Recently I had my vacation to visit family out in Las Vegas and my chance to visit the Mecca of Gaming. This next sentence may shock some of you: I play a lot of video games…okay, not so shocking, but despite that, I hate gaming. Being an outsider in Vegas and someone who studies game design, it’s depressing and rage inducing to see what Gaming is and how people want to bring that more into the Game Industry.

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The Arcade Model:

The Gaming Industry is a lot older than the Games Industry, and it is true that a lot of the underlining concepts of game development started out by taking notes from Gaming. The Arcade industry was designed around a metrics-first, cash-driven experience; with games built to drive quarters and not provide value to the consumer. Because of this, arcade design was very limited and built against the player to try and get them to spend as much money as possible.

This kind of design also fed into early console game design as game design didn’t start to get fleshed out until the early-mid 90’s. It wasn’t until around the end of the decade when console technology started to overtake the arcade, and we saw the gradual decline of the market. At this point, the home market reached a state where it was putting out quality titles at a good value for the consumer; while the arcades were still charging a lot of money for limited experiences.

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Many monetized games these days feature hooks similar to Gaming to keep people playing and spending more money

With the growing rise of mobile and social game development, we’ve seen a lot of mobile developers give presentations and studies about how to take the Gaming Industry and apply it to games; more specifically, apply it to mobile games.

Before we talk about my problems with this idea, let’s look at the modern Gaming market and see if we can draw some parallels to mobile games.

Studying Sin City:

While casinos have entered the digital age over the last decade, the more things change, the more they stay the same. For people who haven’t been to Vegas or modern casinos, slot machines are no longer designed around internal mechanics to drive the randomization, but computer software and code.

The use of comps or bonuses to keep people in the casino is now built around membership cards. The casinos allow you to earn points by signing up and using your membership card when gambling. The more you play, the more points you earn, which can be used to buy things like rooms, see a show or eat at the restaurants. At the casino/hotel I stayed at, it was one of several owned by the same Casino company, meaning that the membership could work at any of those casinos and added to their value for people who constantly played.

The use of bright lights and noises to attract people to the slots hasn’t changed, but has gotten more elaborate and streamlined. There are tons of machines on the floor, but more importantly, they have different buy in amounts. You could spend as little as a penny on a play; with the largest I saw at three dollars a pull.

This is done for two reasons, first is that the pay outs are higher on the machines that you put more money into; with the three dollar a pull one possibly paying out in the millions if you get a jackpot. The other reason is that it allows people of different incomes to participate in gambling.

The regulars usually stick to the 25 cents and less machines and sit for many hours, while the tourists who are only there for a few days will go for the larger machines and hope to hit it big before returning home. Either way, the house wins and it’s very rare for someone to earn back what they put into a machine.

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The key distinction between slot machines/gaming and skill-based arcade games like pinball, is that the user can actively control the outcome

Getting back to the slots themselves, while the basic play is the same regardless of machine, there are tons of different properties set up in slot machine form.

Over my time spent in Vegas I’ve seen slot machines built around Batman, Ghostbusters, Game of Thrones, Britney Spears, The Hangover and multiple non-licensed brands.

Despite promising multiple modes and ways to play, it’s all built around someone putting money in and pushing a button. Because you only get the most money by playing the most credits, there isn’t even any strategy or thought needed; just hit max credits and push start.

I’m sure I don’t need to point out some of the similarities of using licensed IPs with barely any gameplay to hook people into spending lots of money to certain mobile games. With that said, it’s time to talk about my problems with this practice.

Hunting Whales:

Gambling is not a consumer-driven industry but a consumer-recycling one. The point is to get as much money out of someone and then move on to the next person; with all the sights and sounds designed to keep someone playing. Inside the casino, it is perpetual daytime with no clocks around, so that no one knows how long they’ve been playing. The Gambling Industry is all about using as many different tricks to get someone hooked and addicted to take their money.

I’m sure someone is getting ready to say that this is a great way for the Game Industry to make money, and of course it is, but that’s not the point. The Gambling industry is one that has no growth, no evolution of design, and has no value to anyone other than the casinos and the companies making the machines.

Another point I’m sure someone is going to make is discussing that there is more to gambling and that it is also built around card games and sports matches, but I’m focusing on the general mass market and all the people who spend day in and day out at the casino.

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The mobile market has had a lot of trouble getting away from the “gaming” stigma, thanks to heavily monetized titles.

What’s worse is that because the slot machine industry is driven by the same design, it prevents anyone else from making something different or more interesting; again, we can see the same challenge with mobile developers trying to expand the market away from monetized-focused titles.

No casino is going to want a slot machine that takes longer for someone to lose money, or has a higher chance at paying out; limiting everything to one standard no matter what the property is.

Keeping Things Separate:

We’ve had this discussion many times about the value Video Games bring and how they are a combination of art and product. The Gaming Industry and the use of slot machines and casinos on the other hand is simply a product with no artistic value present. For developers who say that gambling mechanics and tactics should be adopted by more mobile games or the industry in general, they are either stupid or reprehensible in my book.

The reason is that either they are talking about mechanics without ever seeing the inside of a casino, or they fully know what goes on in there and want the same practice applied to consumers of video games. To end this post, I want to respond to one other comment I’m sure someone is about to write, and that is the fact that the Gambling Industry is providing entertainment and value to people like the elderly who have very few outlets at their age.

Tell me, how much value is there in an industry built around convincing someone with an oxygen mask and a respirator to sit in a smoke filled casino for 6+ hours a day playing a slot machine?

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