Analysis: Game design needs to grow up

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK this week warned Kindred Group’s 32Red after two ads for a high-risk game appeared in the results of a Google search.


The advertisements were for the NetEnt-produced slot game, Jack and the Beanstalk, which 32Red described as portraying "the hero from the fairy tale" as he climbs the storied, magical plant. Each ad contained further information about the game and offered a 150% deposit bonus.  

It seems painfully obvious a search for Jack and the Beanstalk will deliver a mixture of results that link to both the fairytale and its modern associations. 32Red has questions to answer and Google itself might need to explain how these ads were shown in a place accessible by children. But the issue the ASA has with the promos and where they were shown is not under the microscope today, not here at least.

Instead, it is the nature and connotations of the game itself that warrant further examination. Essentially, why would a fully grown adult be interested in reliving the story of Jack and the giant in the form of a slot game?

Designers want players to have a connection with their games and that is a clever strategy. But instead of building a line of games that develop a story or plot, suppliers often fall back on proven successes. They use fairytales, recognisable characters and themes to construct these connections.

That is exactly what NetEnt did with Jack and the Beanstalk, providing its customers with the opportunity to play a game based on a story from their childhood. While the name will bring instant connections, operators may benefit more from building their own story line. It doesn’t need to be an Earth-shattering concept, but creating a new idea rather than adapting an old one can provoke a more enthusiastic response from players.

To look at other examples, one of Microgaming’s newest productions is Rabbit in the Hat, a slot game that uses imagery of magicians and their tricks. Book of Oz Lock N Spin is another product from the supplier; it is the sequel to Microgaming’s previous Wizard of Oz-themed game, Book of Oz.

Looking further into the user experience and the reasoning behind the visual and audio choices is clear. Bright colours, flashing lights and whirling animations catch a player’s attention from across the room and hold interest. It’s all about having the games radiate energy for players to reciprocate. This explains why a slot game may look similar to a video game that is intentionally designed for children. The principal is the same for both audiences; offer a busy screen with lots to look at.  

Whenever I speak with casino game suppliers, of slots in particular, I am always eager to learn of the process behind designing a new game. How much of it is creative? What happens in the brainstorming process? Are branded and themed games a designated target set out by the upper echelons of the company?    

The answers I receive normally revolve around the market research the companies have carried out. They watch punters in casinos, gather data from operators and survey players when they can. This is the starting point for the games they create.

It is of course, much easier to study the impact of games that have already been produced, rather than ask about potential new ones. This means the research will always provide more data on the types of games available in the market. Whether the comments are positive or negative, suppliers will always have more information to feed back into the system and keep the process going.

There will always be the argument of covering all bases. Suppliers will say they offer these games that pull on fairytales but also develop products based on different plots and themes. But as the public perception around gambling in the UK shows, a negative rhetoric can be problematic for the industry. Developers should migrate away from these games and leave the fairytales for children.

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