Gamble or play? The Controversial Intersection of Gambling Mechanics in Video Games


How is gambling incorporated in games? (Through time)

Gambling elements have always been common throughout gaming history, which can range from mini games to more complex games stimulating and encouraging the gambling experience. The earliest interaction of gambling through games was introduced in 1997 for the console Atari 2600; the digital adaptation of the classic card game ‘Blackjack’, which purpose was to stimulate the experience of playing Blackjack against AI.

However, as technology advanced and online multiplayer games were on the rise, developers introduced the idea of betting houses/casinos; run by players and common in lots of MMORPGs (Multiplayer online role-playing games) providing the opportunity to wager in game items and currency through a virtual economy, consequently this created the incentive to grind and gamble to become more powerful and have stronger items.

So how frequent is gambling in modern games?

Mobile games are the most effective form of gambling in games as it appeals to a wider audience, through incorporating these gambling elements, attracting a larger range of ages and including casual players and those open to the excitement and psychological reward of betting.

However, the most common form of gambling for gamers is through skins with real monetary value, this is corroborated in CSGO’s Case Opening mechanic where you can purchase cases and keys for the opportunity to unpack a skin worth up to £30,000 (3.2%), although extremely rare, the idea of a player owning these skins creates the incentive to continue spending and generates huge revenue for companies like Valve.


Additionally, this is supported by Skin Trading, where players can trade skins with one another, and values often decided by their demand and rarity of specific items. Trading also created a gambling-atmosphere where players could attempt to profit from the changing market values.  Moreover, third-party websites are available for skin trading and are used as more accessible ports for buying, selling and trading in-game skins although proven to be riskier.

Another example of gambling in games are packs in Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, which like Counter Strike packs give the opportunity to obtain cosmetics. Although these packs can be won by chance; after winning games, it’s ineffably more accessible to spend cash for the average player.

Of course, the issue is that some players, particularly younger ones cannot fully comprehend the financial strain of spending money on packs which could lead to overspending, using money they cannot afford to lose, simply because of the early exposure and normalisation of spending money on trivial things.

To add to this, other factors weigh in which incline players to spend money on games, one example of this is the term ‘P2W’ (Meaning Pay to Win). Some items which can be obtained from packs/crates provide a benefit and unfair advantage to players with access to these items, creating the incentive to spend money in order to be at the same level as other players.


How is gambling in video games harmful to players?

Gambling in video games poses significant harm to players in the gaming industry, one of the more concerning issues is the introduction of loot cases purchased through micro-transactions. You see, this system encourages players to spend real cash on virtual amenities like in-game skins. The reason this is harmful is because these opportunities provide a gateway into leading a younger audience into the gambling rabbit hole, and due to this becoming more and more common, the idea of gambling in video games may become normalised to children from a young age as young minds are vulnerable to developing addictive behaviours; where traditionally there are age restrictions for lottery style games.

Naturally, early exposure to these mechanics can normalize gambling behaviour, making it seem like a harmless activity and could lead to a skewed perception of the risks and consequences of gambling as well as triggering dopamine release, making individuals prone to seek out similar experiences in the future. 

How can players avoid gambling in games? (From a young age)

The most effective way to avoid gambling exposure is being educated on when these mechanics are being utilized in games, for younger gamers (who are more likely to be easily influenced) this could mean just sticking with games within their age range, having parental guidance or simply not spending money to support game developers who employ these tactics.

The articles content, opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed in SAPPHIRE NATION are the authors’ own and do not necessarily represent official policy or position of SAPPHIRE Technology.


I spend most of my time on my pc, I like to play games like val and siege and have fun with my friends.