As someone who grew up with Sega’s games and characters on its Master System and Mega Drive consoles – and whose first job in games journalism was on the UK’s Official Dreamcast Magazine – I have a lot of affection for the company. It’s also been fun recently introducing some of those games to my children: for example last year’s marvellous Sonic Mania on the Switch.
I heart Sega, then. But man oh man, do I not heart its new mobile game Sega Slots, which was released globally for iOS and for Android this week. I’ll try to explain why, and you can tell me if I’m being unfair or seeing problems where they don’t exist.
Start with the official blurb:
“Sega Slots gives you a chance to relive your favourite Sega games with exciting, real-world casino slot machines on your mobile device. Featuring all the Sega classics reimagined as Vegas style slots! Help Sonic rescue his friends and earn huge payouts along the way in Sonic Slots, or join your friends in Monkey Ball Slots for big banana jackpots!”
This is a ‘social casino’ game. What does that mean? It’s not ‘real money gaming’ – full gambling – because you can’t win real money. That’s made clear in a disclaimer published in its app store listing:
It’s important to note that while you can’t win real money or prizes, you can spend real money, via in-app purchases. The game uses two currencies: coins and gems. On iOS, you can spend up to £48.99 at a time on coins, and up to £99.99 at a time on gems:
According to the Google Play store, the Android version of the game’s maximum in-app purchase is £179.99:
To me, the idea of a slot-machines game where you can spend real money but can’t win it seems bizarre, but Sega didn’t invent the idea: back in the day, Zynga Poker was a hugely popular game with exactly the same idea. If an adult is happy to play such a game – and their spending doesn’t lurch into problematic territory – that’s up to them.
What’s strange for me, though, is that Sega Slots is age-rated 12 on both Apple and Google’s app stores, using the PEGI system that we have here in Europe:
When you actually download and start the game, it asks you your age, and if you say you’re under 18, it tells you you’re not allowed to play:
(At this point, you can simply delete the age you entered first, set it to something 18 or higher, and you’re let in, although if you type an under-18 age for a second time, the app locks you out permanently. Unless you delete the app then re-download it.)
I’m not even sure that it’s Sega I’m feeling cross at about all this. Like me, many fans with fond memories of Sonic the Hedgehog are decades past the minimum age for gambling. If Sega wants to turn Sonic and Super Monkey Ball into slot machines, that’s up to the company. It feels a bit… tawdry to me, but at least they’re also making new, great Sonic games without gambling.
What feels wrong, to me, is that a social-casino app where you can spend up to 180 quid of real money at a time, and which features characters that still have a sizeable audience of under-18s — the Sonic Boom series aired on Cartoon Network — can be age-rated 12+ in app stores, with a simple ‘how old are you?’ question enabling children to play it.
Maybe this is a question for PEGI, Apple and Google more than Sega, then. But it would surely benefit the latter if the rules were stricter around this kind of game: not least because longtime fans who are also parents won’t be left with the bad taste in the mouth that I have after seeing Sega Slots.