All About Casino Gamification
- What is gamification?
- Why have gamification?
- When did it start?
- Regulatory problems
- An alternative approach to gamification
- Slot tournaments
- Is gamification a good thing?
What is gamification?
Gamification is the inclusion on a gambling site of elements from non gambling games such as levelling up, avatars and in game currency. Although these elements are from games without gambling, they often interact with and enhance the gambling experience, for example:
- Levelling up may award the player with a bonus or free spins
- Players may have the chance to play a free game when they login, deposit, or level up, to win a bonus, free spins or other goodies
- In game currency may be redeemable against bonus or free spins
- The player may need to complete all tasks in an area in order to be given access to another area with exclusive games
- Players may be able to win additional prizes by playing games in competition with other players (e.g. slot tournaments)
Why have gamification?
Casino and slot sites have gamification in order to give players more reasons both to play there in the first place and to continue playing.
Most of us like to collect complete sets of things and /or complete levels, and don’t like to abandon attempts to do so after putting time, effort and (especially) money into it. Think Pokemon, think Candy Crush! Indeed, after Candy Crush became so popular many operators tried to cash in on it by introducing lookalike slot games – totally missing the point, as it’s not the candies or the crushing that make it so much liked, it’s the satisfaction of progressing upwards through the levels.
Most people also find it more interesting and entertaining to play against other real people and not just against a machine. That is why live casino games are so popular as compared to regular casino games. Some types of gamification including slot tournaments give players the opportunity to compete against and engage with other players.
When did it start?
Gamification first came into play in the design of the slot games themselves. One venerable example of this (dating back to 2011) is seen in Microgaming’s classic Immortal Romance which has a multi level bonus round, Chamber of Spins. Players can progress through the levels by playing the bonus round multiple times, to unlock the different characters and access all four different versions of the bonus round. Not only does this give players an incentive to keep playing Immortal Romance and not swap to a different slot game, it gives them an incentive to keep playing Immortal Romance at the same casino; if they go elsewhere to play it they have to start at the beginning again and play the bonus round 15 times before they can access all versions. Immortal Romance (in common with many other Microgaming slots) also has paytable achievements to collect. Players do not normally gain anything from collecting these apart from the satisfaction of completing the set, but occasionally they feature in player promotions where prizes are awarded for collecting achievements on a new release.
Slot games which have been released since then have taken gamification much further. In the Castle Builder slots, for example, players collect building materials from winning lines in order to complete castles and collect a cash award, and in slots such as Gemix and Viking Runecraft, completing a pattern triggers a bonus game.
It was only a matter of time until someone had the brainwave of taking the level up mechanism seen in Immortal Romance and other slots and applying it to the whole casino.
That casino was Casumo, billed as “the world’s first casino adventure” when it launched back in 2012. The gamification at Casumo includes level progression, different areas, and an avatar that changes its appearance as you progress, plus regular Reel Races where players play a slot game alongside others and try to score more than them. Bonuses and spins are awarded as “valuables”.
In 2014, two more sites were launched that made a big deal out of gamification: Spin Genie from Gaming Realms and Slotser from EverAdventure.
Slotser was a hybrid casino – part social, part real money – allowing many games to be played with in game currency instead of or as well as with cash. It was also possible for players to send each other gifts of slot spins.
Spin Genie was themed on Spin the dog and his adventures in a fantasy world; players completed the stages of his journey on the map by playing slots and were rewarded at the end of each stage.
The problems started in May 2015 after Spin Genie advertised on television. The ad, which promised 50 free spins and was shot from the point of view of a player following a trail of coins on a tropical isle leading to a treasure chest, was considered far too likely to appeal to children and the ASA duly banned it. As a result of this, not only was the ad not shown again but the gamification was removed – including Spin the dog himself.
Slotser were also in trouble with the ASA in 2015, but the ad in question was the promotions page on their own website which featured a meerkat and a fairy. They closed in March 2016.
It took the Gambling Commission more than two years to follow up on these two cases – but when they did (in October 2017, following the publication of an article in the Sunday Times newspaper about slot games that appeal to children) it was to write to all licensees ordering the removal of all images considered to have child or youth appeal from advertising, including on the web sites themselves. The repercussions of this are still being felt across the industry as the restrictions get tighter and tighter – for example, in June 2018 Coral were in trouble with the ASA over the leprechaun image on their tile for the Rainbow Riches slot.
It is as a result of the October 2017 action that if you visit Casumo today from the UK without having an account there, you won’t see any of the gamification – not even the little Casumo avatar. It is all still there, though, behind the age gate – and if you visit from another European country such as Malta where the rules are different. The same applies to sites such as Ikibu and Cashmio – the Malta versions are much more exciting looking than the UK versions.
What all this means is that if any new casino wants to launch in the UK with Casumo style gamification, it will have a big problem communicating to prospective players what the gamification is all about if it bears any resemblance at all to an actual video game! At least it is still possible in most cases to see that there IS gamification, but who knows how far the crackdown will go?
Despite this, casinos are still introducing new and innovative ways of gamification – such as the Heists at High Roller Casino.
An alternative approach to gamification
A somewhat different approach to gamification was seen when the Wheel of Rizk was introduced at the eponymous casino in 2016. Rather than using elements from video games, the Wheel of Rizk clearly resembles a gambling game – as they put it “kind of like the Wheel of Fortune, but about a million times cooler”. Players fill the power bar as they play and when it is full they level up and get to spin the Wheel – which has better and better prizes as they climb through the levels. Prizes include cash, free spins with no wagering requirement – and Double Speed Chips that don’t award anything right away, but double the rate of progress to the next level (and the next spin) for a limited time.
Many other casinos have adopted this type of gamification as part of their player reward system – and often it is free of wagering requirements as with the OJO Wheel at PlayOJO and the Vault at bgo. Players do not seem to be too concerned even if a reward system like this has wagering requirements and/or win caps – a good example of this is the very popular Jumpman Slots Mega Reel which players can spin whenever they make a qualifying deposit or collect 5 trophies.
This type of gamification is immune to regulatory problems, at least for now, as it resembles a gambling game rather than a video game.
Another way for casinos to do gamification is to run tournaments where players play slots against other players. Prizes are typically free spins – but can also be cash or in game currency. Again, this was started by Casumo with their Reel Races and really got going in October 2015 when Videoslots launched Battle of Slots. These slot tournaments were the first to use play for fun money in the actual tournament spins.
Slot tournaments are good for player engagement. Some sites have a slots chat room and others (again notably Videoslots) have tournament chat where players can communicate with each other. Players also typically communicate with each other (and spectators) off site via the gamer live streaming site Twitch.
Types of slot tournament
- Simple leaderboards – players score points based on activity only – e.g. score 1 point for each £10 of cash play or for each spin. Unless there are either an awful lot of prizes (as in the Videoslots weekly casino race where it’s over 9000) or consolation spins for non winning entrants these are just a way of rewarding the biggest spenders (and not a very interesting way at that).
- Equalised leaderboards – the player’s biggest win relative to stake in a specified number of consecutive rounds (sometimes 20, sometimes just one) is what counts. They can have as many attempts as they like within the time limit and only their best set of rounds counts. Time limits can vary wildly, from the 15 minutes for a Reel Thrill at Mr Green to longer than a week for some of the tournaments at Unibet. The great thing about this type of tournament is that pretty well any player can afford to give it a go since all they need to do is play 20 rounds (or however many the rules specify) at the minimum stake required to qualify (usually 10p or 20p) and hope they get lucky. Although players who play huge numbers of rounds are more likely to win, in theory the top prize (typically a sizeable amount of cash) could be won by someone with the bare minimum of activity.
- Races – score as many points as possible within a set number of spins and within a time limit (anything from a few minutes to a few hours). Players usually (but not always) play with their own money (bonus may or may not be allowed) and keep any winnings. Points are typically scored for big wins, collecting wilds, consecutive or even consecutive losses. The top point scorers also win the prizes – usually free spins and occasionally cash.
Slot tournament strategy
Although slots play itself is of course entirely a matter of luck, there can still be some strategy involved in a slot tournament (apart from the obvious one of picking the highest variance slot on the list if the aim is to get the biggest win). This is because other players’ scores are generally visible throughout. In a race, for example, a player may decide that they are too far behind for it to be worth completing the rest of the spins. In an equalized leaderboard based on 20 rounds, a player may calculate that they would need to trigger the bonus round more than once in 20 rounds to win a prize and decide not to bother.
Is gamification a good thing?
Gamification is obviously a good thing for the casinos as it encourages players to stick with a single site rather than sign up with multiple sites in search of bonus offers. But is it a good thing for the players?
Gamification certainly makes gambling more entertaining and this is a big plus point for any player who gambles for fun (never forget that it’s meant to be fun!)
The danger is, though, that the lure of the level up or the leaderboard may cause a player to spend more money that they originally intended – perhaps much more money. That is bad enough in non gambling games such as Candy Crush where thousands of players every day make unplanned in-game purchases to finish off a hard level. In a gambling game it is much worse as loss of control over spending can be the first step down the road to having a serious problem. To combat this, slot and casino sites offer a range of responsible gambling tools and even if you never need to use most of them, it may be a wise move to set deposit limits to ensure you can’t get carried away and spend too much.