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An Unlikely Crossover: How the Music Industry Has Shaped Online Gaming

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Go to any online game and, next to the flashing lights and animation, you’ll encounter another scene-setter, one that’s even more crucial in keeping you there for longer and playing longer. It is, of course — music.

From roulette to adventure games, sound design in online gaming has become an important tool to manipulate your mood, enhance engagement, and create the perfect atmosphere. This piece explores the psychology of music in online gaming, particularly the ways in which online gambling sites use carefully composed songs to keep you in front of your screen and invested in the game for longer.

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The Power of Upbeat: Keeping You Engaged and Energized

Try to picture a silent casino. Strangely devoid of life, isn’t it? Fast upbeat music is one of the most vital components of games in online casinos. It ensures that the virtual environment remains animated by bringing an energetic mood to the tables, and consequently keeps players more invested in the game. Research has demonstrated that fast positive beats prompt the release of dopamine more than slower music, with dopamine being a neurotransmitter tied to motivation and reward. The faster we hear the music, the more dopamine we release, the more alert we become, and the more we’re inclined to keep on playing.

Consider a game of roulette, the music that often accompanies this game often has a driving rhythm with bright chords and uplifting melodies. This sonic energy complements the visual energy of the spinning wheel in roulette online as the ball finds its finishing point, creating what game designers refer to as a ‘flow’ that keeps the player engaged until, ideally, that big win lands.

Unlike some online games, casino games are trying to recreate a real-world experience so need to base the sound design on what people are expecting to hear. Because of this, they’ll need to take the usual casino sounds that people are used to, and then add their own creative spin on them too. This can be a slightly harder task than a sound designer working on a fantasy game where they can be as creative as they want with the sound.

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Sound Effects: The Language of Wins and Losses

Beyond the soundtrack, online casinos specialise in high-level auditory effects. Most of these consist of short, sharp snippets of sound that, when repeatedly exposed to, encourage certain emotional responses. It’s a tactic of psychological ‘priming’ that begins as soon as you enter the virtual casino. Just listen to how the backing music immediately drops out as you click through the lobby and enter a game.

On the flip side, hard-earned good fortune is accompanied by prominent sound effects such as fanfare, while losses usually have muffled sounds like a soft thud or sigh. Seemingly counterintuitively, sound usually works via indirect, subtle impact. A jarring hard loss might frustrate a customer, who will in the worst case give up and quit mid-session. With longer-term engagements, such as roulette, subtlety enables the game to interact with the user in a way that allows them to take losses, process them, and even re-engage.

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The Science Behind Sound Design

The psychology of music has always been a huge topic in the music industry – it’s why pop music from your favorite pop divas always has that similar tone that makes it super catchy and easy to sing along with.

The same ideas are also being applied to online games. Although this is a much larger topic to talk about, here are some of the main factors that a sound designer will be thinking about when they are coming up with the music for a game.

Tempo: Faster tempos can increase arousal and excitement, ideal for games with quick wins and repetitive motions.

Key: Major keys are generally perceived as happier and more uplifting, while minor keys can create a sense of mystery or suspense.

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Volume: Fluctuations in volume can heighten anticipation during gameplay, with louder music accompanying wins and quieter music being used in moments when a player needs to be able to focus 100%.

Understanding these principles is especially important, but you also need to consider them in the context of the game you are designing. The music is not just about creating a nice atmosphere for the players, it should also subtly influence player behavior and keep them engaged for as long as possible.

Conclusion: The Symphony of Online Gaming

Whether it’s upbeat rhythms to keep you mentally busy or sound effects delivered at precisely the right moment to elicit a desired emotional response, music is an integral element of a game's design in creating an immersive online gambling experience. The more players appreciate how music is being used, the more they are able to exercise control over it.

Next time you log on to an online casino, listen to its soundtrack. It’s pretty interesting to think about how it’s been designed to keep you seated and, hopefully, winning.


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