If you search “Gaming” in Google the first listing is for a gambling website…and in my search for clarification over what is considered “gaming” and what’s considered “gambling” I stumbled across a number of terms:
- Social Gaming
- Real Money Gaming
- Online Gambling
- Online Gaming
- Social Casinos
- Closed Loop Gaming
I looked at a few different sources including recent articles in marketme and WhaTech to try and get to the bottom of what’s meant by all of these terms but struggled to find a definitive answer because sometimes the terms were used interchangeably to refer to the same activity. I also wanted to better understand the potential relationship between gaming and gambling and to think about where I stand on the issue of regulation.
So I’m going to start by looking at games played via social networking that bear no resemblance to well known gambling activities (“Social” or “Closed loop” gaming)…I’m referring to games like Candy Crush and Bubble Witch Saga which I’m sure many of you will have heard of. You can choose to play these games without ever spending a penny or you can make in game purchases for different content or “lives” if you want to. The games are colourful, lively and loud and usually repetitive in nature which can create a soothing effect potentially creating an almost hypnotic state over time. Now, if a player chooses not to spend any money, the amount of time spent on a game is usually limited by the skill of the individual playing….for instance, if you fail to complete a level on Candy Crush, you lose a life and if you lose five lives you have to wait for a life to “refresh” or ask Facebook friends to send you a life before you can continue. This forces individuals’ to take a break from the game…but you can buy more lives if you want to carry on. I guess there could be an argument here that says if you are paying for lives you are already at risk of using the game excessively, so can we therefore develop algorithms that use payment amounts and frequency on these games as an indicator of potential problems as is already the case with online gambling? Something to be considered by treatment providers and potential future regulators perhaps…
What about the games that DO mimic gambling activities but don’t require money to play (Social casinos) like roulette, slots and poker….what, if any, is the relationship between these games and gambling for money? The sights and sounds are the same…in game money or “tokens” are accrued and lost. Players may feel a buzz or experience a sense of winning and losing, as with gambling, although it could be argued that these feelings are less intense if no money is involved. I have previously seen research, conducted by the BBC, which highlighted the differences in player style when playing for free and playing for money…it would seem to indicate that people take more risks when they’re not playing for money (which makes sense). A change in playing style would potentially change the outcome of games leading the player to think they may win, or lose, more than they actually would if they switched from free play to real money gaming. These kinds of inconsistencies have occasionally led to conflicts between players and gambling companies because players feel the odds have changed and the game is no longer fair. In my opinion, more research needs to be conducted to review the number of players jumping from free play to real money gaming, paying particular attention to problem gamblers in order to ascertain when they began to develop a problem and what indicators may have existed in the early stages of the problem that could have been acted upon in some way.
As we can already see, there are many similarities between gaming and gambling both emotionally and visually and, certainly in the case of social gaming, the potential exists to lose/spend a lot of money, as well as time, while playing. However, the potential also exists to engage in both recreationally and without incident. Players can exist in any of the following states:
- Playing for enjoyment – No problem
- Playing excessively/compulsively – Problem with gaming
- Switched to gambling for enjoyment – No problem
- Switched to gambling excessively compulsively – Problem with gambling
So I guess the question is…would excessive gaming lead to excessive gambling if a player were to make the switch? And is a gamer who’s been playing responsibly likely to develop a gambling problem if they make the switch? The two are so similar that my feeling would be similar behaviours would carry over. Conversely, can a problem gambler make the switch to responsible gamer? The problem gamblers I’ve worked with would give a definitive “NO” in answer to that question!
I don’t want anyone reading to think I’m anti gaming, or indeed anti gambling, because that’s certainly not the case. I have been in the past, and still consider myself to be, a gamer…I’ve lost myself in Candy Crush from time to time and I’ve spent more than a few hours waging war on ogres in World of Warcraft 🙂 I’ve developed many friendships, experienced joy and excitement and fended off boredom by playing games responsibly and I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from doing the same thing. I do however feel that the suppliers of any substance or activity that has the potential to become addictive have a responsibility to support treatment and education and adhere to some form of regulation. Whether or not gaming leads to a switch to real money gaming, and in my opinion it’s a real possibility for some, gaming itself can create altered states, it can be used as a form of unhealthy escape and it can create emotional and financial hardship so for those reasons more research needs to be conducted on how to help excessive gamers.
If it’s found that social gaming does indeed lead to a net increase in the number of people gambling we have to consider that as the number of gamblers increases, so does the number of problem gamblers. So what is being put in place to cope with the influx of people into treatment?
Thanks for reading! 🙂