The rise of social gaming, those type of online games that do not offer cash as prizes, but instead allow you to level up, add a weapon, or unlock a new segment of the game, are played by an astounding number of players, both on PC and mobile devices. At present these type of games, even if they are casino styled games, fall under no regulation and there are no consumer protection measures in place. There is however a growing number of authoritative bodies that are calling this into question, as it’s possible to spend a whole lot of time, and a whole lot of money on such games.
Many see that part of the issue is that these type of games are aimed at younger age groups, with their cartoon like characters and easy to play themes, and that the free to play business model encourages people to try them, get a taste for the game, and then to start spending. Some in game add ons do not come cheaply, a virtual gun in the game of Gun Bros was last year selling well at $500 each, and virtual drones in the game of Dark Orbit are 1,000 Euro each, amounts not to be taken lightly. While no-one is forcing players of these games to make such lavish purchases, the exact same thing can be said for real money online gambling, and for example when you sign up to an online casino, you can of course play the games for free...no-one forces you to deposit, but the casinos are forced to be licensed and regulated, so what’s the difference?
The fact is that there is no real difference, however those against social gaming regulation will argue that it’s not gambling and no regulation is required. The arguments as to whether or not social gaming is or isn’t gambling is in other peoples opinion is not the point in question, the real question is that the addictiveness of many social games means that people will spend more on them than they can afford to...whether it’s gambling or not, and maybe this is where regulation should start.
Games that offer digital prizes can be addictive, and the island of Malta, a location that already regulates and licenses many online casinos, is taking social gaming regulation and consumer protection seriously, and could be the first place in the world to regulate the industry. It’s unclear what sort of regulation, if any, is required, but it’s an area that will be studied in more detail sooner rather than later.