When designing an online casino experience, operators immediately recognise the importance of including captivating visuals, high-quality graphics and ease of navigation to attract players and facilitate their journey. But there is one essential element to consider to ensure that your online casino truly shines: its soundscape.
Researchers have worked tirelessly to understand how sound affects our brains, and their work is being used by top game developers and casino software solutions firms to enhance the user experience and create an immersive atmosphere.
In this article, we will explore the science behind soundscapes and how they affect the brain, discuss ethical issues relating to this phenomenon, take a global view of sound and consider the future of soundscapes.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines a soundscape as: “a work of art or performance that combines sounds in order to create a particular effect”.
More than just background music, the term soundscape refers to the combination of sound effects, voiceovers and musical effects used in a game. For example, in an online casino background noises could include roulette wheels spinning, chips being clicked together and the hubbub of conversation, with the addition of in-game cues such as chimes and jingles representative of wins or near misses, all set against a backdrop of music relating to the game’s theme.
Sound helps to create an immersive environment that stimulates players’ senses and can change how they respond to the situation. Research has shown that people will spend longer playing games with music, as music improves concentration and focus, particularly with repetitive tasks.
Music is used in a wide variety of contexts to elicit emotional responses – from films and sporting events to religious ceremonies and meditation. Pleasant melodies and soothing sounds can promote relaxation and a sense of well-being, while exciting and dramatic sounds can generate excitement.
This emotional response to music is caused by the brain releasing dopamine – a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and emotions. In 2019, Psychology Today2 reported on how in-game sounds also trigger dopamine release, creating a sense of pleasure and anticipation.
Intelligent use of sound effects can enhance these positive emotions, intensify the gaming experience.
Using this knowledge of the power of music and sound effects to affect players’ emotions, it is possible to structure the soundscape of an online casino to enhance the gaming experience.
To create an energetic environment and build player excitement, up-tempo music is commonly used. This is often seen in fast-paced games that require quick decision-making, notably roulette and slots machines.
Dopamine release is based around a system of anticipation and rewards, and sound effects play an important role in building anticipation. By signalling audibly to players that a reward is imminent (with a literal drumroll or an equivalent effect), online casinos can increase user enjoyment and engagement.
Virtual casinos often use soothing and relaxing music to create a calm, peaceful atmosphere. This music is commonly seen in games that require focus and elevated concentration levels, like blackjack and poker. As well as improving concentration and focus, a soothing, relaxing soundscape can help reduce players’ stress and anxiety levels.
As well as influencing mood, soundscapes can also affect player behaviour. For example, the music played on a casino home page may have an impact on which game a player may choose to play. Music may also cause players to enter what is known as the “flow state” – where they lose track of time and become immersed in a game.
Furthermore, according to The Hype Magazine, “creating a pleasant and engaging sound environment … can provide a sense of familiarity and belonging, which can lead to long-term player retention.”
Therefore, when designing sound for online casinos, operators must balance out excitement and relaxation, to ensure that players feel engaged but also willing to continue playing for extended periods. In terms of actual design, soundscapes may mimic the background noises of real-life casinos or create an immersive experience by matching the theme of a game. One example of this is games set in Ancient Egypt, which often make use of Middle Eastern harmonies and traditional instruments like the oud or the ney.
Games that stand out for their high-quality design include “Mega Moolah” by Microgaming. A progressive jackpot game set in an African safari. The impressive design theme and immersive music and sound effects transport players to the savannah, adding to the in-game excitement.
“Gonzo’s Quest” by NetEnt uses a different approach, moving away from realistic sound effects. This popular slot game uses its unique sound design to create a sense of adventure. As the reels spin, players hear the sounds of falling stones, taking them along on their quest for success
It is important to acknowledge the ethical considerations surrounding sound design in online casino games. The potential for emotional manipulation through sound design has raised concerns relating to responsible gaming.
Game developers and operators have a responsibility to ensure ethical practices through transparency and customisation, the inclusion of Responsible Gaming features and ongoing research.
One way to ensure this is by using casino software solutions that include as a default clear information to users about how sound can affect player behaviour and the option to adjust settings to provide an individual gaming experience. Responsible Gaming features include encouraging players to take regular breaks and enabling them to set betting limits in order to limit the potential harms of gambling addiction.
There are also legal requirements to consider, such as rules regarding volume levels, restrictions on the use of certain sounds and regulations governing how gambling is advertised and to whom.
The online environment is a global one, and with products being marketed internationally, developers also need to research the impact of their sound design on different audiences.
Not every tune or sound resonates the same way across cultures, in the same way that the colour red symbolises danger in many European cultures but is indicative of luck in China and some other Asian countries.
The use of 3D audio, where audio moves in a three-dimensional space, providing an even more immersive experience, and virtual-reality technologies opens up new possibilities to immerse players even deeper into the casino experience. Sound will no longer be a mere accessory but an integral part of the holistic gaming experience
According to Bounce Magazine, “artificial intelligence and machine learning are starting to be employed to tailor the auditory experience to individual players, creating a personalised soundtrack that evolves with the game … Imagine a gaming environment where the music ebbs and flows in sync with your gameplay, creating an auditory experience that is completely dynamic and interactive.” 2
We have seen that sound is an incredibly powerful tool that should not be underestimated or overlooked when designing your online casino. The right soundscapes can increase player immersion and retention, creating an emotional link to the games being played. They can also trigger memory and positive associations through the release of dopamine.
Because of the potential power of sound, its use should be carefully managed as part of Responsible Gaming plans. Looking towards the future, we can see how sound design will continue to evolve hand in hand with technological advancement to create a truly immersive, personalised player experience.