Slot machine developers are somewhat challenged when it comes to integrating player popular offerings like low-denom and multi-line games into mechanical-reel concepts. That said, next-generation cabinets are clearing the way for video game-like bonusing and other features to become part of the stepper slot game experience.
“I am more bullish on the future of reel-style slots than I have ever been,” said Anthony Baerlocher, vice president of innovation and mechanical reels for IGT. “I remember rumblings of stepper slots going away 20 years ago, but the truth is they are still in casinos all over the world in strong quantities. Players enjoy reel slots and the games provide a timeless, classic casino experience. As more and more suppliers enter the mechanical-reel space, the competition will intensify, a scenario that is ultimately positive for the industry as a whole.”
Demographically speaking, industry research is still showing that mechanical-reel games are most popular with older customers who perceive these cabinets as being fairer and offering more control over the outcome of each spin. “Research also shows that while video and stepper games have their own distinct audiences, both game styles continue to be popular and do not impact one another,” said Greg Colella, vice president product marketing at Scientific Games. “The new stepper cabinets recently launched by Scientific Games are hybrids of these two styles, offering the authentic feel of a traditional stepper while incorporating many modern and engaging features found in the latest video cabinets.”
According to Colella, The goal for Scientific Games was to expand the stepper audience by showing younger players that these cabinets can offer a thrilling game experience, while at the same time offering the older stepper player modern conveniences and enhanced features; a trend other slot manufacturers are giving a go as well.
Although video slots continue to dominate slot floor space in most gaming operations, traditional reel-style machines continue to be popular among certain customers and in certain jurisdictions. Below are a few suppliers’ latest game types and technologies they are incorporating in the reel slot segment.
For International Game Technology (IGT), mechanical-reel slots have been a portfolio cornerstone for several decades. “Our leadership in this segment dates back to the S+ and S2000 gaming machines, and was propelled with the introduction of the S3000 cabinet,” Baerlocher said. “Most recently, this position of strength is exemplified through new games such as the Money Storm Link—our Class II games on the S3000 cabinet—and new Wheel of Fortune titles for the Megatower cabinet.”
The introduction of new technology always influences the player experience in some fashion. For IGT, the intelligent lighting capabilities of the S3000 cabinet have enabled the company to incorporate over-the-top celebration packages into games such as Red Hot Cantina and its Class II product for Oklahoma. “We also have the option to temper those celebrations, similar to what we have done with our high-limit version of the S3000,” Baerlocher said.
Hardware innovation, both disruptive and incremental, has also enabled IGT to evolve its mechanical-reel portfolio. “The disruptive advent of the Megatower cabinet gave players a novel gaming experience, while more incremental innovations such as new math, mechanics or even the animated reels of the S3000 can greatly heighten the anticipation factor in nearly any game,” Baerlocher said.
IGT reportedly prioritizes innovation across all its product segments, including stepper games. “Our approach, however varies a great deal between our high-denomination games and our low-denomination games,” Baerlocher said. “We find lower denomination players are more receptive to new technologies, features and bonuses. For this segment, our primary focus is directed to new math models with persistence features, animated reels, hidden symbols and the like. For our higher denomination reel-style slots, we take a more paced approach to innovation. In this segment we typically build slowly on what we know players prefer, and the evolution is more gradual—in these instances we often introduce incremental features such as higher multipliers and more free games.”
By category, IGT’s top-performing reel-style slot games are:
Three-reel high denom:
- Double Double Gold 5L
- Double Gold 1L
- Spitfire Triple Red Hot 7s 5L
Three-reel low denom:
- Red Hot Tamales 27L
- Triple Double Diamond Free Games 20L
Five-reel high denom:
- Double Diamond Free Games 9L
Five-reel low denom:
- Hot Hits Rainbow Riches 7’s 30L
- Hot Hits Rainbow Riches Diamonds 30L
- Red Hot Tamales 40L
- Wheel of Fortune Gold Spins on Megatower cabinet
- Jin Long 888 on the CrystalDual + Stepper cabinet
Scientific Games’ slot brands, Bally, Shuffle Master and WMS, are pioneers in the industry, having produced the very first stepper games and creating some of the most iconic games in the industry. These games include player-favorite classics such as Blazing 7s, Bonus Times, Double Jackpot Triple Blazing 7s and Life of Luxury, just to name a few. Scientific Games continues to develop mechanical-reel games and constantly looks for ways to incorporate new technology, with the goal of creating games that provide players with an authentic stepper feel, but with cutting-edge features that make for a thrilling game experience.
“Scientific Games feels strongly that players still love stepper games and the game performance numbers prove it,” Colella said. “A great example of this is the recent success of our 88 Fortunes stepper game, one of our highest performing titles, showcased on the TwinStar 3RM. Approximately 25-30 percent of our game library consists of mechanical-reel games and we plan to continue to produce new titles in the future, showcased on mechanical-reel cabinets that incorporate our newest, most cutting-edge innovations.”
Over the last year, Scientific Games has launched two new mechanical-reel cabinets, the TwinStar 3RM and the TwinStar J43 with iReels. Both cabinets give players an authentic, stepper experience, while at the same time utilizing improved technology to offer innovative features that increase player engagement.
The TwinStar 3RM showcases a dynamic new reel mechanism with full RGB LED backlights, LED reel dividers and bezel lighting. It was designed for maximum player interaction and immersion, featuring enhanced 3D graphics, eye-catching lighting features, a multi-channel sound package, a large iDeck, an optional handle mechanism and a convenient USB charging port for charging mobile devices.
The TwinStar J43 with iReels builds on the success of the TwinStar J43 cabinet, by incorporating an innovative reel mechanism into the TwinStar J43’s 43-inch J-curve, 4K resolution display. The cabinet’s reels include full RGB LED backlights, bezel lighting and game controlled video reel dividers, as well as a transmissive LCD panel that allows for video to be displayed over the reels for added dramatic effect. The new TwinStar J43 with iReels features the best of both worlds, pairing the visceral feel of a traditional stepper cabinet, with the dynamic graphic capabilities of a contemporary, high-definition display.
“The iconic slot games Blazing 7s, Bonus Times, Double Jackpot Triple Blazing 7s, Life of Luxury and many of the successful games that followed continue to dominate in both the Class II and Class III markets and in fact, Scientific Games has recently re-released many of these classic games on the new, innovative TwinStar 3RM cabinet,” Colella said. “In addition, two of Scientific Games’ most successful video games, 88 Fortunes, and Fu Dao Le, were recently released in stepper game versions on the TwinStar 3RM, and both are experiencing early success, especially 88 Fortunes which is currently one of the best performing stepper games in the Class III market. These games will soon be available in the Class II market as well.”
Scientific Games also has a successful high-denomination stepper series showcased on the Blade Stepper with Wheel cabinet that stars some of the company’s hottest brands, games such as MONOPOLY Money, Elvis Shake Rattling Reels, Johnny Cash and Michael Jackson Legend. Also notable: the TwinStar J43 with iReels cabinet recently launched games Cash Spin Deluxe and Lord of the Rings - Rule Them All. It will also soon showcase James Bond – Goldfinger.
The fact that Scientific Games continues to invest substantial resources into the innovation of new stepper games as well as showcase some of its most valuable licenses on mechanical-reel cabinets, is in itself an indication of how valuable stepper games are to its portfolio.
“Mechanical-reel games will continue to have a strong presence on any casino floor and Scientific Games plans to continue to produce new stepper games,” Colella said.
VGT launches new Professional Bull Riders-themed gaming machines
VGT recently launched its Professional Bull Riders (PBR) themed gaming machines, the first major licensed brand in the VGT portfolio. The PBR family of games premiered in June at more than 20 properties throughout Oklahoma.
These games bring the PBR to life on the casino floor and launched with the titles Blazing Bulls, VS, Fearless and Ryan Dirteater. Each of the three-reel mechanical wide area progressive games have a jackpot that resets at $20,000 and gives players the chance to ride the adventure towards 8 Red Spins, designed to mimic the excitement of an eight-second bull ride, according to press materials.
In launching the new game, special appearances by professional bull riders Ryan Dirteater and Chase Outlaw were made at select properties where the pros signed autographs and posed for photos with fans. Also, there was an appearance by a PBR bull rider at the June 15 and July 4 OKC Dodgers games, where the pros showed off their baseball skills by throwing the first pitch. Afterwards, they hosted an autograph signing for fans. Ryan Dirteater and PBR Announcer Matt West will make a special appearance in VGT’s booth at the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Show in Oklahoma City on July 24, and VGT will showcase the PBR games on the concourse during the PBR Express Employment Professionals Classic Presented by Osage Casino tournament, held in Tulsa’s BOK Center on August 11-12.
“We are thrilled to present VGT’s PBR-themed gaming machines, which appeal directly to our customers’ players, and the series of promotions we have created clearly underscore our commitment to these games,” said Jay Sevigny, VGT president. “The VGT and Aristocrat teams have worked incredibly hard to ensure we captured the thrill and fun of the PBR, and the end result is another example of the combined strengths of the VGT and Aristocrat development teams.