Spend enough time browsing app stores, and you are sure to encounter casino-style games that allow players to gamble with no financial stake. While these “free-to-play” titles vary in terms of their pricing model and whether or not they use franchise tie-ins or an addictive rhythm as hooks for engagement, all rely on similar principles for keeping players interested: uniform aesthetics, franchise affiliations and an addictive rhythm are the keys to keeping people hooked.
American gamblers lost $3.5 Billion playing gambling games in 2019 alone. Although all forms of gambling can be addictive, many researchers consider slot machines especially risky. Natasha Schull of MIT who spent 15 years studying them for her book Addiction by Design believes this to be due to the fast pace at which slots can be played: up to 1,200 spins an hour can provide reinforcers that keep coming back for more spins!
Schull believes this combination makes slot machines difficult to stop using, yet Schull believes the industry may have additional tactics up its sleeve: social pressure can keep players engaged by rewarding them for adding friends, ranking them and sharing any big jackpot they win – creating an online peer pressure loop.
Some games also introduce skill-based gameplay reminiscent of arcade gaming — such as flying planes to shoot aliens or racing against other players to beat their scores — that feels more arcade than slot machine play. Yet even this approach can be dangerous, according to Brett Lawrence, a gambling addiction counselor who helps people recover from video gambling. According to him, skill-based gameplay added on top of an addictive formula makes it harder for people to stay off of their phones and away from these games.