“If we knew what the formula for the perfect game would be, we would keep producing it over and over again.”
To keep players in the game, all Slots are built according to the same basic principles discovered by B.F. Skinner’s experiment in the 1960s. We have covered this topic in one of our previous articles.
Skinner is known for his experiment that consisted of putting rats in a box and giving them food when they pressed a button. However the pattern changed and the act of pressing the button no longer guaranteed the food (so it seemed random) and the rats started pressing it more often. This is how the Skinner box was developed and he himself compared it to a slot machine.
The Skinner box is a combination of tension and relief: the absence of food after the button is pressed creates the expectation that the next time it is pressed it will surely bring the food. If the reward comes less often the animal gets frustrated and ceases any attempt to press the button again; if the food drops too often, he presses it more often.
As in Video Poker, most multi-line Slots rarely award large Jackpots, only small more frequent wins. “Slot machines mimic the Video Poker formula,” said Natasha Schüll, an MIT associate professor who has long studied gaming machines. In 2012, Princeton University Press published the article “Addiction by Design: Machine Gaming in Las Vegas” which was the culmination of her research and deconstruction of Slots.
Schüll states that modern slot machines operate on the principle of Redd, meaning that they do not cause surprises to players by producing big wins or losses. “Big wins, as has been proven, stop the player. He withdraws his money and leaves,” says Schüll. When you play for too long without any wins, you get into the process of waiting for the next small win, and after that one more, and one more….
As a result, modern Slots pay out roughly on 45% of all spins instead of the 3% of classic Slots which in turn offer bigger prizes. “The sense of risk is not that great,” says Schüll. “The machine designers call them trickle-feed games.”
This analysis is based on an official document from the American Gaming Association (AGA). “Low volatility games are more attractive to local markets than to big Resorts like Las Vegas or Atlantic City. Customers, as a rule, spend more time playing such games.” In other words, low volatility games contribute to the widespread expansion of gambling in the country.
The appearance of bonus games has also contributed to increasing the popularity of Slots: some of the combinations not only pay out extra value, but also activate the bonus games. In the Entourage game, in a bonus round, the images of the characters are combined to make up a winning combination. Such a bonus game is nicknamed “pick-em” in the industry. “These are the most popular features,” says Melissa Price, the vice president of Caesar’s Entertainment. “Customers like such games.”
In addition, these companies profit from emotions: this company commissioned a survey to find out why players like the Wheel of Fortune game so much. The most likely reason is that it is the brand itself. “People say they heard their grandmothers telling Wheel of Fortune stories. It makes them remember their loved ones.” How can you compete with this?
Let’s take the example of Harrah’s Las Vegas Casino – at 9:00 in the morning there were a few people playing slot machines; they had probably been there all night. In 2014, Caesars Entertainment, the holding company of the Harrah’s Casino chain, filed for bankruptcy as a result of increasing competition. During the process, the company’s database with information about all its customers was recognized as the company’s most valuable asset, with an appraised value of USD 1 billion.
The Harrah’s Casino chain, pioneered what is now considered an industry-wide standard. We are talking about the “Total Rewards” player tracking system. This started with the use of punch cards in 1985 and was enhanced with digital programs and magnetic cards in the 1990s. Slots became easily trackable and were the focus of the program. The system became even more complex under former CEO Gary Loveman. He brought to Harrah’s new ideas gained from Harvard Business School teachings, which helped him greatly in the business.