On 25 September 2020, the Betting and Gaming Council (“BGC”) announced the new Game Design Code of Conduct (the “Code”). The Code is a product of the industry’s Safer Products Working Group which was formed in January 2020 and tasked with pursuing the opportunity to reduce gambling harm through game and product design.
Compliance with the Code is to be undertaken by BGC members, including where operators use non-BGC game suppliers.
The Code applies to online slot products and is intended to be a “living document, evolving as the research base and understanding around game design continues to develop”. The Code sets out 14 principles to show a commitment to “transparency, player education, innovation and research with the overarching aim of enhancing player safety” which can be categorised into the following areas:
|Game Characteristics:||Working with academics, regulators, consumers, individuals with lived experience of gambling related harm and other technical experts to identify and agree on features that are correlated to greater player risk.|
|Informed Player Choice:||Empowering customers to play more safely through the provision of clearer information on product and game rules, including mathematical properties such as risk, the chances of winning and optimal strategies.|
|Enhancing Control Innovation:||Improvements in safer gambling tools that help players both monitor and control their gambling, including spend, loss, win and time-based measures.|
|Governance and Continuous Improvements:||Process for reviewing and updating any Code of Conduct, in addition to transparency, disclosure and independent evaluation.|
The Code is divided into two phases:
This phase introduces four standards of game design. The requirements are in line with the Gambling Commission’s recent consultation on online slots game design which aims to make these standards applicable to the whole industry. The Code of Conduct requires BGC members to have the measures in place by 30 September 2020, making BGC members “amongst the first to commit to these standards”.
The four standards are as follows:
1. Minimum game cycle speed of 2.5 seconds
A game cycle starts when a player has paid for an initial wager and depresses the ‘start’ or ‘spin’ button or takes equivalent action to initiate the game and ends when all money or money’s worth staked or won during the game has been either lost or delivered to, or made available for collection by the player and the start button or equivalent becomes available to initiate the next game. Where auto play or auto start is permitted then a game cycle is measured from the point at which the game is initiated by the system (equivalent to the player depressing the start button) to the point at which it is able to automatically start the next game.
2. Removal of turbo play
Turbo play or equivalent features will be not be allowed. Such features enable the player to speed-up the base game cycle speed of the game.
3. Removal of base game slam stops
Slam stops or equivalent features will not be allowed within the base game. This is the ability for the customer to interact with the base game to end it before it has naturally concluded e.g., by hitting or pressing a button whether online or on a physical machine. This includes promotional free wagers paid for by the operator.
4. Removal of multi-slot play within a single gaming client
Functionality that allow players to place multiple, separate stakes on multiple slots games within a single gaming client will not be allowed.
Phase 2 requires BGC members to implement additional measures for new games by 31 January 2021 to “enhance transparency and add friction for players”.
1. Wins below the stake size
Total wins below the stake will be informative and will be differentiated from wins that are equal to or greater than the stake. Specifically:
- The win amount will be displayed
- The win line is displayed long enough for player to understand the impact of the bet (in line with existing RTS 7E)
- A brief sound can be used to make the player aware of the result (the return of funds to wallet)
In contrast, total wins equal to or greater than the stake may be celebratory and allow the following elements:
- The win amount can be displayed in a
differentiating manner e.g., the win display could be in a text size that is
greater and could utilise dynamic win animations, for example coin showers
- The win line can be displayed with additional animation permitted
- Celebratory sound effects can be used.
2. Bonus game notifications
Bonus games outside the base game will not be automatically triggered without a customer intervention, e.g., clicking a button to acknowledge that a bonus game has been won and can now be entered. In addition, after the end of a bonus game, the player will receive a notification informing them the bonus game has finished before re-entering the base game. If Auto-play is used during the bonus game, it will automatically stop before re-entering the base game. In the exceptional case that a bonus game is not triggered before the platform would normally time out, the operator has the right to clear down the game with any winnings being added to the player’s balance.
The implementation timeframe of the following two measures will be agreed in the coming months:
1. Access to safer gambling information
While a player is playing a game, the display will include a link to safer gambling information that will be available to view within a prominent place on the gaming client. This will display a safer gambling icon and messaging and contain links to the customer account pages of the operator, with quick links to all limit setting functionality (e.g., deposit, loss, time, timeouts, and self-exclusion).
2. Mandatory player interaction
A mandatory player interaction will be initiated every 60 minutes or at the conclusion of the subsequent game cycle. This will require the customer to acknowledge the message.
The BGC has stated that it may recommend to the Gambling Commission that the Phase 2 measures are adopted as part of the Gambling Commission Remote Technical Standards.
Innovation and Testing Lab
The BGC have created a work programme for the BGC Innovation and Testing Lab to use an evidence-based approach to development of the Code and to inform future changes. The BGC intends to be “transparent in the reporting of [its] findings, methodology and data”.
The Innovation and Testing lab will be focussing on the following projects:
- Game labelling – work on creating a consistent safer gambling icon and a common game labelling scheme for key features such as volatility and persistence
- Increased staking – work to assess the prevalence of increased staking in slots sessions, whether this behaviours correlates to a risk of harm and how safer gambling messaging can be incorporated to enhance player safety
- Auto-play – work on the relationship between auto-play and staking behaviour and whether any risk mitigation is required
- Display of net position and elapsed time – work on providing players with quick access to information on their net spend and time elapsed
BGC’s Game Design Code of Conduct has introduced significant changes to the design and functionality of online slots games. The industry should expect to see more changes due to ongoing work in the industry and the awaited Gambling Commission response to its consultation on online slots which closed on 3 September 2020. See our blog on 10 July 2020 for further details. BGC members, and those supplying BGC members, are reminded of the Phase 1 measures were implemented on 30 September 2020.