Progressive jackpot slots continue to grow in popularity and manufacturers are responding with an expanding array of themes and play mechanics

The Twilight Zone in 3D game from IGT


Progressive jackpots have always been a sure-fire way to generate energy on the slot floor, and that’s never been truer than it is today, thanks to technologies that enable a greater variety of ways to deliver jackpots on a scale that players find genuinely achievable on games that stand on their own as engaging entertainment propositions.

“It used to be a specialty game,” noted Mick Roemer, senior vice president of sales for Multimedia Games. “Now you see it as something adopted more and more in games as a standard feature, like secondary games or bonusing or free games, and customers seems to like that.”

What they like are jackpots that strike them as realistic, hence the popularity in recent years of local-area, multi-level progressives. “The trend is smaller jackpots, more frequent hits,” said Jared Torres, Cadillac Jack’s senior director of game development. “Players understand the value of that.”

As Roemer explained it, “It’s a way for the player to feel they can get better odds.”

It’s an acknowledgement of the natural draw of a game one perceives to be “hot” - in the case of a progressive, to a jackpot whose ascent one can follow to the point where it’s not unrealistic to believe it’s ready to pop.

Multimedia’s new White Hot Progressive is illustrative of the trend. Released as part of the company’s High Rise Games Series, this nine-reel, 32-line game features a five-tier progressive displayed on a 37-inch video top box with a “fire” that increases in intensity, seeming to get hotter and hotter, as the prize levels increase.

“I always try to view it from a player perspective,” said Torres. “You have to have the right balance of jackpot amount and bet level to achieve that jackpot. Players see a huge jackpot with small bets as too large a discrepancy for the value proposition. The suspicion is that if they do max bet they have very little chance of hitting.”

Cadillac Jack’s So Hot is a good example. According to Torres, players know it hits about once a day for $15,000. “They don’t know why,” he said. “But they know.”

Cadillac Cash Link is another. A mainstay of the company’s core Class II markets, it started out as a single-level wide-area progressive; it’s now a multi-level progressive, with a WAP jackpot on top and four smaller local-area progressives underneath. In this way it combines the marketing appeal of the big score with the reality that traditional wide-area links are yielding more and more floor space to jackpots perceived as more accessible: to local-area and single-property links, and with linked groups within a single casino, and with stand-alones whose jackpots are driven by internal progressive multipliers.

“You don’t have to have huge banks of games anymore to make the math work,” Torres explained. “You can have smaller configurations. This gives operators more flexibility. And as you can imagine, different machines are advertising different levels of jackpots at the same time, and this increases coin-in, and it creates a lot of movement among your games as well, and generates a lot of excitement on the floor. Players go to one game with a high jackpot then move to others as they climb. … And you have a lot more competition now, so vendors are trying to pack as many features as possible in a game, which means that progressives are being offered as a standard feature.”

It was technology that altered the equation in fundamental ways. “Mystery” jackpots originally were promoted only minimally at the game level. Then came dual screens, and that all changed. The additional display capabilities meant you could advertise multi-level mystery prizes in ways that enhanced player excitement. Mysteries, which used to be optional, became the norm.

“The way the gaming industry has evolved, it used to be the jackpot was the attraction,” said Boris Hallenbach, International Game Technology’s senior manager for Product Management MegaJackpots. “Now we’re seeing more great games and bonuses, with a jackpot attached. It’s about great entertainment.”



Multimedia Games’ White Hot Progressive is part of its new High Rise Games series.

ATTRACTING ATTENTION

Which is not to imply that the attraction of the big score isn’t as powerful with players as ever - and therefore as valuable to operators as it’s been ever since Megabucks created the “paradigm,” in Hallenbach’s words, all those years ago. “It’s still a very solid model,” he said.

Indeed, the Reno-based slot giant still boasts the largest WAP installed base in the United States, with the Megabucks, Wheel of Fortune and Money Madness links minting gleeful winners every week.

Rather, as Hallenbach puts it, “For IGT it’s not an either/or, it’s an ‘and.’”

The “and” has resulted in a steady pipeline of innovative jackpot “blends” - like Wheel of Fortune Special Edition, which combines a WAP with four different pay levels on the wheel, and Megabucks Wild Sapphires, with no less than 13 in-house progressive jackpots tied to symbol values on the reels, topped with the allure of a life-changing Megabucks prize.

For Darryl Rodriguez, IGT’s vice president of game studios, it’s the “idea” implied by a progressive. “It’s the prize; it’s what keeps people on the machine, keeps them interested in the game, combined with the entertainment value to keep them involved, and a good ride in terms of the math.”

As Clark Warren, director of systems sales and marketing for Konami Gaming, puts it, “What it comes down to is, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman can’t make a bad movie good.”



Konami Fortune Chaser

Which is why Konami works to ensure that almost all of its games, 95 percent by Warren’s estimate, can be fitted with progressive features. “So operators can mix and match,” he explained. “They’re not limited to a handful of products.”

“We’re always looking to find new ways to make our games more exciting,” said Ross O’Hanley, vice president domestic games sales and marketing for Konami. “What you’re doing really has to fit with the game play, whether it’s bonus play or going up to different progressive levels. It has to really fit.”

One of the company’s newest entries, Mystical Temple, checks all those boxes. Available on the Podium, K2V, Advantage + and Advantage 3 cabinets, it’s a four-level linked mystery progressive that supports both video and stepper platforms, including the multi-line KonXion and ScatteReels video games and the Advantage+ 5-line and 27 Ways steppers. A randomly triggered feature game reveals a choice of four “treasure chests” to reveal “feather, pot, statute” or “gem” symbols. Players win by hitting three of the same symbols from any one progressive.

Fortune Chaser has been another big hit for Konami, an eight-level linked progressive with a base game that is actually two games played simultaneously and banks configurable to up to 10 machines.



Bally Technologies’ Grease slot is available as a five tier internal or external progressive.

COMMUNITY APPEAL

Leveraging its success with wide-area progressives such as Millionaire Sevens, Hot Shot Progressive and 1,000,000 Degrees, Bally Technologies has married the popularity of its licensed titles to a single WAP link called Cash Connection, with jackpots likely to climb into the seven figures.

Grease, available as a five-tier external or five-tier internal/external progressive, was launched on the platform at G2E 2011. Two new versions of the popular Cash Spin, a two-level external and two-level internal/external, also are available. Michael Jackson: King of Pop is scheduled for a highly anticipated launch on Cash Connection this summer.

“We’ll continue to bring out games with all the bells and whistles,” said Jean Venneman, vice president of product management. And with them, features like a new, ergonomically advanced, stereophonic “sound chair” - available with Grease, Michael Jackson: King of Pop and the popular Betty Boop - “another element,” Venneman said, “that really adds to the experience.”

With the new Bally Enterprise Progressive System, the company now offers single-wire support for all its linked progressives, WAP and LAP, and linked mystery jackpots in network that integrates with Bally’s ACSC and SDS slot management systems, Bally CoolSign and the innovative iVIEW and iVIEW Display Manager interfaces.

The system aims to take full advantage of the enormous marketing power of progressives through its ability to tie jackpot amounts to predetermined messaging and message triggers, such as recent big wins and preselected jackpot dollar amounts. Prizes and winners can be trumpeted in real-time, generating buzz across multiple regions with displays that also remind players of jackpots and tournaments.

The system’s ability to create a sense of shared anticipation, and it is undeniably communal, touches on something that is central to the enduring power of progressives. As Venneman noted, “The general concept of having exciting player experience combined with a life-changing win is very appealing.”



Fortune Festival Asian-themed game from Aruze

For Steve Walther, vice president, marketing, for Aruze Gaming America, their “community” attributes are becoming increasingly important, because jackpots are becoming more integrated into the games themselves, and less dependent on outside controllers, and links are being continually refined to knit together specific banks of games, and by extension, specific groups of players, into experiences that are more intimate and interactive. It’s one of the keys to driving growth in the sector, he said. “It’s about people wanting to feel engaged and to be part of a group. Slots have evolved from a solitary existence to a communal existence. It’s not just you against the machine anymore. It has a lot to do with the fact that casinos have become more acceptable, and more prevalent, and communal gaming has grown in step with that.”

Aruze’s new Fortune Festival link was developed specifically with these trends in mind, a game where the random decisions of one player trigger other wins for other players. Available as either a stand-alone or as a bank of games, it emphasizes strong base game content grounded in engaging math models, symbol-driven wins with a mystery component, and all of this wrapped up in a rich multimedia graphics and sound. “The progressive becomes more of the icing on the cake than the cake itself,” Walther explained.

Coming soon from Aruze: a game called Rich Life, also on the Fortune Festival link, which will feature a “head-to-head” progressive.

“We see the communal space as a natural growth area for us,” Walther said, “and we will be adding progressives as we see the opportunity.”

Look for them to be moving stridently into the server-based space as well. The second half of this year will see the release of Cadillac Jack’s “subscription-based progressive,” and SBG product that expands the centrally determined Class II model to allow an operator to configure a game or bank of games to layer in any progressive on the server, changing them out as opportunity dictates or mixing and matching several of them at once.

“It really takes advantage of the Class II server in ways that haven’t been done before,” said Torres, “really building on that platform.”