Online gambling is big business in the UK. For the six month period April to September 2020 the remote gaming sector – that is the side of the industry that includes online casino games, online video slots and online bingo – accounted for gross revenue of £3.1 billion. Online wagering accounts for more than half of all that spend by UK punters, and the majority of that is spend on video slot games.
But whilst slots are the most successful of all the virtual gambling machines available, they are also the most controversial. The nature of these games – they are faced-paced and allow a player to gamble and lose large stakes of up to £100 per spin in some cases – has made them the target for anti-gambling groups and charities. And under pressure to reduce problem gambling rates, the UK government is about to add further restrictions on how they can be built and marketed in the latest review of gambling legislation in the country.
Here we explain what it is about slots that makes them so addictive and discuss the measures the government may introduce to limit their use in the UK and how that will affect the animators whose role it is to design the games.
Why are video slots addictive?
Like all gambling activities, video slots cause a surge of dopamine in our brains when we win. Dopamine causes us to feel euphoric, so there is a chemical event as well as a financial one that rewards us if we win on a slot machine.
But it’s not just the event itself that causes the rush. Video slots have been designed to make that winning moment even more euphoric through the noises and animations on screen that accompany each payout.
If you’ve ever hit a big jackpot on an online slot you may have noticed animations of 100s of coins falling across the screen, whilst flashing lights and loud noises are unleashed too.
And what makes these games even more enticing is the quick release of these rewards as well. Unlike Blackjack, in which a hand may take a minute to play out, each spin of the reels happens in just seconds, so in a run of successive wins, we get the dopamine hit again and again in a short space of time, intensifying the rush still further. And it may not matter that each win is only small and a long way off the huge jackpot being promised by the casino. All it takes is a small payout and another small hit of dopamine to keep us in.
And of course, when we lose, we become frustrated. But rather than give up, some will keep chasing down that next win and the next hit.
If you take a look at one of the UK’s online slot sites and load up one of the games you’ll see how sophisticated modern game developers have become at designing games that will produce an experience that gives the ultimate gambling hit. The slots are carefully designed with themes, animations, storylines and characters who we can associate with and easily remember for next time. The events on the reels are lively, colorful and noisy.
In short, everything is designed to set off those psychological triggers to keep us coming back again and again.
The risk for gambling addicts
Of course, many online games are built like this. Think of the classic Candy Crush saga mobile game as a good example. But the difference here is that video slots are real money games played for cash prizes.
And they can burn through cash in no time.
In this respect, for an online casino operator, an online video slot is the perfect money-making machine. It encourages fast and furious play with a barrage of dopamine hits to the brain that leave the player wanting to chase down more wins even when their balance is running down.
For most players, it is easy enough to walk away when this happens. But for a small percentage of gamblers, it is never enough and for those, online slots present a significant threat to their well-being. You will find many stories in the media of problem gamblers who lost £100,000s on online slots.
It is for this reason that the government is planning significant changes to gambling laws in the UK this year.
Changes to law that affect slot game animations
In fact, some changes were already introduced in October 2021 to make slot design and operation less aggressive and dangerous for problem gamblers. These changes included:
- A ban on machines with a spin time of less than 2.5 seconds
- A ban on the auto-play function that allows players to set the game to spin the reels without any intervention
- A ban on in-game features that create an illusion of control of the outcome
- A ban on animations and sounds that suggest a win when the payout is smaller than the amount staked
Key for animators here is the rule that means video slot designers will not be able to create a sense that the player has won when they have in fact won less than they have staked, and the ban on features that appear to show a sense of control over the outcome of any spin. The reason for the latter change is that slots are fixed-odds games. That means there is no way for the player to affect what happens when the reel spin. The outcome is purely down to luck.
So, animators whose role it is to make these games as exciting and euphoric as possible are being asked to dial-down the style of their work and make the wins less dramatic too.
What new changes can we expect in 2022 to 2023?
So, those changes were already introduced to UK gambling sites in 2021. But what about the new gambling act we keep hearing about? How will that affect the style of video slots in this country.
A white paper outlining the government’s proposals for new legislation is expected in the next month or so and already it has been suggested that one major change will be a cap on stakes. In fact, it is likely that nobody will be able to wager more than £2 per spin at a UK online casino, bringing the machines in line with offline Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) that are found in high street bookmakers.
It is also expected that there will be bans on advertising gambling brands at sporting events like Premier League games, and more stringent checks on affordability for every new player who signs up to a gambling brand online.
In conclusion – slots will continue to be big
Taking all this on board, it is safe to say that online slots may be subject to further restrictions, but as an entertainment experience, they are not going anywhere. As such, they will still provide a huge opportunity for modern animators to express themselves with stunning visuals and exciting gameplay. As the same time, in the interests of a safer gambling environment we will continue to see the government limit some of the more aggressive aspects of these surprisingly sophisticated betting machines. So if you are a fan, don’t worry, you can still play, and the thrills will continue, but with less of the risk factor!