Luck be a... Master Chief? (C) Venatus

Luck be a... Master Chief? (C) Venatus

The assumption that playing video games and gambling are one and the same thing is perhaps the most frequently arising misconception about gaming and appropriate advertising content.

The need to separate them stems not only from the importance of distinguishing between demographics and connecting the right audiences and brands, but, vitally, from the need to protect young audiences.

In the last thirty years the traditional idea of video games – think PAC-MAN on Atari - has given rise to a plethora of channels and formats, including mobile gaming and eSports.  Hand-in-hand with this has come the variety of hotly contested ways to monetise gaming, including purchasing in-game reward and extra credit. Of themselves, transactions such as paying for premium or downloadable content with real-world currency are purchases and do not constitute gambling.  

It is important to note that gambling is a highly regulated sector and covers actions including playing the National Lottery. Whilst 53% of men and 44% of women have gambled, the percentage of people who gamble online is 17%. This is a fraction of the 49% of the UK population playing video games (NewZoo).

The segment of gaming with the closest links to gambling is competitive eSports, which holds the same potential for betting as more traditional sports.  In response to the Gambling Commission’s recent report into the rise of gambling activities connected to eSports and in-game currency, the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (Ukie) established the distinction between games of ‘skill’ and ‘chance’.

Where games of skill involve players (often experienced professionals in the case of eSports) working to control the outcome of the game, games of chance depend on how the dice fall. In eSports you can bet on the outcome of the match, as you would a horse in the Grand National, but in video games you cannot gamble as part of the play as you would in poker. 

Notably the Gambling Commission has found evidence of organised gambling using skins and in-game items to gamble, and cases involving household titles from console and mobile gaming have been known to occur. However these instances take place on third party and black market sites and not in the games. Gaming publishers and advertisers are bound by laws and regulations, as Ukie explained:

The industry does not intend for virtual items to be converted to money or money’s worth and so restrictions are placed on the ‘cashing out’ of virtual items through closed-loop ecosystems. Games and video game networks deliberately do not have the functionality to facilitate users trading virtual items with one another for money, in a conscious attempt to ensure that virtual items do not acquire any real world value.’ (Ukie response)

Ultimately this is a complicated issue that continues to attract scrutiny as it evolves, but fundamentally:

Video games and gambling are completely different things.

  • Gambling is illegal under the age of 18 in the UK. It is also illegal to feature minors in marketing material promoting gambling.
  • Pan European Game Information (PEGI) ratings were adopted into UK Law in 2003
  • EA and Rovio operate strict bans on gambling and other adult content, in line with PEGI regulations
  • Venatus operates strict inclusion and exclusion lists for all its publishers and is fully compliant with IAB regulations