The Verge recently ran a lengthy piece about how slot machine manufacturers engineer their products to drive addiction and what the mobile development industry is learning from these firms. “I can’t tell you how often I’ve been approached since the publication of my book by Silicon Valley types who say things like, ‘Wow, the gambling industry really seems to have a handle on this attention retention problem that we’re all facing, Will you come tell our designers how to do a better job?'” said Natasha Schüll, an associate professor and slot machine researcher at MIT who wrote a book called Addiction by Design: Machine Gaming in Las Vegas.
The goal for slot machine designers—and mobile developers—is to get users into the “zone” where they continue playing for long periods of time. To do that, games or apps must meet four criteria, says Schüll: “[F]irst, each moment of the activity must have a little goal; second, the rules for attaining that goal must be clear; third, the activity must give immediate feedback; fourth, the tasks of the activity must be matched with challenge.”
Some in the casino industry are beginning to see smartphone apps as competition. “You know how you get people younger to gamble?” asked Mike Trask, senior marketing manager for slot machine manufacturer Bally Technologies. “Hand them a f***ing telephone.”