slot games in a casino
There's a reason people play slot games after all. (Image via Unsplash)

The Psychology Behind Slot Games

There’s some science to why so many people are compelled to play.

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slot games in a casino
There's a reason people play slot games after all. (Image via Unsplash)

There’s some science to why so many people are compelled to play.

Slots are among the most profitable games for online casinos and they are as popular as ever.

It is no secret that slot games are designed to be addictive, keeping people spinning the reels just one more time in a bid to land the jackpot.

But how does the psychology behind slot games work in practice? Let’s take a look…

Slot Games — The Psychological Basics

Everything inside a land-based casino is designed to encourage people to play games, including slots, but at online casinos there has to be more effort to encourage people to use the site. With so many different online casino sites out there, the industry has a huge amount of competition.

The idea behind a slot game works on the same theory examined by B.F. Skinner, an American psychologist. In a landmark study using pigeons, Skinner found that the birds would peck at a lever that provided food more often when the delivery system was randomized, rather than when the food was guaranteed to arrive.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi came up with the idea of “flow,” which he described as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake.” This feeling may be familiar to a lot of people who have some experience of playing slot games at online casinos.

Indeed, research by Natasha Dow Schull into slot games in Las Vegas found that some people felt winning on the machines actually interrupted their “flow.” As a woman interviewed for this slots study said: “You aren’t really there — you’re with the machine and that’s all you’re with.”

How Large Numbers of Paylines on Online Slots Impact Players

Slots nowadays can feature a large number of paylines — hundreds of them in some cases. This helps to deliver more regular wins back to the player. But even when a player has actually made a loss on the spin — their wins totaling less than the stake — the “win” is presented in the same way. Flashing lights and celebratory sounds give the impression that the player is winning.

These “partial” wins help to get slot games toward their return to player rate, or RTP for short. RTP on a typical online slot game is around the 95% to 97% mark. This means each online casino can be retaining a house edge of up to 5% — much higher than other games.

More paylines also means more near misses. When two high-value symbols appear next to each other rather than three, players will feel they were close to a big win. But online casino slot games work on random number generators, or RNG. This means seemingly being close to a big win on one spin does not have any impact whatsoever on what will happen on the next spin.

Trigger Features Key to Online Slots Success

Online casinos have put in a lot of time and effort experimenting with slot games to make them as effective as possible.

Surreal graphics, amazing audio and casinos sites offering big bonuses are just some of many reasons why people love slots. The chance to win huge money from a single spin is another obvious reason why many opt to spin the reels as a regular leisure activity.

Sounds are one of the biggest areas of importance when it comes to designing online slots. Noises used in these games are usually in the key of C, which is pleasing to hear. This helps to add to the feeling of customers being rewarded when they play an online slot game at a casino. Online slots’ sounds, like the sound of coins dropping, are a cue for users that they are winning money too, as found by a recent piece of research carried out by experts at the University of Alberta.

Some slots, such as those made by Swedish company NetEnt, also use coins for stakes to be placed rather than real money. Many casino experts feel that this encourages people to spend more money on a slot game as they do not see their cash balance depleting in the same way.

Bonus features, too, are another way online casinos hook people in. While some slot games have minimal bonus rounds, it is becoming more common for them to have multiple extra features. These often include free spins rounds, which are typically very appealing to players.

The speed at which online slot games can be played also has a big impact. In a study into gambling addiction that was published by the Journal of Gambling Studies, Mariano Choliz found that consumers tend to spin the reels more the faster a result of each spin is shown on screen.

This is one of the reasons why online slot games typically have an auto play function. Users have the chance to sit back and watch the reels spin without having to take action themselves.

With the global gambling industry said to be worth nearly $50 billion a year, psychology will continue to play a big part in how casinos keep encouraging people to play online slots.

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