21 March 2013
By John Grochowski
One of the biggest shifts in the casino industry has been the development and position of slot machines as games people play because they’re fun, with the added attraction of a shot to win. Everybody wants to win, but there’s a substantial core of players who are happy as long as they get to the bonus rounds often enough to stretch their money and get their entertainment dollar’s worth.
Interactive fun --- that’s the key. And interactive fun also is the primary feature of casual, non-wagering games that have become a core feature of social media sites on home computers and on mobile devices.
Slot manufacturers already involved in online gaming overseas are preparing for the day Internet casinos are legalized in the United States. In the meantime, slot players are proving they’ll play the games even without the allure of monetary jackpots.
The model for the non-wagering slot world is Slotomania by Playtika Ltd. With more than 10.7 million “likes” on Facebook, it’s by far the leader among all-slots, no table games apps. Others are staking out their own app claims, with Blue Shell Games’ Lucky Casino at 4.6 million likes and Williams Interactive’s Jackpot Party social casino, featuring games from WMS Gaming, rolling up 1.4 million likes since its introduction last summer.
What’s the attraction for so many slot players? Let’s look at Slotomania’s formula:
- A wide variety of slot choices: As of mid-February, there were 49 games active on Slotomania. All are five-reel video slots, and there are some common features. All have wild symbols, all have free-spin events and all have pick’em-type bonuses.
Within that basic format, there’s plenty of variety. The bonus event in Beez has you picking hexagons from a honeycomb --- honey pots, bear-shaped honey bottles, other sweets and best of all, gold coins. When you match three of the same item, you win the bonus that comes with it.
Party in Winderland --- not Wonderland, mind you, even though game graphics feature a hare, a grinning cat, a red-haired queen and a young blonde girl --- has a multilayered bonus. First, you pick smoke rings blown by a caterpillar to tell you how many picks you get. Then you fall down the rabbit hole, with the hare surrounded by books, bottles and chests, each containing a bonus. When you’ve finished making your picks, you get to choose among four bottles. Pick one that contains a gold key, and you get to go again for more smoke rings and another fall down the hole. It’s open-ended. In testing the game, I’ve had as many as six gold keys.
You get the idea. Each game has a pick’em event to match its theme.
- Something to play for: Slot apps have adopted the practice of offering achievements that has been used so successfully by non-casino-type games such as Farmville. As you play, you unlock games. Slotomania beginners start with a game called Farm Fortune, and when they’ve played enough, they unlock Bubble Rumble, then Civilitreasures, and so on.
As you go, you can share your successes with friends. When you complete a bonus event, or have a particularly big win, the app will post an icon on your Facebook wall, and friends can click to claim extra credits. I don’t like to have such things cluttering the feeds of friends, so in my trial I defined a group of players so that only they would see the icons. But for those who like to share their achievements with the world, it’s as easy as clicking a mouse.
- Replenishable credits: Playing enough to move up a level puts extra credits on your meter. You also can add credits every four hours by clicking a “special bonus” icon. The higher your level, the more credits you get with each special bonus. Occasionally, Slotomania has “turbo bonus” days with credits every two hours.
If you want to buy credits and advance through the levels faster, you can. That’s something I’ve not done. If I run out of credits, I’m perfectly happy to wait four hours and get more for free. But clearly enough people are buying credits to put a little change in Playtika’s pockets.
Williams Interactive has made some adaptations, but its features are similar. You can get free credits once every four hours, and you get extra credits when you advance a level. Each five levels you move up unlocks a new slot. The games are WMS standards including Zeus II, Invaders of the Planet Moolah and Super Jackpot Party, and game play is indistinguishable from casino versions --- though my $100 a spin wagers on Super Jackpot Party are something I’d never do for real money.
Sharing achievements a la other social games also is big in the Williams mix. Whether it’s a big win, a large number of consecutive winners or just completing enough plays, you can have an icon posted on your wall to show friends you’re in the game.
Even with no wagering, the formula has proved amazingly popular, one more indication that on today’s slots, winning isn’t the only thing.
Look for John Grochowski on Facebook (http://tinyurl.com/7lzdt44) and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).
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