Memory & More Slot Talk

This week I thought I’d throw together a follow-up to my recent brag blog about the time I won a slot jackpot. Partly because I had a responsible idea for slots and ran out of room, but also because it gives me the chance to discuss one of my favourite findings from psychology.

I was pleased with how the jackpot blog was received, and with some of the conversations that have resulted from it. I would love it if engagement levels were always so high.

As it is, I got my annual renewal notice last week and, frankly, I’m toying with winding things up. I hoped this blog would lead to some interesting opportunities to make gambling better, but my experience is that the industry’s appetite to improve is 99% talk and a measly 1% walk.

Besides, I’m pretty sure the success of the last blog was attributable to the cover picture of me looking like a fresh-faced d#ckhead. But enough of my wallowing…

Psychology Stuff

When you recall something from memory, you are not remembering the details of the event itself. You are remembering the version of it that you last remembered.

It’s basically your own personal cognitive game of Chinese Whispers. Now that I think about it, that seems to have an unnecessarily racial undertone, as if Chinese people aren’t very good at repeating things heard at low volume. I think Americans call it the telephone game.

Anyway, several people have come to me with corrections for my version of events. Not the main narrative of the story, just some of the details.

Some of those corrections, I’m happy to concede, are probably fair and accurate. After all, I was probably the drunkest person there. I’m also the person who has told the story the most, so I’ve given myself the highest number of opportunities to corrupt it.

But other points I’m confident I’ve remembered correctly, so it seems to me we’re all playing our own private telephone game.

Incidentally, it’s this little phenomenon that makes all witness testimony slightly dubious. We evolved to have incredible skill at recognising faces, but when it comes to encoding the exact details of an incident, we are all fallible.

Slot Idea

To my knowledge, slot providers don’t have any measure for whether their offerings are enjoyable, and I think that’s a problem.

There must have been testing phases and focus groups for brick and mortar machines, but in an industry that is increasingly online and data driven, I imagine the current process is to simply publish and look at the numbers.

I regularly see slot professionals touting an amazingly popular new product launch on LinkedIn, and occasionally I’ve asked them to explain what metric they’re using for the success. The question is normally ignored by the author, but they usually have an unapologetic connection prepared to say it is money/profit.

I think that badly conflates two things that are largely uncorrelated. I think it’s possible to create a slot machine that is very successful at keeping people playing, but that is no fun whatsoever.

Reflecting on my own time playing slots (mostly in casinos), I can only think of a few that I enjoyed – Family Guy (for the cut scenes), Elton John/Queen (for the musical bonuses) and US Deal or No Deal (for the communal feature).

The rest have been fairly joyless. That’s not to say I didn’t stick with them for a while or even go back for seconds or thirds. Sometimes you just want to get a bonus (curiosity) or get a reasonable win (gentle loss-chasing).

I’m inclined to think that judging a new slot solely on financial KPIs only really tells you how addictive it is, not whether it is enjoyable or popular. There are three million strongly-retained opioid users in the US, but I don’t think any of them would tell you they are enjoying it. OxyContin might be highly profitable, but it isn’t ‘popular’.

So my idea is this: Mood-indicating start/spin buttons, just like the ones you see at the end of airport security (really sad, quite sad, quite happy, really happy). The buttons would all do the same thing, it just gives the customer a chance to convey how they’re feeling as they play.

I’m aware that self report measures can be unreliable (e.g. males impossibly report having four times more sex than females), but when you’re talking about slot play, you’re getting enough data points to iron out the quirks.

It could justifiably be framed as a constructive way for customers to provide emotional feedback to the operator. If I have become a loyal and engaged customer, I would be glad to play a part in improving the product offering.

Soon you would get a picture of which slots make money because people love to play them (high average positive mood), and which ones are simply finely crafted addiction misery machines (high average negative mood).

Surely the ultimate goal for a gambling entertainment provider is for people to lose their money with a smile, and this is one of the few ways you can begin to optimise for enjoyment. It would be much easier than hooking people up to EKGs or stuffing them into an MRI machine.

If this already exists then I’d love to know about it. The slot expert I spoke to wasn’t aware of anything like it, so here you go. Help yourself, you slotmongering b#stards. A little gift to help make your product just a bit less awful.

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