just a step away.

Moreover, RMVG strategies include 'loss aversion'—where players risk losing valuable in-game assets unless they pay, and 'false scarcity'—temporal offers designed to hasten player purchasing decisions. Such tactics are hard for even adults to resist and exponentially more challenging for unacquainted minors unaware of the immediate and long-term financial and psychological repercussions.

Repercussions on the Vulnerable

Particularly for the most vulnerable, the implications of these gaming techniques are profound. Numerous recovering gambling addicts, despite their best efforts to avoid traditional online gambling avenues, are unknowingly attracted to an evolving gaming industry that seamlessly incorporates virtual gambling.

While many RMVG games refrain from real-money payouts, their emulation of casino-like tactics makes spending restraint exceedingly challenging. Despite the fact that in-game gains aren't convertible into tangible currency, the psychological toll of in-game financial losses is strikingly similar to real gambling.

Numerous players and regulatory bodies have highlighted the striking similarities between RMVG procedures and conventional gambling, emphasizing the risk of players' detachment from reality due to the diminishing line between video gaming and traditional gambling.

A Call to Action for Enhanced Oversight

Despite these troubling trends, RMVGs have generally escaped the rigorous oversight that is common for online gambling. It seems unrealistic and unlikely to expect self-regulation from RMVG-promoting publishers, since their financial interests are at odds with self-regulation.

The Road Ahead

While RMVGs will undeniably captivate and entertain millions of players, as the boundary between RMVG-centric video games and gambling thins and evaporates, and as horror stories of affected individuals surface (link1) (link2), there emerges an unmistakable call for industry-wide regulation.

Global community members, regulators, and industry leaders must work together to identify latent challenges in this lucrative industry and develop strategies together to ensure a holistic player welfare policies and practices.

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