Progressive jackpots have long been part of the slot manager’s toolkit, but now manufacturers are going to even greater lengths to captivate players with multilevel payouts.
Four-level progressives, the descendents of Hyperlink and the Cash Express product Aristocrat Technologies introduced in 2002, are joined on the floor by progressive links with five, six, seven, and soon even nine levels through International Game Technology’s House of Nine Dragons.
It doesn’t stop at leased products. Aristocrat’s for-sale line includes Double Standalone and Triple Standalone slot machines with two and three progressive levels.
For their part, casino operators welcome the diversity of products.
“They’re all good, because everything they do makes money, and that’s really what it’s all about,” said Frank Neborsky, vice president of slot operations at Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Connecticut. “It’s also not just the money, it’s the entertainment value that it brings to the guest. The multilevel progressive adds an additional level of excitement to the game.”
Games with more than one progressive jackpot have been around for decades. IGT’s original Megabucks slots had a secondary progressive to go with that top jackpot in the millions of dollars, and operators at times have used IGT video poker games with a different progressive on each royal flush suit, or with progressives on royal flushes as well as on different four-of-a-kind levels.
What changed with the advent of video slots, and especially with the introduction of Hyperlink, was the ability to layer progressive jackpots into bonus events, so customers could anticipate playing the event could lead to one of the progressive jackpot levels.
“Progressives embedded within bonus events - that’s a pretty significant change,” said Jared Torres, Cadillac Jack’s game development director. “It engages the player, it generates more excitement rather than an event that just happens after you get five of one symbol.”
Embedding the bonuses within bonus events, determining an ideal number of progressive tiers, whether to use symbol-driven events or mystery triggers - whether based on time, coin in, or amount of money in the jackpot - give game designers and programmers a wide variety of options in giving players plenty of bang for the buck and operators plenty of bucks for the bang.
Along with all that, multitiered progressives can incorporate other trends within the slot industry, including the expansion of community-style gaming.
“Community gaming with multilevel progressives, that’s the real future,” said Mike Laubach, slot operations director at the Orleans casino in Las Vegas. “WMS has started moving in that direction. Bally is moving in that direction. Basically all the manufacturers are looking at community gaming.”
Most of the multilevel product is in penny denomination. With that, Laubach points out, manufacturers have to be careful to balance jackpot level with enough frequency to hold player interest.
“Pennies aren’t pennies, as we already know,” Laubach said. “These games are capable of taking a four and a half dollar bet. So when you’re looking at progressives, when you’re looking at a top end jackpot, you need to be able to match it down to where they player’s capable of playing. We’ve been having this discussion around here lately. If my average handle pull on a penny game is 52 cents. If you’re looking to attract a bettor that is somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 cents to a dollar, if you build the progressive that way, it’ll probably come out to be a thousand, or maybe $500 max award that’s attainable for the player at the level of bet. Otherwise, they don’t have a chance.”
The possibilities require extra power, something Atronic has in mind with its new Game Boss controller and Aristocrat addresses with its Vertex controller.
“With Vertex (approved by GLI and near approval in Nevada), our game designers and our company as a whole as been reinvigorated because now within regulations we’re able to implement almost anything we think of,” said Dallas Orchard, Aristocrat vice president of gaming operations. Now that we’ve got Vertex you can really see that our game designers have a spring in their step again and that puts us in a good position. The thoughts these guys have had in their heads, they can actually implement. We’re very excited.
At Atronic, product manager Mike Brennan is equally excited by the prospects opened by Game Boss.
“We don’t have to depend on a third-party controller anymore,” he said. “It can support up to 12 levels, mystery or symbol, just like everybody else’s, but now we have the luxury of being able to do this at a lower cost and provide a lot of functionality.”
The options have enabled manufacturers to take the multitiered concept any number of directions, with each manufacturer putting its own spin on things:
Ainsworth:Players Paradise is a four-level, linked progressive that uses a Las Vegas theme, playing off the famous “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign. What’s different is that it takes a maximum bet of $2 on a penny game for players to be eligible for the progressives. That enables higher re-seed values - $50, $100, $300, $5,000 - than is typical on multilevel progressives, while keeping a high hit frequency. Then base game uses stacked wild symbols, and five-of-a-kind combinations trigger progressive play. At times, a single spin will trigger multiple bonus events because of the stacked wilds effect.
“Because of the max bet progressive we make things happen frequently, which is great because of all the fanfare,” product marketing manager Jason Meyer said. “But with a max bet you actually have a good prize, as well, so for someone who wants to make some money it’s actually a very good game for them. You have the entertainment and the opportunity to make money as well.”
Aristocrat:A new generation of Aristocrat progressive products has begun with Jaws, a feature-rich, four-level progressive with three bonus games. Based on the classic movie thriller of man vs. shark, Jaws has been a success with more than 1,000 games in the field. Kentucky Derby, which Aristocrat hoped to roll out before the May 1 horse race, has three progressive tiers that can be won during the game’s horse race bonus event, along with a symbol-driven top progressive. Then there’s the Western-saloon themed Beat the Bandits, which Orchard says shows what Vertex can do.
“What this allows the player to do for the first time is to basically choose their own volatility,” Orchard said. “Each character within the game is associated with a progressive amount. What we would normally consider the mini up to the major actually has a character next to it, the Granny, the Bandit, etc. When you get into the bonus feature you get to choose which one you play for. So the frequency of the lower jackpots are going to be more common, or if you want to gamble, you can chase the bigger jackpot and the frequency of the win will be much less often. We’re letting the player choose their own volatility trhough the Vertex controller. And this is a three-level linked progressive with a top-level mystery jackpot. So were are starting to mix different types of progressive technology within the one link or the one game. And that’s exciting.”
Aruze:Dragon’s Fortune has Asian-style signage and symbols on its four-level linked progressives. It links two Asian-themed games, Shen Long and Legend of the Qin Dynasty, both five-reel, 50-line video games available in one-cent, two-cent and five-cent denominations. Each has its own free spin triggers and bonus events. Both feature lots of wild symbols within the free spins. Before the Shen Long bonus, the player chooses among gems to reveal both a number of free spins and a number of wild symbols. With as many as 60 possible wilds, the free spins can generate some attention-grabbing winners.
Like all Aruze video product, the Dragon’s Fortune games feature the Rescue Spin, which basically guarantees the player a sizable winner within a given time frame. If a winner hasn’t shown up within a given number of spins, a countdown appears on the screen and awards the player credits or free spins. That keeps player interest and keeps players in their seats with anticipation even during losing streaks.
Atronic:Return of the Sphinx is a relative rarity among multilevels, a dollar game with re-set values of $50, $5,000 and $10,000. Brennan points to that $50 level as a “good sustainer” that keeps players in the game. Stargate, on the other hand, is a penny game, like many in the multilevel field. Re-set values for the four progressives are $10, $50, $100 and $1,000.
“Most players, the top award, they really don’t think they’re going to get it,” Brennan said. “But it’s there because there’s always a chance. You can’t win if you don’t play. We’ve found through our research that most players think they’re not going to win that, but it’s important to have something there in the thousand-dollar range. You get a hit before taxable (the $1,200 point at which the IRS requires a tax form before players can be paid) where you don’t have to deal with all the forms. That’s critical. The first level is a sustainer.”
Bally Technologies:Senior Director of Product Management Greg Colella said Bally will launch a series of three Magic Money games early this summer on its ALPHA Elite V32 slot platform.
“Magic Money is one of our first linked, banked, multilevel mystery progressive jackpots using our own mystery IP,” Colella said. “We’re also going to be unveiling two different standalone mystery-jackpot options this summer. One is the 50 Series of four games, with a must-hit guaranteed jackpot. The must-hit feature enables the player to know how close the jackpot is to hitting. This adds a great deal of anticipation and excitement to game play. And Bally is also close to releasing Crazy Cash, a series of three, two-level, standalone mystery progressives.
“We’re also very excited to release Bally Local Link, a progressive controller that will handle all of our banked progressive products. We now provide, in house, the progressive controller, the game, and the media controller through our CoolSign media-management system. This enables Bally to offer a total solution and control all three pieces of the puzzle. With Bally Local Link, we’ll be able to offer much more compelling games and progressive features, including things like partial-pay progressives, multi-level progressives, and standalone progressives.”
“The trend right now in Class II is either mystery progressive multilevels or wide area/local area multilevel progressives,” said Torres, explaining Mega Money Maker’s layering of the local progressives with the wide-area. “You have content rich, multiple bonuses in a game in order to increase the entertainment value to the player. In addition to that they supplement the content-rich game experience for the player with the addition of a lower level multilevel progressive along with a much higher jackpot.”
All that requires some product differentiation. “With House of Nine Dragons, when the group bonus is initiated, the players are trying to collect free spins. When they initiate that bonus, the game itself will randomly choose four of those nine progressive levels to be available during that particular free spin event.
“We look at some the ones like Amazing Race, that’s a four-level progressive. That has a group situation where those progressives are available, but it awards the players as they reach different destinations. As you continue to reach your destination, you’re awarded that next level of progressive. It’s kind of a challenging aspect among players to reach that threshold first, but at the same time those progressive can be awarded multiple times to multiple different players. And that’s something that’s different from other games in the marketplace where only one player’s able to reach that progressive level.”
Konami:The horse-race-themed Beat the Field offers a four-tiered progressive jackpot that can link most Konami base games, both in K2V video and the Advantage+ and Advantage 5 reel-stepper formats. The community bonus event is a horse race run on an overhead plasma screen, with the winner running for a progressive jackpot, with one progressive awarded in each race. All others receive consolation prizes.
Beat the Field encourages players to bet up by allotting horses in the field on the basis of bet size. And with the community racing event and the multitiered progressive, it ties into two hot industry trends at once.
Multimedia Games:While multitiered progressives have their roots in video gaming, Multimedia sees opportunity in layering the jackpots onto reel-stepper products, too.
“We will be putting progressives out with video and mechanical reel games,” said Brad W. Johnson, vice president of product management. “However, we see the most value in adding progressives to mechanical reel games to spice up the player’s experience.”
Mega Meltdown, with release expected in June, uses three mechanical reels and has a six-level progressive jackpot, with a bottom prize starting at less than $10 allowing for frequent hits.
“We like the idea of having up to six levels so that we can offer larger jackpots as well as smaller quick hitting progressives,” Johnson said..
Multimedia also anticipates using multilevel progressives to freshen older titles.
“Progressives will be added to new games,” Johnson said, “but we think the bigger return is by taking a proven game title that has been in casinos and re-releasing it with a multilevel progressive so we can prolong the floor life of the game but also increase its revenue by growing the number of loyal players.”
Novomatic:The Flexi-Link Jackpot system, featuring multilevel mystery progressives and made in Australia by Independent Gaming Pty Ltd and distributed by Austrian Gaming Industries, has been a success in Australia and Asia and is now available in Europe and South America. On Novomatic’s Coolfire II machines, Flexi-Link can be used to display anywhere from one to four jackpot levels. Novomatic touts ease of installation and maintenance, saying a complete installation including overhead signage can usually be completed within just two days.
The system meets the growing trend toward community gaming with the Flexi-Link Community Jackpot. It’s a mystery-based two-level jackpot game in which one person can win the main prize, while up to four other players can win the Community Jackpot Shared Prize.
Novomatic also offers four-level progressive play through its Powerlink, with four jackpot levels displayed on the individual machine between the top and bottom screens in 16:5 format; The company says implementation of the Powerlink in its Super-V+ Gaminator or Super-V+ Gaminator ST (Slant Top) does not require any additional interfaces – it enables a simple plug’n play.
“Players are seeking out multilevel progressive offerings in growing numbers and WMS is applying our focus on Player Driven Innovation to the creation of new products for this category,” said vice president of game design and strategy Allon Englman. “We look to create differentiating game content and bonus triggering events to distinguish our products and our two newest games, Hot Hot Super Jackpot Progressive and Goldfish Race For The Gold, are an indication of this commitment to innovation in multilevel progressives.
“Hot Hot Super Jackpot Progressive offers players multiple chances to expand their winnings. This exciting new multilevel progressive appeals to a wide array of slot players as it combines the popular Hot Hot Super Jackpot brand, our G+ base game play and the mechanics of our Life of Luxury Progressive to deliver a game that offers an exciting bonus round,” he said. “Our newest multilevel progressive offering, Goldfish Race for the Gold, takes the concept of winning a progressive jackpot to a new level by allowing the player to participate in a bonus round race where the level of their jackpot is ultimately decided. Offered on our Bluebird2 gaming cabinet, the race in the Goldfish Race for the Gold bonus round is displayed on an integrated overhead sign above the games, which increases the level of excitement and attracts additional attention to the bank of games. In addition, we offer a unique feature that gives players the ability to win all four progressive levels in one bonus round, which further elevates the level of player excitement.”
And it appears this trend has staying power.
“I think the multilevel progressive will always find a place in our library on the casino floor,” the Orleans’ Laubach said. “It may just evolve somewhat like slot machines have. We may go back in 10 years and look at what came onto the floor now and actually put it back again, just in a different package.”