Monday, April 16, 2018

Psychology of Social Casino Players

I've been meaning to write out psychology of gamers for a while. It so happened, I had to write a part of it for Social Casino players recently. Since I had penned that down, thought of posting it here as well.
Addiction, Amusement, Antique, Bar, Cash, Casino
Image Source:


In my opinion, any medium that can become an addiction (or a form of it) can be reduced to two major factors: the excitement and the release. I relate this with (what I like to call) the Adrenaline and Dopamine effect (ADE) (not to be taken literally as I’m comparing the feeling here more than the actual electrochemical being released by the brain).

The Adrenaline allows you to rush, give you the illusion of strength to continue for the goal of the Dopamine release. And once you get the Dopamine, the mood changes to relief, happiness and willingness to do it again. Thus it becomes a loop.

The first release is crucial and ideally should be given to the player at the earliest possible time. This is a (rigged) game design mechanic that makes the player believe that they can achieve the goal and that they are good. (Exceptions are always there. For e.g.: Games with punishing mechanic. But that’s a whole other discussion.) Once the player gets their first Dopamine hit, they are more willing to push to the next stage of the game. They are now made to believe that they could be good at it.  The idea is to put the player in a good mood. This leads to them investing more in the game.  

For newly invested players, there is also that one win after a series of failures that makes the release much more rewarding that regular wins. Game design can be rigged to do that. Keeping track of a player’s wins and losses and helping them our after a series of losses, also adds to the trust factor the player forms with the games. This also plays in with the gambler’s fallacy.

As we move on to largely invested players, the excitement factor takes over the release. The ‘waiting for the win’ becomes the most sought after than the actual winning. These players are addicted for the excitement than the release. This is the phase where you see many players who may complain that the game is rigged (to an extent they are right, but mostly it is RNG/PRNG). Irrespective of their complains, most of them continue to play the game.

The game designer’s job is to understand what is it that the player looks for depending on where they are in the game and come up with a generic system to provide it for the majority of players. This in turn aids in coin spend which is revenue generation for the game / casino.

Risk taking
Gamblers in general are risk takers compared to regular people. Whether they are playing online casino or land-based, this is one of the major factor that stays common. The game design should enable players to satisfy their risk-taking instincts. This in turn leads to revenue for the game / casino.

High roller machines or high bet rooms cater to these people. We can also experiment with smaller chunks of coins but with a chance of only 50% to win. Bet X amount on a coin toss. Win 4X or lose them all. This is alluring to many players and also sets them towards the risk taking path.  Over time, this becomes  the high risk, low yield model, which is essentially what gambling works on but creates an illusion of it being the reverse.

The ‘almost’ winning
When the player is made to believe that they almost made it, the ‘so close’ feeling makes them reinvest in the game and give themselves another chance to make the win. As a designer, frequency of cards / numbers / reels etc can be manipulated in a way where it appears to the player that they almost won the round. At times, mathematicians are hired to get this done right for gambling games.

It is no different from regular games except for the math involved.

A non-gambling example.: In one of the games I had worked on, was a reskin of a Match3 game. I decided to update the game balancing and level design of it.

The initials levels were made intentionally easy to get three stars for majority of the players. As the player gets invested, the levels are made harder with a few breathers in between.  (This can be backtracked to the ADE).  There was a gradual decrease in the player’s ability to get the perfect score. And the stars were needed to unlock a new world.  The game had its IAPs. Two of them were:
  • Buy extra moves @0.99$
  • Unlock the world (in case one doesn’t have enough stars) @4.99$

In a scenario where the player is short of 5 stars, it would make a lot more sense to just unlock the world for the cost than buy extra moves to gain the 5 stars. This led many to believe that the unlock will be the driving component of the IAP.

Given the target audience, I was willing to bet otherwise. The sense of achievement of having done a task and being rewarded for it is much higher than what seems like taking the easy route out. (Again, exceptions are there, but this was keeping the majority in mind).  When we got the data after a couple of months of the game release, my prediction was true. Players ended up spending way more money on extra moves instead of opting for the world unlock directly for what would have been a cheaper alternative.

Side note 1: This sense of achievement only dips down as the game continues to run for a long course. Case in point: Social games
Side note 2: The price point also plays a role here. Initially people are more willing to spend a dollar compared to 5. (ties back to initial risk taking)

The look and feel
While this is more on the art and sound department, the idea is to play around with what stimulates the brain. This also varies as per regions. What works for the UK market need not work for the US market.

The sound of the coins, the animation of lot of coins etc make a difference to the early players.

Disclaimer: It is not limited to just these factors listed above. I will probably write the continuation soon (or not soon) 😉