The reel deal: How slots psychology keeps you spinning
Do you choose online slots, or do the slots choose you?
With more than 400 online slots on Betway Casino, it can be a minefield plucking out the right games. But are you choosing the right slots, or are they choosing you?
Slots developers use subtle quirks to keep you playing. Here's how.
The psychology of familiar themes
Slots psychology is important for developers as to keep you spinning those reels.
A big bonus win will be accompanied with a huge 'big win' sign as coins come raining down onto the reels (even if you've been playing for 1p a payline, but don't let that spoil the triumph). And a ticker displaying recent jackpot winners is proof of when a slot is running hot.
Dr Mark Griffiths is Professor of Behavioural Addiction and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University. He has done plenty of research into what he calls the psychology of familiarity.
Players on the whole, Dr Griffiths argues, feel more comfortable with a brand that has been tested on the wider public before it gets adapted into a slot.
Many slot themes are recognisable, after all, and branded slots are big business for manufacturers.
Indeed, a lot of time and money go into securing brand tie-ins. Look at Microgaming's Jurassic Park. It was launched with huge fanfare and features actual imagery from the iconic 1994 film. Meanwhile, Game Of Thrones, with its 243 ways to win, celebrates one of the most popular TV shows of the past decade.
But you don't need to know your Starks from your Lannisters, or your velociraptors from your T-Rex to enjoy either game. All you need is the comfort that there is a big brand behind the title.
What's in a name?
It isn't just brand familiarity that draws players in.
The cheeky, enticing names of slots give the impression that it's about to do something wonderful. Namely, pay you, the player, a ton of cash.
Cash Splash isn't one of Microgaming's top progressive jackpots for nothing, nor Mega Moolah. Both contain references to money, and one of the developer's oldest titles - Break Da Bank Again - is all about beating 'the house'.
Of course, who would want to play a slot called 'Medium Variance', or 'Unlucky Slots Gambler'? Not you, presumably.
And often, assuming the role of a rich or famous person is attractive to players. We go back to Jurassic Park and Game of Thrones again.
"Slot machines are often named after a famous person – the Elvis Presley machines appear very popular in one of my local casinos – place, event, video game, board game, television show or film," says Dr Griffiths.
"Not only is this something that is familiar to the gambler but may also be something that the potential gamblers might like or affiliate themselves with, such as James Bond."
Understanding the nostalgia factor
Here's a quick question: what do Pokemon GO and your average online slots game have in common?
On the face of it, nothing much, other than some cutesy graphics and easy online access.
"We identified the nostalgia element in a recent study examining the success of Pokemon GO," says Dr Griffiths.
The AR game attracted millions of players worldwide within weeks of coming out, and Dr Griffiths' study set out to explore what made so many people engage with Pokemon Go.
Three factors were identified: nostalgia, outdoor activity, and boredom, along with a key one of recreation. A fantasy/escapism element was also identified.
"Nostalgia was an important motive for those who had been fans of Pokemon prior to the introduction of Pokemon Go," the report concluded. "These players emphasised that Pokemon Go revived old memories of their childhood."
Nostalgia and a sense of comfort are important to slots players. They want to feel safe that they will be tucked up in bed at night after a long slots session.
It also helps that the games are easy to play, easy to access, and can be played for free without the need for real money stakes (at first). And like Pokemon Go, many slots have unpredictable prizes and rewards, and the game is, bankroll depending, endless.
In Pokemon Go, there is a large element of 'collecting'. Many online slots now feature the idea of storing up awards or multipliers. The more you collect, the higher your jackpot.
This is a new phenomenon seen in social casinos that feature missions and achievements that can be shared online. The concept of collecting is a seductive one.
The repetition of themes
Nostalgia is a key factor of games in the 'classic slots' lobby at most casinos. You'll find old-style slots in most land-based casinos and amusement arcades, too.
But who cares that the RTP (Return to Player) is barely pushing the high 80s? Look at those melons, lemons, and gold bells! Just like the AWPs (Amusements With Prizes) of the early 20th century, classic slots make players pine for the simple games they used to play when they were kids and teenagers.
Regular slot themes tend to appear time and time again. How many Egypt-themed slots can you reel off right now? About half a dozen without too much trouble, probably. And if one developer has hit upon a successful format, why not join the bandwagon?
So, when we get a safe, solid title like Rainbow Riches comes along, Plenty O'Riches appears soon after. Irish Luck comes to join the party, and even Leprechaun Goes Egypt gatecrashes the whole thing by mashing up two popular themes: Ireland and Egypt.
The eyes have it
Advertisers and psychologists have long studied the effect of eye contact on humans. As adults, we trust someone more who maintains eye contact.
We are more likely, as one paper published in 2004 claimed, to remember faces where we've enjoyed or experienced a mutual gaze. We feel more connected, flattered even, by people who constantly hold our gaze.
Now think about the most popular online slots.
We remember and engage with characters who maintain eye contact with us, often with a flirty smile or knowing wink. It's no surprise that games like Microgaming's Asian Beauty and Thunderstruck II feature seductive key figures as part of their design make-up. They might not talk to us, but they are still communicating.
Choosing the right slots for you
"Once a gambler’s attention has been gained, the product must be likeable and familiar enough for them to think about gambling and wanting to interact with the machine further," says Dr. Griffiths.
Slots are obviously hugely popular and for a relatively small stake can lead to big wins.
Developers use bright lights, flashy animation, and loud noises to encourage players to keep gambling. Nostalgia and brand comfort also play their part, as well as the promise of a big win just around the corner.
But smart slots players know that to be a big winner they have to look beneath the surface. RTPs, variance/volatility, bonus jackpots, avoiding the boredom factor: understanding those is the most important part of becoming a winning player.