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The psychology behind slot games


Popularity of slot machines

Slot machines have become increasingly popular in the last couple of decades, being an integral part of any land-based casino and transitioning well into the online world. Recent studies have shown that many players across the world in a variety of countries opt to play slot games when playing casino games. A study in Canada found that 72% of Canadian gamblers play slot games, compared to only 59% who played table games. The statistics alone show the popularity of a slot game compared to some of the other casino games available.

Why are slots so popular?

Many people believe that slot games have become more popular than ever since the transition online. However, many land-based casinos still make a lot of revenue from their slot machines. Here are some of the reasons why people opt to play either online slot games or land-based slots:

  1. Very easy to play. There is no skill requirement, unlike casino table games like blackjack and poker.
  2. Players can play slots in their own time, without having to wait for other players or dealers.
  3. Big wins available! The original small pay-outs were revolutionised, and life-changing amounts are available. In 2003, a player won almost US$40 million.
  4. Low threshold to play; even the least experienced and nervous players can engage, and there is no embarrassment potential or ‘doing it wrong’.

The increase in online gambling has also helped make slots very popular, as players can now play anytime, and from any place as new technologies have been adopted. Slots are also the type of game that can be dipped in and out of; players do not have to wait for opponents, and if they need to leave, they can cash out without forfeiting the game.

Additionally, the increase in female gamers, especially in slots, and the rise of the casual and hyper-casual gamer have changed the demographic somewhat, with non-gamers and non-gamblers now accessing mobile gaming sites.

More females are now playing games on devices such as mobile phones.

The psychology of slots

Another key driver of the popularity of slots is the psychology behind them.

  1. Winning is hard-wired into our DNA

It is human nature to want to win, dating all the way back to prehistoric times. It is how humans propagated and ensured the survival of the species. Winning leads to our brains releasing dopamine, which makes us feel good. Pavlov (and his dogs!) showed that reaction can be conditioned, and Skinner Boxes showed that choices can be conditioned, including using variable reinforcement.

Developers of slot machines have tapped into this and use human behaviour to make a person willingly put money into a slot machine even though they know that they are more likely to see returns on investment by putting the money in the bank. The simple fact that they may or may not win, and what they do win they might win big, is enough to keep people coming back time and time again.

  1. Dopamine Amplifiers

A slot machine, in a casino or online, is designed to be fun, attractive, colourful, and loud. The little ditties that play when there is a win, even a small one, is enough to increase feeling of happiness (again, this links back to the work of Pavlov and his dogs), and even hearing others win can make us want to play.

Developers also use music to build tension as the lines show up, and highlight near-misses, that create the feeling of just once more, just one more try. Some of the more advanced machines with multiple lines can actually use music to signify wins, when overall the player is at a net loss (for example of the 100 credits wagered, the player may win back just 30, but the way the machine is set up, the player hears the winning music, and feels like they are winning, and therefore more likely to continue.

Music developers have created pieces of music to help with the emotions of the player when playing a slot game – e.g. – tension, suspense, winning.

  1. Branding

More recently, developers have started creating themed slot machines to further increase the engagement with players. It is a known fact that if an individual has an affinity to a specific brand, or TV show, or band, they will be drawn to anything featuring that. Slot machines are no different. Though in essence they are all the same, developers add in slightly different game mechanics and different music (though following the same arpeggios and patterns), and a slightly different look, and individuals will have their favourite slot game, and will naturally gravitate towards it. As they say, why would you play a generic, lacklustre slot machine when you could be hanging out with Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie, all smiling and playing with you?

  1. Collecting

Humans like collecting things, and slot machines offer social players the opportunity to collect things throughout the game. They can collect completion badges for any number of things and proudly display their achievements, even as far as hours played! Social players also enjoy the fraternisation aspect of slots; it is easy to sit and play and cat to others, either in person or on-line. It is a good way to meet like-minded people and to expand social groups.

  1. Quest for control

In a world full of uncertainties, humans seek control. Control gives stability and stability allows for people to express themselves and feel happy. When playing slots, players can control the game: they press a button, something happens. Every time they press that button, the same thing happens. The visual and auditory feedback provided helps give a sense of calm to the player, even if the spins do not result in a win, making it more likely for the player to continue playing, even if they are not winning.

Final thoughts

Slot machines are not designed to trick, but instead to tap into primal feelings about risk and reward, creating a fun experience for all.