Besides a great story, slot game makers have over the years found/invented mechanics designed to get you to enjoy the game as much as possible, and thus, gamble more. What is allowed and what is not allowed when making a game is a fine line. Game studios talk about “immersive experiences”, where the games are designed to encapsulate the player and make them forget about time.

Lights and Sounds are truly the best bells and whistles

Gambling is more than just winning and losing. Game makers use an array of flashing lights and sounds to provide the immersive experience. This is particularly true in a land-based, brick and mortar casino, where the “VIP Slots” often have lavish seats with built-in sound and vibrations. However, even online games and gambling apps on smartphones include plenty of audio and visual frills to capture your attention.

But are they just frills? Studies suggest that these lights and sounds become more attractive and capable of triggering urges to play when they are paired with reward uncertainty. In particular, win-associated cues – such as jingles that vary in size and length depending on jackpot size – both increase excitement and lead gamblers to overestimate how often they are actually winning. Crucially, they can also keep you gambling longer and encourage you to play faster.

Hello Darkness, my old friend

Ever really thought about why Casinos are often dark, and dimly lit. Old-school Casino design basically consists of mazes, low ceilings, no sunlight and absolutely no clocks. The goal with this is to isolate the gambler and make him forget about the “real world” out there. When you enter an old-school casino, you will be greeted immediately by slot machines and flashing lights.  Afterwards, the maze layout begins – the goal is to suck the player in and make it difficult to leave. In your local supermarket the milk is in the far back, so that you will pass as many other products as possible on the way in and on your way out. IKEA has a literal maze designed to make sure customers have to pass each and every item in the shop. Now, where do you think Casinos put their Cashier desks?

Would you be surprised to hear that some Casinos in Las Vegas raise the oxygen level in the rooms so that you sleep better and wake earlier. More time at the tables and slots!

Near-misses

Another psychological trick which game makers use to entice further gambling is the “Near Win”-mechanic. Almost winning a big bet gives the player a taste of what may be, and gets you wanting to have another go. For example the “anticipation spin”, which occurs in many slots when you have hit two scatters and waiting for a third, is a way to drive up your excitement without you actually winning anything. The remaining wheels start spinning faster, your heart starts pumping. Will there be another scatter? Will I get into the Free spins feature? The reels stop, and most of the times, you didn’t get another scatter symbol. You do however feel like “you almost won”, and that is better than a straight up loss. Right?

Losses disguised as wins

One way the slot industry got around the “losing” feeling was the introduction of electronic slot machines with several bet lines. This meant that players could place twenty bets at once, and whilst winning on some, losing on others. Even though the player feels he has “won” after getting some money back, he has in fact lost. This “Losses disguised as Wins”-ingenuity really gets the reels turning.

Skill Stopping

Some slots have a “Stop” button where you can stop the reels yourselves. This, of course, does not affect the game in any way, it simply affects the player’s belief in his own ability to affect the game. A study, where they measured player’s arousal [skin conductance responses (SCRs), pressure on the spin-button), and behavioural responses (post-reinforcement pauses (PRPs)] to wins, losses and near-misses during play, found that a small, but meaningful, percentage of players held erroneous cognitions about the stop button (13.6%) and near-misses (16%).

Players pressed the spin button harder, and had larger skin conductivity for all outcomes when using the stop button. Players also paused longer for near-misses in the game involving the stop button. Their findings suggest that the stop button encourages an erroneous perception of skill in some players, and consequentially impacts how such players perceive their outcomes in multi-line slot machines.

Chasing the Rainbow

All these things help push one thing – get another spin in. That “almost there” feeling, the “just one more spin and I’ll win”-urge to give it another go. Chasing your losses to try to win it all back is one of the key reasons players state they gambled too much. They were not able to get themselves to stop, for various reasons.

We love slots here at Unibo, and the vast majority of people are able to withstand the above visual and auditory queues to make sure they do not gamble beyond what they intend. However, for a certain percentage of the population (2-3% in the West), this is not as easy.

Make sure you gamble in a healthy and responsible way. Knowing about the ways that Slots and other gambling games work, may help you away falling into the pit falls.