Grand Theft Auto V is well known for being a groundbreaking title, in more ways than one. Already one of the best-selling video games of all time, it continues to establish new revenue streams through DLC, with various new features and vehicles added each and every time. Along these lines, the game’s latest DLC addition, the online Diamond Casino, may seem like just another cash grab from Rockstar. But its implications for the gaming medium as a whole may be a lot bigger than most people realize. Indeed, considering the bigger picture, the GTA franchise may have just added another groundbreaking moment to its repertoire.
The History of Gambling in Video Games
The reason GTA V’s casino represents such a watershed moment in gaming is rooted in history. When gaming was first getting its legs under it back in the ’70s and ’80s, there wasn’t much crossover with gambling entertainment. There were some minor games like Vegas Dream for the NES, but it really wasn’t until the portable console era that gambling and video games started to overlap. At that point, we started to see both individual gambling games and casino-related content mini-games within ordinary video games. A few prominent examples that still stand out to this day include The Golden Saucer and Game Corner, from Final Fantasy and Pokémon respectively.
Over time though, this connection between conventional and casino video games never really strengthened. Perhaps as a lingering effect of the ESRP rating system’s implementation in the early ’90s, casino content was left out of or pulled from a lot of games; some might have considered it too mature, in some ways, for younger audiences. And even as we stopped seeing meaningful overlap, the casino-specific gaming industry really came into its own. Late-’90s poker sites gave way to more comprehensive gambling sites, and ultimately to more and more reliable, real-money casino websites and apps. Today, such sites and apps are hosted all over the world, from New Zealand to Canada. And through their breadth of offerings, their high-tech game varieties, and their engaging player bonuses, they rope in tens if not hundreds of millions of players each year.
What this means ultimately is that the need for crossover between casinos and conventional video games has all but disappeared. Once upon a time, we might have appreciated something like Game Corner because it was the best chance we had to enjoy the casino-style activity in a digital, video game environment. But with such experiences having ebbed out of gaming, and casino material having become so high-end and so available, the connection has been severed.
Now, it’s not as if that means there are no examples whatsoever. Perhaps most notably, we’ve seen the Far Cry series delve into gambling side activities (with Far Cry 3’s poker circuit standing out in particular). But with the introduction of a full-fledged casino as its own DLC, Rockstar has effectively linked conventional and casino gaming in a bolder and more powerful way than we’ve ever seen.
The Diamond Casino & Its Implications
The Diamond Casino in GTA V ultimately has a lot more to offer than any casino mini-games we’ve seen in the past. Described as a luxurious locale in Vinewood, the venue is being described in everything from online write-ups to live-read podcast advertisements as if it’s a real place. This is perhaps no surprise given the increasingly blurred lines between high-end video games and reality, but it’s worth noting that the Diamond Casino is being billed almost as if it represents a real-world vacation – or at least a comprehensive night out within the life of your GTA V character. Slots, table games, horse racing, shopping, and various VIP experiences are all on offer, which is to say nothing of the vehicles, side missions, and even tattoos that come with the DLC.
The casino has already sparked some interesting discussion about what technically constitutes gambling within a non-casino game. Essentially what’s happening in the Diamond Casino is this: Players are playing real casino games, but betting fake, in-game cash. However, because said in-game cash can be purchased with real money, there its some potential for real-world monetary loss. This has actually led to dozens of countries already restricting activities within the Diamond Casino in GTA V Online – though it should be noted that some large countries with fairly restrictive gambling laws (like the U.S.) have not done so.
Basically, Rockstar has introduced a new sort of grey area. And while the company can’t be thrilled with the aforementioned bans, it’s also managed to introduce the Diamond Casino without seeing its game rating change, and without leading to any issues in some of the biggest markets that may have been problematic. For these reasons, it seems as if the Diamond Casino might not only be a success within the scope of GTA V, but may also pave the way for a new era of clever casino content within regular video games. Indeed, at this point, it wouldn’t even be too surprising to see actual real-world or online casinos license their own material to developers such that it can be placed within new games.