Why online casinos should ignore offline design principles

By Cory-Ann Joseph | 5 Comments


(Image from the Thoughtpick blog)

As part of my previous life working in online poker, I once spent 8 straight weeks in Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker (WSOP). That year, the event was right in the middle of summer, meaning a lot of time indoors – and in casinos.

The foremost authority on casino design is Bill Friedman, who penned the hefty 630-page “Designing Casinos to Dominate the Competition” in 2001. He studied every major casino in Nevada, from the legalisation of gambling in 1931 all the way through to 1996. He came up with 13 ‘Winning’ and ‘Losing’ casino interior design principles, which explained the vast differences in the number of players (and hence success levels) among all of the casinos.

Looking online

In 1996 Intercasino was the first to bring gaming online, with the first recorded sign-up to an online casino. Since then, there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of different online casinos in operation.

As a former online poker site reviewer, and a past casino bonus junkie (seeking out poorly structured online sign-up bonuses that can be manipulated for profit), I’ve probably signed up to and/or deposited at around 60 different online gaming sites.

What has struck me time and time again is how many of these sites are adapting some of Friedman’s principles for offline casinos into the online space.

Friedman’s Winning Principles Online Version
Gambling equipment should be as close as possible to entrances so gambling activity is thrust upon people as they enter Pop-ups on site launch asking you to download, further pop-ups on navigating and/or leaving the site
Maze layout – many short, narrow aisles that change direction, obstructing the view of visitors and making it unclear what lies beyond Frequent dead ends on trying to find information relating to download – only way to resolve query is to give up or install software regardless
Compact and congested gambling equipment layout Congested, bright, flashing homepage layout
Passageways should be designed to focus visitor attention to the gambling equipment and guide them to enter the gambling areas Confusing information architecture, hard to find information that might distract from download ie. withdrawals, system requirements for installation, game odds, security

Download what now, exactly?

Who trusts spam then?

In trying to adopt Friedman’s principles, what many online casinos have unintentionally succeeded in doing is creating websites that look and behave like spam.

Given that informative content and interface properties account for almost 60% of the effect of trust for online gambling sites (Shelat and Egger, 2002), and that 56.8% of people surveyed by eCogra in 2007 rated a solid reputation as one of the most important things they wanted in an online casino website, why do online gambling companies continue to build such bad websites?

Is there a role for UX?

The very knowledgeable Staffan from UXiGaming recently posted an appeal to online gambling operators to consider player experience as the way to develop a competitive advantage.

I responded with some obvious cynicism – mostly from my experiences in dealing with operators. But as Brian and Clodagh have both pointed out – effective UX design comes from being involved and valued at an organisational level much deeper than just the website.

Considering that casinos (both online and offline) are not user-friendly by definition – after all they profit from games with no statistical edge for users – is there really any room for UX in online gambling?

Offline Casinos 2.0 and upcoming feature

It’s important to note that casino design has undergone a shift in recent years, from down and dingy to the open spaces, natural light and entertainment-focused resorts of the Wynn, Bellagio and Palazzo. In an upcoming feature I’ll be looking in more depth at current website and interface designs for online casinos and how they can follow suit.


5 responses to “Why online casinos should ignore offline design principles

  1. Really looking forward to what you cover here. I work for a betting exchange and we’re trying to bring UX principles to what has traditionally been a confusing, and somewhat murky industry. There’s a long way to go, but the more web people who move into the gaming industry the better!

  2. Hi Alex,

    Thanks for the comment.

    Have been thinking about these issues for a long time – but as I came from gaming to UX it just took a while for me to be able to properly explain what bothered me so much about the way gaming companies approached design.

    I will definitely give you a shout-out when the feature is ready, in the meantime I highly recommend the UXiGaming blog linked in my post.


  3. I see the online poker space as cluttered and homogenous. Very few are radically different from each other, likely in part to common platforms. The only difference being the logo in the top left.

    What this leaves is a huge opportunity to differentiate on player experience.

    PKR dare to do something different. As one player was quoted as saying,

    “PKR may not have as many big money tourneys, but they are amazing fun to play on. I never laugh and enjoy poker so much as when I play here”.

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