Online video gaming and esports have become a huge part of mainstream culture, with competitive tournaments being streamed live around the world. For example, the 2021 League of Legends World Championships attracted over four million viewers globally. Streaming platforms such as YouTube Gaming and Twitch are giving fans the opportunity to connect directly with players and teams, and esports organisations like FaZe Clan have capitalised on this by investing more in merchandise.

However, for those who are not professional gamers, features such as microtransactions and in-game purchases are appealing if players want to fast-track their success. So-called ‘pay-to-win’ gaming typically involves trading real life cash to purchase in-game objects or gambling this money in slot wheel-style loot boxes. Whilst it is not a new concept, the lure of this type of gaming has grown in recent years.

Popular sports and Battle Royale-style video games now make millions from players gambling real money to win in-game skins and upgrades. For example, EA Sports’ Ultimate Team, which gives users a chance to pay to build a fantasy team of the world’s best players, made more than USD $1.62 billion in 2020 across various games, including FIFA, NBA and UFC. Pack reveal videos are also popular online and further encourage the activity of ‘pay-to-win’ gaming.

The global online microtransaction market is expected to grow by over 13% to reach USD $67.60 billion in 2022, compared to USD $59.49 billion in 2021. A large share of revenue generated within the video games industry comes from microtransactions and similar features, and this has only increased during the pandemic. For example, according to a recent study, around 47% of UK gamers admitted to spending more time gaming during lockdown than before and were therefore more likely to have been drawn towards spending money on in-game items.

Despite its ever-increasing popularity, this area of gaming is not without its critics. Many gamers who engage with features such as loot boxes and microtransactions are under 18 years old, which has raised questions around whether popular Triple-A games may encourage underage gambling. The UK Government is currently putting pressure on video games companies to restrict the sale of loot boxes to minors, warning that if they do not act, legislation will be brought in to limit loot boxes’ use. Additionally, some members of the gaming community believe it is unfair that players who pay to unlock better features have an in-game advantage over those who do not.

Promoting responsible play and putting the right conditions in place to prevent underage players from gambling is greatly important within the gaming and betting industry. Roman Semiokhin, a tech entrepreneur who has launched a range of gaming and betting products in the gaming market, is a known advocate for responsible gaming. He points to customer experience as a major driver for attracting and keeping punters and players, and he believes that protecting customers also forms a key part of this.