Gambling has moved into our homes in recent decades. It used to be the case that to take a punt, you’d at least have to leave the house. You could likely find some action in your local town – maybe a fruit machine in a bar or a High-street bookmaker – or you might be required to travel further afield to a designated casino.
Of course, all that’s changed today. Nowadays we can load up our favourite casino games on all manner of devices at home and even on the go. Not only has this online given casino operators much greater reach into the lives of their punters than ever before, but the games themselves have started to change. The most noticeable example of this is the online video slot.
Online slot machines are based on their real-world counterparts. The humble fruit machine has been an absolute stalwart of gambling since its invention in the late nineteenth century. Early slots were obviously entirely analogue with enormous reels displaying symbols that players matched along the single win line for a payment. The first slots featured three reels and although later designer incorporated bonus modes and other features intended to stimulate players, the basic slot remained the same until the rise of internet gambling.
Along with table games such as blackjack or roulette, one of the first online casino games was the slot machine. Early online slots were simply digital representations of the machines you’d find in English pubs or Vegas casinos at the time. As web developers got more confident, the designs got more extravagant, incorporating various elements more akin to those seen in video games. Examples included interactive bonus features, such as those seen on the Rocky slot by Playtech, and extravagant opening cutscenes, like those found in Gonzo’s Quest.
With over 100 slot developers supplying free spins slots out there today, it’s important to stand out from the crowd and those that seem most successful are the companies that have steered as far from the original slot formula as possible. There are numerous examples of games that use creative grids, cascading symbols, and other features that simply wouldn’t be possible on a real-world slot machine. These give the players of many of the titles of today a much more two-way experience, more like a video game. Undoubtedly this interaction is in part behind the slot’s enduring appeal.
That said, even the most high-tech online slots are still not really like video games yet. After all, there is no true interaction. A random number generator decides the outcome of each “choice” you make in the games and there is no way to gain an edge versus the casino playing slots. No matter how much you play, you cannot get any better at a slot. By contrast, the ability to improve and get better and eventually beat a video game is what gives them a lot of their appeal.
Casino operators have noticed that young adults love video games and seem to be gambling a lot less than their parents and grandparents did and overall gameplay across all ages is down too. Casinos around the world have been dedicated to providing a more all-encompassing entertainment complex in recent years. Where once the main attraction would have been the casino floor itself, now it competes with nightclubs, malls, video games arcades, and even theme parks. Ultimately, this means that fewer people are gambling.
A 2015 report on the Vegas gambling tourism market by consultancy firm HVS found that the overall number of people gambling in the city had fallen over the previous decade. In 2006, 87 percent of tourists gambled whilst visiting. In 2014, that figure was down to just 71 percent.
A large part of the issue seems to be that millennials are just less interested in the rather passive experience of gambling. Being as they have grown up with interactive video gaming as a major part of their formative years, chasing a big win in a game that’s stacked against you just isn’t that appealing.
With numbers of millennials gambling in Vegas trailing behind those observed for previous generations, casino operators are starting to get creative about how they appeal to punters.
The CEO of Gamblit Gaming, Eric Meyerhofer, a California company trying to bridge the gap between video games and casino games, told the New York Times:
“Millennials have grown up in an era of digital media and games. The passive experience of a slot machine does not resonate with them.”
He went on to describe the kind of skill-based casino products that his company is working towards, even hinting that large franchises, such as Call of Duty, might find a home on casino floors:
“It won’t be a sea of slot machines. You’ll see smaller, more intimate areas with specialized themes.”
It appears legislators in states traditionally associated with gambling are onside too. In 2015, a bill was rushed into law in both Nevada and Delaware to legalise such skill-based games at land-based casinos. In fact, it was introduced and passed within six months, causing the chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission to comment on how hungry the industry was for an injection of new players.
The future of slots is gamification
For now, the scope of the games being created by Gamlit and others is not so vast. They’re not really aimed at the hardcore gambler either. They’re a lot like popular mobile games in their simplicity – Smoothie Blast, for example, involves preparing milkshakes with certain combinations of ingredients awarding larger prizes to players. It’s certainly nothing on the kind of visual wizardry that the modern high-end PCs or consoles are capable of but it’s a start and one of the first real casino games with video game-like gameplay dynamics.
Of course, the problem with such games, and almost certainly why their developers are taking so long to get them to market, is working out how to award players. If you can good at a game, you can get good enough to beat it. Casinos aren’t too fond of punters coming in and taking them to the absolute cleaners and if there is real money on the line, you can certainly bet that people will be prepared to put the hours in to take it to the house. How Mr Meyerhofer and others in the industry overcome this challenge will be interesting to observe indeed.