The gambling world has been seeking to reverse the trend by investing heavily in new technologies to appeal to a younger generation. These exploit the sensory cues which lure people into the machine zone by increasing the visual, auditory, and tactile stimulation."They realize that getting addicted to these games is not about money, it's about falling out of space and out of time," Schull says. "You almost forget you have a body. They use surround sound, touch screens, and devices called haptic actuators, which create these little buzzing or pulsing haptic effects behind the screen or in your chair. And the shocks, vibrations, or zaps from the chair are choreographed to synch up with whatever game effects are happening, so it acts as a confirmation of whatever's going on in the game and brings you further into the zone."But getting people who are under 45 into a casino in the first place remains a challenge. One of the tricks some casinos have considered is augmented reality. "Augmented reality is the combination of real and virtual on a screen in real time," says Mike Cohen of Total Immersion, a company which develops augmented reality based products. "Casinos look to use it as a shiny, new gimmick which can drive traffic into the casino with things like interactive photo opportunities or smartphone apps which interact with a casino slot machine and trigger when you walk through the door."
Getting addicted to these games is not about money. It's about falling out of space and out of time. –Natasha Schull
Griffiths believes there are several reasons why online gambling has the potential to generate so much revenue. "The value of money is psychologically lower online," he says. "This is because the games convert your real money into virtual representations as quickly as possible, so you're doing everything on credit. And although Facebook betting games allow you to process your cards and cash out your winnings, few people do that. They just keep the credit for next time. This is exactly how real-life casinos work. They convert your money to blue chips and even though you know those chip are $1 each, it would be a very different experience if you saw $1 notes disappearing down the hole."The other key aspect is the anonymity of the online world. People become psychologically disinhibited in the absence of face-to-face interaction and while most reputable gambling companies will have built-in warning mechanisms to protect those who play excessively, the 24/7 access means it's all too easy to simply move to another game.It isn't hard to picture a boardroom of techies and malevolent casino owners, hell-bent on identifying the best ways to addict people, but this isn't quite the reality. Qualities which make a game even faster and more immersive tend to be stumbled upon rather than pre-designed, with the overall aim to get a critical mass of people playing and spending money. But the nature of the game designs mean they tend to be hyper-addictive. Schull feels this is a fundamental problem."It's all about monetizing the hits and working out how to keep people pressing certain buttons over and over again without thinking about what else is happening in life. That's your ideal customer. But that's also the mode of an addict, so is it really ethical?"While most companies work by the 80:20 rule where 80 percent of their profits are generated by 20 percent of their customers, many suspect the ratio is more like 90:10 in the gambling world. And much of that 10 percent is likely to be made up of problem gamblers like Balaam.While some people tend to have a personality or psyche which makes them more susceptible to addictive behavior, Griffiths believes that understanding the nature of the games and how they work can have a protective role. But it's still extremely easy to get sucked in."These games tap into very human modes of absorption," Schull says. "Look at the success of games like Angry Birds. Although these aren't gambling-based games, they show how under the right circumstances and with the right interface, almost anyone can get drawn into playing for too long and not feeling fully in control."Follow David Cox on Twitter.
It's all about monetizing the hits and working out how to keep people pressing buttons without thinking about what else is happening in life.