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Ethical Gambling

Overview

Problem gambling can occur due to how the mobile gambling apps are designed, particularly with respect to how they exploit their users.
The fictional client, Ballsbet, wants to develop a mobile betting app aiming to encourage fun but minimise harm caused by gambling.
I, as an intern of a fictional UX agency, DiamondWater, was brought on to pitch to Ballsbet about why the current state of UX for gambling apps in Australia is generally harmful to problem gamblers, and how we would propose to address this via a series of interventions within the Ballsbet mobile gambling app.
Duration
3 weeks
Role
UX Researcher/designer

Summary

  • This UX project for Ballsbet, an Australian sports betting business, aimed to create an ethical gambling app.
  • Research revealed that existing apps encourage harmful gambling behaviors and obscure the potential risks. This led to the proposal of several interventions, including break reminders, visual representation of gambling 'health', real-time feedback on betting, and realistic winning probabilities.
  • This project resulted in a set of concepts that Ballsbet could further evaluate and test.
  • The work also highlighted the need for more qualitative data in future research to provide deeper insights into user behaviour and needs.
  • The broader impact was the potential transformation of Ballsbet into a sustainable, ethical business that stands out from its competitors.

Intro

Ballsbet is an up-and-coming sports betting business operating out of Australia. They want to differentiate themselves from the overpopulated local gambling market by providing something different: an ethical gambling experience.
They already have a product that is very similar to the rest of the gambling apps in Australia. They want to determine how they can best serve a range of users by the app, but most importantly, those who suffer from gambling addiction.
The successful agency would need to demonstrate empathy and a good understanding of these types of users. They also need to understand that what may appear as good user experience may be masking harm for the users.
By doing the above, they want to be able to competitively differentiate themselves in the market.

My Approach

Initial Insights

Firstly, I looked at a range of betting apps on the Australian market. The primary purpose was to understand how these apps persuade their users to take certain actions.

  • Deposit money into their betting account.
  • Find promotions and other offers.
  • Find something to bet on.
  • Place a bet.

On the other side of this, was to contrast the user experience of these actions with the user experience of actions that could be considered less desirable from a gambling providers perspective.

  • Make a withdrawal on earnings.
  • Enable gambling controls.

I then looked at the users of these apps, trying to ascertain their experience of using these apps. I looked at comments against app reviews, and at videos on YouTube relating to the user experience of these apps.

A series of different reviews for gambling apps.

I also wrote and distributed an online, anonymous survey; however, I couldn’t gain traction with this most likely to the sensitive nature of the information shared (https://bit.ly/3NWA7jN).

Identifying Themes

I looked at the data coming out of the research. Some of the findings were:

  • Providers offer attractive sign-up deposit bonuses, but the terms and conditions state that to withdraw money from any bets made with these bonuses, you must deposit a significant amount first.
  • It can be much faster to deposit money than withdraw it.
  • Promotions are used as an incentive to users, but if they use too many promos within a timeframe (not disclosed) their account will be suspended.
  • Apps streamline the process of placing a bet, whether that be automatically depositing the difference required, or removing the bid confirmations.

As a result, I identified three main themes while using and researching the apps:

  1. Some actions are encouraged over others.
  2. Kept in the dark about the big picture.
  3. Positive language conceals risk of harm.

So, what is the potential harm, particularly for people with gambling addiction? Mapping this back to the themes identified:

  • If the intention is to make smaller bets to keep the gambling ‘under control’ it is very easy to make a bet, win or lose, then follow up straight away with another bet (and so on).
  • It is difficult to see the long-term behaviour and impact of gambling. Many apps do give you an overview of your gambling behaviour over the last 12 months, but it is hidden within the settings.
  • There is a very positive bias to these mobile apps. Even though it is a legislative requirement to display prominent gambling warnings, these are clearly overshadowed by promotions, and phrases such as ‘take on the fun’, and ‘you’re a winner’.
Screens from different mobile gambling apps.

Building on Themes

Now let’s relate this back to actual users. What are the Jobs to be Done, and what is the profile of a user affected by gambling addiction?

The most straight-forward Jobs to be Done for any user of any gambling app would be as follows:

I want to place a bet so that I can win some money.

For a problem gambler, this might even be reframed as:

I want to recapture the magic of when I first gambled, or

I want to win back all the money that I’ve lost.

These are actionable insights.

I looked at what the research was telling me and what I understood of problem gambling and developed the following persona. This gave me a frame of reference so that while coming up with approaches I would better understand their viability. It also allowed me to more concretely empathise with the user.

A persona of George, problem gambler, showing his actions, motivations, and pains, as well as values and context

So, what might the journey of this user look like? What are the pain points and the delights of these users?

Making an evaluation of the user journey allows us to consider where interventions may help.    

Now, what have we determined?

Relating back to the themes:

  1. Some actions are encouraged over others.
    • Is there a way to slow down the next bet?
  2. Kept in the dark about the big picture.
    • Could we give the user some feedback on their overall gambling behaviour?
    • Does the user understand the impacts of their behaviour?
  3. Positive language conceals risk of harm.
    • Odds look good… but are they really?
A user journey for making a bet in a mobile gambling app

Building Ideas

We have considered the user and the journey they take through the app. We’ve identified some key findings out of this and performing research on the app and its users.

At this stage, we can start to perform some idea generation that might help to reduce the more problematic elements of the user experience.

When I performed the ideation, I set my timer for 8 minutes and came up with 8 ideas (Crazy 8’s). Doing this 3 times meant I had 24 different ideas of varying quality. These ideas were then mapped to 4 different quadrants depending on whether they were Abstract/Concrete concepts or Detailed/Big picture concepts (or somewhere in between).

I then ran another round of ideation to see if I could generate more ideas for those quadrants that didn’t have many ideas represented.

The idea behind this approach was to firstly, come up with lots of ideas in a short amount of time, and secondly, generate ideas that varied in terms of their scope and their viability.

These ideas were then prioritised based on basically how ‘good’ they felt. Would they solve a genuine user problem? Could I say with confidence that these ideas could be implemented by engineering/design? Would the implementation of these ideas lead to business growth?

  1. Remind the user to take breaks now and then. (Relates to theme 1)
  2. Show user their overall gambling health visually by colour coding their avatar (or similar) according to number of bets placed, betting amounts, duration and frequency of betting sessions, and so on. (Relates to theme 2)
  3. Give the user real-time feedback of how much they’ve bet in (say) the last month. (Relates to theme 2)
  4. Show probability of winning in real world terms and with humour. (Relates to theme 3)
Ideation across four quadrants: detailed versus big picture, and abstract versus concrete

Sharing Concepts

Armed with these findings and these concepts, I presented these ideas back to the Ballsbet founders and design team. The following concept mock ups were created to clearly communicate the ideas I had.

A series of mobile app mockups showing different high level concepts for gambling interventions

I presented these ideas as though they were being presented by Ballsbet themselves, and a persona, identified as ‘George’, was brought in throughout the narrative. This was done to make the entire presentation seem aspirational, and to demonstrate that I had a solid grasp of the types of users best served by the concepts identified.

Results and Reflection

The tangible outcome for the client, Ballsbet, was a set of concepts that they would discuss internally and potentially test against their users. The greater outcome perhaps, was a better understanding of the current state of UX within the gambling industry and how this harms a vulnerable demographic. By performing this analysis, we have taken steps to empathise with these users and ideate interventions that have the power to transform Ballsbet into a sustainable long-term business that differentiates itself from its peers.

What would I do differently next time? I would try harder to get the survey in the hands of actual users. I truly believe this would have greatly supported the narrative, by providing further qualitative data about users.