Is two really better than one? When it comes to slot machine play, gaming operators and manufacturers appear to be voting yes these days. With younger casino patrons coming onto the scene and craving a more social gaming experience, vendors are responding with a new array of community-style games in which multiple participants can enjoy the wagering experience.
“Community games are always kind of this niche on the floor, they’re always a big draw,” said Jamie Vann, senior principal game designer, Scientific Games. “It seems like there’s a new one coming around all the time. They’re a mainstay in the market now, there’s always going to be a community game on the floor.”
Vendors are in agreement that there is still a want and need for community games on the slot floor. Unfortunately, this desire has yet to translate into a steady stream of business. Indeed, over the past decade, community game popularity has waxed and waned among slot patrons, and is currently in a bit of a trough, at least when it comes to traditional community-style slot concepts. The primary issue slowing growth: the large size of many community game concepts.
“True community products, those that aim to recreate the fun and collaborative interaction of comparable gaming segments like table games, often require a large presence with a large shared display and multiple machines,” said Michael Brennan, product marketing director for International Game Technology PLC (IGT). “At the same time, casinos have been exhibiting a preference for smaller-footprint hardware and more unit size flexibility for premium game floor share, putting traditional larger-format community products in a tough position.”
Still, many slot operators and producers remain bullish on community games because of the social aspects of a concept—the growing desire among certain subsets of players to interact and celebrate with each other. “It really replicates the kind of experience players have at a craps table or a horserace or anywhere else where we’re all gathered around watching a single outcome that affects all of us, which we haven’t had in slots,” said Vann. “Only in the last decade or so have we gotten around to this community gaming where your slot experience can be shared with everyone else that you’re with.”
Another recent trend buoying community game play is the addition “buddy seats.” These buddy seats allow players to bring a friend along for the ride on the game they’re playing. This creates a shared slot experience which adds to the social and community feel of a game. New and larger display technologies are also impacting community slot concepts and the people that play them. Not only do more and larger cabinet screens help with high-resolution and 3D game concepts, they also entice players and onlookers alike to gather around, to create an ad hoc community of sorts at the machine.
Then there is the trend of choice, and more of it. Giving community slot players more meaningful choices when it comes to game play and mechanics can produce longer and more meaningful machine interactions. “You want every player who comes on the floor to feel comfortable playing against and with other players,” said Vann. “Those players may have different tastes in the games that they like, so in community gaming it is key to allow the player to adjust the game so it feels right for them. Those two players may have different tastes in how they want the game to play, but we want them to be able to play together and both have a great time.”
Indeed, all this new hardware, software and technology aimed at improving the community game experience may actually be evolving the concept into exciting and unexpected areas.
“It’s really tough to get the math tuned so you don’t disappoint players when somebody else wins bigger than you, even though you may be funding the game a lot more,” said Ian Arrowsmith, director game development for Scientific Games. “Really getting that math right is critical. This is why we’ve gone off in a more innovative direction.”
“Once we, the manufacturers, figure out how to more economically develop community-style products that fit today’s market demands, we’ll hopefully see more options… that will make visiting a land-based casino worth the trip,” said Brennan. “In other words, true ‘live community’ slot play and similar social experiences are concrete things that can only be attained in a brick-and-mortar property, and are a positive differentiator from potentially-similar online ‘at home’ experiences surely to proliferate in the future.”
Vann adds that future community game development will likely center on how vendors can connect even more players into a shared outcome. “We’ve talked about a networked casino floor for a long time,” he said, “and how you can bring more and more players around that. I can see that being the next wave of community gaming.”
While we’re waiting to see what the future will hold, pull up a seat, relax, and review some of the latest community games impacting today’s casino marketplace.
ARUZE GAMING AMERICA
The community slot market is growing for Aruze Gaming, according to a company spokesperson. The company’s community game roster currently consists of five brands under the G-Link series and two brands under the I-Link series.
“Entertainment and innovation have always been the foundation of Aruze Gaming’s game development philosophy,” the spokesperson said. “Focusing on these fundamentals, Aruze has become the fastest growing slot supplier in the casino industry. Our community-style games…provide interactive feel and experience.”
For example, Aruze’s Paradise Fishing gives six players the ability to participate in a game together. This community slot offers three separate single-player fishing-oriented games, and four all-player fishing competitions that allow players to cast off and play together, according to company press materials.
Players Party, a third generation G-Link communal video game, is another popular group play concept from Aruze. The slot features six play stations, five Party Time bonuses, three different sets of free games and the Big Chance Wheel. Each station contains five reels and 30 lines of non-stop reel and wheel spinning action.
And finally from Aruze is Sinbad, a five–reel, 30-line, two- player linked interactive video game that offers over 20 different events during the base game. The G-Link device offers multiple bonus stages, player versus player events, and an opportunity to challenge play for the jackpot. Sinbad will get players battling for credit awards, thereby creating that community gaming experience.
INTERNATIONAL GAME TECHNOLOGY PLC
The long-planned merger between GTECH and IGT has been successfully completed, and the combined company, now going by the name International Game Technology PLC (IGT), features an impressive array of cutting-edge community game concepts.
“We can claim not just a top title, but a top-performing community methodology that sets us apart from the market,” said Brennan. “Namely, we strive to create the most player-friendly community mechanics in the industry.
“Previously, community products required stressful and wallet-draining fast-play to remain eligible for a future mystery community bonus,” Brennan added. “Beginning with Bejeweled and Zuma Adventures, we’ve removed this negative, demand-based anxiety from the qualification process by utilizing a timed bonus and incentives to continue betting.”
New to IGT’s community game lineup is Bejeweled Community. According to company literature, Bejeweled Community offers two unique base games featuring market-proven community bonus games that players earn by collecting badges. Multipliers increase by collecting additional badges throughout the game. There are four mystery Bejeweled Bonuses where players can pick “skill” or “chance.” The skill involves the Butterfly and Diamond Mine Bonus, the chance option includes the Buried Treasure and Balance Bonus.
There is a two-tiered interactive Community Bonus with take or risk play options. Players can choose their favorite gem in the Community Bonus and during eight Bejeweled free games on the overhead screen, win with that chosen gem, adding up to earn butterflies. They then select flowers for their butterflies to land on to reveal credit prizes to either take, or risk, into the next round for a chance to win even bigger prizes.
Zuma Adventures is another new community concept for IGT, showcasing a cutting-edge aesthetic with two base games, Mystery Jungle and Mystery Coast.
The game also comes with community bonus eligibility and three innovative community bonuses. Mystery Coast is a 5x4 game with stacked symbols. Mystery Jungle offers a completely different playing experience, introducing a new functionality that features Zuma’s innovative rolling ball track as it populates the reels on two game grids below it. Utilizing the market-proven, timer-based community bonus eligibility, the community bonus triggers every seven minutes and players earn eligibility by collecting hearts. Qualifying is made even faster with the new qualification feature, where hearts rain down onto the player.
Three community bonuses offer variety for players with free spins and interactive options, while five mystery triggered events place wilds on the main game base screen. Additionally, a randomly triggered Ghost Pot increases with forfeited qualification from individual EGMs.
Scientific Games and its Bally Technologies and WMS Gaming slot machine subsidiaries also showcase a strong community game product series. Presented for the first time at G2E 2014 and to be released later this year, Reel em’ in! Supercast is the latest addition to Scientific Games successful Reel em’ In! community game series. Reel em’ in! Supercast incorporates community events including contests and boat races while giving players the use of a remote control wand. Supercast also has the distinction of being the first Community Immersion Game available on Scientific Games’ popular Gamefield xD Platform, which consists of two Gamefield xD cabinet bases paired with three vertical 46-inch LCD screens that display a single image.
Dragon Spin, another community game introduced by Scientific Games at G2E 2014 and set to release by year’s end, is featured on the Pro Wave 360 cabinet, redefining community-style gaming with its circular display featuring five Pro Wave cabinets, a striking 50-inch curved 360-degree video topper, and 360-degree surround sound.
“This game, we feel, is going to re-define community style gaming,” Arrowsmith said. “We’ve innovated from both the technological and the game aspect to provide a new experience. Dragon Spin is the first game that is showcasing new synchronized video and audio capabilities that we’ve added to our platform that’s enabled us to make the player experience even more fun and allow the community and the bank to really share in the excitement.”