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Ethical Gambling App Case Study

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 the harm caused by gambling.

I, as an intern of a fictional UX agency, DiamondWater, have been brought in 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
* Note that this project formed part of my assessment for my studies at RMIT, and is not a commercial project.

Problem

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 experience 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 to the users.

By doing the above, they want to be able to competitively differentiate themselves in the market.

Solution

Desktop Research

First, 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.

Additionally, I wanted to contrast the user experience of these actions with the user experience of actions that could be considered less desirable from the gambling provider's perspective.

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

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

I also wrote and distributed an online, anonymous survey amongst my network and my work colleagues; however, I couldn't gain traction with this most likely due to the sensitive nature of the information shared (link).

Affinity Mapping

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 winnings made with these bonuses, you must deposit a significant amount first.
  • It can be much faster to deposit money than to withdraw it.
  • Promotions are used as an incentive to lure users in, but if these users apply too many promotions within a timeframe (not disclosed) their account will be suspended.
  • Apps streamline the process of placing a bet, whether that be by automatically depositing the difference required, or removing the bid confirmation prompt.

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

  1. Some actions are encouraged over others.
  2. Users are kept in the dark about the bigger picture.
  3. Positive language conceals risk of harm to user.

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 this up with another bet.
  • 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, rather than being visible when the bet is made.
  • There is a very positive bias to these gambling apps. Even though it is a legislative requirement to display prominent gambling warnings, these are clearly overshadowed by promotions, and misleading phrases such as 'take on the fun', and 'you're a winner'.

Personas

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

The most straightforward Job 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 be reframed as follows:

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

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

I looked at what the research was telling me and what I understood of problem gambling and developed the following (proto) Persona.

User Journeys

What does 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.

So, 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. Users are kept in the dark about the bigger 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 to user.
    • Odds look good.. but are they really?

Ideation

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

At this stage, we can start to generate some ideas that might help to reduce the more problematic aspects of the user experience.

When performing the ideation, I set my timer for 8 minutes, coming up with 8 ideas in this time (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 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 thinking behind this approach is to firstly, come up with lots of ideas in a short amount of time, and secondly, generate ideas varying in their scope and viability.

These ideas were then assessed and prioritised in terms of how 'good' they felt to me. Would they solve a genuine user problem? Could I say with confidence that these ideas could be implemented by engineering and/or 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' by visually colour coding their avatar according to the number of bets placed, amounts bet, 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).

Presentation and High-level Concepts

Taking a break now and then
Gambling health (avatar)
Tell the user how much they've bet in the last month
Probability of winning in real world terms
I presented these ideas as though it were a promotion for Ballsbet itself. I also carried a persona, named 'George' through the narrative, tying him back into key events. This was done to make the entire presentation feel aspirational, as well as giving it a personal touch and demonstrating empathy with affected users.

Results

The tangible outcome for Ballsbet was a set of concepts they could discuss and pull apart internally, and potentially evaluate and test with their users. The greater outcome it could be argued was a deeper understanding of the current state of UX within the Australian gambling industry, and how this potentially 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 in a meaningful and ethical way from its peers.

And what would I do differently next time? Qualitative data emerging out of the gambling app survey could have led to significant additional insights, thus strengthening the outcomes of the research.