Gambling and games of chance have long been considered separate activities. Gambling is distinguished from gaming its risk-based, probability-based outcomes and monetary mechanisms such as betting and wagering mechanisms, King et al. (2015), while gaming is distinguished its interactive, skill-based gameplay and contextual relevance to game progression and success. However, thanks to technological advances, these boundaries are increasingly blurred.
As a revenue mechanism, digital games are increasingly using monetary aspects, usually microtransactions. For example, microtransactions are required to acquire additional features or better equipment for a game. In addition, so-called “loot boxes,” which have the chance-based characteristics of gambling, have become popular, especially in video games. Loot boxes are virtual entities that contain randomized items (such as weapons or other equipment) that can be purchased with real currency. A recent study found that the costs associated with loot boxes are related to gambling (Zendle and Cairns 2018). It has also been hypothesized that because gambling and gaming are so similar, playing video games may increase willingness to gamble; however, new research does not fully support this theory (Forrest et al. 2016; Macey and Hamari 2018).
Online games, like video games, gradually incorporate gambling elements. For example, social networking sites such as Facebook have social games that mimic gambling activities, such as poker, roulette, and slot machines (Calado et al. 2018; Jacques et al. 2016; King et al. 2014). Although these games are often considered safe and harmless alternatives to real-money gambling, their gambling-like characteristics can also provide motivation for real-money gambling (King et al. 2014) and train children and adolescents in gambling techniques (King et al. Moreover, “free-to-play” games do not necessarily require the use of real money, but often encourage players to make in-game purchases (i.e., microtransactions) to obtain additional features (HS Kim et al. 2017; Paavilainen et al. 2013). The above-mentioned research shows that gambling and gaming are no longer considered completely separate behaviors. On the contrary, they increasingly exhibit characteristics similar to gambling.
Gambling and gaming in online communities: a social perspective
One of the reasons for the popularity of online communities and social media is that people have a basic need for social belonging and relatedness (Baumeister and Leary 1995; Deci and Ryan 2000) (Keipi and Oksanen 2014; McKenna and Bargh 1999; Reich and Vorderer 2013; William et al. 2000). Kozinets (1999) defines virtual communities (or online communities) as groups of people who share social interactions, social relationships, and virtual interaction sites. Communities are defined common interests, goals, and habits that unite like-minded people (Preece 2000; Rheingold 1993). Indeed, in the virtual world, people exhibit a tendency toward homophily or a desire to find and interact with their peers (Centola and van de Rijt 2015; McPherson et al. 2001).
Identification with like-minded people in a virtual community can have important consequences for the user (Kaakinen et al. 2020). Users’ behavior is influenced their identification with the shared social identity of the community and the absorption of norms of the ingroup (Zhou 2011). Moreover, research on social media shows that consumers often rely on the information and content provided their group members (Flanagin et al. 2014). Identification with an online group, especially when discussing potentially addictive habits, can negatively impact intentions and attitudes and normalize maladaptive behavior (Oksanen et al. 2016). In contrast, online groups and shared identities may be helpful in addiction recovery (McNamara and Parsons 2016).
The purpose of the current study is to better understand gambling phenomena examining the activities of online communities on gambling and gambling-related activities. We use a broad definition of online communities (see Kozinets 1999; Preece 2000; Rheingold 1993) to include in this review a variety of interactive online platforms for gamblers and players.
Our topic is related to several systematic reviews, such as online gaming communities (Warmelink and Siitonen 2013) and user engagement in different online communities (Warmelink and Siitonen 2013). (Malinen 2015). However, we are more interested in the social aspects of online gambling. Therefore, our goal is to gather empirical evidence on the important characteristics and roles of virtual gambling communities in gambling behavior.