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HOME > Gaming > Slot machines where skill counts

Slot machines where skill counts

20 February 2014

By John Grochowski

Nearly all slot machines are designed to be as close to pure games of chance as programmers can get. You have no control over where the reels are going to stop, and neither does the casino operator. A random number generator determines the outcome, and the odds are the same on every spin.

A tiny percentage of slots incorporate elements of skill. In International Game Technology’s Reel Edge games -- Centipede, Blood Life Legends, and Tully’s Treasure Hunt -- along with GTECH’s Zuma and Bejeweled, a skilled player will receive larger average returns on the bonus events than an unskilled player.

Many in the slot machine business think the proportion of skill-based games will grow as the generation that grew up playing on PlayStations, Xboxes and Wiis reach prime casino-playing ages. Those players haven’t yet made a large impact in casinos, but their future desires are something gamemakers are trying to anticipate.

For now, there’s another way game designers can go that’s a bit of a hybrid. Some call them “perceived skill” games, while others say “illusion of skill” or “skill-like games.”

The idea is that players feel like their skill makes a difference, and that keeps them engaged with the game. However, their final bonus award is determined by a random number generator.

Take Bally Technologies’ Skee Ball, which rolled into casinos in 2012. In the bonus event the video screen would turn into a Skee Ball machine, set up to mirror the arcade game with its set of concentric circles. Players could touch and drag balls on the screen, then let them roll. Landing a ball in the smallest circle brought the most points.

The skill was real enough. You could bank the ball off the sides, roll it straight or at an angle, and your velocity mattered.

If the points you accumulated while rolling the balls translated directly into credits, Skee Ball would be a skill-based game. But there’s a twist. The points earn you virtual tickets, just as you’d receive tickets from an arcade game. When the Skee Ball round is over, you go to a ticket redemption counter that shows small, medium and large prizes. You touch the screen to select prizes, and the prizes reveal your bonus credits.

The values behind the prizes are determined by a random number generator. Even a small number of points can bring big credit awards, and a large number of points can bring small ones. Your skill level affects the number of points and tickets you accumulate, but not your final credit award.

In the same vein, Aruze Gaming’s Paradise Fishing and Amazon Fishing give players the feeling they’re doing some serious angling with the rod-shaped controller. You can feel the virtual fish strike and tug, and it feels like real skill when you land a big one, or one gets away. But as much as you use the controller to raise and lower your worm to position it in front of the biggest fish, it’s a random number generator that determines which fish you’ll catch, which will tug off the line and which will simply pass you by.

Multimedia Games offers a MoneyBall bonus in three games in its High Rise series. You position the ball for a drop from the top onto the screen, trying to target the biggest awards. It feels like skill, but where the ball lands is determined by the RNG.

Another: In IGT’s Hot Roll and Hot Roll Community games, you touch a pair of dice on the screen, drag and let fly in a craps-like bonus round. You can roll fast, roll slow, roll in different directions. It all feels like you’re in control, just like craps feels like the shooter is in control.

In the Community version, three players go to the dice-rolling bonus together, and the bonus credits keep mounting until all three seven out. If you’ve rolled a loser 7, you keep collecting bonuses until other two shooters also roll loser 7s.

It’s a lot of fun, with good camaraderie, but the skill is just a perception. Your method of rolling doesn’t determine your result. A random number generator does.

Even perceived skill games are a small minority of slot games, though nearly every manufacturer has its take on skill-like formats. But for now, they’re more numerous than skill-based bonuses as gamemakers and casino operators prepare for the demands of the next generation of players.

Look for John Grochowski at www.casinoanswerman.com, on Facebook (http://tinyurl.com/7lzdt44) and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).

This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at fscobe@optonline.net.

John Grochowski
John  Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field. Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago.

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