7 Sultans Blog
GTA’s In Game Casino Goes Live
If you don’t know about the Grand Theft Auto video game franchise you’ve probably been living under a rock. And, if you haven’t heard that GTA Online recently opened their much-vaunted in-game casino, you’ve also probably been living under aforementioned lump of substrate. Naturally, the controversy surrounding the new digital casino is nothing short of explosive, and for very good reason. Rockstar and 2K seem to almost be welcoming the backlash, given that the world is currently focused on video game microtransactions and loot boxes, and their similarity to casino games.
But it also just so happens that Rockstar and 2K are veritable masters at negating backlash. They would have to be, given the very nature of GTA. The franchise is nothing short of a moving target for those who are opposed to violence in video games. Adding a casino that accepts real money to the mix seems to be nothing short of a plea to be further attacked.
But then again, Rockstar and 2K are very smart and the new casino in GTA may well be the least offensive example of real money being spent in an online game. Or is it?
GTA – Living On Controversy
The original GTA released in 1997. It was met overwhelmingly by harsh criticism from various groups given that it revelled in violence. But not just violence, chaotic violence. Players could run down pedestrians in stolen cars, open fire on random crowds and do so while engaging in criminal activities around a virtual city. Though, the game did all of this with a strong leaning on satire and dark comedy.
The developers, Rockstar North, knew well what they were doing, and that allowing otherwise shocking violence could be offset with a strong tongue-in-cheek tone. The game praised acts of violence with a gameshow style enthusiasm, and most got the joke. ‘We know causing chaos is fun, but we’re not exactly condoning it,’ the game seemed to say.
Either way, GTA was a massive success, giving way to the biggest current entertainment franchise in the world. The series of games continued to allow players to cause chaos in a virtual city, with ever more impressive detail and technological improvements. The tone of satire was also kept, even if the game narratives swayed into more serious tones from time to time. Sure enough, controversy followed each game release.
Despite the on going backlash, game developers Rockstar and game publishers 2K stuck by their stance; games don’t cause violence. The more observant would also note that messages of tolerance between different races and acceptance between those of different sexual orientation are also heartily scattered around each game storyline. Indiscriminate violence is also never encouraged, just possible. If anything, players are harshly punished for indiscriminate violence, quickly brought down by in-game law enforcement.
Adding A Casino To The Mix
After years of appearing in the game as “under construction” Diamond Casino finally opened its doors in the GTA Online world. Gambling chips can be bought with real money, and the casino games work as would be expected. The in-game economy has previously allowed players to buy virtual currency with real money, which can then be used to purchase game vehicles, properties, weapons, and other digital goods. With real money casino chips up for sale and the ability to gamble with them, the situation is fairly clear-cut.
But there are a few things to note. The first is that although casino chips can be bought with real money, the virtual currency can never be withdrawn. So, essentially, any real money put into the game is gone, regardless of how much gambling is done. The second thing to note is that GTA has a very prominent 18-age restriction. Plus, the real money gambling option is not available in many countries where online gambling is outlawed, making the Diamond only for players in certain jurisdictions.
Focus On Microtransactions
Presently, the world is up in arms about video game microtransactions. Virtually every game currently released allows for some sort of real money purchases to be made. These games are not labelled for adults only, with many focusing strongly on players that are well below 18. The infamous Loot Boxes are a great deal worse. Resembling slots games, the systems allow a purchase to be made, but the actual item given to be random. Again, no age restriction warns parents from allowing children to participate in Loot Box purchasing.
So is the GTA Online Diamond Casino as offensive? First, it is labelled as 18+. The game is well known to be highly popular with teenagers, but the 18+ restriction is plainly declared. Real money can, indirectly, be spent in the virtual casino, but it can never be withdrawn. This means that the only motivation is the further purchasing on in-game digital goods. So, technically speaking it is not officially online gambling.
Many argue that GTA Online has taken the most responsible angle possible with their casino. There is no attempt to punt the service to children, no ambiguity about what is being offered, and certainly no attempt by the developers to hide what is happening. The same can’t be said for multiple other companies.