Gambling-like activities are games that either simulate traditional gambling games or are chance-based games that require in-game currency rather than real-world money to play. In-game gambling-like activities can include lotteries, slot machines, picking a card, poker, blackjack, etc., giving the player the ability to win extra items or coins. Sometimes these activities are built into the actual game and the player needs to play them to progress further into the game. Introducing gambling-like activities in games desensitizes the player and makes them believe it is harmless.
In our Jumping Jamboree game, the slot machine is used as a way to gain extra points or the ultimate prize key which allows the player to win the game. In traditional gambling, a slot machine is a game of chance that requires the player to pay real-world money to participate. A win occurs when three (or more) of the same symbol appear in a straight line. Although slot machines can be a fun and exciting form of gambling, they are also one of the more risky forms of gambling, with the potential to cause harm to the player.
Slot machines are chance-based activities and the player cannot control what prize they get. The slot machine in Jumping Jamboree is not an example of a gambling activity as the player does not need to purchase anything with real-world money to play the game. However, in other games the players can be asked to use their in-game currency earned via gameplay or purchased by using real money to play the slot machine, which turns the activity into gambling.
In a game of skill, you can get better with practise. In the Jumping Jamboree game, you can control when and how your character jumps which is the skill-based part of the game. But you were also introduced to a loot box and a slot machine which are the chance-based elements of the game as you don’t know what item you are going to get. Video games are mostly based on skill and with practise, you can get better. But all gambling activities have an element of chance. You cannot get better at chance games. By having both skill and chance in a game, players may falsely think they can get better at games of chance (such as gambling) with practise.
Risks of Gambling-Like Activities in Games
Gambling-like activities (simulated gambling games) are different from conventional gambling in that players cannot win real money. Research shows that the more individuals engage in gaming-related gambling and gambling-like practices, the more likely they are to also engage in traditional gambling practices. There is also evidence that participation in gambling-like practices is significantly linked to problem gambling.
Some of the risks of including gambling-like activities in games include:
The normalization of gambling
May lead to more frequent participation in gambling activities.
May lead players to believe that winning in a real-world gambling situation may mimic the more favorable odds found in video games, when compared to its real-world counterpart.
With video games being mostly skill-based the incorporation of chance-based activities, like simulated gambling games, may lead players to develop false expectations and believe that with sufficient practise they can control chance-based gambling activities.
Gambling-like activities in video games mimic gambling concepts used in traditional slot machines. It is important to be familiar with overall risks associated with slot machines. Risky elements associated with slot machines in particular are:
Speed of Play
Players are able to complete 600-1200 spins per hour. This is a much faster rate of play than most other gambling games and therefore players have the potential to lose money more quickly.
Credits vs Currency
Money is converted to credits when playing on slot machines this leads players to be less aware of how much they are spending and may lead to spending more than intended.
This is when a player wins on a spin but the prize is worth less than the cost of the spin. The slot machine celebrates this as a true win with lights and music even though the player has lost money. Players may feel as though they are ahead and continue to play longer as a result.
Slot machines have a ‘spin’ button used to start gameplay and a ‘stop’ button. The stop button gives players the illusion of control but has no real impact on the game. The outcome of the game is determined the instant the spin button is pressed, but the reels spin for about 5-6 seconds before displaying the outcome.
Odds of Winning
The odds of winning on slot machines are usually quite low and the pay rates are based on thousands of spins so one can never be sure what will happen on any given day of play. Slot machines are designed to make money. They are programmed to pay out only a percentage of the money that is wagered and they are tested to make sure they do not lose money over time.
This is when the symbol needed to win appears just above or below the pay line. People often think they have almost won when this happens, but symbols above or below the pay line have nothing to do with how close the player is to winning. Research shows that near misses motivate players to continue playing. In Ontario, casinos can program near misses to occur 12 times more often than they would naturally as a result of chance.¹
Weighted and Unbalanced Reels
The reels on slot machines are weighted so that low-paying symbols come up much more often than jackpot symbols. Unbalanced reels are when one reel has fewer jackpot symbols than the other reels, which can result in a higher likelihood of 2 jackpot symbols appearing in a spin when 3 are needed to win. It looks like all the symbols have an equal chance of coming up but this is not the case. Players have no way of knowing that 1 reel has fewer jackpot symbols so they often believe they have a better chance at winning than they do.
Players may experience small wins often but small wins do not make up for the money spent on the game and the money ‘won’ is usually rolled back into the game. Small wins cause players to feel like they are doing better than they really are. This may cause players to think that if they continue to play it will eventually lead to a large win, but the longer you play the more likely you are to lose. Players are more likely to stop playing after a big win and to continue playing after small wins.
Some harm reduction strategies when engaging with simulated gambling games
Remember that gambling-like activities/simulated gambling games are more likely to have favourable odds than their real-world counterparts.
Credit Card Use
Ensure that you do not connect your credit card to your game, otherwise it might automatically withdraw funds.
If there is an option to use your earned in-game currency, consider using that rather than using real money.
Set time limits and remember to make time for other activities you enjoy.
Remember that just like real-world gambling activities, simulated gambling games are chance-based. Wins are random, you cannot practise to get better.