Not long ago, if a casino player wanted to socialize while gambling, they headed straight for the table games pits. Sure, they would pass hundreds of slot machines along the way, but these machines stressed the rugged individual playing strictly against the house.
But all that changed with the recent introduction of community-type gaming machines that enabled slots players to interact with each other and to compete for and share in bonuses and jackpots. Since then, according to Steve Walther, vice president of marketing at Aruze Gaming, community games have become a growing force on the slot floor and will continue to expand their presence as additional products are released.
“Slots floors have always been highly competitive areas, but player engagement is driving demand for community games on the floor,” Walther said. “Where such games were once only for transient players, local/repeat players have become intrigued by the game play.”
Mick Roemer, senior vice president of sales at Multimedia Games, agreed. “Everybody loves to be part of something exciting on the casino floor,” he said. “People yelling and screaming and really getting into the action is just plain fun and community slots games provide that in abundance.”
The most common themes among community slots are TV games shows, but board games, sports, ancient Egypt and Greece, and even wolves are also popular. The action on such games plays out not only on individual screens before the players but on one or more huge overhead screens, which make these games truly communal. Here’s what some leading slot manufacturers are concentrating on in the community games space:
GAME APPROACHWMS Gaming offers a broad assortment of community games with varied game mechanics, technologies and ways for players in interact. For example, popular WMS community games like Monopoly Big Event tie players’ base game experience to a common server that is initiated in a certain frequent time interval. Players that make the “Big Event” bet on each spin are eligible for up to five different communal bonus rounds. Once the outcome of the communal bonus round is determined, this amount is multiplied by each individual player’s Big Event Multiplier. This multiplier is custom to each player and increases based on the average bet, spin rate, and how long the players are at the game themselves. The benefit of this multiplier is key as it can take a volatile common bonus round outcome and increase it further in more specific ways for each individual player.
But WMS also offers community games that leverage its Transmissive Reels technology, which provides a 3-D overlay of real-time animations around and over the mechanical reels, said Bradley A. Rose, executive director of game development at WMS. This technology also enables the game to offer new bonusing opportunities, including multiple communal bonuses, two of which are competitive in nature where players can compete for winnings against the other eligible players on the bank of games.
One such Transmissive game, The Great and Powerful Oz, allows players to assume the role of their favorite Wizard of Oz character. During the game, Glinda the Good Witch randomly selects one character to award one free spin enhanced by wild symbols, reels or a spin multiplier. Awards of spin enhancements also are given to one or more characters during the bonus round.
In WMS’s Team Compete to Win series, players are divided into teams during randomly triggered communal bonus rounds. In the Battleship game, the Blue Team is pitted against the Red Team in battles to sink the most ships for additional bonus rewards. All of this action plays out on three overhead screens.
VISABLE TOUCHAruze’s entry in the community game market is Paradise Fishing, with three high-definition 60-inch LCD screens that transport players into the world of undersea fishing with vivid visuals. This is augmented by Reel Feel Gaming Technology that allows players to actually feel the fishing bonuses.
“When a fish strikes the hook, the controller reacts, giving the player a sensation that he has really hooked a big one. The game adds the sensation of touch, something long absent from the gaming experience,” Walther explained.
Paradise Fishing offers both individual and community bonuses; five in total that when triggered provide players the opportunity to go fishing for bonuses. When a fish is hooked, the rod shakes according to the size of the bonus snagged. Players can literally feel how big a bonus they’ve won from the force of the strike.
Aruze is also branching out its Paradise Fishing concept, introducing Amazon Fishing at last year’s Global Gaming Expo.
DEALING WITH ITOne new wrinkle in the Deal or No Deal: Join ‘N Play game from Spielo International is that the bonus rounds are triggered literally like clockwork. The linked machines incorporate a timer that tells players exactly how many minutes and seconds remain before the next bonus round begins. And the Community Bonus arrives every 11 minutes.
But players still have to make themselves eligible to play the Community Bonus during the in-between time. Join ‘N Play offers customers 243 ways to win with their bet (50 cents minimum to $2.50 maximum). As on the popular TV game, players get into the bonus round by winning at least one of the 18 qualifier briefcases. The more the player bets, the more reels are activated with qualifier cases. Players making the maximum bet also can qualify for the Howie Jackpot, and the sixth reel multiplies qualification cases.
In the Community Bonus, those eligible play their briefcases against the Banker’s Offer (applied to the player’s accumulated multiplier). When a player accepts the offer, he returns immediately to the base game. The other members of the game community continue to play, where by rejecting offers and selecting new cases they can increase their winnings-or reduce them if they select wrong and higher value cases are eliminated.
“Our goal in creating a time-based bonus was to eliminate some of the frustration exhibited by some community players concerning the random arrival of bonus rounds,” said Michael Brennan, product marketing manager at Spielo. “We anticipated that this feature would make the game more attractive to casual players. But on casino floors, Join ‘N Play also is attracting hard-core slots players because the game enables them to employ their own strategies in pursuing wins on their own terms.
“What makes Join ‘N Play a truly social game in that it makes community players feel like contestants on a real game show and gives them an equal chance to win,” Brennan added. “When they don’t, they can only blame themselves for the choices they made.”
COMICS CONNECTIONAnother new community game feature offered on the Dark Knight from International Game Technology (IGT) occurs in the Battle for Gotham community bonus. Players get to choose when to play it-either now or later when a player receives the bonus triggering coin. If somebody chooses to play the bonus, others can opt to join in or still choose to play later. During this round involving a race between the Dark Knight (Batman) and the Joker, the more coins accumulated the greater the multiplier in the community bonus.
Like some other IGT community games, the Dark Knight displays daily and monthly high scores (credits) if they choose to enter a screen name. This can be an incentive for customers to play the game more often in hopes of getting this public recognition.
Also among the latest community games from IGT are Texas Tea and Big Buck Hunter, said Will Foster, product manager for MegaJackpot Products at IGT. Texas Tea on the OnCore Progressive platform enables players to act as Texas oil men as they drill and accumulate oil wells (positioned on a map of Texas) in pursuit of bonus game participation. Big Buck Hunter on the CenterStage platform plays like an arcade game with players using mock rifles to hunt big game in bonus rounds.
There is a sharing aspect to OnCore Progressive community games, in that the player whose hit triggered the bonus round gets 100 percent of the ultimate payout while other communal players split a similar amount. For instance, if the payout is $100 and there are two additional players in the round, the triggering player gets $100, while the other two get $50 each, Foster explained.
SPECIAL EVENTSIn another take on community gaming, Multimedia Games offer the TournEvent system that allows casinos to seamlessly switch between revenue-producing video slots games to slots tournaments. Features include automation of enrollment and tracking, large LCD signage to attract players, real time video of the contestants and an up-to-the second leader board of all the action.
“TournEvent truly brings the community celebration feel of slot tournament play to the center of a casino floor,” Multimedia’s Roemer said. “Casinos that have added this system report that it increases traffic and revenue across an entire slot floor when a large-scale promotion is run, drawing people in for the event and keeping them all day to see if they’ve won.”
TournEvent takes tournaments to the next level by including custom tournament games that are not available as in-revenue games, like the balloon popping Mixed Fruit Magic game. In addition to hitting the Play button as fast as possible to rack up a score, when the occasional balloon floats across the screen a player touches it to pop it and earn extra points.
TournEvent 4.0, to be released this summer, includes a new tournament game, Crazy Carnival, a shooting-gallery-themed game includes targets that pop up and award extra points when they are touched. Also included is Jump to First, which requires players to jump from any position straight to first place when they hit the randomly appearing Money Man character. Features like this, and others in development, are enhancing the shared player experience and truly bringing slot tournaments to the next level, Roemer said.
“Community-style games will continue to become a bigger part of the casino slot floor,” he said. “People are looking for that shared experience in all areas of their lives-take the overwhelming popularity of social media, for instance, and video games that can be played and shared online either through social media sites or elsewhere.” SM