Whisper it quietly, but the boundaries between virtual gambling and online gaming are becoming increasingly blurred.

This has become increasingly evident during the last 18 months or so, with high profile console games such as GTA 5 enabling players to access live, real money gambling within the context of the title’s narratives. The integration of online gambling in gaming goes far beyond this single instance, however, as the practice becomes increasingly prevalent and continues to raise concerns among regulators.

In this post, we’ll ask whether gambling is becoming more prevalent in online gaming and ask what this means for players, operators and the market as a whole.

What are Loot Boxes and How have they Impacted on Gaming?

The integration of online gambling came to a head last year, when we began to see ‘loot boxes’ offered to players in some console games. These essentially include unlockable elements that relate to the narrative of each individual game, whether they’re new characters in FFBE or limited players in FIFA football sims.

While these options are not available for direct sale, players can purchase a randomised set of items using either real money or an in-game currency. Players have absolutely no guarantee over what they’ll get, but they’re increasingly willing to invest in loot boxes in an attempt to secure a much-needed item that can enhance their gaming experience.

While loot boxes have been heavily criticised by some, a review by the UK regulator confirmed that the procurement of these features should not be considered as gambling. The main reason for this is that players are guaranteed to receive at least something when they purchase a loot box, while the items on offer boast no real monetary value.

So, although there’s no doubt that this classification is borderline, it is factually correct and has left loot boxes as being almost entirely unregulated entities.

Why This Matters in the Context of the Overall Market

With this in mind, the controversy generated by loot boxes may seem a little extreme to those in the gaming industry. Still, it must be considered in line with further developments in the market, which include a rise in the number of young problem gamblers and the emergence of gambling through widely accessible social games.

In terms of the former, a recent study has revealed that around 25,000 children aged between 11 and 16 in the UK may be considered as problem gamblers. This is a staggering revelation, and one which reaffirms the assertion that gambling is becoming increasingly accessible in a diverse range of gaming experiences.

This leads us to the issue of social gaming, which has seen a rise in the number of supposedly child-friendly and branded games that include casino-style gameplay and imagery. Not only do these games directly target children with their design and narratives, but sites such as Facebook allow individuals to register for an account from the tender age of 13. As a result, youngsters are being exposed to gambling at an early age and through seemingly innocuous online games, and this is posing a genuine threat to society.

The Last Word

There’s no doubt that gambling is becoming increasingly prevalent in the world of online gaming, and this trend is likely to continue as both markets enjoy exponential growth.

Regulators are already pledging to crackdown on the the prevalence of gambling features in social games, however, while even loot boxes could find themselves targeted and reclassified if there is sustained pressure from protestors.

We may also see the emergence of reputable comparison sites for online and social games, helping users to identify the titles and platforms that are most suited to their needs. These resources already exist in the world of online gambling, with sites such as Casino Experts offering objective and potentially invaluable information to players across the board.