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The Psychology of Slot Machines & their Evolution Online

By on October 23, 2015
The iPhone Slot Machine

The iPhone Slot Machine

Slot machines have certainly come a very long way since their invention in 1894. Having transformed from a coin operated novelty to one of America’s largest industries in little over 100 years, we’re expecting slot machines to be completely different by the time they celebrate their 150th birthday in 2044. How they will change and evolve is anyone’s guess, but by understanding online slot machines as they are now, we can start to make an educated guess as to where this time-honored favorite will stand in 30 years’ time.

Slot machines are the most popular casino game no matter where you go in the world. This is mostly because whether you’re playing online or standing in a physical casino, the psychology behind the game is entirely spot on. When you stand the virtual and physical versions next to each other, it’s easy to see a number of similarities – you put money in, you hit a button or pull a lever and then you wait – sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. When you do win, you’re greeted with uplifting lights and sounds which make you want to play again, even when you only win a small amount back. Slot machines at their most basic level are what psychologists refer to as a Skinner box, making repetitive actions highly enjoyable through the occasional reward.

As technology advanced over the 20th century, these lights and sounds got bigger, brighter and more exciting, all helping make slot machines all the more appealing. New features were being added to the slot machines to help make them more entertaining, including the invention of the progressive slot machine in 1986. This progressive machine shared a winning pool of several million dollars between several sites at once, and the promise of ever greater rewards are what helped make slot machines the casino favorites they are today.

The first online casino opened a few years later in 1995 and while relatively crude, online gambling was an immediate success. By 2007 the internet had become a truly unstoppable force, with Facebook starting to take over as the dominant social media network, and the sale of the very first iPhone. With the way technology hurtled forwards over the years, it’s no surprise that something as enjoyable (and profitable) as slot machines took to the internet like a fish to water.

The current state of internet and smartphone technology means that everyone has the ability to connect to someone or something else at the touch of a button. The online casinos of 1995 which were once only accessible only through a dial-up connection and a large desktop computer were now easily accessible from a mobile phone. With such incredible ease of access, progressive slot machines online were able to offer even larger jackpots, with pools shared between much larger user bases than ever before. Once again, bigger jackpots mean greater appeal for more players, especially when players could jump in whenever and wherever they like. Slot machines today use the same psychology as they did in casinos 50 years ago – they’re simply easier to get to.

That being said, thanks to the evolution of computer technology, slot machines have found new ways to evolve over time. Progressive slot machines aren’t the only way of winning huge amounts from slots online. Rapid advancements in processing power and computer graphics have allowed for more complex iterations of the slot to be born. While they operate in the same way at their core, with a random number generator governing when the machine pays out, the slot machine took on a new level of skill with the help of mini-games, side-games and bonus rounds. These could be anything from playing a few rounds of virtual tennis to something as simple as a quick game of Rock Paper Scissors. By rewarding players with bonus cash and free spins, the Skinner box model evolved to find new ways of encouraging players carry on playing. This took on a whole new level with the new mega spin slots which allowed for all of this, playing up to nine games at once.

With all this in mind, it leaves you wondering where slot machines will go next. In recent years there has been massive emphasis on connectivity and social media, so it would come as no surprise to see this incorporated into the next generation of slot machines. For example, connecting your slot machine to your Facebook account and using your win to trigger an instant bonus for your friends would help move this inter-connectivity forward. With the advent of VR technology on the horizon with Facebook’s Oculus project, we can see this immersion moving forward as the first real virtual casino opens in earnest. Walking around a fully virtual casino is entirely possible within the next 10 years, but where the slot machine goes from there is anyone’s guess.