Virtual games both reflect and influence casino slot machines
By John Grochowski
Slot machines have moved from sideshow in the casinos of a few decades ago to the main event today. By far the largest share of players and the largest share of casino revenues come from electronic gaming devices that include video poker, video keno, video blackjack and other games.
That’s a quantum leap from the days when table games dominated. A second quantum leap started in the mid- to late-1990s, when video slot machines started carving their niche. Today, video slots are the largest segment of electronic gaming devices, with reel-stepper slots next.
Are you ready for another quantum leap? More and more, players are getting in a little extra slot time between casino visits, on their computers and mobile devices. That includes both for-wager play in New Jersey and Delaware, which have legalized online gaming, and play-for-fun, or social gaming whether through social media apps or through casino website.
How close are the online free-play games online to their casino counterparts? Very. Large game manufacturers are involved in developing the online games, just as they are in casinos. Among Facebook apps, Double Down Casino features games from International Game Technology, Jackpot Party Casino features games from WMS Gaming and Heart of Gaming features games from Aristocrat Technologies.
Many of the games have the same themes and gameplay as those you find in casinos. Super Jackpot Party at Jackpot Party Casino is going to feel just right to someone who plays the game in casinos. Same deal with Wolf Run at Double Down Casino.
Free-play games do not have to meet the stringent regulatory requirements as games played for money in casinos, but you’re still basically getting the real thing.
That point was reinforced recently when I was contacted by Stephen Murphy, vice president of business development at High 5 Games, and he offered to expand on the social games situation.
High 5 is a developer of slot games with a strong reputation within the casino industry for quality and performance. Founded in 1995, it has developed games for major slot manufacturers including IGT, WMS, Bally and Konami, and is currently working on a large number of games for Bally and IGT. Player favorites including Da Vinci Diamonds, Golden Goddess, Shadow the Panther and Dangerous Beauties are High 5 Games.
It also has its own online social casino, High 5 Casino, available as a Facebook app. The math, Murphy explained, is the same on the online games as in brick-and-mortar casinos.
“For social casinos, this industry and this market isn’t all that old,” he said. “It’s only been a few years since the first was started. In the beginning the slots were not real at all.
“Even the companies that had ties to the land-based end, I think they would experiment a little bit. They’d try some new things out on social, and they didn’t really resemble the games in the casino. One thing High 5 was always different about is that we did offer the exact same math and the exact same games on social. We were the first ones to actually do that. Then Double Down Casino changed their math model so it resembled exactly how it is on their IGT games.”
At the High 5 Casino online, there’s a mix of games familiar from casino play, along with games developed first for online social gamers. I loaded the Facebook app after speaking with Murphy, and played Hoot Loot, which I knew as an IGT game in casinos, and an unfamiliar game, Miss Universe Crowning Moment. It’s a “super stacks” game—meaning there are long strings of the same symbol stacked on the reels, leaving the possibility of multiple-payline hits. I even filled the screen with the same symbol stacked on every reel for a nice win the first time I played.
Today, bringing online social slot players the same experience they get on casino slots is a point of emphasis. Partly, that’s because it’s an experience that’s proven to be attractive to players.
“There’s a lot of time and effort spent on crafting these games for the land-based casino market, and they tend to be pretty good games,” Murphy said. “If a game is successful at Caesars in Las Vegas and the Borgata in New Jersey, then it probably will be successful online, in social. So I think that’s why you’re starting to see a push to do the real math involved in these games, even though legally and from a regulatory standpoint, you don’t need to.”
That includes the math models on games you haven’t seen in casinos, games developed for online play.
“Companies including High 5 are creating games for a social audience, but we want to be able to take that same content and eventually transfer it over to a real money environment,” Murphy said. “We build the same games for both markets. One thing that social allows you to do, you get data very quickly on what’s working and what’s not.
“When we create a game for Bally, from the moment we start the game to the moment it hits a land-based casino, it can take 12 to 24 months, just because of the regulatory process and what not. But social, that timeline shrinks from 24 months to one or two months. So you can really flesh out ideas quickly, see what themes resonate with players, and optimize that product.”
That, he said, leads to better games for everyone, online or on land.
“In a lot of ways our social games have created stronger games for our land-based business,” he said, “because we find out immediately what’s working what’s not working, and we’re able to take those successful ideas, those successful brands, and then pitch them to our land-based partners.”
The quantum leap to online slot play comes with a feedback element, it seems. Online games mimic casino games, but in turn they influence casino games, too.