Before we get started here, it should be made clear that no one is attempting to equate gambling as a whole with the gaming industry. One is done with inherent risks with the goal of winning money; the other is done purely for entertainment. As gamers well know, however, the internet can (and will) come up with anything. And in recent years we’ve started to see the lines blurring between certain types of betting activity and gaming mentality.
We’ll start with what may be the example that first comes to mind for most people: daily fantasy sports. Websites like FanDuel, DraftKings, and a few other alternatives (Yahoo Sports even hosts its own daily fantasy activity now) have exploded in recent years. These sites offer sports fans the opportunity to engage in daily or weekly fantasy contests with real money buy-ins and payouts. You pay an entry fee to enter a contest (with tons of different contests with different circumstances), pick a lineup of real professional or collegiate athletes, and hope to win money based on how those athletes perform.
But here’s the thing: there are tons of credible arguments out there as to why you won’t win significant money playing on these sites. Sure, you can win small amounts with relative ease, and the occasional player gets lucky, but most won’t make significant money—and an increasing number of daily fantasy players actually understand that. That seems to indicate that at least a significant chunk of DFS players are playing for the sake of entertainment and competition, as well as socialization. In other words, they’re doing it for the same reasons we play regular video games. There’s fun to be had in picking a lineup, conversing with friends and/or opponents about choices, and trying to win. The prizes, for some, are a bonus.
In this regard, playing daily fantasy is not unlike another form of online betting that’s almost come to resemble a sort of game. We’re talking about actual lotteries. Buying a lottery ticket or picking power ball numbers once meant simply doing so privately, in person. Now, however, online lottery platforms have created a whole new atmosphere around these kinds of activities. There are discussions about how to win through various strategies and superstitions; there are forums about what people would do with their winnings; and there are all kinds of mini-games and jackpot opportunities that essentially function as smaller and more available lottery drawings. The whole concept has become more gamified. Sure, everyone fantasizes about winning a big jackpot, but the actual fantasies and coinciding discussions are in themselves a form of entertainment. And that aspect of things has become more interactive thanks to the rise of online lotteries.
We’ve also seen the rise of other types of online games that function almost like ordinary betting markets. One example currently has to do with the U.S. elections, which have captured the attention of much of the world. A site called PredictIt.org has played a part in this by essentially providing a simplified betting market that allows people to predict political developments as if they’re buying stock in possible occurrences. You can buy “shares” of, say, Hillary Clinton winning a given state on election day, or Donald Trump mentioning a certain term at the next debate. It’s not unlike regular betting markets, but it’s presented in a way that makes it more game-like. The design is simple, the options are clear, and the slogan of the site is even “let’s play politics.” As with daily fantasy or lotteries, the goal may be to win financial rewards, but the process is about entertainment.
Most still won’t think of activities like these as video games in the traditional sense. But people are finding more and more ways to present lottery- and betting-type activities in entertaining ways, and this trend is probably only going to continue. In a way, it is very much an expanding genre in gaming.