Amid the ongoing review of the 2005 Gambling Act, the industry was recently faced with the UK Gambling Commission‘s introduction of a new set of measures aimed at strengthening player protections and controls for online slots.
Due to come into force on October 31 of this year, the implementation of these rules will make it mandatory for operators to introduce limits on spin speeds in addition to a permanent ban on features that speed up play or celebrate losses as wins.
In the days since that have followed, we spoke with a number of UK developers and operators to find out their thoughts on the measures and how it will impact them.
Henry McLean, commercial and marketing director at 4ThePlayer.com, ‘welcomes changes that protect the player’, expressing that the company wants players to have a fun and safe entertainment experience.
He added: “In terms of how it affects our future development, we thought this might be on the horizon, based on regulation in other territories, and have already considered it. We also do not feel the entertainment value of our games rely on speed of play.
“We believe there will always be an appeal for slots in the UK, especially for entertainment-driven developers like ourselves as innovation will be required to keep the player engaged as well as safe.”
The new rules include the outright ban of features that give the illusion of control over the outcome; slot spin speeds faster than 2.5 seconds; autoplay, which the UKGC says can lead to players losing track of their play; and sounds or imagery which give the illusion of a win when the return is in fact equal to, or below, a stake.
Furthermore, a permanent ban on reverse withdrawals will also come into effect, and operators have been instructed that they must clearly display total losses or wins and time played during any online slots session to players.
Yet for developers like Push Gaming, the announcement was unsurprising and expected. In September 2020, Betting and Gaming Council members agreed to a series of new measures for online slots which are somewhat similar to those introduced by the UKGC.
Commenting on the UKGC measures, Nicola Longmuir, CCO at Push Gaming, commented: “The guidelines the UKGC have outlined were consistent with the regulator’s pre-announced plans, and we’ve been working towards a development pipeline that can easily adapt to these requirements in time for October’s deadline.
“We feel confident that with our approach to innovation and agility, we’ll be able to continue delivering our player-first approach that we are so well known for, and with regulatory changes on the horizon across Europe and beyond, we look forward to working in tandem with operators to meet such challenges.
“We definitely still see the UK as a growing market, we understand player trends and preferences , as well as demographics that are constantly evolving. Regulatory changes are also part of that natural evolution of the market and we see the appeal of slots in the UK being far more dependent on the entertainment value of the games themselves, rather than higher stakes.
“Suppliers who are able to produce top quality content that can truly resonate with players will continue to thrive in the new regulatory landscape – as this is what will drive retention and engagement in 2021.”
The UKGC has been carrying out a public consultation – which sought the opinion of the public, players and industry stakeholders – to gain a general consensus of opinion on measures aimed at making online casino games ‘less intensive, safer by design and hand players more control over their gambling’.
Supporting the measures, Kimberley Broad, director of compliance at Microgaming, noted that it has been ‘supportive’ of measures aimed at addressing problem gambling.
“As a member of the Betting and Gaming Council, and following direct discussions with the UK Gambling Commission, we have played an active role in helping to shape the new regulations, which are focused on improving standards in the design and provision of online gambling products,” she noted.
“We have in fact already implemented some of the new measures, and we will ensure all other requirements are in place across our range of games. In this respect, these changes will not significantly affect the development of future Microgaming titles, because they have been planned far ahead of today’s announcement.
“As for the appeal of online slots in the UK, we expect the market to adapt and grow, as entertainment and player protection go hand in hand. For our part, Microgaming will continue to invest in safer gambling, funding research to improve industry standards, and directly supporting RET charities.”
Echoing Microgaming’s response, Stuart Banks, managing director of Playzido, added that the group is ‘fully supportive’ of all changes that ‘provide players with added protection and control’.
He continued: “We welcome these new regulations and we’re of the opinion that they do genuinely represent positive progress.
“Whilst the customer protection and control is paramount, game suppliers should also really embrace these changes as they will ultimately increase player engagement in the games by removing the possibility of passive play and speeding through the gameplay without the full attention of the player.”
Banks noted that it is ‘logical’ that a more engaged player will generate ‘greater loyalty’ to the better games while noting that the measure mentioned ‘quite possibly’ could lead to further evolution of games for the UK market.
He concluded: “The talented game suppliers in the market are great at adapting to these types of challenges and will no doubt brainstorm ways to ensure that customers who previously played in a certain “fast-paced” way can still be fully entertained; a slower, more engaged session perhaps but no less exhilarating. Perhaps we’ll see a new genre of games with higher frequency bonus rounds for example?
“From our initial review of the requirements, we do not think that these changes will negatively impact the appeal of slots in the UK market at all. Customers should be engaged in what they are betting on, whatever the product. It’s a good thing.
“Slots should also never set out by design to mis-lead customers in terms of their chances of winning. Removing the over-hyping of small wins is also entirely sensible and does not detract from appeal of a game.
“There are a small subset of customers who will be forced to change their way of playing but it’s the challenge of the industry to dial up the fun-factor to keep them entertained.
“In terms of the challenges of adopting these regulations, we welcome the timelines which gives the industry the time needed to adapt – these things take time to implement. In reality, most licenced game suppliers will already be familiar with a lot of these requirements, either as a result of the BGC guidance from 2020 or from other international regulations with similar guidance, such as in Germany, both of which we implemented at Playzido.
“With respect to existing games, Playzido and the 12 games suppliers on our platform are already future-proofed to adopt the majority of the new regulations without too much additional work. Having said that, all regulatory changes come with challenges to licenced operators and suppliers and we collectively need to ensure uniform experiences for players and that clarity is provided where any ambiguity exists.”