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No catch, no fudge: how the psychology of casino slots keeps you playing

The psychology of familiar themes

The psychology of casino slots is important to promoters as it’s what keeps you spinning those reels.

A big bonus will be accompanied by a huge “big win” sign as the coins tumble down the reels (even if you’ve been playing 1 cent per payline, don’t let this detract from your win). A board displaying the latest jackpot winners is further proof that one of the slot machines is on the verge of a big win.

Dr Mark Griffiths is Professor of Behavioural Addiction and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit, the international gambling unit at Nottingham Trent University. He has done a lot of research into what he calls the psychology of familiarity.

Players in general, Dr Griffiths argues, are more comfortable with a brand that has been evaluated by the general public prior to its adaptation to a slot machine.

After all, many casino slot themes are recognisable to everyone and branded slots are big business for manufacturers.

Indeed, it takes a lot of time and money to ensure good branding. One example is Jurassic Park from Microgaming. It was launched with great glitz and also features real images from the iconic 1994 film. Meanwhile, Game Of Thrones, with its 243 ways to win, pays homage to one of the most popular TV series of the last decade.

However, you don’t need to differentiate your Starks from your Lannisters, or your Velociraptors from your T-Rexes to enjoy either game. All you need is the sense of reassurance that comes from a big brand name behind the title.

What’s behind a name?

It’s not just familiarity with the brand that attracts players.

With cheeky and attractive names, slots give us the impression that they’re going to do something wonderful. Namely, pay you, the player, tons of cash. 

Cash Splash isn’t one of Microgaming’s best progressive jackpots for its own sake, nor is Mega Moolah. Both refer to money, and one of the developer’s oldest titles, Break Da Bank Again, denotes the ability to beat ‘the bank’.

Of course, who would want to play a slot called “Average Variance” or “Unlucky Slot Player”? Not you, surely.

And often, taking on the role of a rich or famous person is attractive to players. Back to Jurassic Park and Game of Thrones.

“Slot machines are often named after a famous person: Elvis Presley machines seem to be very popular in one of my local casinos… as well as other venues, events, video games, table games, TV shows or movies,” says Dr Griffiths.

“It’s not only something that is familiar to the gambler, but also something that potential players can like, identify with, like James Bond.

Understanding the nostalgia factor

Here’s a quick question: what do Pokemon GO and your average online slot game have in common?

At first glance, not much, apart from some attractive graphics and easy online access.

“We identified the nostalgia element in a recent study investigating the success of Pokemon GO,” says Dr Griffiths.

The AR game attracted millions of players around the world within weeks of its launch, 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 the key element of recreation and leisure. An element of fantasy/escapism was also identified.

“Nostalgia was an important motive for those who had been Pokemon fans prior to the arrival of Pokemon Go,” the report concluded. “These players emphasised that Pokemon Go revived old memories from their childhood.”

Nostalgia and a sense of comfort are important to slot players. They want to feel safe, that they will be tucked up in bed at night after a long slot session.

It also helps that the games are simple, easy to access and can be played for free with no real money required (at first). And like Pokemon Go, many slot machines have unpredictable prizes and rewards, and the gameplay is, depending on funds, infinite.

In Pokemon Go, there is a good dose of “collecting”. Many online slot machines now feature the idea of collecting prizes or multipliers. The more you collect, the bigger your jackpot.

This is a new phenomenon seen in social casinos featuring quests and achievements that can be shared online. The concept of collecting is seductive.

Repetition of themes

Nostalgia is a key factor of the games in the “classic slots” lobby of most casinos. You’ll also find old-style slots in most casinos and arcades.

But who cares that the RTP (return to player percentage) is barely above the high 80’s? Look at those melons, lemons and golden bells! Like AWP (Amusements With Prizes), the jackpot amusements of the early 20th century, classic slots make players feel drawn back to the simple games they used to play as children and teenagers.

The most common slot themes tend to come up again and again – how many Egyptian-themed slots can you recite by heart right now? Half a dozen without too much trouble, probably. And if a developer has found a successful format, why not join the bandwagon?

So, when we come across a safe and solid title like Rainbow Riches, Plenty O’Riches is not long in coming. Irish Luck comes to join the party, and even Leprechaun Goes Egypt sneaks in by combining two popular themes: Ireland and Egypt.

The eyes hold the key

Advertisers and psychologists have long studied the effect of eye contact on humans. As adults, we trust someone more when they make eye contact.

It is likely that, as an article published in 2004 states, we are more likely to remember faces with which we have enjoyed or experienced a mutual gaze. We feel more connected, even flattered, by people who constantly hold our gaze.

Now think about the most popular online slots.

We remember and relate to characters who make eye contact with us, often with a flirtatious smile or a knowing wink. It’s no wonder that games like Asian Beauty and Microgaming’s Thunderstruck II feature seductive key figures as part of their design. They may not be talking to us, but they are still communicating.

Choosing the right slots for you

“Once you’ve won the attention of players, the product needs to be pleasant and familiar enough for players to think about gambling and want to interact more with the machine,” says Casino slot machines are evidently very popular and with a relatively small stake, big wins can be achieved.

Developers use bright lights, flashy animations and loud noises to encourage players to keep playing. The nostalgia and reassurance of the brand also play their part, as does the promise of a big win around the corner.

But smart slot players in casino know that to be a big winner they have to look beneath the surface. RTPs, variance/volatility, bonus jackpots, avoiding the boredom factor: understanding all these factors is the most important part of becoming a winning player

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