There is a great deal of hype at the moment about loot boxes in video games, and a resulting mad rush by various governments to have them regulated, or even restricted entirely. This I can understand, and personally applaud any and all efforts to make life difficult for game publishers who push loot boxes. Video games being one of my favourite hobbies, I’ve long ago got sick of seeing predatory loot box behaviour.
But I’m not here to talk about loot boxes right now. Instead, I’d like to draw comparisons between loot boxes, and social casinos. Which is to say; I’d like to ask that if loot boxes should be regulated, should social casinos be regulated?
What Are Social Casinos?
Social casinos, for those who may not be aware, are online casinos that operate on virtual currency. The idea is that players can engage in casino games online, among millions of other players, without having to spend any real money on the betting. Each player is given a certain sum of virtual currency upon signing up, and can spend that currency to enjoy the various games offered.
There are slot games and table games on offer, with slots being the most popular, and poker being the most popular table game. The most widely played social casino games are by the software company Zynga, which can be played via social media networks like Facebook. Zynga Poker attracts millions daily.
So, you might now be asking yourself what the big deal is? If these casino games are free, why would anyone even be paying attention, or demanding that they be regulated? Well, just because the players are granted virtual currency to play, it doesn’t mean that there are not ways to spend real money. And here, of course, is the crux of the matter.
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How Do Social Casinos Earn?
The money in social casinos is indeed virtual, but it is also limited. If a user runs out of virtual currency, they have to wait for the following day, when more will be granted. Virtual currency can also be given by one player to another. So, this virtual currency does have some value, given that it is a limited digital resource, and players can go “broke.”
The key here is that social casinos also offer gifts, novelty items, and other such things, that can be purchased by players, with the virtual currency. For example, a player can buy digital “drinks” for other players at their poker table. The drinks cost virtual currency, and oh the ladies swoon when being bought digital drinks.
If you haven’t put the pieces together yet, these digital items can be bought with real money. And frequently are, given that social casinos are a $2.7 billion industry.
But, should casinos of this type be regulated?
Loot Boxes Versus Social Casinos
Let’s go back to loot boxes for a moment. For those unaware, loot boxes are digital items that can be bought in video games, for real money. The latest iteration of loot boxes are randomised, meaning that a person can buy a loot box, and not even know what item they will get. So, should a person be seeking a specific item, they can easily pump hundreds, if not thousands of dollars into the loot box system, before actually receiving what they desire.
Keep in mind that loot boxes are currently not regulated, and not even age restricted. This may well change soon, but currently a person of any age could be subjected to a randomised loot box system. And let me just spell this out and make it clear; money can be paid, in a loot box system, for an unknown reward.
Social casinos do indeed revolve around casino games, but the only possible means by which a person may spend money is purchasing digital novelty items. A person knows full well what item they will receive, and also that the item is nothing but a cluster of pixels. The point is, however, that it’s a simple, straightforward transaction, certainly not required, and not needed to participate in the casino games.
So Should They Be Regulated?
It took a long time for authorities to finally start making a noise about loot boxes. Randomised loot boxes should never have been allowed in the first place, in my opinion, but that really is a discussion for another day.
Social casinos are exceedingly innocent by comparison, at least in my opinion. If anything, I’m not even sure how they would be regulated. Are you sure you want to buy this digital drink for the lady with the nice profile picture? You know it’s not a real drink, right? And it might not be a real lady either…