The Psychology of Online Social Gaming Part 2: Appealing to Children
Social Gaming and Gambling, Part 2: The Nostalgia Trick
In our last piece on the blurring between social gaming and social gambling, we talked about how so-called ‘freemium’ games available at online social media sites shared as much with real-money gambling as they did traditional arcade games.
But there’s another trend happening: the games themselves are becoming more and more ‘infantilised’ as developers tap into a warm nostalgia in gamblers. Are manufacturers just giving us what we want, or is there a general ‘dumbing down’ across the board when it comes to online slots?
I played an online slot recently by games developer, Leander, called ‘Glutters’ (play it here at your peril). On the face of it, the game is a straightforward 5-reel video slot that could have come from any up ‘n’ coming software company: it’s packed with bright colours, lots of animation and slick gameplay.
Then you trigger the bonus feature: here, it’s your job to (stay with us here) to fire globs of coloured mulch from a ‘Food Cannon’ into the bellies of these non-descript creatures. The fatter the Glutters get, the more cash you win.
Cute, right? Until you realise the game is available for over-18s only (depending on where you live) and sits on a casino site carrying a logo for GamCare, the body overseeing problem gambling addiction.
So, who’s this game actually aimed at? Kids, who would no doubt get a massive thrill out of the game, or adult gamblers with a soft spot for their Sesame Street-fueled childhoods?
For Kids or Just For Big Kids?
Nottingham Trent University’s Dr. Mark Griffiths is Director of the International Gaming Research Unit argues that the similarity is no coincidence.
“In 2011 I was at a social gambling seminar organised by the [UK] Gambling Commision. There were three bingo companies there talking about their games that were on Facebook or about to come on Facebook.
“If you look at Bingo Friendzy, the first game on Facebook that was ever played for money…the images there are almost a carbon copy of Moshi Monsters, which just happened to be a game that I knew about because my son was massively into it.
It was a tactic, Dr. Griffiths argues, to engage adult gamblers and, “make people think nostalgically back to a time when you were carefree and had no money worries, and that was the tactic being used.”
It is, Dr. Griffiths concludes, a state of mind which will ultimately result in players becoming less bothered about losing money.
But the trend isn’t restricted to online gambling. Popular social gaming titles like Candy Crush Saga feature cutesy intro sequences straight out of a Nintendo game and icons made up almost exclusively with sweets.
The lines between styles are being blurred. Candy Crush Saga looks like a modern-day real-money slot, especially with its ‘exploding reels’ style which has been mimicked and trademarked by all the major slots developers in recent year.
The Familiarity of Brands
This nostalgic element is key for slots developers. There’s a good reason manufacturers are making so many branded slots these days. It’s the warm familiarity with ‘safe’ brands that keeps slots players playing, and keeps those dreams of big jackpots alive.
Dr. Griffiths was studying branded games as far back as the late ’90s.
“[Back] in 1997, I remember looking at themed branded slot machines and they were all related to TV shows, films, popular board games like Trivial Pursuit, and video games like Sonic the Hedgehog.
“This is done in every form of gambling I can think of [like in] branded scratchcards. The point is that something that is instantly likeable is more likely to engaged with.”
The “Infantilisation” of Society
British comedian and actor Simon Pegg recently got into a debate on social media about the ways in which science fiction was in danger of “infantilising” society.
“Now,” he says, “we’re essentially all consuming very childish things – comic books, superheroes. Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously.”
Hence, the biggest cinema hits are endless comic-book sequels which look more like ads for toys than movies, while Batman gets an arthouse makeover courtesy of Christopher Nolan and takes a billion at the box office.
While Pegg was rightly attacked for biting the hand that’s fed him rather well over the past 15 years, his argument can be applied to online gambling.
Adults can now sit at home, tap away on the same smartphones and tablets as their kids (and often do for longer periods) and gamble for real money on games that wouldn’t look out of price on their children’s consoles.
It’s not just in gambling and social gaming that the lines are being blurred – successful marketing has led to a general infantilisation of us all. And we’re quite happy to lap it up and keep dishing out the dollars.