The online gambling sector is under ever-increasing scrutiny, with regulators rightly requiring the industry to take proactive measures to protect players from harm caused by excessive gambling. Whilst the primary obligation for a safer playing experience understandably lies with the operator, it is time for games developers to step forward and play a bigger role.
When I think about regulated consumer products that invoke negative perceptions, I immediately think of cigarettes. A supermarket sells them only to over 16s and makes the product inaccessible behind a closed screen, with masked packets, health warnings and stark photos of the damage that smoking can do to your health. Would we want our wonderfully colourful and appealing casino games to go the same way? Imagine a lobby of blurred images before log-in, or no games in the pre-logged in visuals, with warnings interjected.
For too long studios have stood behind the shield of the operator’s obligations with Responsible Gambling, perceptibly distanced from the transaction with no demographics or personal information on the player. This position is no longer sustainable.
In the world of big data, betting transactions can be as feature rich as demographics, if not more so, offering deep insight and understanding of players and the influencers of their behaviours. Studios need to embrace and enrich their data.
Slots are fundamentally engineered with math models at their heart, offering a player experience that is random based on the outcome of each spin. The ability to understand how each feature in a game is influencing gambling behaviours - both in a positive and negative manner – is available to studios and they should embrace it to offer a safer playing experience.
In the next phase of our industry, regulators will increasingly require studios to take an engaged role in the impact of games on Responsible Gambling. Once again, in this regard the UK is leading the way, with the Betting and Gaming Council producing the industry’s first Game Design Code – a voluntary framework for studios to follow to build safer products. Still at an early stage, the Code is likely to develop to be a living, breathing framework that helps studios understand the importance of their role in offering a safer playing experience. Roadmaps will evolve to take account of Safer Play objectives and games will be judged not only on financial performance but also on how “Safe” they play for consumers.
And yet they need to go further. Studios are not yet set-up to operationalise Responsible Gambling practices, with the majority of their compliance activities related to game certification and licencing. The extent of their true task will require regular and consistent monitoring of the Markers of Harm and how their games are influencing these Markers over time. The duty will be bigger than an individual, requiring Board-level oversight and interaction, setting the direction for the studio with clear goals and data-driven targets to achieve.
There are also other positive impacts, enabled by data and technology, most notably around the opportunity to monitor and intervene in game play in real time, assessing not just the Markers of Harm but also player engagement, game launches, feature impact and more, proactively communicating with the player in session to improve the experience for everyone.
The journey for studios in Responsible Gambling and Safer Play has just begun. Long term winners will embrace the change, creating a safer playing environment proactively before draconian legislation is enacted. Data is at the heart of this journey; studios with a data-driven DNA will undoubtedly succeed in the next phase of our growth industry.
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