Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Consumer Sovereignty

Reading "Neither TiVo nor the Xbox nor your Wi-Fi-ed laptop is remaking American culture the way this thing is ... Bet on it ... The Tug of Newfangled Slot Machines" by Gary Rivlin made me accept the premise. Slot machine revenues are way beyond porn's and bigger than McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King and Starbuck's combined.

These are the new high-tech kind, enhanced with specially made video entertainment clips (Dick Clark's is big), programmable to dribble out winnings at an optimal rate to keep players playing even as they slowly lose -- and with a stylized old-slots look, complete with wheels, beeps and chimes that maintains the "feel" that players like. Rivlin's piece suggests that these devices have the same hold on the beyond-60s set that video games have on younger people.

"The makers of slot machines may rely on the lure of life-changing jackpots to attract customers but the machines' ability to hook so deeply into a player's cerebral cortex derives from the more powerful human feedback mechanisms, a phenomenon behavioral scientists call infrequent random enforcement, or 'intermittent reward' ... 'The slot machine is brilliantly designed from a behavioral psychology perspective,' says Nancy Perry, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine ..."

Rivlin's coverage mentions no cognitive scientists among the creators. There is a mathematician that helps to fine tune the odds but the creative side is all industry types. They somehow get it right without PhDs. It's their business and that's what profit-inspired competition routinely does.

I simply must compare all this to the white elephants alluded to in yesterday's blog which are failures because their creators have no clue about what people want. How can they? No competition, no profit and only specialized knowledge of what people should want.