The evolution of slot machines has brought us to a point where bonuses are no longer just a nice little extra, an added attraction. Events, animation and sound effects that didn’t exist less than two decades ago have become an integral part of why people play the games.

“Bonuses are why players play the game,” said Bally Director of Game Development Ian Arrowsmith. “It’s about the chase. You sit down and you aim to get those free games. When you get them, it’s big fun.”

Dan Schrementi, vice president, gaming marketing and new media for Incredible Technologies, compared playing slots with going to the movies.

“The slot experience is one of entertainment; therefore the mindset of a player is no different than that of a movie-goer,” he said. “Bonusing is to gaming what an action scene is to a movie—it’s that moment when the plot jumps from dialogue, to excitement.”

Whether through free spins, pick’em bonuses, spins of a wheel, mystery prizes or any other format, bonuses are counted on to deliver the entertainment experience and keep players in the seats. That includes not only events within the individual games, but networked experiences that augment player rewards programs.

VIEW FROM A WINDOW



At International Game Technology (IGT), the network experience includes a suite of bonuses delivered through the Service Window, which operators can configure to pop up on connected machines.

“Primarily our focus has been on our bonusing applications that we refer to as our Intelligent Bonusing Suite,” said Andy Fisher, IGT product manager.

New applications for the suite include Random Riches, which awards bonuses when the player reaches a wagering threshold, and Team Challenge, a community-based application. Qualified players are split into teams and play a game on their machines’ player tracking interface to collect their rewards.

Fisher said both products focus on the intelligence piece, targeting the players and segments operators want to reach through the extras. Player segments, target thresholds, awards and selection of games offered all are operator configurable. “When you look at a bonus award or an offer, there’s kind of three pieces to it,” he said. “There’s your qualification piece, which has to do with which the marketing perspective, which players you want to target for a bonus. The second part is the award, what are you giving the player. We built intelligence for that piece whereby you can give different amounts for players based on their player worth, their tier status.

“The third piece that brings it all together is the delivery of the bonus, how you communicate to the player. And we built a lot of intelligence for that. The delivery really gives meaning to the player in terms of that award. We can do the award as a game and the player can interact with it in the Service Window, and that creates suspense and excitement, especially if you couple that with randomizing the award.”

RICH MEDIA



Aristocrat Technologies is also delivering targeted bonusing through its Speed Solutions brand. A recent addition is nRich, which gives the players bonusing targets based on their average daily theoretical. What the player sees is a thermometer, and as they take the thermometer to the top they trigger a bonus game that can be played in the Aristocrat Media Window or on the player tracking LCD. A variety of interfaces are available for the bonus event, such as a scratch-and-win experience or a claw game.

“Essentially, nRich is s a bonusing engine that has been proven to increase a player’s individual ADT,” said Kelly Shaw, vice president of system sales and marketing for Aristocrat. “It’s unique in the way that it uses a player’s past performance and gives them realistic targets to achieve. It’s kind of a cool experience. You’re sitting at the game and you’re having this given to you either through the Media Window on the main video screen or through the player tracking LCD. As you’re playing the game you’ll get graphics that alert you that hey, you’re about to hit a goal.”

“The visual graphics show up on the Media Window that alert you if you just play a little bit longer, you have another goal that you achieve, and after you hit that goal we’re going to trigger a little bit more, and each time you’re pushing for that extra goal that extra bonus feature, that extra payout,” Shaw added.

GALAXY OF CHOICE



Spielo International’s Galaxis casino systems management portfolio offers a module of bonusing tailored to each individual casino’s needs through Galaxis Bonusing. With options including Points Bonusing and Jackpot Bonusing, modules can be flexibly combined with each other. Through adoption of the Gaming Standards Association’s Game To System open protocols, Spielo modules may be implemented independently of slot machine types, brands and denomination. They can be applied to a single machine, a bank of machines, or across the entire gaming floor and may even be connected with the tables pit.

“Our newest bonusing options are TimeBomb FEVER and OnTarget FEVER,” said Fivos Polymniou, Spielo’s international sales director. “TimeBomb FEVER is the newest bonusing feature on the market allowing the casino operator to guarantee that a jackpot hits within a specified time. Designed to boost low-activity periods in the casino, it’s like a ‘time bomb’—the casino operator configures the time period and the number of times the jackpot will hit.”

“OnTarget FEVER reserves a jackpot for a specific player segment,” Polymniou added. “It can also be programmed for a predefined time. Designed to boost the casino’s targeted player marketing programs, it can target any selectable criteria that the casino wants to focus on. For example, a jackpot could be targeted at women for Ladies Night; loyalty club members of more than one year’s standing; or new loyalty club members.”

Away from the networks and with the individual games, bonus events are both an outlet for the creativity of game designers and a prime incentive for players to stay in their seats. For Spielo, that includes skill-based bonusing in Zuma, brought to the casino floor from the casual games world under a license with PopCap Games.

U DO IT



At Bally Technologies, where the U-Spin feature for touch-screen wheel spins has been a huge success, opportunities to extend the technology’s reach are high priority.

That includes racing-themed NASCAR, with three bonus features. The Pit Stop Bonus is a pick’em where the player selects car parts. Burnout Free Games is a U-Spin feature, with the wheel in the shape of a tire. And then there’s the main event of the game, an interactive 3-D feature called U-Race, where the player gets to guide his driver down the track.

“One of the great things about this game is you actually pick your driver,” Arrowsmith said. “So everybody’s got their own favorite driver. When you sit down you get to pick your driver, you get a little bio of him and he talks with you. So it’s great fun right from the start.”

Hot Shot Progressives also uses U-Spin with two huge wheels on which players can win free spins, multipliers or bonus rewards. Cash Wizard Tiki Magic is a follow-up to the popular Cash Wizard that uses a U-Drag format during the Spell Bonus so players can touch and drag different ingredients for their spell potion to win prizes.

Among for-sale games, Arrowsmith pointed to the bonuses involved with two games he worked on, Hand of the Devil and Visitors from Planet Z.

“They have simple free game bonuses that you’d expect on any game,” he said, “but we try to add a different twist. In Hand of the Devil, the devil talks to you, and it’s a Lucky Wild free game, so if you get a five-time lucky wild, you’re in for some really big wins.”

SEEKING INTERACTION



Incredible Technologies, which has added a creative spin on slot games since it entered the market in 2008, is going the licensed-theme route for the first time with its recently released Archie in Riverdale Riches.

“From a bonusing standpoint our goal was first and foremost to allow players to experience the comic theme and do so in a comfortable context,” Schrementi said. “The game features stacked character symbols of Archie and his pals. The bonus features are frequent, yet have deep variability that allow players to experience something new each time they play, including game-in-a-game bonus triggering. The experience is boosted with levels of touch interaction as well through the duration of each bonus experience.”

Schrementi said IT works hard to be innovative in an environment where players expect to see free spins and pick ‘em games. The key tool, he said, is player interaction. “From scratching the record in King of Bling to catching the money as fast as you can in Crazy Money, player interaction can transform a standard pick ‘em to a more immersive experience,” he said.

HAVING A BALL



Multimedia Games brings interactivity to the players through its MoneyBall bonus feature, where players take aim to direct their MoneyBall launch from the top of the screen.

“Players feel like they are in control of the bonus with this feature, since they can target their shot into on-screen prizes,” said Brad Johnson, vice president product management for Multimedia Games. “As for the variety of bonus themes, once a player has played one theme, the next time they enter into the MoneyBall bonus, the game selects a different theme for them to experience.”

The goal with any approach to bonusing is the same, no matter what the manufacturer.
“The attraction of bonuses is entertainment, pure and simple,” Johnson said. “We want to provide plenty of entertainment so the player stays at the game long enough to win a substantial bonus prize. This will hopefully turn them into repeat customers, and they spread the word to their friends about this cool bonus they just won.”