It’s no secret that manufacturers have been integrating new play mechanics, interactive capabilities and even skill-based concepts into the tired-and-true progressive slot machine format.
But even with these updates, it’s unlikely that the fundamental jackpot-centric nature of progressive slots will be significantly altered in a meaningful way, largely because the concept remains extremely popular with players.
“There’s something that gamblers inherently enjoy about watching their wager go towards an incrementing award meter that they can potentially win on every spin,” said Steve Walther, senior director, marketing and product management for Konami Gaming. “When a player puts money into a progressive machine, they can actually see the jackpot steadily grow higher and higher with each bet, so they know the money they’ve invested in the game has the potential to be won back. Players ‘invest’ into the jackpot, hoping they can win a greater return.”
While the fundamentals may not be changing, the technology being incorporated has definitely come a long way. “As technology has improved in the gaming industry, the technology for progressive slots has grown alongside it,” said Cody Herrick, product marketing manager for Ainsworth Game Technology. “Today on casino floors you are seeing a variety of improved and modern signage that attracts players. You are also seeing plenty of products that provide a community feel to the gaming experience. The signage adds some excitement to a casino floor and that excitement, combined with great marketing on the floors, draws a lot of players.
And signage is getting more and more elaborate. “This has helped draw players to exciting banks of games,” Herrick added. “Every year screen resolution and the attraction loops used on the signs improves. These amazing graphics appeal players to what, in some cases, is a fairly traditional progressive technology.”
The integration of second-generation signage and other technologies into the progressive format is creating to a wider variety of progressive play experiences, which in turn is attracting a wider variety of patron demographics to the machines. There are some progressives with large or life-changing, high dollar jackpots that cater more to entertainment-style players who will throw some money towards that jackpot hoping they win it big. There are also lower progressive top awards with greater hit frequency that appeal more to the regular gambler who wants that extra pay-out potential or is looking to make their money go a little further on the floor.
“Progressive awards have become a lot about the experience of winning the bonus,” Walther said. “When they hit that jackpot chance, players want to see and interact with a game that’s memorable—something fun they can tell their friends about how they got their big win.”
For these reasons, casino operators continue to seek the marketing draw created by progressives, reserving their space on the floor for these crowd pleasing machines. To keep up with this demand, slot manufacturers are constantly tinkering with progressive cabinets, mechanics and systems. Some of these companies and their progressive innovations are described below.
Scientific Games has a vast number of progressive games and links. “I would estimate that at least 75 percent of our slot products have some sort of progressive feature on them, from standalone progressives within a single game to a near area progressive (NAP) that links games within a bank of games to our wide area progressive (WAP) products that link multiple games across a jurisdiction or region,” said Phil Gelber, senior vice president of product development at Scientific Games.
Bally Systems’ progressive solutions provide progressive systems to support all linked progressive games and linked mystery jackpots. Their progressive solutions tightly integrate with Bally slot management systems (ACSC and SDS), creating a one-wire solution that can take advantage of player interfaces such as iVIEW or iVIEW Display Manager (DM) technology.
“Our systems suite of products also offers a number of products designed to provide players the opportunity to win progressive awards and bonusing features independent of the slot game,” Gelber said. Bally Enterprise Progressive System, Bally Power Winners, Power Progressive Strike and Power Paytable Progressive solutions integrate directly with Bally CoolSign digital media management for a superior high-energy experience that draws in players. Creating benefits like tying slot data such as jackpot amounts to predetermined message and message triggers generates a buzz through multi-region displays that remind players of jackpots and tournaments.
Scientific Games has progressives available on virtually every platform and cabinet that they offer, from steppers to video to their newest immersive Gamescape and ALPHA 2 Pro Theater cabinet.
“The mystery progressive was a major milestone for us,” Gelber said. “It allowed us to take good performing non-progressive games and integrate a progressive feature on to them, expanding the potential player audience for these games and giving them new life.”
While many of Scientific Games’ progressives are still won in the same traditional way, with a set of symbols landing on the payline to win the progressive, many of their newer games are changing the way players achieve the progressives. “Our incredibly popular 88 Fortunes games pay progressives through a pick feature, and our WMS games like Open The Vault, Dragons Over Nanjing and Colossal 7’s offer three progressive levels that can be combined to appear as if the game has seven or more progressives,” Gelber said. “We also have games that combine two games into one like Hot Shot Twinfire, where progressives can be won in the traditional way for Hot Shot along with the game-in-game feature, or the traditional Quick Hit way with the scattered progressives.”
The Quick Hit family of games continues to expand with the addition of new titles under the brand. Quick Hit games feature fast-paying progressive jackpots that have a lower starting range but hit more often. “We have Quick Hit games on every cabinet offering, from stepper to video, and in a broad range of denominations,” Gelber said.
AINSWORTH GAME TECHNOLOGY
For more than half a century, the Ainsworth name has been synonymous with the gaming industry. Today, Ainsworth is able to provide the global gaming market with an outstanding range of gaming technology incorporated into their progressive slot offerings, among many other products.
“Progressives are a very significant part of our business and have helped us experience much growth in many U.S. markets,” Herrick said. “As we move into 2017, the WinStorm and Cash Odyssey progressive games are among the products we are focused on to ensure continued success.”
The latest progressive product at Ainsworth is a series of linked progressive games, called WinStorm, on the A600 cabinet. Last fall, Ainsworth debuted the three unique titles: Hail ‘N Diamonds, Ultimate Thunder and Wild Wins. “In WinStorm, players can win the linked progressive jackpot and experience the thrilling WinStorm bonus at any bet level. Each of the three games also includes its own unique free games feature,” Herrick said.
Similarly, the Cash Odyssey series of games have seen a lot of success. The three unique titles—Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels and Huckleberry Finn—are available exclusively with eye-catching sign packages that market linked progressive jackpots.
“Our new signage packages for WinStorm and Cash Odyssey have had great responses from customers,” Herrick said. “These state-of-the-art LCD screens and lighting make our games stand out on casino floors. We’ve been excited to see them in action at properties around the country. The performance has been very strong so far and we’re excited about their potential.”
Ainsworth has also had a lot of success in North America using mystery progressives which can be used on any of their 200 plus games, regardless the denomination. “Over our history, mystery progressive links have been among our most popular products of any kind,” Herrick said. “We believe our mystery links stand out to customers because they are 100 percent customizable. Casino operators can select any start-up amount, hit by amount and return to player percentage. Today, in addition to the customization available on the betting and technical sides, Ainsworth also offers nearly 20 unique graphics packages for casinos to utilize.”
Recently, Ainsworth has made some improvements for their A-Link progressive link controller with the latest versions enabling remote audits among other fresh features. Ainsworth also has a new Las Vegas game development studio to help augment the development that is done out of their Australian headquarters. “This investment in R&D can help us develop more world class products that will certainly include progressive titles,” said Herrick.
Konami Gaming’s progressive game offerings include a number of proven applications—spanning standalone to linked and beyond.
“We began with a la carte standalone and linked progressive games, which are designed with the compatibility to combine with a strong library of base game themes,” Walther said. “Games like Quick Strike, Pirate’s Loot and Jackpot Streams have achieved incredible popularity with this format and allow operators the flexibility to take their players’ favorite slot themes and add an extra level of excitement.”
Konami also custom designs progressive jackpots within select game themes. These can be premium titles, as in the case of their Frogger-themed slot machines and with their new Castlevania-themed slots for the curved Concerto Crescent, which heavily showcases the progressive bonus as the central feature to the game. These built-in progressives can also include standard core products. One of the newest games in this category for Konami is a four-level progressive called Cai Lai Si Ji. Based on vibrant Asian-style art elements, the standalone progressive is custom-designed for use with a specific collection of base games.
“Our team advanced the development of community-style linked progressives, which allow players to jointly share in the excitement of a linked bonus event,” Walther said. “Our debut releases in this category included Beat the Field and Top Track, which cultivate an added energy and excitement for players from the community-driven feature. That allowed us to pioneer a new multi-station progressive called Titan 360, unlike anything developed to date. For the past three years, our massive Titan 360 machine and its 3-ton, 10-foot tall frame has been a huge attraction at casinos across North America. Its unique center bonusing unit is a high-impact, mechanical delivery of the random progressive jackpot. For those casinos that currently feature Titan 360, it has shown strong success and we’re currently testing an all-new bonus game for the machine, called Dragon’s Orb Jackpots, at select locations.”
The community multi-station sector has become incredibly popular in recent years and Konami in particular has begun to cultivate a specialty niche in this area. In the same spirit of Titan, this year Konami unveiled their next advancement for the multi-station progressive space, Crystal Cyclone. Similar to its proven predecessor, Crystal Cyclone connects individual video slot stations around a mechanical bonusing ring for optimal thrill and excitement. Players have the opportunity to enter the progressive jackpot game, releasing brightly-colored balls race around a lighted roulette-style track.
One unique new application displayed by Konami last year at G2E was the inclusion of progressive jackpots within their skill-based games. Games like Frogger: Get Hoppin’ include a random jackpot progressive chance in addition to the skill-based jackpots that players can achieve when they hit certain top score thresholds. Also, new multi-station products feature progressive jackpots, including Fortune Cup horse racing game. In Fortune Cup, each race assigns the progressive jackpot chance to a particular horse and any player that bets on that horse is eligible to receive a mini, major or maxi jackpot if the horse should win.
“Beyond the progressive product merits of our next gen games, Konami is continuing to innovate its core product line with new progressive mechanics,” Walther said. “This summer, we are introducing an original linked progressive development for our Concerto Collection called Smash Smash Festival. This game features a novel progressive mechanism that actually progresses the number of available prizes rather than the meter levels. The prizes are represented by piñatas that players will of course smash open to reveal their award. The mystery trigger event will either allow the player to redeem all the piñata prizes during Smash time, or continue to add toward the growing prize pool. Guests will be able to watch the incrementing prizes continue to pile up, similar to how a progressing credit meter grows and captures interest and attention.”
International Game Technology PLC (IGT) has developed a wide range of progressive gaming solutions such as WAP, omni-channel, standalone, mystery, must-hit, online, multi-level and more. Progressives have long been a cornerstone to IGT’s product portfolio and represent an area of their business where they are continually investing and innovating.
“In 2016, we celebrated some of the most popular progressive titles of all time with the 30th anniversary of the Megabucks game family and the 20th anniversary of the Wheel of Fortune game family,” said Victor Duarte, global chief products officer, gaming for IGT. “We often apply our expertise in creating progressives to non-premium product lines as well. In addition, IGT has many successful core, video poker and interactive titles that incorporate progressive jackpots.”
Progressive slots play a pivotal role in IGT’s product strategy. “Our customers from around the world look to IGT to deliver compelling progressive experiences that engage a broad spectrum of players on a range of hardware solutions,” Duarte said. “Our game development strategy is anchored in player research and is guided by our commitment to cultivating leading innovation, content and new player experiences. We continue to advance a portfolio of IGT heritage brands, such as Super Red Hot Jackpots, Quartermania, Fort Knox and Party Time! and build on their success with a collection of top-tier licensed properties such as Wheel of Fortune, Zuma and Sex and the City.”
IGT’s Wheel of Fortune slots continue to be the company’s top-performing game family. In the 20 years since the game’s debut, IGT has introduced more than 230 Wheel of Fortune slot themes and paid out more than $3 billion in life-changing jackpots on the Wheel of Fortune games. The theme performed so well as a progressive that they expanded their use of the Wheel of Fortune brand to their DoubleDown Casino social casino and even into their lottery business with lottery tickets. “It’s tough to pinpoint a singular attribute that sets Wheel of Fortune slots apart, but players are certainly aware that they can win large, life-changing jackpots on the theme and enjoy the game’s iconic ‘WHEEL-OF- FORTUNE!’ celebration,” Duarte said.
IGT continues to show leadership in applying innovation to create new player experiences with their SPHINX 4D game. The theme builds upon the international success of IGT’s SPHINX 3D game and their TRUE 3D product family by introducing a fourth dimension of immersion through gesture recognition and mid-air haptic technologies. In SPHINX 4D players can reach out to feel and manipulate the game’s 3D objects; something not previously seen in gaming entertainment.
“At G2E 2016, we also introduced a series of new hardware solutions such as the CrystalCurve, CrystalCurve ULTRA and CrystalCurve TRUE 4D cabinets to support a variety of themes, including progressive titles,” Duarte said. “Each of these cabinets is equipped with the finest graphics and processing technologies, resulting in pristine ultra-HD 4k visuals. Further, our omni-channel game Powerbucks is the first game to offer progressive jackpots that are shared between the desktop, mobile and land-based versions of the game.”
AGS was founded in the early 2000s as a full-service designer and manufacturer of gaming products. The company’s roots are in the Class II, Native American market and it has recently expanded its product lines to include top performing slot games for the Class III commercial marketplace as well as live felt table games.
Today, AGS has 22,000 games on revenue share across the U.S. and Mexico, and progressives account for around 80 percent or more of their current business.
“Progressives are something we are thinking about every day,” said Andrew Burke, vice president of slot products at AGS. “A lot of manufacturers, us included, have really fine-tuned the frequency in which jackpots go off, and not just the frequency but the prize amount. You really see the market converging around a $10,000 prize or top award that really gets hit more frequently, and I think that has kind of been the math in formula.”
A player favorite AGS multi-level progressive is Golden Wins, an Asian-themed PowerXStream game that includes two bonus features, a progressive pick and a free spin bonus. Golden Wins was the first game on the Da Ji Da Li Multi Linked Progressive.
AGS recognizes the excitement feature progressives can add to any game on the casino floor with the acquired Bonus Spin technology from Aristocrat which allows AGS to offer a bonusing/progressive system that customers can add to existing table games in the form of a virtual wheel. This grants players a chance to win top jackpots or prizes even when achieving a premium hand. Bonusing and progressive jackpots have become a huge part of the pit as they greatly intensify player excitement and allow operators to improve earnings per table.
NOVOMATIC is another slot provider that had been spending time and money improving its progressive offerings. The company’s Jackpot Edition is a three-level standalone progressive is compatible with many Novoline base themes and designed to enhance a customer’s gaming experience. The player collects extra coins with spins of the base game, and these earned coins are added to the tray on the top screen. Collect enough coins, and the tray will overflow and tip—triggering the Jackpot Chance feature. Once the Jackpot Chance feature is triggered, players are given up to five treasure chest picks. Players can increase their bet in the base game and increase their chances of triggering the Jackpot Chance. In addition, picking a treasure chest with the Jackpot Wheel hidden inside awards a spin for a progressive jackpot, and landing on an “upgrade” wedge provides a chance at higher progressive prizes.
Another recent NOVOMATIC introduction is Asian Fortunes, an AllPay video game with free games, a progressive jackpot, and a 5x3 layout. Red and Blue Wilds substitute for all symbols, and appear on reels two and four. Blue Wild appears on reel three only, where it doubles wins when substituting. The Wilds randomly trigger the jackpot feature, which involves an erupting coin chest where players prompted to choose from 12 gold coins to reveal panda symbols. Matching three pandas corresponds to either the Grand, Major, Minor or Mini Jackpot prize.