When does a slot title go too far in terms of pushing the boundaries of social responsibility and good taste and decency? The question is increasingly relevant as game developers compete to deliver compelling game content that can bestride the visceral and the virtuous, while avoiding the baleful gaze of industry regulators.
Offering his view on that ‘big ask’ was Paul Malt, Head of Games at online gaming firm Betsson Group. Looking at responsibility for slot design and how the sector currently handles social responsibility, he chose to reference the three main tenets of the Gambling Act 2005 as a starting point.
“There are three main objectives which support the whole basis of gambling regulation, and slot game design needs to consider them all. These objectives are that crime should be kept out of gambling, it should be conducted in a fair and open way and children and other vulnerable persons should be protected from harm or exploitation from gambling.”
He warned: “Slot designs that fall outside of these responsibility parameters are less likely to see wide area release to the end user. This is because operators, and especially those targeting regulated markets, understand that they are ultimately responsible for protecting players and simply will not stock games in their lobbies that do not meet the requirements set out under the licence or licences they hold.
“This is why it is so important for developers to understand the three main objectives that underpin gambling regulation and design and develop content within these boundaries.”
Malt also has some clear views as to the key requirements that slot developers need to account for when factoring in social responsibility at the design stage. He’s in no doubt, for example, that playing slots is very much a ‘grown up’ pastime.
“Playing slots and gambling in general is fundamentally an activity for adults,” he advised. “In addition, the vast majority of operators are live across multiple markets and have many different player demographics and segments to engage with. This means that game providers are pretty much free to develop the content they want, so long as it is aimed at adults and will appeal to the players the operator is targeting.
“Of course, operators will have to consider the responsible gambling measures required under the licences they hold as well as their own safe gaming policies when it comes to deciding on the content they stock, so developers must also be aware of this when designing and building their slots.”
But for some, that grown up approach to slot entertainment is veering a little too close to the rubicon, prompting the inevitable question: how much is too much when it comes to designing slot titles? When does an adult theme go beyond the realms of good taste?
Malt believes that a line has already been transgressed, and more than once. He commented: “In my opinion, the ‘too much’ boundary has been crossed on many occasions, especially when it comes to the sexualisation of themes and characters within slot games. However, as I mentioned above, so long as developers are designing games for adult audiences then it is down to the specific operator if they wish to stock games based on such themes or not.”
While Malt is keen to expound the virtues of the Gambling Act’s aforementioned three main tenets, and the industry’s duty to adhere to them, he also emphasised the need for balance and some real world context.
He explained: “It’s worth mentioning studies from the video game sector, and in particular the impact violent games have on crime. The studies have generally not supported the existence of causal links, while researchers have also found no links between violent video gameplay and anxiety, depression, somatic symptoms or ADHD.
“This research needs to be considered in the real money gaming sector especially when you take into account the additional levels of protection provided to consumers through minimum age requirements, KYC and the ability to self-exclude. So for balance, I think that whether a game is ‘too much’ needs to be looked at on an individual basis and with these extra levels of protection in mind, too.”
In terms of who is ultimately responsible for what is socially acceptable within the realms of slot design, Malt offered an interesting perspective along the lines that while game designers will always push the envelope, it’s the operator that plays the role of arbiter.
“Ultimately, the operator has a sense of responsibility and specific guidelines to adhere to, so will always be the one to make the final call on whether to release a game or not,” he said. “No outside pressure from the game developer should influence this as ultimately it is the operator’s licence, and reputation, that is on the line.”
Reinforcing the point, he added: “As with film and video gaming, multiple adult genres are with us and are likely to stay. Responsibility sits with operators and how or if they make this content visible to the end user.”
It looks inevitable, however, that the industry will turn to good old-fashioned numbers to shine a guiding light on the parameters of decency and social responsibility.
As Malt concluded: “The use of data and analytics can help gain insight into customers and their individual preferences, and then the use of game recommendation engines can optimise lobbies for each player to provide a better, more socially responsible experience. This combination of data and analytics provides operators with the insight they need to make better, more informed decisions and improve responsibility.”