Although video games are the current trend dominating the slot floor space in most gaming operations, traditional reel-style machines continue to remain popular among certain customers and in certain jurisdictions. 

“Our research has shown that mechanical reel games are most popular with an older demographic that still prefers traditional style of slot games,” said Greg Colella, vice president of product marketing, gaming division for Scientific Games.  “There seems to be a perception with these players that stepper games are more ‘fair’ and that they have more ‘control’ over the outcome of each spin.  However, as we develop more cabinet features that incorporate a hybrid of stepper and video features, we are hoping to expand that audience by showing younger players that you can get just as much fun game play and exciting features from a stepper game.

“I find that players who prefer traditional stepper games are not really interested in video or skill-based slot games,” Colella added.  “Both video and stepper games have their own distinct audiences and there seems to be enough demand for both types of games that one style shouldn’t impact the other. Scientific Games is addressing this demand by incorporating hybrids of the two styles, such as its new TwinStar 3RM cabinet, that was designed to appeal to the interests of both types of players.”

Executives at International Game Technology PLC (IGT) also believe the latest products coming out of the stepper slot space will have appeal beyond the older or traditional gambler. “As casino entertainment continues to evolve, our customers look to IGT to develop and deliver a wide range of reel-style hardware solutions and game experiences,” said Dallas Orchard, chief product officer, gaming for IGT. “There will always be genre-purists who only play reel-style slots, just as there will be those who only play video slots, but some of the most exciting innovation opportunities are for players who are willing to try new gaming experiences. Whether a player is seeking a classic three-reel, one-line game, or a big-payout pull on Megabucks, the depth and breadth of IGT’s mechanical reel product portfolio enables us to meet the entertainment preferences of a wide range of players.”

Orchard believes that mechanical reel games will continue to carve out spacer on the slot floor, although floor share may continue to erode as newer platforms are introduced and older cabinets are replaced. And while it is a challenge to offer some the game play features that are most popular with players today—such as low-denom and multi-line games—on a mechanical reel game, many new enhancements to these cabinets enable game developers to take the exciting features and bonuses that players love on video slots and adapt them to mechanical reel games.

“I believe mechanical reel-slots will remain an integral part of the casino experience for many years to come,” Orchard said. “Mechanical reel-slots represent an archetype casino experience and an area where IGT can apply decades of experience and leadership to help shape the future of gaming entertainment.”

Here are some recent developments and new products from some of the larger mechanical reel slot providers:

SCIENTIFIC GAMES

Scientific Games, through its legacy slot brands Bally and WMS, has a long history of creating some of the most popular mechanical reel titles on casino floors.  Classic stepper games such as Blazing 7’s, Bonus Times, Double Jackpot Triple Blazing 7’s and Life of Luxury continue to be found among the top performers in casinos today. 

To date approximately 25-30 percent of Scientific Games’ complete game library consists of traditional mechanical reel games. “Our older, classic mechanical reel game titles such as Blazing 7’s, Bonus Times and Double Jackpot Triple Blazing 7’s continue to be extremely popular, often performing among the top five games on many casino floors,” said Colella.  “Although relatively new, the TwinStar 3RM has been performing extremely well.  The first titles to launch with the new cabinet, 88 Fortunes and Fu Dao Le, have been very reliable performers on our video platforms and it was important to show that players can get the same features and excitement that they love on a stepper game, as well.”

For Scientific Games, a great example of incorporating new technologies into mechanical reel games is its TwinStar 3RM cabinet.  This new cabinet offers bigger reels, an enhanced lighting package with full LED backlights and game controlled LED reel dividers, multi-channel sound package, bright monitors with enhanced 3D graphics and the option for digital toppers.  Depending on the game title, these features can be boosted with more ‘flash’ for players who are attracted to the newer, more exciting game titles and toned down to reflect a more subtle, traditional ‘look and feel’ for players who are attracted to more traditional-style games.

“We feel strongly that players still love stepper games so even as we strive to innovate with exciting new features to our cabinets and platforms, we continue to incorporate mechanical reels into our newest, most cutting-edge innovations,” Colella said.

IGT

Mechanical reel slot products have long been a cornerstone of IGT’s solution portfolio. The company’s commitment to this segment extends decades and is most recently exemplified in the S3000 cabinet and IGT’s many stepper products such as the S3000 XL, MEGATOWER and CrystalDual + Stepper cabinets that the company has introduced in the last year. IGT also leverages mechanical reels across several of its product lines including Core with titles such as Double Diamond and IGT Pinball; Premium with titles such as Top Dollar Premium and Super Red Hot Jackpots; and in its TRUE 3D Reels game family with titles such as Wheel of Fortune True 3D Double Diamond and Return of the Sphinx True 3D Reels.

“When IGT set out to design the S3000 cabinet, we took into account the key features and game concepts that propelled the success of our S2000 cabinet—a hardware solution that had tremendous player loyalty and market penetration in casinos around the world,” Orchard said. “We believed it was important to retain many of the S2000’s signature design elements, and complement them with next-generation advancements such as intelligent lighting and mobile device charging ports. Having a robust game library to support the new cabinet was another priority when IGT introduced the S3000. We had a deep pipeline of trusted game themes for the cabinet that operators could place on their casino floors with confidence.” 

KONAMI GAMING

Konami recently introduced Rapid Revolver, which offers an exciting new take on the traditional stepper by featuring six vertically stacked mechanical drums overtop a video base game. During bonus feature events, the video screen and mechanical reels interact in real-time with synchronized lighting and sound for high-impact excitement.

One of Konami’s latest new releases for Rapid Revolver is a game with lucky racing pigs called Golden Racing Jackpots. In this game, six tiny pigs representing various progressive jackpot levels are fenced in a race track displayed on the lower screen. Each is assigned a corresponding mechanical drum which spins to determine the number of spaces each will move. The pigs quickly race down the track, kicking up a trail of dust. If a reel hits “STOP” then the pig is halted from the race. The pig that finally reaches the finish determines the player’s awarded jackpot.

ARISTOCRAT TECHNOLOGIES

Recently, Aristocrat officially launched its groundbreaking new RELM cabinet, and, along with VGT, ushered in a new era of possibility in stepper excitement.

Aristocrat and VGT joined in exhibiting at NIGA 2017, where the new Class III RELM cabinet was on display featuring eight new titles: The Golden Tree, Sun Gold Temple, Cash 7, Burning 7, Double White Hot Gold, Emeralds & Sapphires, Double Gold Spin and Triple Wildfire Double.

“At Aristocrat and VGT, we have combined our efforts with a single mission—to provide our customers with a deep and broad portfolio that will entertain their guests with whatever type of gaming experience their players want, whether our customers operate Class II games, Class III games, or both,” said Matt Wilson, managing director of the Americas for Aristocrat.

At NIGA, VGT showed its new Class II video slot product, the Ovation platform. Like the RELM cabinet, the Ovation platform showcases the joint development efforts between Aristocrat and VGT. The Ovation platform brings a new line of video content, giving Class II and Class III customers more options by combining Aristocrat’s studio resources with VGT’s player-favorite bingo-based game play.

The Ovation platform was displayed at the show with 14 new titles, all of which are part of a portfolio roadmap set to expand to 200 titles over four years. The scope and breadth of this product portfolio will provide strong video content solution for Class III operators who want to take advantage of Class II gaming structure.