Why Are Registration Forms on Gaming Sites So Poor?

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In my first post on optimising gambling sites I covered the psychology behind using bonuses as an acquisition tool. In this post you will learn about the challenges of optimising account creation and registration forms.

Regulation Forms and Account Creation:

Registration forms for gambling sites are mandatory to ensure players meet minimum age and to avoid money laundering and fraud. Gambling is very different from one country to another, the registration process is neither a uniform or a simple process for most customers.

In countries such as Spain and Italy the content of the sign up form is practically prescribed by the regulators and the customer has to provide their ID number to verify their identify. This does present certain challenges, but as with any form, friction can be reduced through evaluating web form design best practices. This includes data capture strategies (e.g. auto-population of fields according previously completed field) and eliminating non-mandatory fields.

For this post I concentrate on the UK market as it is one the most competitive and innovative markets in the world. Regulation of the online gambling market in the UK is also less prescriptive and so there is plenty of scope to improve the account creation process.

What is the user’s goal?

Most sites and apps have two or three step registration forms such as those shown below from Betfair and Leo Vegas. As you can see these can be long and complex forms. Rather than focusing on the user’s goal of account creation, registration forms are from the brand’s perspective. They try to encourage or force customers to make a first-time deposit before customers can check out the product.

Standard registration form for account creation

Image Source: Betfair.com and LeoVegas.com

The danger here is that many users may not be in the right frame of mind to complete two tasks. They might just want to create an account so that they can first check out the games or the design of the user interface for poker games before committing to making a deposit.

By asking for so much information to create an account there is a danger that users may feel the site is making too many assumptions about why they want to create an account. They may not yet trust the brand enough to provide so much personal information. This approach to registration forms could significantly reduce your conversion rate.

A better strategy

Allow users to create an account with minimal information and then give them the option to make a deposit. This requires much less personal information for account creation. Most of this only needs to be collected when the customer wants to make a first-time deposit and become a real-money player.

Amazingly very few brands use this approach. This could be because the majority of people like to follow the herd. It’s safer and technically easier as most back end systems have been set up this way. When you suggest this approach you either get told by Compliance that it would not be allowed or developers come up with a multitude of reasons why it would be difficult to implement. Basically, it would be hard work!

Pokerstars.com simplified registration form

Image Source: PokerStars.com

Poker Stars does use this approach and are market leaders for online poker. They have reduced the number of questions to just five fields compared to well over 10 fields. They have further simplified the process by dedicating each screen of the sign up process to a single question. This works because people prefer to focus on one task at a time. We are generally crap at multitasking. Usability studies by the UK government’s user research team also found this was the preferred option.

Username causes friction:

For many gambling sites a username rather than an email address is required for account creation due to legacy systems. However, the setting up of a username makes little sense in casino and sports sites where there is no direct competition between players. Even for poker and bingo sites this could be set after account creation to reduce friction in the registration process.

Apart from the issue of forgetting your username, the main concern here is the “Username already in use” error message that many players will see because their preferred option is already taken. This can be a serious pain point for established brands where most common usernames are already in use. Letting customers sign in with their email address rather than having to enter a username would eliminate this problem.

Image of username already taken error message

Image Source: PokerStars.com

If your brand forces customers to set a username ensure your registration forms automatically suggest alternative usernames when a player gets the error message. Some brands have thought about automatically allocating a username to allow customers to sign-up with their email address. However, I’m not aware of any company to successfully implement this solution. It could create other IT and security issues.

Set a cookie to remember a player’s username in the login screen for existing customers. Customers often have different usernames for each of the sites they sign up on.

Bonus Codes Cause Form Abandonment:

Many gambling brands persist with including a bonus code in their registration forms. These just encourage customers to go looking for a code if they don’t have one already. If you are going to have a bonus code field make sure it is pre-filled so that users understand they will automatically get a bonus. Otherwise remove the field and inform customers that a bonus will be applied automatically.

Image of bonus code field on registration form

Image Source: WilliamHillc.com

Observation is better than asking questions:

Web form design best practices can help identify many ways to improve the conversion rate of your registration forms. Best practice doesn’t always work because each site is unique and context is extremely important. Instead you should consider regularly conducting face-to-face usability research or you can use remote user testing tools if you prefer. Ensure you observe how people interact with the user interface rather than asking direct questions which force people to post-rationalise their behaviour.

If you are designing a totally new form then you could consider a Google 5 day design sprint to allow for rapid prototyping and user testing. This allows you to bring together a group of experts and stakeholders to develop and test a form within 5 working days.

Form Analytics:

Form analytics provide detailed metrics on how users interact with your form. A good form analytics solution will measure how long it takes users to complete each field, which fields they miss, when they do or do not use auto-complete and which fields correspond with form abandonment. Zuko is a dedicated form analytics tool and is highly regarded by many conversion rate optimisation consultants. Most other products are add-ons to web analytics software.

Form analytics case study from Formisimo for Capital One

Image Source: Formisimo.com

The chart above tracks the form completion rate for Capital One’s Credit QuickCheck form over a five-month period. Point (1) shows the start of the project, (2) is the first stage of changes and (3) is a further round of changes. Over the 5-month period the conversion rate of the form increased by 24.4%.

Experiment and Experiment:

If your registration forms have sufficient traffic you should integrate an appropriate A/B testing tool. These allow you to change elements of your form design without having to build a new form and then test it using a controlled experiment. Often this involves making a single change at a time to see what impact this has on conversion. However, sometimes you may need to fix multiple problems to prevent obvious defects over-powering small improvements.

Image of A/B test for mobile form on partypoker.com

Image Source: partypoker.com

With this partypoker registration form there were many different problems including the field labels being used as placeholder text, no brand logo, ambiguous call-to-action text and repeated fields. By fixing all these problems at one time (see Variant) we hoped for a more substantial improvement in form completion. Indeed, we saw a 6% uplift in the form conversion rate. You can always go back and test removing individual changes to measure if they had a positive impact on conversion. At least you will have made a significant improvement with your first test.


Following the herd is not always the best way to arrive at a decision. For gambling sites this has prevented the application of user-centred design in an important area of customer acquisition. Companies are too heavily influenced by internal systems and what their competitors are doing rather than looking at the account opening process from the customer’s perspective. To optimise conversion it’s important to keep an open mind and use data and experiments to inform decisions about the design of your registration form.

The Psychology of Pokemon Go

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Learn the psychological secrets of Pokemon Go’s success!

In just two weeks Pokemon Go, the augmented reality smartphone game designed by Niantic, achieved over 21 million active users in the US, more than Candy Crush did at its peak. The game’s popularity has quickly spread in other countries and it is now becoming a global phenomenon. So, why did Pokemon Go become a such an instant success? What are the psychological buttons that it pressed to create so many users?

1. Nostalgia from a childhood brand:

Pokemon is a brand that has grown across multiple entertainment categories for over 20 years. This provided Pokemon with the opportunity to target an existing and passionate audience of players who grew up in the 1990’s and wanted to indulge in an old obsession. This instantly helped Pokemon Go establish itself on a new platform (smartphones and tablets) and created the conditions for the game to spread through social networks to a more diverse and younger audiences.

Image of implicit goals
Source: Decode Marketing

The desire for adventure and escapism is just one of a number of implicit psychological goals that motivate brand choice. Using the latest research from psychology and neuroscience marketing consultant Phil Barden has identified 6 key psychological goals that brands can be perceived to meet. The extent to which people perceive that a brand will fully meet certain psychological goals that they find compelling will help determine which one they choose.

Image of Pokemon Go in App store
Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc, iOS App Store

Leverage brand equity by targeting existing engaged customers to give you a head start to building your app store presence. Ensure brand communications target appropriate psychological goals that can help generate a strong emotional response to your game or product.

2. Herd mentality:

As social beings our decisions are heavily influenced by what we think other people around us are doing. When in a new or uncertain situation we naturally look to see what other people are doing as a guide to desired behaviour. Pokemon Go benefited from copy-cat behaviour as our herd instincts assisted the spread of the awareness and adoption of the game through our social networks. Once the number of downloads gave Pokemon Go entry into the download charts this would have further boosted its desirability among trend seekers or gamers unsure about the nature of the game.

Top iOS apps in USA for 23rd July 2016
Source: App Annie top iOS apps in USA for 23rd July 2016

Using social proof and encouraging people to interact with your brand across offline and online social networks is a powerful influence on success or failure. How people interact with each other and what they do with your product or idea will determine the nature of your brand. Not what you set out in your brand guidelines.

3. Novelty gets attention:

Our brains are hard-wired to be wary of change. The blending of the real world with the digital world of augmented reality brings fantasy into the game experience in a seamless and engaging manner. This creates a novel user experience that attracts attention. Novelty is a powerful psychological trigger for stimulating our brain. Although augmented reality has been around for a number years, Pokémon Go cleverly integrates it with a real-world game that also activates user’s curiosity.

Image of Pokemon Go Drowzee

Use novelty to grab attention and create curiosity about your brand.

4. We desire control:

The design of Pokémon Go means that players have a good chance of intercepting a monster where ever they travel. There is no necessity to head for a Pokestop or Gym if it doesn’t fit in with the user’s plans. Monsters often pop-up randomly as players go on their daily business.

Pokémon Go allows players to remain in control. It is up to the user to decide how much effort they want to put into the game. This is important from a psychological perspective. Autonomy is one of three basic drivers of human behaviour identified by psychologist Daniel Pink that make people happy and engaged in activities.

Image of Pokemon Go with Venonat showing

Autonomy and our desire to act with choice is something people naturally seek. Psychologists believe that it improves our lives. Where possible always offer people choice as we dislike doors being shut or forced down a particular path.

5. Mastery :

Pokemon Go uses achievements to reward players for progressing through the levels of the game. People love to obtain a high degree of competency in activities they undertake. But can easily get frustrated and abandon a game if a task is not realistically achievable. On the other hand if it is too easy to complete players can lose interest in the game. Pokemon Go achieves a balance by setting a low degree of initial difficulty for new players. Using a distance/time barrier to ensure it takes some physical effort to discover more creatures.


Ensure challenges and tasks are realistically achievable, but not so easy that players lose interest. Mastery is one of our most powerful and intrinsic motivators which drives our passion for achievement.

Pokemon medal for 10 normal Pokemon
Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

6. Variable ratio schedule reward model:

In the 1950’s the American psychologist B.F. Skinner conducted experiments to understand how people respond to different reward schedules. He discovered that a variable ratio schedule, where the reward is based upon the number of times the task is undertaken. But the timing is randomised to make it unpredictable, is the best method for encouraging repetitive behaviour. This type of schedule encourages people to complete the behaviour over and over again as they are uncertain when the next reward will be received. It is also resistant to extinction by its very nature and can make some behaviour addictive.


Link rewards to the frequency of the behaviour, but use a variable ratio schedule to make the timing of the reward unpredictable.

Pokemon Go level up 4
Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

7. Use classical conditioning to obtain an automatic response:

When a user walks near a Pokemon, gym or Pokestop, their smartphone gives an audible buzz. As the players is then rewarded with a new Pokemon or other creature. This sound becomes associated with the forthcoming reward in the same way that Pavlov’s dog would salivate at the sound of a bell. Classical conditioning creates automatic behaviours by paring a stimulus (a sound) with a response (search for monster nearby).


Use audible sounds, smells or movement to create automatic behaviours through classical conditioning by pairing a stimulus with a response. Once users react in a certain way, you may pair another stimulus to the desired behaviour and create a new automatic response.

Image of Pokemon Zubat before capture
Source: Pokemon iOS app

8. We are all social beings at heart:

Unlike most apps, Pokemon Go provides the opportunity to meet new people. It requires you to visit local landmarks and walk to places nearby to find Pokémon’s. As human beings we are hard wired to connect and interact with other people. Indeed, social isolation and loneliness are harmful to our long term health and can trigger depression. Playing Pokemon Go therefore benefits are psychological health by creating opportunities for gamer’s to meet and interact with other people.

Image of Pokemon Go gym

Allow people to share or interact with other people as this is an important human characteristic with many benefits for the individuals concerned.

9. We benefit psychologically from walking:

There is increasing evidence to suggest a sedentary lifestyle is harmful to our health. Walking is beneficial from both a psychological and physical perspective. We have an innate desire to get outside and research suggests that walking can reduce depression and our risk of diseases such as diabetes.


Creating a game or product that requires or encourages physical exercise has health benefits for the customer. It can create natural breaks in product usage which improves attention and engagement.

Image of Pokemon Go map
Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

10. Good timing:

Launching the game in the summer and just at the start of the holiday season meant that people are already primed and ready to go outside and explore. We are naturally drawn to sunlight because it increases the amount of vitamin D in our bodies which can help prevent cancer and improves our alertness and mental performance.


Always consider timing and how it may influence usage to give your product or campaign the best chance of success. Research your audience to identify key factors influencing adoption or likelihood to view your content.

Image of Pokemon Rattata outside Pets at Home store
Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

11. Easy equals true:

The app is so simple and intuitive to use that it does not require any detailed instructions or much practice to become competent. This means there is little friction associated with getting started and this minimises cognitive load which encourages continued engagement with the app. Many apps are so poorly designed that they require extensive onboarding instructions and navigation aids. Such complexity can cause cognitive strain and frustration which often leads to apps being abandoned.


If your user interface requires detailed instructions or navigation aids to allow users to learn how to use it you have failed. Keep user interface designs simple and intuitive.

Image of Pokemon Gym description
Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

12. Piggy back on existing habits:

People are creatures of habit and so adoption is much easier if you can piggy back off an existing habit rather than having to create a new habit. Most smartphone users take their devices with them as they go for a walk or travel to the office or the shops. Pokemon Go was therefore able to benefit from habitual behaviour which assisted take-up of the game.


Where possible identify existing habits that your product or campaign can benefit from rather than trying to create a new behaviour.

Image of Pokemon Horsea creature
Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

13. The power of free:

We are attracted by free apps because people are inherently afraid of loss and free is a powerful motivator because we don’t like to miss out on a bargain. Further, allowing users to play for free minimises the perceived risk of signing up to Pokemon Go because there is no monetary cost to the player if they subsequently find they don’t enjoy the game.

In addition, even partial ownership (e.g. a free trial) tends to make people more attached to what they have and make them focus on what they could lose rather what they may gain. This is why free trials offered by the likes of Spotify and Netflix are so successful.

Pokemon Go generates revenues by players purchasing virtual coins to exchange for items such as Pokeballs to capture monsters. Once players have moved up a number of levels they may also want to pay to store, hatch, train (in the gym) and battle opponents. Companies also have the ability to sponsor locations to attract players to a real location.


Ownership changes are our perception of things and our aversion to loss makes it more difficult to give up things that we have. For non-fremium apps, offer a free trial to give users ownership and allow them to check out the user experience. To monetise a free app allow players to buy in-app currency to spend on digital goods or enter competitions.

Image of loading screen for Pokemon Go
Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

What should we take out from Pokémon Go’s success?

Good marketing planning and having the right partners for a venture certainly help. Although we may not be lucky enough to have a global brand that has 20 years of heritage behind it, we can still be careful to create a compelling proposition and ensure that implementation is not rushed. What Pokémon Go does show is that if you can align your marketing with human psychology you will benefit from important drivers of consumer behaviour.