Are Video Game Microtransactions Gambling?

Written By Frank Weber on June 15, 2022
Have video games become a form of gambling?

The video game industry is at an all-time high. You can play games on everything nowadays: on a console, on your computer, even on your phone. And with microtransactions, companies are raking in piles of money from gamers. Which begs the question: Have video games become a form of gambling?

Gaming apps number in the thousands and most people have several they play on their smartphones or tablets. With microtransactions, companies have found a way to collect money from gamers beyond the initial purchase.

Especially in Texas, where online gambling is illegal, video game microtransactions have become almost a loophole around that.

What are microtransactions?

The concept of microtransactions is pretty simple. Odds are, if you play any type of game on your phone, you’ve encountered the option to partake in a microtransaction.

Microtransactions are any form of additional paid content in video games. In modern games, the most common microtransactions involve buying costumes for your characters or purchasing special weapons or paint jobs. These purchases seem to only affect your in-game characters, but they also affect your wallet in real life. Each microtransaction is made with real money.

Some games even offer microtransactions that provide advantages over players who don’t pay. This is called “pay-to-win.” It’s something that angers many players.

But are microtransactions a form of gambling? A player knows what they are buying, right? But what happens when they don’t know? Well, that’s where microtransactions called “loot boxes” come into play.

Loot boxes: The millennials’ scratch-off ticket

Loot boxes are a common form of microtransaction found in a number of today’s popular games. They are items that players spend real-life money on. In exchange, the player receives a random item or items. It could be anything from a brand new outfit for their character to a powerful weapon that gives them the upper hand.

The difference is, the item is random. Players do not know what they will receive when they purchase the loot box.

Several popular games contain loot boxes.

  • Apex Legends
  • Overwatch
  • CSGO
  • Diablo

While the concept seems harmless, you must remember the target demographic for these games: Young adults and children. Games like Grand Theft Auto even encourage players to spend real money on the game in exchange for virtual currency, which can then in turn be used in the game’s virtual casino.

Since players do not receive real money in return from loot boxes or any other microtransaction, it has never been categorized as gambling. Not everyone holds this belief, however.

Belgium has banned loot boxes in games. The country considers them to be illegal gambling. A guy named Zack, who calls himself Asmongold, is a popular Twitch streamer and YouTuber in the US. He shares this same belief about loot boxes and has even brought it to the attention of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Asmongold: Microtransactions indoctrinate kids

In a recent stream, Asmondgold expressed his views on loot boxes, saying they should be constituted as gambling. He said he is trying to convince Cruz to categorize microtransactions as gambling, just like in Belgium.

Asmongold says these microtransactions are “indoctrinating kids into gambling,” which could be dangerous with gambling more widely available than ever before.

“I think that I can get a lot of religious Republican people on board with this by selling it as gambling, because it is. You’re effectively indoctrinating kids into gambling. I don’t know man. I don’t know either but I really wanna try and do it. I’m actually going to try to do this.”

It’s an uphill battle for Asmongold. He said he just wants to prevent games, like the new Diablo Immortal title, which requires at least $50,000 of in-game microtransactions to receive the best equipment, from ruining the lives of young gamers.

Asmongold lives in Texas, a state with some of the harshest anti-gambling laws. So if any state were to ban microtransactions, it would be Texas.

Photo by Shutterstock
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Frank Weber

Frank Weber is a US-based gambling writer with a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism. He loves baseball, football, basketball, soccer, and the UFC, and even collects sports cards and memorabilia in his spare time. In his free time, you could find Frank either out at a concert with friends, or at home sweating out all his bets.

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