What Big Tech is Learning from Online Slot Gaming (part 1)

With the online casino slot industry constantly achieving new heights, it’s not just hardcore gamblers and casual fans who are taking notice, but new organizations, communities too!

And why shouldn’t they?

After all, we’re talking about a multi-billion dollar sector here! One recent study predicted growth of $14 billion in 2020 alone. Not growth to $14 billion… growth of $14 billion. These are numbers the entire private sector dreams about.

That’s why it’s not surprising to see interest increase on the part of many parties, especially as online gambling continues to expand its footprint worldwide.

One notable new convert to the faith of online slot play might surprise you, though…

… it’s silicon valley!

Tech and Slot Gaming

In some ways, it’s not in any ways surprising that cutting edge technology developers are getting more and more connected to slot play. After all, the development of slot gambling has been tied into technological growth since the very beginning!

Consider that the slot machine itself had to be invented, in Brooklyn, in the mid nineteenth century. The first model was the size of a cash register, and used actual playing cards!

Then in 1898, Charles Fey created the Liberty Bell slot machine in San Francisco. This is the slot that proceeded to take America, and the world, by storm. It became ubiquitous throughout the American West, even gaining the not-so-positive moniker of “one-armed bandit…” so named because the machine so favored the house that it was viewed as robbing its patrons!

The industry was completely transformed in the 1960s, when the electromechanical slot machine took the world by storm. For the first time, multiple coins could be wagered on a single bet – and that was just the beginning of the new possibilities. Multiple paylines could be active at once; jackpots could be multiplied; smaller, more frequent wins were also possible.

All of this translated to more exciting play with significantly lower volatility. In an industry that stagnated in previous decades, this was a new lease on life.

In the following decades, Random Number Generators (RNGs) were incorporated into the slot landscape, ensuring fairness and allowing for improved regulation and player trust.

And the online gambling revolution – which is still in progress – needs no introduction. The very fact that you can play slots on your phone, or at home, without boarding a plane to Las Vegas or Macau, is all you need to know. As they say, the rest is history.

The Dopamine Drip

If that’s what the online slot gambling industry has taken from tech, what is flowing in the opposite direction? In other words, what does the tech industry hope to take from gaming?

In a word: dopamine.

For those who don’t yet know, dopamine is a neurotransmitter made by the human body. The delivery of dopamine to the brain plays a large role in how we experience pleasure, thrill, and happiness.

Many of the most successful tech services and apps of all time have been tremendously successful at making sure that dopamine is delivered to the body in a predictable fashion… but not too predictable.

It’s a tricky balance. As the noted American psychologist B.F. Skinner pointed out in studying reward, tension, and release in animals, these elements must be blended in precisely the right way in order to foster re-engagement.

Skinner famously designed an experiment where pigeons were placed in a box with a lever that delivered pellets of food when pressed. When the pellets came out every time the lever was pressed, the pigeons soon lost interest. But when the pellets came out only at random intervals, they birds pressed them over and over again!

The analogy to slot gaming is obvious.

After decades upon decades of practice, slot designers have this down to a science.

They know that if the payout comes too reliably, or if it’s especially large, players will soon walk away happy with their pockets full, and play no more.

On the other hand, if the payouts are too small, or too rare, punters will simply walk away in frustration, taking their money elsewhere.

As such, the top designers in the business have successfully identified just how often wins must come along, and how large they have to be, to keep players hitting the spin button again and again.

And this is exactly what big tech is looking for.

It’s Not Just for the Birds

The constant re-engagements Skinner was able to engender in his birds has translated into a kind of holy grail for modern tech companies.

Every time your post gets a like on Facebook, you get a hit of dopamine. The same is true for every new follower on instagram, every time your words are re-tweeted on Twitter, every new match on a dating site; and it applies just as much to Snapchat, TikTok, even YouTube.

All of these sites and apps derive their revenue from ads. And advertisers aren’t content to see users on Facebook once or twice a month – to get their money’s worth, they want to see constant user re-engagement.

At the end of the day, this what most tech companies need to thrive in an ultra-competitive industry. And no one does it better than slot designers!

Next week, we’ll take a closer look at what tech companies are taking from the casino experience to their own business models.

Samuel Read profile image Samuel Read LCB Reviewer - last updated 2021-04-05
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