The pandemic has seen a vast increase in the numbers of Welsh players both gambling and gaming online. With mobile phones offering a multitude of games at the touch of a button, there is no shortage of entertainment.
However, while this is good for games developers, it’s not necessarily good for the user and many are becoming concerned that the differences between gambling, which is heavily regulated in the UK, and gaming, which is much more accessible, can be a very fine line.
Let’s be honest, if you type in ‘top online casinos UK’ into Google then there is every likelihood that you are both expecting and wanting to gamble when arriving on a casino site. While there are issues with problem gambling, there are also schemes in place to protect users and users are likely to recognise if a partner points out an issue, and most gamblers will be aware of potential addiction risks.
Gaming apps with micro-transactions
However, many new gaming apps, loaded with micro-transactions, offer similar addiction risks and rewards for the brain – and the boundaries between gambling and gaming are becoming more blurred.
Risking money on ‘games of skill’ is not new, for example, on pub quiz machines, players essentially bet on their skills to win – and many of them find themselves more out of pocket that they would if they had openly gambled.
This is not really down to luck – after all, the machines run on algorithms that can make questions easier or harder to ensure that wins are timed to make the owner more money.
Like any other type of gambling, this can be addictive – and indeed, offline it can be quite social. In most pubs in Wales, you will find a group of people standing around the quiz machine feeding it coins – you will notice when playing, it takes a few attempts to win – and at best you often only win your £1 back!
The difference between playing these semi-skilled games (so called because success does require some skill but ultimately success still depends on the algorithm) in a social setting and playing a ‘skill’ or ‘luck’ game at home is very different – but either way, the costs can add up.
The risks of gaming apps – and who is the target?
Playing a game is not seen as gambling and can be very seductive, particularly if a player is very confident in their ability – but micro transactions can add up fast, and electronic transactions can mean a player loses track of their actual spend.
More concerning is that many of these games have features that resemble gambling and can be accessed by children (and in some cases are even designed to target children, with popular children’s brands licensing images for use in games).
The costs are not always ‘micro’ and inconsequential. For example, on Disney Magic Kingdom, micro transactions can be as high as £10 just to buy a random character pack in the hope you may ‘win’ a particular character. Is this really so very different to gambling?
Gaming online shares many of the other features which makes gambling so addictive.
When using a mobile phone or tablet to game, a person can become engrossed and lose track of time, thriving on limited success and the need to then ‘beat’ a level by paying for an advantage such as more balls, unlimited lives and so on, and every time you lose, the app helpfully reminds you that there are ‘cheats’ available to make winning easier. It’s the same ‘I will win this time’ mentality we see in any other area of gambling.
The apps offer other temptations too, with upgrades to make the character look more cool or to upgrade their character, or other aspects of the game to add visual appeal.
Gaming too much?
The problem with all this temptation is the fact that the ’rewards’ of winning stimulate the brain in the same way as gambling – and can therefore be just as addictive.
If you notice, or your partner notices your screen time or spend is on the high side, remind yourself what a game or character really is – pixels on a screen, dreamed up in someone’s coding room and the only real winner is the person or organisation counting the cash from your microtransactions. Set a budget and stick to it – and ask yourself if you are getting value for your spend.
Lastly, if you believe you have an addiction, and need to stop, then reach for help. It’s available.