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Cents and Sensibility

An expanded slot world means there’s that much more players need to know

By John Grochowski


In the video age, games with bonus rounds, multilevel progressive jackpots, mystery pays and other bells and whistles means extra to consider in developing a slot sense.

There has always been a certain amount of slot sense needed to get the most out of the casinos’ most popular games. On three-reel games the guidelines were simple: Paybacks rise with coin denomination—so $5 machines pay more than dollars, which pay more quarters. To get the highest payback percentages, bet maximum coins. If you’re going to play a game with a progressive jackpot, bet the max, otherwise, choose a different machine.

And that’s about all there was too it. A caution to choose a denomination that fits your budget and to never over bet your bankroll could be added, but that applies to all casino games.

In the video age, games with bonus rounds, multilevel progressive jackpots, mystery pays and other bells and whistles means extra to consider in developing a slot sense.

Do Video Slots Pay As Much As Three-Reel Slots?

For the most part, no, because most video slots are lower-denomination games and higher denominations bring higher payback percentages. All slot machines are made available by manufacturers with a variety of payback percentages, and it’s up to the casino which version to buy. A few casinos opt to put paybacks on nickel video games as high as those as quarter three-reelers, but most don’t.

That’s true even though players wager more coins on video and total wagers can be as high as or higher than on three-reels slots. If you’re playing a penny game with 25 paylines, just covering all the lines with single-credit wagers gets you to a quarter bet. Bet three coins per line, and you’ve reached the 75-cent maximum on most quarter reel spinners. And it’s not unusual to see a 20-coin per line max on a 25-line video, for a possible $5 per spin.

That’s not penny ante stuff, yet the payback percentage on that penny video slot tends to be four to eight percent lower than on the quarter reel-spinner. Doesn’t seem fair somehow, does it?

There are a few factors that go into that. First, people LIKE the entertainment of video games with their free spins, second-screen bonuses, sharp graphics and fun sound effects. When players are filling the seats, there’s little incentive to goose up the payback percentages.

Second, most players stick to one or two coins per line. There aren’t many who really make maximum wagers on multiline video slots, so the total wager on a nickel game is a whole lot more likely to be very close to that on a quarter reel-spinner than it is to surpass it.

Third, play is slower on a video slot than on a reel-spinner that doesn’t have animated bonus rounds. Whether you’re getting free spins or taking a trip around the Monopoly board, you’re getting playing time without making extra wagers. If you’re betting 75 cents a spin on a video slot, and I’m betting 75 cents a spin on a three-reel game with no bonus events, then I bet more money per hour than you do because I’m not getting that free time.

How Important Is It To Cover All Of The Paylines?

That depends on how bonus rounds are awarded. If bonus symbols must land on an active payline to trigger free spins or a second-screen event, then covering all the paylines is a must. When you’re playing a bonus event, you’re winning credits and spending time on the game without betting any extra money, so you want to get to the bonuses as often as possible. The more spins per hour you make that require wagers, the more it costs you to play.

Besides, the bonus events are why most video fans play, and we don’t want to cost ourselves chances at that entertainment. If you’re playing a Bally U-Spin game, such as Cash Spin, you want as many chances as you can get to touch that wheel on the screen, drag your finger, let go and give it a big spin. That’s where the fun is.

Are Bonus Results Predetermined, Or Do Choices Make A Difference?

Choices do make a difference in pick’em-type bonus events. The random number generator sets the possibilities, and then our choices make a difference.

The classic example is WMS Gaming’s Jackpot Party, with popularity and staying power to keep it coming back as game platforms evolve. When three party noisemakers appear on the screen, a grid of gift boxes appears. You choose a gift box by touching the screen, and a credit amount appears in its place. Keep touching gift boxes and accumulating credits until a “Pooper” appears, ending the party.

It is possible to reveal a Pooper on your first pick. Not much of a party, but it happens. It’s also possible to pick prize after prize, with extra bonus events within the event, keeping the party hopping until there is nothing but Poopers remaining. When your party is over, all the credits and Poopers that have remained hidden are exposed. That’s what was there from the beginning, and that’s what you could have won had you made different picks. Your choices made the difference.

In the end, the odds of the game will hold up. By setting the possibilities, the programmer sets the odds of the game. Some players will have long parties and win a bunch of credits; some will have short ones go back to the main game with a small bonus. In the long run, it’ll average out, the odds will hold up and the game will pay out what it’s expected to pay out.

What Should I Know About Community-Style Games?

Growth in community-style games has slowed a bit as manufacturers reassess their positions. WMS Gaming and International Game Technology have been the companies most involved in the segment, and they have differing philosophies. Most of WMS’ games are win-together experiences, but sometimes WMS uses an element of competition, something that worked really well in Reel ’Em In: Compete to Win, where players vied to catch the fish worth the most points.

IGT, on the other hand, keeps competition out of its games, believing players would rather team up to take down the house.

There’s still plenty of room for creativity. IGT’s Hot Roll Community game is a cooperative take on the earlier Hot Roll video slot. In the bonus event, players touch the dice on screen, drag them and let fly into the top screen, collecting credits until they roll a 7—“seven out,” in craps lingo. In the community version, players take turns rolling the dice, and when one sevens out, the others keep rolling. Even if you’ve rolled a 7, you keep collecting bonuses until all your partners in bonusland are out. In the most literal sense, that’s the craps-like camaraderie among slot players that game designers are aiming for.

The wide variety of games can be a blast to play, creating within the community of slot players a segment with the play together, win together camaraderie that for most of casino history has been found only on the tables.

The one thing to watch out for is bonus eligibility. Usually, it’s tied to your bet size and speed of play. If you take too long between bets, you might not get to participate in that community bonus. On Bally’s Blazing Hot Tournament, for example, the red line rises on a thermometer-like display on the screen, letting you know about tournament eligibility and multipliers.

Usually, you’ll be eligible as long as you stay active, even with one coin per line bets, but winnings will be multiplied if you win more. On some games, including Atronic’s Deal or No Deal Join ’N’ Play, you collect symbols between bonus events, and once you’ve collected enough you remain eligible regardless of subsequent play.

Just as with progressives, the key is to understand what it takes to be eligible for the community event, and if you’re going to play the game, make sure you meet the criteria.

What Does “Choose Your Volatility” Means?

Would you rather take your chances at a big jackpot, with fewer wins, or have more frequent wins with less of a chance at something really big? The big jackpot games are more volatile, and the frequent hit games are less volatile.

Bally has gone the “choose your volatility” route with Hot Spin, a U-Spin game that lets you choose the volatility of the bonus event. There are six levels of volatility available, represented by different reel symbols. You can touch a single bar for the lowest volatility, with the most frequent bonus events and the lowest totals on the wheel. Touch a Wild symbol instead, and watch the numbers on the wheel change as the game shifts into the highest volatility level. Of you can choose 5-bar or various 7 symbols to pick a level in between.

Do you want a lot of chances to spin the wheel, or do you want the chance at a really big jackpot when the wheel comes up? You get to choose.

A relatively new manufacturer, Incredible Technologies, goes even further down the choose your volatility path with its Magic Touch games, including Cars and Fish Store. On the initial game, you can touch the screen to choose Win Often, Win Steady or Win Big—low, medium or high volatility versions of the same base game.

It’s an extra tool in the designer’s kit, something that wasn’t available to players when all slot machines had three mechanical reels and no bonus events. Understanding volatility when it comes time to make the choice stands right alongside jackpot eligibility, covering paylines and other factors in an expanded slot sense for the video age.


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