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Granblue Fantasy, a Japanese Role Playing Game (JRPG), has found itself embroiled in controversy in early 2016. Normally such video game disputes between consumers and publishers do not relate to online poker, yet the online gambling and misleading advertising aspects surrounding the Granblue Fantasy Scandal offer striking similarities to issues pertaining to Internet Poker.

The “Gacha System” And Online Social Gaming

The Gacha System originates from coin operated vending machines. Put in some money, turn the lever, and open a plastic bubble to reveal your toy or action figure. By making fewer models of certain prizes available within a single machine, operators are able to entice collectors to spend larger amounts of money to eventually win that rare accessory. The chance of a consumer winning a super rare toy can be extremely low, but the element of real money risk can often pay off if the collector is lucky enough.

This system has quickly found its way into social media games, where players can spend real money for a chance at a super rare character or ability. The concept is forging its way into social gaming at an alarming rate and is proving to be a money maker that could further extend the life of the mobile gaming industry.

The Granblue Fantasy Scandal

Enter Granblue Fantasy, and its now infamous character named Antilla. In early 2016, players of the social gaming phenomenon were given an opportunity to “unlock” Antilla (along with Justes and Beatrice) for real money. The odds of receiving the Antilla card appeared to be 10 percent, yet turned out to be closer to 1 in 100.

Fans of the game quickly turned to social media to communicate their grievances with Granblue Fantasy, culminating with one user spending 700,000 Japanese Yen (around $6,000 US Dollars) in a futile pursuit of Antilla. The social gaming community is similar to online poker in that it is mostly self regulated, which means that consumers have little to no legal recourse to potentially receive retribution for being victims of misleading advertising.

Social Games And Online Poker

To say that last year’s Greenlight Approval of the Full Tilt Play Money App occurred just in a nick of time for the online poker industry could be an understatement. If there is one untapped market that could boost the outlook for online poker, it is video game consumers.

Aside from being filled with computer-savvy aficionados who would take to online poker like a duck to water, social games have introduced a much more “recreational” type of player to gaming platforms that divvy out rewards in relation to the amount of play — with the capability of advancing more quickly through real money purchases. This concept is known as Pay To Win.

However, rather than outright sell an item for a specific set price, video games are more frequently introducing an element of gambling into the mix by offering a percentage chance at acquiring a coveted item in exchange for a real money purchase.

Enticing recreational social game players to try out poker could form the backbone of a new online boom. New games like Duel by PokerStars, Holdem X, and even Lottery Style poker tournaments are attempting to capitalize on video gamers’ drive for competitiveness and growing familiarity with real money wagering,

Yet there also exists a reasonable chance that the video game industry will ultimately poach more consumers from online poker than the other way around. Global Poker League head Alex Dreyfus made reference to this fact in an October 2015 article published by the Huffington Post. A few days later, I wrote a reactionary piece for PokerUpdate which provides further insight into how video games may encroach upon online poker.

Combo Products Are The Key For Online Poker

Aside from brass tacks controller-based gameplay, video games offer one element that is sorely absent in recreational online poker games — role playing. And although Duel by PokerStars and Holdem X are commendable in their effort to bridge that gap between pure poker grinding and rewards-based gameplay, they are still far too heavy on “Four Suited Fishing” to attract a large percentage of social gamers (in my opinion).

Video games have had a massive head start on tweaking role playing aspects into their product and are now focusing on incorporating gambling elements to further monetize releases. Online poker on the other hand may have to quickly find ways to compete with the real money wagering nature of more and more social games by adding role playing to its products.

The most obvious way of doing this would be to create an all new game akin to Hearthstone, which already enjoys a cult poker base. However, the possibilities of introducing Power Ups, Skins, and even story-driven journeys into online poker are limitless — but it’s going to require a departure from traditional poker to truly attract a significant social gaming audience and perhaps even a subscription-based monetizing strategy.

With video games taking a full steam ahead approach to real money wagering, the clock is ticking for online poker to decide how to best combine the game we all love with added versatility that can genuinely compete with what has become the most popular industry category on major third party platforms like YouTube — video games.

David Huber

David Huber has been involved in the poker industry for more than a decade: initially as a professional online poker player and later as an editor, consultant, writer, and forum manager. Known as "dhubermex" online, David's poker-related work has been heavily published across numerous websites since 2004.

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