Harry Ashton, Director – Government Relations at Aristocrat, discusses the company’s initiatives when it comes to Responsible Gameplay.
Ben Blaschke: Can you explain the importance of responsible gaming and how Aristocrat sees its role in promoting such a concept?
Harry Ashton: Promoting responsible gameplay is one of Aristocrat’s most fundamental obligations. It’s a major way that we deliver on our mission of bringing joy to life through the power of play and express our values. We believe it’s also key to ensuring we can continue to grow our business and promote a sustainable games industry that’s welcome in the community.
BB: We notice that Aristocrat specifically refers to responsible gaming as responsible gameplay. What is the idea behind this?
HA: Well over a third of Aristocrat’s Group revenue last financial year was derived from non-gambling digital games. We use the term “responsible gameplay” as our commitments apply to the whole of our business and to everything we do.
BB: What are Aristocrat’s “three pillars” of responsible gameplay?
HA: Our philosophy is to act in three ways, by complying with the rules, empowering players and improving over time.
Whether that’s about data protection, privacy and platform rules in the digital sphere, or licensing and game regulations in our land-based business, Aristocrat works hard to comply with the rules. Aristocrat also designs products in line with our values. Our games are designed to offer great entertainment experiences to a broad range of players, and to meet any and all requirements from a design and functionality perspective.
Across our portfolio, we’re also doing more to educate and empower, because we believe player choice and empowerment is fundamental to satisfied customers and a vibrant business and industry. This includes delivering more internal staff training, providing players with clear information on the way our games work, investing in developing and trialing responsible gameplay features with the support of our customers and providing options that give more choice and information to players.
Finally, we’re also committed to improving over time. Through our membership of key industry associations (including the American Gaming Association, the Australasian Gaming Council, the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers and the International Social Games Association), we encourage our industry to be open and proactive in responding to community concerns about responsible gameplay. We also advocate and adopt best practice standards in our own business. Plus we invest in responsible gameplay product innovation and we also contribute financially to research done by the likes of the University of Sydney Gambling Research and Treatment Clinic and the US National Council on Responsible Gambling.
BB: What sort of employee training does Aristocrat invest in regarding RG?
HA: Our mandatory staff training will launch later this year. It’s based around a series of engaging videos and includes questions to ensure people absorb the content. Everyone will be required to do the training, including the CEO and leadership group.
BB: How far has the science behind responsible gaming come over the past, say, 10 years (or longer)?
HA: We don’t profess to be experts in the “science behind responsible gaming” but we do try to stay across developments in this space through subscriptions and attending conferences such as the National Association of Gambling Studies Conference in Australia. It’s a complicated and continuously evolving area.
We’ve also sought to understand these issues by spending time with academic institutions such as the Sydney University Brain and Mind Centre and the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV).
One area that we’ve noticed over the past 10 years is that there has been a gradual shift towards gambling being looked at through a “public health” lens. Instead of focusing attention on treating those impacted by excessive gambling the public health approach also aims to look at prevention and promoting wellbeing.
We believe that industry has an important role to play in promoting responsible gameplay, even under the public health model. We’re doing this by promoting player education, empowerment and choice via our responsible gameplay program.
BB: What sort of interaction does Aristocrat have with its venues in terms of developing or implementing effective RG programs?
HA: Aristocrat works through our industry associations, collaborates with peak bodies and engages with our customers and venues where relevant. Obviously, in the land-based world, our customers are critical stakeholders and often we will seek their guidance before implementing RG measures.
BB: In Aristocrat’s sustainability report the company discusses the importance of responsible game and product design? Can you explain how this works in practice?
HA: We believe that our approach to responsible gameplay should apply to everything we do – including game design. That’s why we’ve rolled out a Product Development Charter to our creative teams across the business. Essentially, every employee who is involved in the game design process must read and acknowledge the Product Development Charter, and agree to uphold it.
The Product Development Charter gives high level guidance to our teams to ensure that everything we make reflects our responsible gameplay commitments.
Our aim is to ensure the Product Development Charter keeps pace with the legitimate expectations of our stakeholders. The Charter also reflects our own aspirations to lead – and go “beyond compliance” – in promoting responsible gameplay.
BB: Aristocrat recently developed a player information video for players. What was the reasoning behind this?
HA: As I mentioned, empowering players with information is a key feature of our responsible gameplay approach. We’re making a series of videos that bust myths and provide information about the way that our gambling games work to help people make informed choices about their gameplay.
BB: You mention busting common myths surrounding the functionality of Aristocrat’s gaming machine. What are some of these myths?
HA: The first video aims to dispel myths around the odds of winning a jackpot. The second explains the concept of the “return to player” or “RTP” which is sometimes misunderstood. We’re working on a third video currently that will seek to explain wins that are less than the amount bet, and we’re planning on releasing more over time.
BB: Implementing RG initiatives is one thing, but how do you go about analyzing the effectiveness of these programs?
HA: The expectations of stakeholders and communities will continue to evolve, and our job is to listen and learn and evolve our own efforts accordingly. We won’t ever tick RG off the list and consider it “done” – it’s very much a live dialogue and something we consider to be core to our values and sustainability.