Community-based gaming systems are creating a new competitive atmosphere as players interact and work together to earn bonuses

AC Coin & Slot has found success adding communal game play to established machine themes such as Slingo.

Casinos have long stressed the individual versus the house aspect of gaming. But with the recent introduction of some innovative new game designs, slot and table game manufacturers are creating a new competitive gaming atmosphere in which community-based games are allowing players to interact with each other and to compete for and share in bonuses and jackpots.

This is not to say that gaming has not had a social aspect in the past. Games like craps, where players take turns rolling the dice while making wagers on the outcome of each roll, have been around since time immemorial. Table games, where dealers engage players in conversation as the cards are distributed, also have a social aspect.

What the new communal games aim to do in some cases is put all players on one side against the house or the machine to jointly work to win payouts, which are then doled out based on the individual player’s play and wagering volatility. With slots games, the communal aspect is created by interaction between all players on one bank of games (up to 10 play stations), some of which are arranged in a circle. These banks of machines may also be linked for area-wide slots tournaments.

“The success and demand for community-based games and the player experience they create is growing by the day,” claimed Robert Bone, vice president of marketing at WMS Gaming, Waukegan, Ill.

According to Bone, WMS introduced its debut product in the community gaming category - Monopoly Big Event - back in October 2006. Since then WMS has added Press Your Luck Big Event and Bigger Bang Big Event, all with multiple support themes that have resulted in well over 2,000 units placed.

“These machines generate some of the highest coin-in levels in our product library,” Bone added.

Both Monopoly Big Event and Press Your Luck 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, Bone explained.

In addition to these products, WMS is in the process of launching Bigger Bang Big Event. This series of community gaming products leverages the technology of WMS’s Transmissive Reels gaming category, which provides a 3-D overlay of real-time animations around and over the mechanical reels. This technology also enables the game to offer new bonusing opportunities. These include 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, Bone said.

“The early performance numbers on Bigger Bang Big Event are extremely encouraging,” Bone added.

WMS will introduce four other community gaming products in 2009, Bone said. On these games, players will be able to compete against each other for bonuses and jackpots, and collaborate on how outcomes are awarded to eligible players. WMS will also apply its community gaming technology to other product categories, such as poker, where players can play their favorite poker payable and also be eligible for a frequent and meaningful communal bonus round, he explained.

“Community gaming is much more than just providing a communal/shared bonus,” Bone said. “WMS will be pushing the limits of differential game mechanics to enable players to engage and win with one another in multiple ways.” .

Web inspiration

Reno-based IGT also is building on existing products to create community-based games.

“We noticed that our Super Spin slot games were already creating a community environment, as every time the bonus wheel began to spin, non-players would stop to root on the players,” said Tom O’Brien, director of MegaJackpot product management at IGT. “Our community-based games retain these excitement-creating features while adding features that the unite players in a quest for a common bonus.”

IGT’s latest community gaming product is eBay, which links 10 slots-playing stations (five each, back--to-back) under a 15-foot-long eBay sign and four giant LCD screens with music, lights and sound. The system also has a free-spin community bonus event where players play together on big overhead screens that mimic the bidding action on the Internet auction site for which the game is named. In these bonus rounds, players are rewarded based on their wagering levels, O’Brien noted.

Coming in the fall is a new IGT community gaming system with a Star Wars theme.

“This one will have phenomenal graphics and other effects, in which players qualifying for a bonus round will go on a space bike chase,” said O’Brien. “The winner of this race will get a prize while runners-up will be awarded improved multipliers for their winnings based on their previous play.”

Monopoly Big Event from WMS showed communal game play could succeed on a slot machine. .    

Building on success

AC Coin & Slot, Pleasantville, N.J., currently offers several community gaming systems, each expanding on a popular game theme the firm has offered in the past. These games create the social aspect by having players on the bank of games rooting others on to bonus winnings, though AC Coin is looking into creating games with shared bonus quests.

“We found that most casino patrons want a more and better gaming experience, and want to be entertained in the process,” said Chris Strano, vice president, sales and marketing at AC Coin. “This entertainment factor is increased when you add the social aspect where players play against and with friends and strangers in the same gaming community. Stoked by create graphics and music, emotions run wild.”

Introduced in mid-2007, AC Coin’s Super Slotto Celebration has players engaged in their own video slots games on the  system’s eight play stations. These games offer IGT’s most popular pay tables. When one player triggers a bonus event, giant Slotto balls spring into action under an immense clear plastic dome to determine the winnings of the bonus player in an action resembling a lottery drawing.

In creating successful community-based games, certain criterion is important, Strano said.

“These games must be simple to understand, inclusive and they must play well. And they require a certain level of volatility; enough to make them exciting and unpredictable, but not too much that the game becomes confusing,” he noted.

Communal approach

Las Vegas-based Bally Technologies is promising to release several community-based gaming systems in the near future. And while Bally is not providing information on the themes of these games, some details are emerging.

“Our community games will include both groups of linked games and banks of games that can be linked with other banks to create community competition across the gaming floor,” said Bryan Kelly, vice president of advanced development for Bally.

According to Kelly, the Bally system will create more options for community gamers, in that one person in a community-linked system will be able to trigger a bonus round at any time. When such rounds are declared, other players linked to the community will have the option to opt in by hitting a “yes” or “no” pad. Those who participate in the bonus round will then play to build up the largest communal score they can, which will determine the final pot of winnings. The person triggering the bonus round will get a slightly bigger slice of the winnings.

“The goal is to get all community-linked players to feel, ‘We’re all in this together,’” Kelly said.

Bally community-based slots games will also offer individual bonusing situations to reward players for their past play on the game, their wagering level, and loyalty to the casino.