Are video games turning children into gamblers?

Over the past couple of years, there has been a lot of talk about how gambling has made its way into video games aimed primarily at children and teenagers. Up until recently, gambling and video games have been part of different worlds, but with the introduction of mobile games and random reward mechanics such as “loot boxes”, the lines have been blurred. Let’s have a look at how this came to be.

Since the inception of the smart phone, playing video games has become a much more accessible form of entertainment. With countless apps offering free-to-play games in every genre, playing video games is only a swipe or a tap away no matter where you are, unlike PC or console gaming which is restricted to your living room. These days, you can play everything from Angry Birds to Minecraft while you are on the bus to school or using the bathroom at work.

With this groundbreaking level of accessibility, it has become much harder for parents to know how much their children are using their smartphones and what they are using them for. To make things even more complicated, many of the free-to-play mobile games have started to monetize their content through in-app purchases that reward the player with random items, for example a power-up, a new weapon, an outfit for your character and so on. This means that children potentially could spend money through micro-transactions inside their apps without their parents ever knowing or being able to control their actions. With the massive success of the mobile games’ business strategy, a large chunk of the most well established video game developers have followed their path.

Today, games like Battlefield, Star Wars Battlefront, Overwatch, Call of Duty and Fortnite are all using the loot box system to lure eager players into spending large amounts of money in the hopes of eventually getting a rare in-game item. Children are especially susceptible to this mechanic and essentially, loot boxes function the same way as the keno system, a slot machine or a game of bingo at an online casino does. So, when you really think about it, millions of children have become gambling addicts through video games such as Fortnite and Battlefield. No wonder then that several companies have been forced to operate under local gambling laws as a result of parents and journalists exposing this new strategy for what it really is.

Electronic Arts came under fire with the release of Star Wars: Battlefront II a couple of years ago when it was discovered how much of their content was locked behind the “loot box” pay wall. They were forced to make changes in the game to win back the trust of their player base and to avoid heavy fines from gambling authorities. Soon thereafter, their game FIFA 2020 was also riddled with unfair and dishonest practices where you could only access certain content by purchasing loot boxes with the odds stacked against you.

It is important that us parents take responsibility and pay attention to what our children are actually doing online. It is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain full control as the world is becoming more and more reliant on the internet by the minute, but that is no excuse in letting our children unwittingly become gamblers. We also need to put pressure on the video game developers and demand that they refrain from shady business practices and that this type of mechanism is banned from games aimed at children and teenagers.