UX Lessons from the Casino

I’ve recently spent some time in Las Vegas and, in not a completely shocking turn of events, I happened to visit a number of different hotel casinos while I was there!

In between sipping cocktails and pretending like I understood how to play things, it struck me that there were a number of takeaways for me as a UX designer to be found there:

Make it as easy as possible for your users to do the primary thing

The primary thing for someone to do in a casino is to bet money. The easiest way to bet money in a casino is on a slot machine because all you need to do is feed the machine your dollar bills and hit a button. Even the most gambling-oblivious person (me) can do this.

Casinos make doing this super easy by having approximately ten billion slot machines positioned by all the casino entrances. As soon as you enter the casino, your brain is confronted with loads of flashing, bright, shiny things that are just screaming “Play with me!!”. It couldn’t be easier for you to just sit down and feed it a dollar.

Give the impression of control

Slot machines are actually quite cleverly designed.

They’ve made the ‘Money In’ slot and the BET button pretty easy to see and use, so when faced with a slot machine, at a minimum you’ll be able to put money in and make a default bet.

BUT! There are also all these other buttons and options as well. These other buttons might make you think that there is more to slot machines than just pressing a Bet button over and over. Maybe you can actually win (more) money by playing around with these?

I think that all the other buttons are there to provide you with an impression of control so that you feel like you are actually affecting the randomness of the machine. It might make you feed it even more money while you try and get to grips with all the options. You might even randomly win when you change an option that makes you think you were in control of that win so you go big on that option*

The impression of control in this instance might actually make you spend more..

Controlled incentives

Before I went to Vegas, multiple people mentioned to me that you get free drinks if you’re gambling at the casinos. They whispered that all you need to do is hang out in the casino and play on these 1 cent machines and waitresses will appear and give you drinks. For free!

So off we went to the casino to do our duty as good holidaymakers to score some free drinks whilst spending as little as possible.

Turns out, we spent so much of our time trying to locate waitresses whilst still hanging onto our cheap slot machine seats so we appeared to be ‘gambling’, that I’m pretty sure that we spent more money on the machines that the tiny drinks were worth. I think casino waitresses are probably very skilled at deploying their incentives where they deem they will be most effective – to those people likely to get drunk and spend big rather than the two people obviously working the 1 cent machine for a cocktail.

Lessons learned from the Vegas waitresses? Think about how you can incentivise your core customers and focus on them. There will always be people trying to score something for free (me!) without the intent of really using your product. Split your energies appropriately.

Dark patterns, beware

This is well-documented but it is so true – once you are in the casino, you’re pretty much in an enclosed bubble. There is no  natural light, clocks, and everyone is permanently dressed like they are on the best night out of their lives. It’s also a maze and you have to be a certified Girl Scout to find your way out ever again.

The casino works hard to keep you sucked inside itself and having no visible reference to a world outside the casino is super effective.

You see this in the digital world particularly with immersive gaming or similar experiences, when they make it really difficult for you to find ‘the exit’. This metaphor can also be extended to apps or websites that make it super difficult for you to find how to log out.

There always has to be a clear and simple way to exit something or to delete your account. Otherwise you might find yourself walking in circles round the casino getting increasingly late for a Britney Spears concert because you can’t find the way out*

*Maybe just me..

Reinforce the wins

The first time I won something at a Vegas slot machine, it was something like $0.08. But if you went off the machine’s reaction alone, you’d think I was a newly minted millionaire. There was bright coloured flashing, excited beeping sounds, and a massive kerchiiiing, the universal audio signal of MONEY!

All of these visual and auditory reactions contributed to my feeling of success, even if I only won pennies. This feeling was doubly reinforced because all across the casino, you can hear these machine sounds of success playing for other users, and all the time you are just willing your machine to do the same. When your machine finally wins something, there is a weird validation with how loud the noise is because you know your neighbours know you just won.

So, reinforce the wins – is there a way to provide more delight when someone completes a transaction, makes an online dating match, or sees their cab is arriving, that is more than just words coming up on a screen? What are the other stimuli that we can provide that makes our users feel more special?

And, where appropriate, is there a way to surface other user’s wins to prompt your user’s action? Hotels.com do this quite well when you’re looking for holidays – they show that someone else has *just* booked the location you’re looking at.

Final thoughts

There are UX lessons to be learned from everywhere and everything! For a great thought exercise, I challenge you next time you’re somewhere unfamiliar or doing something you wouldn’t normally, to look at your experience through your UX lense and see what you can learn, and maybe even write a blog post about it?!

 

More to add right now? Comment below!

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Design lead, watermelon addict, Leuchtterm notebook obsessive. I just enjoy designing great experiences for people that just work, writing about my craft and connecting with designers everywhere. Find me on Instagram, Twitter and Google+.
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